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Constructional Project

actual partial vapour pressure to the saturat-
ed vapour pressure at the prevailing temper-
Uses a capacitive sensor to measure the ature. Without the temperature RH does not
Relative Humidity (RH) of air.
define the actual water content as the water
content increases with temperature.
A more intuitive definition of RH is the
ratio of the water content of air to its water
LTHOUGH we consider air to consist small drop in temperature suddenly taking

A of nitrogen, oxygen and a little car-

bon dioxide, one other component is
essential for normal life, namely water.
the air above saturation. This means con-
densation or liquid water everywhere.
Water in this state is very corrosive, metals
content at saturation expressed as a per-
centage. Or simply how close we are to
saturation. An example will put some real-
ity into this. One cubic meter of air at
Too much or too little water in our atmos- rust, paint flakes off, materials which

40%RH weighs about 1kg at 10C and
phere soon leads to discomfort and even should never get wet irreversibly distort.
contains about 3 grams of water.
serious health problems.
Static charge build-up with all its conse- LOW LEVEL The inter-
RH% and actual
quences is directly related to low humidity. Below 30% RH we start to dry out and
water content is complex but well
Air humidity also has large effects on it feels cooler than it really is because of
many engineering and building materials
in everyday use. Also, without water in the
increased ease of skin evaporation.
Humans perceive humidity in part as a
known and
sulted to
tables can be con-
get values for
atmosphere we wouldnt have weather, as temperature effect. Many houses hit 15%
we know it. RH or lower in late autumn when the
The RH Meter (Hygrometer) described central heating comes on. This results
here uses a new capacitive RH (relative in various infections as the protective

humidity) sensing element to give an accu- mucus linings of our mouth and air-
rate measure of the relative humidity of air. ways dry out.
The sensor contains on-chip integrated sig- Apart from low oxygen content a

nal processing to give a d.c. output propor- major enemy of Everest climbers and
tional to RH. The element is laser trimmed arctic explorers is low RH. The atmos-
to a preset output span so that a simple but phere is freeze-dried and the human
very effective RH meter can be produced skin becomes dehydrated and brittle

without the need for calibration in standard and finally cracks.

atmospheres. Similarly, frosty nights can easily
The traditional analogue meter readout result in unhealthy low RH levels. At

is a visually comfortable way or represent- low RH the electrical resistivity of

ing the ambient RH. But a ground refer- most materials increases to greater
enced analogue output is also provided for than a million megohms per square

PC or PlC recording, processing or data (10129). This results in huge static

logging. electricity generation and charge
build-up. Shocks and discharges from

HUMIDITY carpets, clothing and cars, become

Relative Humidity is a measure of the intolerable and, of course, there are
amount of water in air. The scale covers increased fire risks.
from 0% which is bone dry to 100% Atmospheric humidity is particularly
specific conditions. At some point the
when the air is referred to as saturated. important to timber merchants. When we
amount of water in air reaches a limit
We are used to living in an atmosphere buy wood from the DIY we must select
which we recognise as saturation or 100%
between about 30%RH and 70%RH. inside or outside conditioned timber. Try
Relative Humidity.
Above 70% RH things are getting a little using wood which is seasoned and cut out-
Another example will give a feel for
humid and over 80% it is downright side for your inside shelves and they will
what this means in reality. Taking one
uncomfortable and rain-forest like. Humid warp and crack unacceptably.
cubic meter of air at 50% RH and 20C, it
air feels warmer than it really is because of
the reduction in evaporative cooling of the MEASURING RH contains 7g of water. If water is added to
this air it will reach saturation or 100%RH
skin. In very high humidity conditions, There are several ways of measuring and
at a water content of 14g.
moulds and fungi proliferate but dust mites expressing the amount of water in the air,
Taking this sample of air at 50%
prefer it slightly less humid at around including dewpoint, vapour pressure and
RH/20C containing 7g of water per cubic
60%RH. wet bulb depression or psychrometery. But
meter, if we increase the temperature to
There are many other effects of high RH Relative Humidity (RH%) is by far the
25C it would need to contain 10g of water
such as breakdown of materials like insu- widest used and most familiar descriptor
to maintain the same 50% RH. This is why
lating foams releasing toxic gases and for moisture in air.
many commercial RH meters also contain
increased warping and break-up of chip The RH scale also corresponds well to our
a thermometer. But even if the temperature
board and similar cellulose building com- perception of moisture level. RH is defined
is not known the RH figure tells us how
posites. At high RH we run the risk of a as the ratio (expressed as percent) of the

