Adding moisture to your home's air with a whole home humidifier is one of the most important aspects of indoor comfort and air quality, yet it’s one of the least understood.
One reason for this is that humidity is an intangible. It can’t be seen, touched or smelled.
Too much humidity, and you invite mold and bacteria. However, when properly controlled, humidity offers many proven benefits during the heating season. (During summer, a key function of air conditioning is to remove humidity from your home.)
How a Humidifier Benefits You and Your Home
A humidifier not only provides comfort, it helps protect your home and its furnishings from the harmful effects of air that’s too dry. In addition to keeping your home and family comfortable, a humidifier can help reduce heating bills. Because humidified air feels warmer, you'll be able to turn your thermostat down for energy savings. In addition, physicians often recommend humidity to guard against dry skin, hair, and scratchy throats.
Dry weather and winter go hand-in-hand. Cold air cannot hold anywhere near as much water as warm air. As a result, during winter your home’s relative humidity—the percentage of moisture in the air—is much lower and needs to be raised to capture its benefits
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that you keep your home’s relative humidity levels between 30 and 60 percent. This will ensure comfortable indoor air quality.
Here are some major benefits of keeping your home at the right relative humidity.
- Keeping the air at the right humidity can save you energy. Humid air can hold more heat, which is ideal during the winter because your heating unit does not need to work as hard to keep your home comfortable. Expending less energy naturally means a lower electricity bill at month’s end. For example, 68-degrees at 40% relative humidity feels just as warm as 74-degrees at 20% humidity. Setting your thermostat back by as little as three degrees can reduce annual heating bills by as much as 5%.
>> Here's a good guide from the EPA's Energy Star program to estimate the amount of energy savings you might achieve using a humidifier
- Having sufficient moisture flowing through your nose and throat can alleviate sinus and respiratory problems, not to mention the annoying feeling of a dry throat.
- Say goodbye to chapped lips and dry, cracking hands. The added moisture will soothe your dry skin, preventing those unnecessarily painful experiences.
- Moist air will reduce the amount of static electricity in your home, so you won’t get an electric shock when petting Fido.
- If your home is too dry, various furnishings will suffer the consequences. Furniture and floors can splinter and crack from prolonged dryness. Musical instruments, such as Guitars, will lose tune. Paintings could crack. Avoid these potentially costly damages with a humidifier.
- House plants need moisture to survive. If the air is too dry, they will die. A humidifier will keep them thriving through the winter months.
Coupled with other good-home practices, such as regularly changing your furnace’s air filter, humidifiers can add even more health benefits and financial savings.
What Humidifier Types Are Available for Home Use
There are two basic types: a portable or "room" unit and a whole home humidifier, typically connected to your furnace.
1. Portable Humidifiers:
Room units are freestanding machines, usually on wheels, that have their own water supplies and plug into standard electrical outlets. They're usually powerful enough to humidify one to two rooms, though larger units can provide enough humidity to keep several rooms comfortable.
A key advantage to a portable humidifier is convenience. You can move the unit anywhere you need it: a bedroom at night or a living area during the day. It's perfect for renters who can't install a whole-house unit, and when it's time to move, the humidifier goes, too. They're simple to operate and do a good job of keeping a smaller area humidified. Portable units are also great to bolster "spot" humidity coverage to comfort a congested throat or to soothe troubled breathing/asthma.
If cool mist or ultrasonic portable devices are not cleaned regularly (every two-three weeks), mold and other bacteria can grow, which can enter into the vaporized water and eventually into the conditioned space. In warm mist applications, the water is heated to create steam, which kills most bacteria.
Calcium and lime buildup over time and can cause a decrease in the amount of steam delivered or change the trajectory of the heated vapor. This mineral buildup can be removed with a vinegar-based solution. Manufacturers recommend that maintenance measures should be taken on a weekly basis for such products.
2. Whole-Home Humidifier Systems:
Unlike a portable humidifier, a whole-house humidifier is usually installed by a HVAC professional in the ductwork of a forced warm air HVAC system. It works by blowing air over a moistened filter media, which infuses the moisture into the passing warm air.
The whole-house system's greatest advantage is that it requires virtually no maintenance and keeps your entire home at a set humidity with just a one-time setup. Because it draws water from your plumbing system as it's needed, you never have to fill it or worry that it's not humidifying because the unit has run dry. In addition, most whole-house humidifiers literally cost pennies per year to operate.
But, how much do home humidifier systems cost? A relative disadvantage of whole home humidifiers is the cost for the unit, as well as its professional installation. Still, a whole-house humidifier is a common investment that will save energy and improve the comfort for your family.
A Few Humidifier Considerations
Before installing a humidifier, make sure to consider the following:
- A humidifier needs to be sized properly to handle your home’s square footage. Otherwise, it won’t be able to keep your home humidified, and you won’t enjoy the benefits.
- Different types of humidifiers exist. Some portable units use a reservoir of water to supply the moisture. Unfortunately, these can result in stagnant water, which can cause mold and other health issues in the home.
- Make sure you don’t have any cracks or gaps in your windows, doors or foundation when running a humidifier, as you will keep losing moisture and wasting energy to no effect.
Convinced yet? Humidifiers can significantly improve your air quality at home. In case you’re curious, here are three major brands:
Have you installed a humidifier in your home? Which option did you choose? Which factors were most critical to your decision? Let us know in the comments.