Understanding Home Humidifiers

A humidifier.

If you're like many of us who live in climates where winter brings cold North winds and lots of snow, you probably seal up your house so none of those cold drafts can get inside. You weather-strip the doors and caulk all around the windows and make sure any openings are closed up to keep the cold out and cut down your heating costs. Now comes a real kicker, did you know if you do too good a job of sealing your home, you might actually end up raising your heating bills?

That's right, tests have shown that new energy-efficient homes and older homes that are tightly sealed against the elements can actually have higher heating bills than homes that aren't as airtight. You see, people feel most comfortable when the humidity in the air is between 30% and 50%, but during the winter the humidity in a tightly sealed home can drop as low as 10%.

This low humidity is caused by central heating that circulates air that hasn’t just been warmed, it's also been dried as it was heated. So, when the indoor air has very little moisture in it, our body moisture evaporates quickly, and we start to feel cold so we raise the temperature.

Low Moisture Problems

In addition to making us feel cold, low moisture can cause other problems, such as shocks from static electricity particularly after you've walked across a carpet. The shocks aren't just painful; they can actually cause problems with electronic equipment and even computers.

The dry air will make your nose and throat feel scratchy and sore, dry out your skin and make you susceptible to colds and flu.

Wood flooring and moldings can dry out and develop gaps or even cracks.

Houseplants will get sickly and you might even find some wallpaper starting to peel at the edges and seams.

Adding humidity to the air in your home will help get rid of these problems. You can do that in a number of ways, such as adding a central humidifier to the heating system, boiling a pot of water on your stove, or drying your clothes on a rack in the basement, but one of the cheapest and easiest ways is to get a portable humidifier.

Types of Humidifiers

When it comes to humidifiers, you’ve got a lot of options to choose from. Warm air humidifiers produce either steam or a warm mist. Steam vaporizers are almost like a kettle and they use very hot water and steam to add moisture to a room because the heat can be dangerous, particularly when children are around.

Warm mist humidifiers, on the other hand, are different from steam vaporizers in that the steam is cooled before it is released into the room, so there is no danger of anyone getting burned by the moist air coming out of the unit. Cool mist humidifiers work in one of two ways to produce moist air.

Atomizer-type humidifiers use an internal device like an impeller or small disc to drive water through a fine screen turning it into water vapor.

More common evaporative humidifiers use a fan to blow air over a filter or a wick that is saturated with water. The air passing through picks up moisture and carries it into the room.

Choosing Your Humidifier

The purchase price is a major consideration when it comes to what to purchase. Humidifiers range from $25 for a small one-room model to $150 for a larger console design that can humidify a number of rooms. Do you want to try and humidify a single room (like a bedroom) or raise the humidity on one whole floor of your home?

Ongoing operating costs are also a factor. Not just the amount of energy consumption and water consumed, but maintenance costs as well. Humidifiers need to be cleaned regularly including the filters. However, with some designs, the filters can't be removed and cleaned, they need to be replaced (and this obviously adds to the cost).

Does it have a humidistat? A humidistat is similar to a thermostat except rather than temperature, it measures the humidity in the air and when the moisture content of the air reaches the desired setting, it turns off the humidifier. Similar to too little humidity, too much humidity can also cause problems in your home, so a humidistat that controls when the humidifier turns on and off is a valuable feature.

Operating Your Humidifier

Manufacturers know their product best, so always follow the manufacturer's directions on how to maintain your specific humidifier. However, here are some general tips on caring for your humidifier.

If possible, use demineralized water or distilled water to prevent a build-up of scale or rust in your humidifier.

Bacteria can grow in standing water, it's important to clean out the water tank on a regular basis (at least once a week when it’s being used). Also, if you aren’t going to be using your humidifier for a while, empty the water tank and clean it.

Also clean or replace the filters on a regular basis, since the damp surface can promote the growth of bacteria.

When spring comes, give your humidifier a thorough cleaning with an anti-bacterial solution (or oxygen bleach and water) so it's ready to go next winter.