173 Everyday Practical Electronics, March 2002

wet the air is, which is what we need to
know and is therefore a great way of
expressing this property. POROUS PROTECTIVE
Finally, and probably to add to the con- LAYER CAPACITANCE
fusion, it must be pointed out that when we CERAMIC BASE ELEMENT

refer to the capacity of air to hold water POROUS PLATINUM INTERFACE

and similar phrases we are not strictly cor- LAYER CIRCUIT
rect in physics terms. But it is a useful THERMOSET POLYMER
model. In fact, water vapour behaves quite
independently of the other gases so that SILICON I.C. SUBSTRATE
you could have an RH value for just water 0V OUT +V
vapour in a space. The prevailing pressure
of the air/water system is the sum of the
partial (independent) pressures of each of
the gases. 390V for 0%RH to 100%RH at 25C. The Fig.1 (above).
change in this span with temperature is Internal elements
CAPACITIVE SENSOR small enough to be ignored for this project, and construction
Dew point, Psychrometery, and vapour see Fig.2. For example, the 100%RH value of the HIH3605
pressure measurements give accurate direct drops to 350V at 85C which is a higher capacitive RH
measures of RH. But these methods require temperature than likely to be encountered sensor.
us to take some action such as twirling a wet with this meter. But automatic temperature
and dry bulb psychrometer for several min- correction is a simple matter for high tem-
utes just to get a single figure. perature applications. (Right). The
Automatic measures which give a vary- It is usually possible to be confident in Honeywell
ing voltage representing RH are required the RH readings to within 5%RH, with a HIH3605
for control, data logging and automatic PC little care such as allowing enough settling capacitive
processing. Such sensors have been down time. This is very adequate for our RH sensor.
around for some time in the form of con- RH Meter and in fact most conditioning
ductive cells. But the latest capacitive sen- systems work to this accuracy. Small fluc-
sors are particularly easy to use, yet give tuations in RH of 1% or so can still be

instrument quality accuracy and long term detected for comparative purposes.
reliability. Getting very accurate RH measurements is
The Honeywell HIH3605 device is a difficult and usually means invoking a
good example as it contains on-board complex set of corrections. 4.5
interfacing electronics to produce a linear
voltage/RH output. The internal elements
and the construction of the HIH3605 are
shown in Fig.1.
The full circuit of the RH Meter is
shown in Fig.3. After initial setting up, the .c 4

4.07V 0 C
3.90V 25 C

3.50V 85 C
It contains a small planar capacitor RH sensors output (X1) is connected to 3

made from an absorptive polymer dielec- the non-inverting input at pin 3 of ICla. 2.5
tric with porous platinum plates. A top This is a voltage follower and faithfully SENSOR
layer of porous polymer on the surface delivers the sensor output to the moving OUTPUT 2

protects the sensor from dust, dirt, and oily coil meter MEl. 1.5
contamination. But it should still be treat- The output of IC1a is also the take-off
ed with care. point for output socket SK1 when the sig- 1

When moisture enters the dielectric the nal is required for external processing. A 0.5
capacitance changes in proportion to the low value resistor R8 protects the i.c. from
mass of water present. The sensing capac- accidental shorts and has no effect on high 0
20 40 60 80 100
itor and the small interfacing circuit are impedance loads.


integrated on a ceramic base with just For 0%RH the meter must read 0V but
three pins to supply power and for output. this corresponds to 080V output from the
If a stable supply of exactly 5V is used, sensor X1. A potential divider network Fig. 2. HIH3605 output voltage for 0%

the output voltage span is from 080V to consisting of resistors R3, R4 and preset to 100%RH.

+5V OUT 1 8 IN +9V
A 2 IC2 7

3 LM2931 6 ON/OFF
C2 C3
470n 4 5 100n
+ +
C1 C4
R1 33 10

3.9V * RX
B 10k VR2
R3 R6
REF 33k 0 8k2
8 IC1a 100k ME1 IC1b
2 LM2904 100A LM2904 6 TR1
1 + 7 e 9V
X1 C 3 + + 5 VR3 b
HIH3065-A 4 c
R2 R8 R4 R5 R7
33k 100 ANALOGUE 1k 470 18k

