During the wintertime, the relative humidity in your home can drop below 15%, causing a variety of health, comfort and woodwork damage problems for your home. Itchy skin and bloody noses plus hardwood floors literally separating at the seams are common to a number of homeowners. But, these side effects don’t have to be. And prospective home buyers should be mindful of this when they purchase a home when they inspect it. This article discusses options for increasing the humidity in the home you live in and/or in the one you are thinking of buying.
In the wintertime, as the outside air temperature drops, air loses the capacity to hold water vapor, and as a result, the relative humidity level drops. And then when the air in your home is heated up, it expands, and therefore the relative humidity of the air in your home drops even further. Most people find a humidity level of between 30-50% to be comfortable, but when the relative humidity in your home is too low, it not only feels uncomfortable, but it can also cause a number of other problems that we will discuss below.
Increase Wintertime Indoor Humidity
If your home is too dry in the winter, here are some suggestions for ways to increase the relative humidity levels in your home:
- Rather than using your bathroom fan after a shower, instead use a room fan to push the damp air out into the other rooms of your home. In addition to adding humidity, this will save you energy both by not having to heat the air to replace the air which would have been going out of your home from your exhaust fan.
- Rather than using the drying cycle on your dishwasher, leave the dishwasher door open to air dry the dishes. It not only will add humidity to your house, but it will also save you energy.
- Rather than using your clothes dryer, hang damp laundry inside your home on laundry racks. You might even want to use a room fan to increase drying time and to spread the humidity faster around your home. Not using your dryer will both save you energy and increase your home’s humidity.
- Water houseplants regularly and keep them well sprayed with water.
- Place shallow pans of water near heating vents and sunny windows.
- Use a water spray bottle to spray the air in your rooms with a fine mist (see types, costs, and reviews of spray bottles). Be careful not to spray more than what can evaporate quickly, or else you may damage your carpets, furniture, bedding, etc.
- Purchase a room-style humidifier.
- Have a whole-house humidifier installed.
Room humidifiers are made for adding humidity to a single room of your house and require that you continually add water to them. You can see examples and cost for various types of humidifiers at Amazon.com: humidifiers.
As you will see, there are 4 basic styles of room humidifiers:
Evaporative Humidifiers: Evaporative humidifiers are the most common and simplest in design, and provide the most basic level of service and features. They have just a few basic parts: a reservoir, wick, and fan. The wick is an absorbent material that draws up water from the reservoir and provides a large surface area for it to evaporate from. The fan blows air onto the wick to aid in the evaporation of the water.
Vaporizer: A vaporizer style room humidifier boils water, which thereby releases steam and moisture into the air. A medicated inhalant can also be added to the steam vapor to help reduce coughs. Vaporizers cay is healthier to use that evaporative style humidifiers because steam is less likely to convey mineral impurities or microorganisms from the standing water in the reservoir. But of course, boiling water requires significantly more energy than other room humidifier styles.
Ultrasonic or cool mist: An ultrasonic humidifier, or sometimes called a “cool mist” humidifier, doesn’t use a wick or steam but instead uses a small metal diaphragm vibrating at an ultrasonic frequency to break the water down into tiny water droplets. And then when they are blown by the fan, they become a fine vapor mist. These humidifiers are relatively quiet and use very little electricity. They also don’t require replacement filters if you use distilled water in them.
Impeller Humidifier: An impeller humidifier uses a rotating disc that flings water at a diffuser, which then breaks the water into fine droplets that float into the air.
Evaporative humidifiers are relatively inexpensive and easy to use, and these humidifiers can typically cover larger areas than other styles of room humidifiers. Steam vaporizers can be dangerous around children and pets because they can cause burns. They also have the highest energy costs, however, there are significantly less bacterial or mineral concerns with this style. Impeller and ultrasonic designs have low energy costs but raise two concerns. First, if the water gets stagnant, these designs will disperse bacteria into the air in your home. This is why it is so important to clean the tank regularly and refill it with clean water. Many high-end ultrasonic units, therefore, have antibacterial features built in, and some units use ultraviolet light to kill bacteria. The second concern with these style units is minerals in the water. Impeller and ultrasonic designs send these minerals into the air. As such, the EPA recommends using low-mineral water (such as distilled water) in your humidifier. And many ultrasonic models feature a demineralization cartridge that filters minerals out of the water.
