Maintaining proper humidity levels in your home offers a number of benefits including improved energy efficiency and indoor air quality, longer life for your hardwood flooring and furniture, and even added protection against airborne cold and flu viruses. The ideal humidity level usually ranges somewhere between 30% and 50%. It’s easy to find out exactly where yours clocks in by using a basic hygrometer device, available at hardware stores and big-box retailers.
Why do you need a humidifier?
Like the human body, your living space requires a certain amount of water to thrive and function at its best. If the air in your home is too dry, you may notice frequent static shocks, cracks forming in wood furnishings and floors over time and possible health issues such as dry skin, sore throats, chapped lips, respiratory problems and bloody noses. These problems can become more noticeable in the winter when your furnace kicks on for the season, because heat saps air of much-needed moisture. Daily living activities like showers, cooking and laundry do introduce some water vapor back into the atmosphere, but often not enough to keep homes and those who live in them comfortable during the drier months of the year.
Humidifiers can add moisture to the air of a room or an entire home to reduce these and other adverse conditions. Another tangible benefit to note — humidity helps the air in your home feel warmer than it actually is, which can help residents feel good about leaving the thermostat turned down and keep energy bills low.
There are several types of humidifiers to consider on today’s market — whole-house models that attach to a furnace, free-standing portable units and small vaporizers that you can buy off the shelf at drug stores and retail outlets.
Whole-house humidifiers work in conjunction with your furnace to add moisture to the air throughout the entire home at regular intervals automatically whenever the furnace comes on. A more involved purchase than simply plugging in a portable unit, whole-house humidifiers must be professionally installed, and they can cost anywhere from $500 to $3,000 depending on the size and sophistication of the unit. If maintained correctly, whole-house humidifiers generally last 5 to 10 years.
By comparison, portable units and vaporizers are easy for homeowners to set up and move around themselves, relatively inexpensive and effective for adding moisture to individual rooms or small spaces. However, they don’t last as long as whole-house humidifiers, and portable units do require the use of a hose to discharge water into a nearby drain.
Homeowners don’t usually spend a lot of time thinking about their whole-home humidifier until it stops working. Some signs that may indicate a problem include noticeably drier air in the home, or water and moisture leaking around the unit.
The hardness of the water in your home plays a significant role in how well your humidifier works and can affect its shelf life over time. When hard water calcifies inside the unit, it leaves behind scale and debris that can reduce its operating power and efficiency. To keep whole-house humidifiers running smoothly, homeowners should plan to clean the unit and change the pad inside every two to three years, and as often as every year if the water in the home is especially hard. Water also runs through a metal or plastic grate in the unit where calcification can build up, leading to occasional replacement of that part as well.
Whether to tackle whole-home humidifier maintenance yourself or call a professional to do the job depends on the nature of the problems and your own skill and comfort level. Scheduling a professional service for your whole-home humidifier at the same time you have your annual furnace tune-up is an easy way to get ahead of any potential issues and keep both systems working in optimal condition for as long as possible.