Fig.3. Complete circuit diagram for the RH Meter. Resistor RX is a zero ohm jumper but can be an SMD resistor having a
value less than 10 ohms or be just a link wire.
174 Everyday Practical Electronics, March 2002
VR3 is set to exactly 080V and after isola- supply. This is provided by IC2 which is a foil master pattern is also included in this
tion by IC1b provides a steady 080V to low dropout, low quiescent current, regula- diagram. Note that the components are
meter ME1s negative terminal. When the tor designed for battery equipment. The mounted directly on the copper pads.
sensor output is at 080V i.e. 0%RH, the array of capacitors (C1 to C4) on its input The construction method described here
meter therefore has 080V on both termi- and output pins are essential for its stability. uses surface mount components (SMDs)
nals and reads 0%RH. The LM2931 can operate down to 52V and some care is needed, particularly with
The potential divider made up of R1, thus squeezing the last bit of charge from a the i.c. leads, when soldering them in
VR1, R2 is used as a 390V reference for PP3 type battery. With a total current drain place. Although not essential, the applica-
setting up. The output socket, SK1, of just 14mA the RH Meter should give up tion of a non reactive flux pen to the p.c.b.
ground is connected to the output of IClb to 400 hours service from an alkaline PP3 before placement of the SMDs will ensure
(at pin 7) and the RH signal is taken from battery. good solder wetting.
IC1a pin 1 so that a span of 0V to 31V Transistor TR1 drives the low battery A simple method of placing chip compo-
represents the full RH scale. Preset VR2 indicator l.e.d. D1. Its emitter (e) is con- nents is to solder one end first. Align the
is used for setting the meter ME1 gain to nected to the 5V stabilised line. But its component on the pads and hold it in place
give 100% RH reading at full-scale, see base (b) is connected to the unregulated 9V by gently pressing it onto the pads. One end
later Setting Up. supply through a potential divider made up can now be soldered to fix it in place. The
of resistors R6 and R7. With the values second end can then be soldered with ease.
REGULATED SUPPLY shown, the base reaches 06V lower than Try to use minimal solder and in fact to
The published calibration for the sensor, the emitter at about 56V from the battery. remove any excess with a solderwick.
which we rely on for this project (its large- At this point TR1 turns on and starts to Minimal solder reduces stress on the chip,
ly what we pay for) assumes an exact 5V supply l.e.d. current. The increased internal which is particularly important for chip
resistance of the battery and the increased capacitors. Particular care should be taken
current drain results in a sharp end point. with the high value ceramic capacitors C2

COMPONENTS In the prototype the l.e.d. began to light

about 10 hours before a final rapid drop in
meter reading and shutdown over a few
and C3. They can easily crack and the end
contacts can detach.
The component marked RX is a zero ohm
minutes. This gives sufficient warning that jumper which is used here for neatness.
Resistors See the battery needs changing whilst main- These devices are used in mass production
R1, R4 1k (2 off)
R2, R3 33k (2 off) SHOP taining an accurate reading. for minimal inductance which is not impor-
tant in this application. A low value resistor,
R5 470W

R6 8k2 less than 10 ohms, could be used or even a
R7 18k page The RH Meter is built on a small sur- wire link for the non-perfectionist.
R8 100W face mount printed circuit board and the The two i.c.s can be soldered by fixing
Rx zero ohm jumper or wire component layout is shown twice-size in pins 1 and 8 first. Pin 1 can be marked on
link (see text) Fig.4 for clarity. A full-size (1 to 1) copper the SO8 i.c. package in several ways,
All SM case size 1206
VR1, VR3 10k (2 off) X1 .c
VR2 100k 0V OUT +5V
All SM min. preset type 3204 (4mm)
Capacitors +

C1 33m SM tantalum, 16V A +

C2 470n SM ceramic, case R1
size 1206 OUT IN
C3 100n SM ceramic, case

C2 IC2
size 1206 REF B VR1
C4 10m SM tantalum, 16V
C R6

D1 3mm red l.e.d.
TR1 BCX71H pnp transistor,
SM case SOT23 ME1 _VE
IC1 LM2904 dual op.amp

R3 R7
SM case size SO8
IC2 LM2931 5V regulator e b

SM case size SO8 VR3

X1 HIH3605-A capacitive R8
RH sensor R5

S1 s.p.d.t. sub-min. slide R2 TP2
switch TP1 R4
SK1 phono socket, chassis
ME1 100mA moving coil panel TO SK1
meter, calibrated 0 to k
100, with 60mm x TO D1
46mm face
B1 9V battery, with PP3 type 1.9IN (48.5mm)
connector lead
Printed circuit board available from the 338
EPE PCB Service, code 338; plastic
case, with brass-threaded inserts for lid,
size 79mm x 61mm x 40mm approx.; 3-
1.5IN (37mm)

pin in-line socket for RH sensor; 10mm x Fig.4. RH Meter surface-

10mm x 1mm thick aluminium angle mount printed circuit board
bracket; multistrand connecting wire; component layout shown
solder etc.
twice full-size for clarity.
The full-size master pat-
Approx. Cost
Guidance Only 29
excluding meter & batt.
tern is shown on the right.