Typical problems that can arise with room style humidifiers include:
- Since they use reservoirs, water may stagnate and give rise to mold and bacteria.
- The wick may become moldy.
- A vaporizer humidifier may be a source of fires if the heating element is poorly designed.
To keep room humidifiers operating properly, it is important to regularly clean the reservoir and wicks to deter the growth of mold and bacteria. It is also best to use distilled water so that minerals from tap water do not get dispersed into the air. And every week you should rinse the reservoir with bleach or white vinegar.
If your home uses forced air for heating or if you have central air conditioning, then you might want to consider using a whole-house humidifier. Whole house humidifiers are installed connected with your forced air heating or cooling system, and use your existing ductwork system to distribute the added humidity throughout your house. There are two basic type styles of whole-house humidifiers: reservoir and flow-through.
Reservoir type: there are two styles of reservoir type humidifiers: “drum style” and “disc wheel” style.
Drum Style: With a drum style reservoir whole-house humidifier, a pipe brings water directly to a reservoir (a pan) in a unit that is attached to your home’s ductwork. The water level in the pan is automatically controlled by a float valve, similar to the float system in the back of your toilet tank. The wick that carries the water is typically a foam pad mounted on a drum which is driven by a small motor. Hot air enters the drum at one end and then passes through the sides of the drum. The system turns off and on based on a humidity sensor which can be set at your desired level.
Disc Wheel style: A disc wheel style of reservoir whole-house humidifier is similar in design to the drum style humidifiers, but this style of humidifier replaces the foam drum with a number of plastic discs with small grooves on both sides. This creates a large evaporative surface area without requiring a great deal of space. And unlike the drum style humidifiers, the disc wheel does not need to be routinely replaced. This style of humidifier is fairly low maintenance, is high output due to its large evaporative surface area, and can be installed in hard water situations. It also maintains its efficiency throughout its lifespan.
Flow-Through type: There are two styles of flow-through type humidifiers: “bypass flow-through” style and “spray mist” style.
Bypass Flow-Through style: In this style of a flow-through humidifier, a pipe brings water directly to an electrically-controlled valve at the top of the humidifier. Air passes through an aluminum "biscuit" which is similar to coarse steel wool. The biscuit has a coating of matte ceramic, resulting in a large surface area within a small space. When the humidity sensor calls for humidity, the valve is opened and causes a spray of water onto the biscuit. Hot air is passed through the biscuit, causing the water to evaporate from the pad and be carried into your forced air ductwork. This style of humidifier is somewhat higher cost, but it's advantages include less risk of mold formation (since there is no pan of stagnant water) and reduced routine maintenance requirements.
Spray Mist Type: In this style of a flow-through humidifier, a small plastic tube brings water directly to an electrically-controlled valve in the humidifier. Water mist is sprayed directly into the supply air, and the mist is carried into your forced air ductwork by the air flow. These tend to be lower cost and are smaller in size, so it can fit in areas where other styles can’t. Like the bypass flow-through style unit, it has less risk of mold formation since it does not use a pan of stagnant water, and it is fairly low maintenance. However, the spray nozzle can get clogged if you have hard water.
Because of the materials and machinery used in the drum style, you’ll have to regularly clean your water reservoir and change your belt in order to prevent mildew, mold, bacteria and mineral buildup. Flow-through systems address the problems of a standing water reservoir by using a rectangular foam or aluminum pad, but the pad can get clogged if it isn’t replaced or cleaned regularly. Regarding the reservoir style humidifiers, both the drum style and disc wheel style are relatively inexpensive to maintain. The foam drum in drum style needs to be replaced regularly, while the disc wheel does not need routine replacement. Disc wheel style humidifiers also have higher output due to a larger evaporative area and can be installed in hard water situations. As mentioned above, the flow-through style humidifiers do not use pans, and therefore the risk of stagnant water and mold is greatly reduced. Flow-through styles tend to use less electricity.
During the wintertime, the relative humidity in your home can drop below 15%, causing a variety of health, comfort and woodwork damage problems for your home. Hopefully, this article has helped you to understand the various options for increasing the humidity in the home you live in and/or in the one you are thinking of buying.
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