As the days are getting colder, the air is getting drier. Combine that with a heater running day and night—now the air is even drier. It’s an endless cycle of miserably dry air!
For some homeowners, the next step is to go out and buy a portable humidifier. They might buy several of them, or just one for the bedroom of the family member that is most sensitive to dry air.
So, does that mean you need to install a humidifier in your home? If there was a simple answer to that question, we wouldn’t need to write this article. Yet here we are.
A common method of increasing household humidity is through the use of small, portable humidifiers that can add moisture to the air in the room where you need it most. They are inexpensive but not ideal if you want to humidify your entire house. For that, you need a whole house humidifier, sometimes also known as a central humidifier. These humidifiers attach to your house’s HVAC system and provide a constant flow of moisture to every room in the house.
But just as dehumidifiers aren’t always the best option for lowering humidity during summer, humidifiers aren’t always the best option for increasing humidity during winter. What’s more, humidifiers can cause just as many problems as they solve.
In this article, you will learn the pros and cons of a whole house humidifier and whether a humidifier is the answer or not,
The Pros and Cons of Whole House Humidifier
Nobody installs a whole-house humidifier unless they’re having a problem of some kind. Many people absolutely can’t stand having dry skin during winter. It can actually be painful, and a humidifier probably will help your skin from getting too dry.
In other homes, the air gets so dry that wood furniture cracks and gaps form between floorboards. Pianos go out of tune. Everything just feels off-kilter (or off key).
Super-low humidity just isn’t fun. Any time your indoor relative humidity dips into the middle-20% range, it’s a good idea to increase it. The thing is, humidifiers have problems of their own.
Like any home product, there will always be a few downsides for a homeowner to consider in regards to whole home humidifiers….
1. They might cause mold to grow in your home
This happens more often than you might think. Since humidity sticks to cold surfaces and your home contains many cold surfaces during winter, the environment is often perfect for fuzzy, black stuff to show up.
Dust is a food source for mold, so when you combine excess moisture and dust — mold can take root.
Even for portable whole home humidifiers, you will still want to clean the unit on a two week schedule and preferably add some type of fungicide to the basin.
2. Hiding HVAC Air Leaks
A furnance central humidifier may just mask a bigger problem of home air leaks. This is more of a problem with older homes when the building codes were less advanced.
How did the air in your home get so dry in the first place?
The answer is simple: Cold air from the outdoors infiltrated your home through gaps and cracks in the building envelope. Seal off the points of entry for that dry air, and you’ll increase your relative humidity.
If you do a good job, you won’t need a humidifier at all.
Most of all, it’s the cold air that sneaks in through the plumbing, electrical, and ductwork penetrations between your first floor and your crawl space.
When you seal off these sources of air leakage, you achieve two things:
- You close off the “escape hatch” by which warm air leaves your home.
- You prevent air infiltration from the outdoors, which keeps your indoor humidity from getting too low.
Stated more simply, you should strongly consider air sealing your home before purchasing a whole-house humidifier. By doing so, you’ll be in a great position to mitigate uncomfortable dryness and avoid all of the problems associated with humidifiers.
The best way to discover your biggest sources of air leakage is via a blower door test. That way, you can determine both the air infiltration rate and identify the biggest sources of leakage.
Undoubtedly there are some big advantages to having a central home humidifier. During the cold season, the air can become uncomfortably dry. Who wants to live in the Sahara desert, really?
Here are some of the top pros of owning a whole house humidifier…
1. Automatic Humidity Control
With both portable and HVAC whole house humidifiers — the biggest benefit is that they automatically control indoor humidity and keep it at a comfortable level.
When it is cold outside, and the heat is turned on, the air is naturally drier. This dry air tends to exacerbate allergies, dry skin, creaking floors, and is just not comfortable.
Whole home humidifiers have humidistats so you can set the desired humidity in your home, say 40% — and the central home humidifier will pump out moisture until it reaches 40% relative humidity.
2. Low Maintenance
This pro is largely for HVAC inline whole home humidifiers. With the ducted humidifiers, you basically just have to change the evaporator panel (filter) once a year, and at that time, it’s also a good idea to give it a good wipe down to get rid of any mineral (scale) debris.
The maintenance is almost non-existence except for this once a year evaporator panel change. These panels are typically in the $10 range, and can be swapped out in a minute or two.
3. Indoor Air Quality
Having a properly humidified indoor air environment has proven health benefits. The ideal indoor humidity is in the 35% to 45% range.
Adequate moisture has shown to reduce allergies and other respiratory conditions. Moisture rich air in the 35% to 45% relative humidity level has shown to reduce the incidence of chapped lips, sore throats, dry skin, and sinus irritations.
Besides the health issues, it just makes the living environment much more comfortable, and can also help preserve wood floors, wood furniture, and other home products.
If you do opt for a humidifier…
Air sealing should always be your first course of action to alleviate problems caused by dry indoor air. That said, there are circumstances when you might want a humidifier anyway. For example, maybe your household activities don’t generate enough humidity to make you comfortable, even after you’ve air-sealed your home. You need a humidifier to even things out, so to speak.
Whatever your reasons for installing a whole-house humidifier, these best practices will help you avoid potential mold and indoor air quality issues:
- Get a steam humidifier: Steam humidifiers boil water on their own. Unlike bypass humidifiers, which “steal” a little hot air from your supply duct to generate water vapor, steam models are more efficient. Basically, you get more humidity during a shorter run time. Bypass models also dump hot air right back into your return plenum, which can increase the temperature of incoming air and cause your system to overheat. A proper installation can mitigate this, but it’s still a risk.
- Only run the humidifier when the furnace is on: If your ducts are in an unconditioned space (most people’s ducts are), running the humidifier while the ducts are cold increases your risk of mold growth. By setting the humidifier to only run when the furnace is calling, you can be reasonably sure that the hot air is blowing the moisture out of your ducts and into your home.
Every home is different, so your humidifier installation might require a unique approach. Always work with an experienced HVAC contractor who uses sound installation methods and takes stringent quality control measures.
Are Whole House Humidifiers Worth It? In our opinion, it is definitely considered an upgrade to the new home buyers when looking at a home — so it definitely won’t hurt you when it comes to sell.
Besides increasing the marketability of your home, the benefits of having better quality air through decreased allergies, chapped lips, dry skin, and creaking wood floors may make it worth your while to buy one.
Wondering how to manage humidity in your home this winter? Whether a humidifier is the answer or not, our team can help!
Give us a call today at (571) 410- 3555 or contact us to schedule an appointment for service with one of our trained technicians.