A humidifier is a household appliance that increases humidity in single rooms or the entire house. Properly humidified air feels warmer. Moist air doesn’t pull moisture away from your body, and static electricity discomfort is reduced when air is properly humidified. When the humidity is at the recommended level, wood furniture, drywall and plaster don’t dry out and crack, and electrical appliances operate more efficiently. The proper humidity setting helps prevent nose and throat irritation, which helps prevent colds and other illnesses. A well-humidified home doesn’t suffer as much shrinkage during the cold months. This helps prevent outside air infiltration. In addition, as mentioned above, properly humidified air feels warmer so you will feel more comfortable at a lower thermostat setting, thus saving a little on heating costs.
What is the correct level of humidity? Most humidifier manufacturers recommend a level between 35 to 45 percent as the ideal indoor humidity level. If you’re interested in knowing the humidity level in your home, affordable devices such as digital hygrometers are available.
Step 1: Choose a Humidifier for Your Home
Decide on the best type of humidifier for your needs. There are portable humidifiers, which are used to humidify single rooms, and whole house humidifiers that humidify a much larger area. Also available are “forced air” furnace humidifiers that integrate with your home’s HVAC system to provide humidity throughout the house. When shopping for the right humidifier for your home, you need to decide which of these types will work best for you and your pocketbook. Keep the size of your home in mind when weighing the options.
Take into account how airtight your house is. Newer homes are usually the tightest, equipped with modern weatherization, vapor barriers and snug windows and doors. Older homes (especially pre-WWII) are usually considered “loose” because they were built without the technology that is available now. Of course, if your home is older, most likely there has been some retrofitting done to make the home more efficient. Evaluate your home to estimate how tight or loose it might be. This will aid you when trying to decide what specific device will humidify your home the best. A loose home may need a bit more humidity output than one that is almost airtight.
Humidifier capacity is measured in gallons of water used per day. On the lower end, if you want to humidify 500 sq. ft. of space or smaller, a 2-gallon capacity humidifier is ideal. Larger spaces and whole-house units usually require a 10-gallon plus capacity.
There are a number of humidifier types that are all effective but work in different ways:
- Evaporative – These humidifiers usually consist of a reservoir, wick and fan. The wick sucks up water like a sponge from the reservoir and the fan blows air over the wick creating moist air. That air is then expelled as a vapor to create comfortable humidity.
- Vaporizer – These models boil water and release moisture into the air. One benefit of this type is that medicated inhalants can be added to aid in better breathing for those who might have the flu or a cough. Also, they are less likely to pass along impurities that may exist in a humidifier’s reservoir. And, the boiling of the water destroys mold.
- Impeller – These expel a cool mist, produced by a rotating disc that throws water into a diffuser, which turns the water into tiny drops that are expelled.
- Ultrasonic – A metal diaphragm vibrates due to ultrasonic frequencies to create a cool fog that quickly absorbs into the surrounding air. A downside, with this and other types, is that the expelled moisture can contain impurities that may exist in its reservoir. This can be resolved for any humidifier model, though, by periodically cleaning the device to remove any contaminants or mineral buildup. Using distilled water can also cut down on unwanted mineral residue from being released into the air.
- Whole-house – These can be a stand-alone unit or a model that is integrated into the ductwork of your HVAC system. This type of humidifier does exactly what you would expect, adding moisture to the air throughout your home. While whole-house systems are more expensive and more difficult to implement (suggestion: hire a HVAC professional), they do have their benefits—the most obvious of which is controlled and consistent humidity throughout the house. Constant humidity levels are easier on household items and help decrease the effects of structural expansion and contraction during the cold season. Also, humid air feels warmer so you will likely turn down the heat which can save you money on energy costs during the winter. Most come with a humidistat so that you can set the exact level of humidity that you need.
Step 2: Don’t Overdo It and Monitor Home Humidity
While added humidity brings comfort, humidifying your home too much can make the air feel thick like in a sauna. You don’t want moisture to build on walls and other surfaces consistently over time. Mold can become a problem if humidity is too high and left unchecked. Look for persistent window fogging. If this happens, adjust humidity levels until it disappears. If walls are shiny and look wet, turn down the humidity output level on the device. Remember that you can also use a hygrometer to accurately check humidity levels in individual rooms or throughout the whole house.
While you don’t want windows to be so foggy you can’t see through them, some fogging at the corners or outside edges is not a sign that humidity is too high.
Step 3: Maintain the Humidifier
Keep your humidifier in proper working condition. It is always a good idea to give your humidifier a thorough cleaning periodically. You need to remove the mineral scale that builds up on the reservoir pan and any mold that may have built up. If this is not done, the water will not vaporize efficiently and eventually may stop working. Clean off buildup every month to keep it running efficiently.
Humidifier maintenance steps can vary by model and manufacturer. Check your owner’s manual to make sure you are keeping it maintained correctly.
First, unplug the humidifier and empty the water tank. Remove the humidifier head to get to the reservoir pan. Empty any water that is left in the pan, as well as loose mineral scale that may be left in the pan. Rub off any excess scale or mold with a rag and rinse thoroughly with water. Fill the reservoir pan with white vinegar and place the humidifier head back on top of the pan. Leave the humidifier unplugged and let the heating element soak in the vinegar overnight to let it loosen the mineral scale. Be careful when working around the heating element so that you don’t damage it. It is not necessary to chip mineral scale off with tools to get it clean. The next day, scrape off any mineral scale that became loose overnight after soaking. Using a utility knife and a small scrub brush (or an old toothbrush), scrub it thoroughly. It should come off easily.
Congratulations! Now you know some simple ways to humidify your home and make it more comfortable in winter.
Project Shopping List
Here’s what you’ll need to complete this project successfully.