Forced hot air furnaces can cause the air in your home to become very dry and uncomfortable. Excessively dry air can cause irritation to skin and breathing passages. A solution is to add humidity or moisture back to the air through the use of a humidifier.

There are mainly two types of humidifiers used in homes, portable and whole-house humidifiers.

Portable humidifiers use a reservoir to supply water to an evaporation or misting delivery system. These units are typically used to add moisture to the air in single rooms or more concentrated areas of the home.

Whole-house humidifiers use a supply line connected to the water supply system of your home. These units are normally installed on the distribution ducts near the furnace. The majority of these devices provide water flow across a replaceable filter and use a fan to blow air across the filter or direct some of the heating system air across the filter to evaporate the water and humidify the air.

Although they are normally more expensive to purchase and install, whole-house humidifiers have several advantages over portable models:

  • The water is supplied through your homes plumbing system; there is no reservoir to keep filled.
  • Continuously moving water will not sit in the reservoir and stagnate over periods of non-use which can lead to bacterial growth and possible illness.
  • A humidistat installed with the unit will keep the humidity level constant through your entire home with very little effort.
  • The unit is always in-place and ready, no need to dig it out of storage each winter.

Humidity levels are naturally higher in the summer and lower during winter months. Ideally, humidity in your home should be between 30 and 50 percent. Humidity that’s too low or too high can cause problems.

  • Low humidity can cause dry skin, irritate your nasal passages and throat, and make your eyes itchy.
  • High humidity can make your home feel stuffy and can cause condensation on walls, floors and other surfaces that triggers the growth of harmful bacteria, dust mites and molds. These allergens can cause respiratory problems and trigger allergy and asthma flare-ups.

Humidity levels should be checked periodically to ensure your unit is operating properly. If your humidifier uses an adjustable humidistat, it should keep the humidity level close to the setting you have selected. If your humidifier does not use this type of control, you can purchase a hygrometer  to test humidity levels in your home. This device, which looks like a thermometer, measures the amount of moisture in the air. Hygrometers can be purchased at hardware stores and home centers.

Remember that all humidifiers need routine maintenance and cleaning, these are often one of the most neglected appliances in your home. If properly maintained, a humidifier will make your home more comfortable and healthy this winter.