Everyday Practical Electronics, March 2002 175


+VE 0V



(Above). The SENSOR
sensor plugged SOCKET
ON/OFF into its socket
k +VE on the top of
(RED) the meter case. 10mm
Fig.6 (right). 10mm
Details of the
sensor mount- 25mm
2mm dia.
ing bracket. MOUNTING HOLES

Fig.5. Interwiring from the circuit board to off-board

usually by a light band across the pin 1 MEl. The 3mm bolts hold the p.c.b. in probably not so good for the ink-jet deco-
end. Most SO packages also have a cham- place and electrically connect the meter to ration on the case, not to mention conden-
fered edge along the pin 1 side. The i.c.
pins are very close and a magnifier will be
a help to check for any solder bridges.
common type with 26mm spacing. If a dif-
the circuit. The meter suggested is a very

ferent meter is preferred, the connection

sation on the p.c.b.
Monitoring high RH inside test cham-
bers, animal cages and so-on is best done
Transistor TR1 also needs care as the can be made by soldering leads from the by extending the sensor probe with a 3-way
SOT23 case is quite small and any magnet- meter to the circular p.c.b. pads. lead. The recommended HIH3605-A sen-
ism of the tweezers is quite a nuisance. Select a project box (prototype size sor comes in a 01inch pitch, 3-pin single-
approx. 79mm 61mm 40mm) with in-line (SIL) format. It can be plugged-in

metal screw holes for the lid rather than or soldered. If a socket is used, it is easy to
The p.c.b. conveniently fits onto the self-tap types as regular access is required add a small extension lead when required.
back of the 100mA moving coil meter, for changing the battery. A small piece of Suitable 01in. pitch pre-wired plugs and

sponge on the inside of the lid can be used sockets can be selected from the popular
Prototype model show- to hold the battery in place. Futaba and other makes used for model
ing general layout inside The positioning of the off-board com- radio control work. These are widely avail-
case. ponents within the plastic case should be able from model shops. It is convenient to

finalised and the box cut the socket along with a short length of
drilled out to take these lead from a ready-made extension. Choose
parts. You will need to a socket which makes a tight fit.

drill a series of small Run the sensor wires from the circuit
holes around the board through a small hole in the case
required meter cutout top to the sensor SIL socket. The socket

and the jagged edges can be fixed to a short length of 1mm thick,
around the resulting 10mm 10mm, aluminium angle bracket

larger hole should be using rapid setting epoxy, as shown in

smoothed down with a Fig.6. This bracket can be fixed to the case
file. The components with two 2mm bolts, see photographs.
can now be mounted on The data sheet suggests that the
the case; the prototype HIH3605 capacitive humidity sensor is
model layout is shown light sensitive. In practice this means direct
in the photographs. sunlight. The naked sensor seems insensi-
The interwiring inside tive to changes at normal room light levels.
the case is shown in Moving it into weak sunlight from a
Fig.5. The battery condi- window causes a small increase in indicat-
tion l.e.d. D1, output ed RH%. But bright summer sunlight caus-
socket SK1 and the On- es a sudden switch-off. For these condi-
Off switch S1 are all tions therefore, a shield should be made
readily accessible and and a black or even translucent 35mm film-
can be wired up after the tub is ideal. Drill several holes in the cover
p.c.b. is fixed in place. to ensure good air circulation yet provide
shade from direct light.
SENSOR Finally, the decorative graph, Fig.7,
The meter reads up to gives useful information on RH, tempera-
100%RH and it is easy to ture and air moisture content. The RH sen-
get to this reading in var- sor output pin should not be connected to
ious circumstances. But the p.c.b. meter input, pad C, until the cal-
for extended periods it is ibration sequence has been completed.

