Ideally, the humidity inside your home should be between 30 and 50 percent. But in the wintertime especially, that level can drop to as low as 10 percent, because cold air holds less moisture than warm air and dries even more as it is unnaturally heated. Basically, if you turn on the heater, it makes it worse. With the help of a humidifier, you can get your home feeling sprightly and comfortable once again.
Types of Humidifiers
Tabletop humidifiers are the least expensive humidifier models but only have enough capacity to humidify a single room, and their small tank requires frequent refills. While cheaper to run than console humidifiers, their fan is noisy.
Console humidifiers have a larger capacity than tabletop humidifiers as well as larger storage tanks, and they generate enough water vapor for a small house. They can still, however, be moved from room to room. All console models use evaporative technology, which makes them noisier.
Central humidifiers work similarly to central heating systems. They cannot, however, be installed in a home that is heated by hot water or electricity, or one that has no ductwork.
In-duct humidifiers are plumbed into the water supply and drainpipes, so they don't need to be manually refilled like other humidifiers. The filter only needs to be changed once or twice a year, and it's relatively simple. They generally require professional installation, but they're least expensive to run.
Important Humidifier Features
- Ease of use: Tabletop and console humidifiers, which need constant maintenance, should be easy to move and clean. The tank (or overall unit, if the model has no tank) should easily fit beneath your faucet for refilling purposes. For evaporative models, the wick should be easy to replace. Also look for user-friendly controls and units that display humidity levels and settings. Obviously, it's easier to get a humidifier to work if it's easy to work with.
- Humidistat: With a humidistat, a humidifier will shut off when it reaches a preset humidity level. This prevents over-humidification, which can cause window condensation, mold, bacteria and dust mites to form. However, be aware that most humidifiers won't let you set the humidity below 30 percent, a level that can still cause window condensation in the case that the outdoor temperature is below 20 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Noise: While some warm-mist tabletop models make little or no noise, similarly sized evaporative models can emit between 45 and 50 decibels of sound on the low setting, and even higher on the high setting. To avoid this, consider buying a console model and placing it away from sleeping areas.
- Timer: You can program some tabletop and console models to run on at a set time so that a room is well humidified when you get home. However, this convenience can become risky if you don't dry the humidifier out thoroughly between uses, because the sitting water in the tank can breed microbes and cause bacteria buildup.
- Energy Efficiency: To reduce electric consumption and help you save money on your utilities bills, look for a humidifier that has an Energy Star stamp of approval. Because humidifiers are commonly used during the winter time, when energy bills are at all-time highs, it can be helpful to save energy in every place possible.
Basic tabletop humidifiers can cost as little as $30 and as much as $100, depending on power and feature options. Console humidifiers are a little pricier, ranging between $110 and $180. Central humidifiers and in-duct models vary much more extensively in price. A standard non-steam central humidifier unit costs between $100 and $250, depending on capacity, but higher-end models can go for anywhere from $300 to $500. Installation is usually necessary, and will cost between $100 and $300 or more, depending on your heating system configuration and local rates. Central steam humidifiers (in-duct humidifiers) cost as low as $300 and as high as $1,100 or more, depending again on capacity and features, such as automatic humidistats. Professional installation is almost always required for in-duct humidifiers, adding anywhere from $300 to $500 more to your overall cost.
Humidifiers, Dehumidifiers & Air Purifiers
While a humidifier's main duty is to add moisture to the air, the result is helpful to a wide range of people. Anyone with uncomfortable dry or itchy eyes, throat or skin can benefit from increased humidity in their household. Also, people with indoor asthma problems during the heating season can do well with adequately humid households. In addition to health benefits, a humidifier can also reduce static electricity, prevent wallpaper peeling and avoid cracks in paint and furniture, all of which can occur in a too-dry indoor climate.
Dehumidifiers are somewhat different. Of course, their job is the exact opposite of a humidifier. Rather than add humidity to the air, dehumidifiers reduce indoor humidity levels. Similar to humidifiers, dehumidifiers are often used for health reasons. Because humid air can cause mold and mildew to grow inside homes, lowering that level to the standard indoor humidity of 30 to 50 percent is preferable. Higher humidity levels are also preferred by most insects, such as clothes moths, fleas and cockroaches, so dehumidifying can help avoid those, as well.
Air purifiers, on the other hand, are made specifically to remove contaminants from the air. They are typically marketed as being helpful to allergy sufferers and asthmatics, and at reducing second-hand tobacco smoke. Humidity does not play a factor in air purifiers at all.