Are Furnace Humidifiers a Good Idea? 1 Reason Makes Them the Best

It happens to me every fall. My skin starts to feel tight and itchy, it gets red and if I don't act soon enough it starts to sting and feel raw. Ah...winter.

The problem is dry skin - caused by dry air. You could just put a tea kettle on the stove and let steam pour into your kitchen...but that could create mold growth AND we aren't in 1975 anymore..."we have the technology."

There are many solutions. Portable humidifiers and whole house humidifiers being the top choices. Often, whole house humidifiers are recommended. But, are furnace humidifiers a good idea?

Yes. Because of their ease of use and low maintenance, a furnace humidifier is a great way to improve indoor air quality and are highly recommended. But it can go sideways if you don't pick the right style for your HVAC system.

are furnace humidifiers a good idea

So, what type of whole house humidifier is the best? Or, more specifically, what is the best humidifier for YOU?

First some basics..

What Are the Benefits of a Humidifier?

Relief of Cold Symptoms: Overly dry air can cause your nasal passages to dry out. When the humidifier adds moisture back into the dry air, it can help soothe your sinuses, relieving sore throats and also letting you breathe easier.

Better Sleep: Do you wake up repeatedly during the night to get a drink of water? A humidifier helps the air to be less dry, reducing you feeling of thirstiness and letting you sleep more soundly. If you are snoring due to congestion or allergies, a humidifier can even help clear up your congestion, which can also result in better sleep.

Healthier Skin: Dry indoor air can cause dry skin and dry scalp, which leads to cracking, wrinkling, or flaking more easily. Having a humidifier will help your skin to stay hydrated longer.

Wood Floors: Wood floors and even wood furniture can be negatively impacted by dry air. Wood can begin to split and have gaps that could even cause injury. Maintaining the relative humidity levels can prevent this damage.

Humidification Methods

The type of humidifier that you choose will depend on your HVAC system, preference, budget, and room or house size.

Humidifiers automatically control indoor humidity and add moist air into a room or heating system.

When the indoor relative humidity dips, an automatic humidity control will call for water vapor to be released. How it does this can take a few forms.

  • Evaporative: This type of humidifier creates mist by blowing air over a wet filter. A fan powers the humidifier, pushing the humid air into the room. This is the most common whole house humidifier.
  • Steam: Steam humidifiers are electrically powered. There are portable and whole house humidifiers of this type. They heat water into steam and then cool the steam before releasing it into the air. Be careful though! Portable steam humidifiers can cause burns, so be sure to keep them away from children and pets.
  • Ultrasonic: An ultrasonic humidifier produces mist by using high-frequency vibrations to convert water into a fine mist. Then a fan blows the mist into the air. This is a common portable humidifier type. These humidifiers tend to be very quiet, making them a good option in a bedroom because they shouldn't disrupt your sleep.

Choosing Your Humidifier

Humidifiers range in size; there are humidifiers for small spaces, medium to extra large rooms, or even the entire home. Once you determine which space would most benefit from a humidifier you will need to decide between a portable and whole-house unit.

Here is a brief comparison:

Portable Humidifier Mist Types

  • Cool: Uses a filter to trap any minerals or impurities and then allows a cool mist to evaporate into the room. Because the filters are being used constantly, this type of humidifier requires the filter to be changed and/or cleaned more often. This type is a good option for you especially if you live in a warmer climate.
  • Warm: A warm-mist humidifier creates a warm and soothing mist. This is great for anyone with cold or flu symptoms. The added warmth makes them perfect for cold winter weather.
  • Dual: If you live in an area that has both cold winters and hot summers a dual mist humidifier might be the best for you. Like the name implies, these humidifiers are capable of producing both cool and warm mist.

Portable Humidifier Pros and Cons

Portable room units are freestanding, have their own water supply and plug into a standard electrical outlet. They're simple to operate. They can usually humidify only one or two rooms, though some of the largest units can provide enough humidity to keep several rooms comfortable.

The biggest perks of room units are the portability and convenience. You can move the unit anywhere you need it-to your bedroom at night and then into the main living area during the day.

It's a perfect solution for renters who can't install a whole-house unit. And when it's time to move, the humidifier can go with you.

A surprising downside is that a high-quality portable unit is typically more expensive than a whole-house humidifier. While whole-house units are able to utilize your furnace blower, portable units must include their own. They can be heavy and quite noisy.

The biggest "con" to portable units is maintenance. Depending on how large of an area that you're covering, you may have to fill the water reservoir daily. Most units have removable tanks for filling, which makes it a little more convenient but with others, you'll have to bring the water to the unit itself.

In addition, bacteria just love the standing water in a humidifier and if not kept clean it will blow those germs into the air.

Some recommendations for keeping it clean:

  • Don't use tap water; use distilled water instead.
  • Change the water in the reservoir daily.
  • Clean the unit thoroughly every few days.
  • Check the manufacturer's recommendations and replace the filter accordingly.
  • Check for dampness and moisture around the unit, which could indicate that it is turned up too high or is running too often.

Whole House Humidifier Pros and Cons

Because a whole house humidifier is integrated into the HVAC system and draws water right from your water supply it requires virtually no maintenance from you - that's a great advantage.

It keeps your entire home at a set humidity with a one-time setup at installation. Because it draws the water it needs directly from your homes water supply you never have to fill it.

It's also extremely quiet and the initial cost can be less than what most high-quality portable units cost. And if it's of the more popular evaporative type, the ongoing operation costs very little each year.

Installing a whole house humidifier usually requires a professional but it is possible for an experienced DIYer.

These whole house units do tend to collect mineral deposits, so a yearly cleaning at the end of the heating season with a diluted white vinegar solution is recommended.

Added Whole House Humidifier Feature

Automatic Adjustable Humidistat: A humidistat is like a thermostat except that instead of monitoring the temperature it monitors the relative humidity in the air.

A good furnace humidifier come with a humidistat with an extra feature. The ability to monitor both the outdoor and indoor humidity. With that ability it can adjust the indoor humidity levels based on outside conditions which is recommended to avoid indoor air quality issues.

Conclusion

A furnace humidifier is a great product but whichever type of humidifier you decide on it's extremely important to make sure it's clean and maintained. If not, any humidifier can develop the risk of mold growth, mildew, and unsafe microbes that it will release into your air.

If you want to read about another recommended furnace accessory, check out our article on furnace air filters or smart thermostats.

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ABOUT Robert Bradford

I'm Robert Bradford. I've been in the heating and air conditioning industry for 30 years. Over 40 if you count the years I helped my father as a kid. On this site, I share everything I've learned about finding the best HVAC contractors and equipment for your home. I'm happy to say that over the last few years, The Comfort Academy has grown into a trusted site with thousands of informed site visitors each year.
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