This time of year, dry air is common both outside and inside your home; a humidifier is a good way to relieve the dry throat, lips, skin, and dry and bloody nose that go along with the dry air. Maintaining proper levels of humidity also helps the body’s ability to effectively fight disease.  This is the case since our nasal membranes must be moist in order to act as a proper filter.  On the other hand, too much humidity can encourage the growth of mold and mildew. So how can you safely ensure the EPA-recommended 30-45% humidity inside your home?

There are many types of portable humidifiers that can be filled with water and plugged into the nearest outlet, including:

  • Evaporative.  Also called a “cool mist” humidifier. An evaporative humidifier has a reservoir for the water, a wick, and a fan. This unit can become moldy if not dried out between uses and can become mineral-encrusted if tap water is used.
  • Vaporizer. Also known as a “warm mist” humidifier. A vaporizer boils water to release steam and moisture. A vaporizer also allows for medicinal inhalants to be added to aid breathing and reduce coughing.  A vaporizer is least likely to convey microorganisms or impurities into the air.
  • Ultrasonic.  This type of unit vibrates at ultrasonic frequency to turn water droplets into fog. An ultrasonic humidifier turns minerals in tap water into a white dust that is difficult to remove, so distilled water is strongly recommended.  Stagnant water tanks can convey bacteria into the air.

Portable humidifiers must be continually cleaned, should be filled with distilled water, and can still disperse microorganisms and bacteria into the air—while covering everything around them in a fine white dust – The perfect alternative is a whole-house humidifier.

Benefits of whole-house humidifiers include:

  • A hygrostat, measuring humidity, is standard equipment.  You will have the correct level of humidity at all times, instead of just guessing with a plug-in model.
  • The maintenance of a good level of humidity protects wooden furniture, objects, and antiques, as well as other items that can be damaged in dry air.
  • Moist air is comfortable at lower temperatures, allowing the thermostat to be set lower.
  • The entire house is humidified instead of just the area around the portable humidifier.

Whole-house humidifiers have come a long way.  Older types used pads or discs that were run through a stagnant water reservoir, allowing bacteria, mold, and viruses to be spread through the system to the household.  Alternatively, a type that sprayed water into the air could become clogged and drip water onto the hot heat exchanger, which could damage the furnace.

Better alternatives now available include the following:

  • Bypass Flow-Through.  Water passes over a humidification panel while warm air from the furnace comes through the bypass and picks up moisture that is then distributed through the house via the home’s heating system.
  • Power Flow-Through.  Similar to the bypass flow-through, this unit includes a fan that blows across the humidification panel, eliminating the need for a bypass.  This unit still relies on heat from the home’s furnace in creating the humidification.
  • Steam.  A steam humidifier produces steam that is introduced into the home’s duct system.  This unit provides homeowners with 100% control of the amount of humidification they desire in their home.  This unit does not require heat in order to operate, just the furnace fan.

Whichever type of humidifier you choose, read the instruction manual for cleaning and maintenance. Proper cleaning is essential to keeping bacteria and mold out of your air. 

Whole-house humidifiers may cost more than portable ones, but the lack of maintenance and greatly reduced risk of mildew and microorganisms in the air, as well as the savings in heating costs, make them a worthwhile investment.

Sources:
http://www.epa.gov