176 Everyday Practical Electronics, March 2002

Sensor socket glued to the mounting bracket.

now be reading the Prolonged exposure to such high humid-

ambient humidity in ity or contact of the sensor with liquid
RH%. water for any length of time, results in a
Using an extension lead for non-friendly environments. temporary 3% shift in the RH reading. In
IN USE this case the sensor will need to recondi-
Given the many tion over 30 minutes or more.
SETTING UP variables, including the analogue output The RH of air reduces if the tempera-
After a really close check on the meter mechanics and settling down time, the ture is increased. An example of this is
wiring, the supply current should be RH Meter should easily read the actual RH the air flowing through a computer mon-
checked on first switch-on. There is to within a 5 per cent band. The moving coil itor or TV. On a humid day when the
some spread in the i.c. current drain meter graduations are at 2% intervals so ambient humidity was 70% the warm air
specifications but the total current small relative values can be tracked. This is from the monitor was reading 40%RH.
should be around 14mA. a very small change in RH terms and is more Another example of reducing RH con-

The first operation is to set the 080V than adequate for most purposes. sisted of blowing air from a hair dryer in
reference. Connect a good quality high a room where the ambient RH was 65%.
impedance voltmeter between the test In this case the warmed air passing
point TP1 on the circuit schematic, which through the dryer dropped to about
is the VR3 slider, and the 0V (battery ve) 25%RH.
line. Using a small well-fitting screwdriver
adjust preset VR3 until the voltmeter reads
exactly 080V. This should be very simple .c Again a few minutes is needed for the
reading to get back to the ambient value. If
the sensor itself is warmed it will momen-
to achieve if the preset is in good mechan- tarily loose heat to the air within a couple
ical condition. of millimetres of the sensor reducing
Miniature presets like the specified type its RH.
3204 have a limited number of reset cycles Fig.7. Room temperature RH graph for This kind of experiment soon gives the

before the moving contact works loose and mounting on the meter case. user a feel for response times, re-settling
the resistor value changes a little. Once times and other sources of error. There
it is set, VR3 should not need further are many charts available linking RH,

adjustment. If IC1 operation is correct, this Determining absolute RH more accu- moisture content and temperature
080V reference should appear at IClb out- rately than this gets difficult. depending on the particular end use. The
put pin 7, which is marked as TP2 on the Individually certified versions of the small chart shown in Fig.7, and suggested
circuit. This is also a check on the volt- sensor can be obtained for scientific and as a decoration for the meter front panel,

meter and whether it is loading the poten- close-in control purposes. The fact that is useful for getting a general view of the
tial divider chain. the manufacturers can do this is a good relationship between RH and moisture
To set meter ME1 to full-scale deflec- indication of the excellent quality and over typical room temperatures. 6

tion (f.s.d.) it is necessary to use an accu- reliability of HIH series technology.

rate 39V source. This is provided by the Taking the output to a PC using a DAC
potential divider network around preset will allow much smaller changes, from

VR1 and is available at pad B. Connect the around 1%RH up to the full 100% RH
voltmeter between pad B and 0V line and range to be investigated with almost per-

adjust VR1 to give exactly 390V, again fect linearity.

assuming the test meter does not load the To check the operation of the RH Meter
potential source. This should also be stable and underline our confidence in the cali-
and need not be set again. bration it is useful to check the operation.
Now solder a temporary link from IC1a A few simple experiments will get you
input, pad C, to the 39V Ref, pad B. This started in the world of RH.
39V signal represents 100% RH and The sensor is described as chemically
meter ME1 f.s.d. should now be set to resistant and durable in harsh environ-
100% using preset VR2. ments. However, it is suggested that the
Moving coil meters require the mechan- sensing area is treated with care and not
ical zero, on the face of the meter, to be set. handled directly.
Present day meters can be a bit marginal in The first test is to put a finger tip up
quality and this adjustment may need to be close to the sensor, not actually touching
repeated. This adjustment must be made it. After a second or so the reading usually
with the meter held in the vertical position rises by about 10% from the bodys near-
as the makers seem to have lost the art of skin humidity. Breathing on the sensor will
balancing the meter movement. drive it to about 80%RH, the normal RH of
Similarly the readings should also be the breath. However, getting in close will
made with the meter vertical. The temporary drive the reading up to 100% due to con-
link from pad C to B can now be removed densation as when breathing on a mirror.
and the sensor X1 output pin connected to The meter will stay at 100% for several
the meter input, pad C. If a meter with a 0 to seconds and will then drop back to the
100 calibration is used the RH Meter should original reading.

Everyday Practical Electronics, March 2002 177