If winter in your home means dry skin, scratchy throats and lots of static electricity buildup, you may have a problem with low humidity. Humidity refers to the amount of water vapor in the air. When you close the windows and turn the heat on in the winter, you begin to reduce the humidity in your home.
Dry air in your home can make your throat and skin feel dry and scratchy, cause or aggravate respiratory problems, dry out nasal passages and make you more susceptible to colds or the flu. Although winter weather is often blamed for these problems, another major cause is dry air produced by artificial heating. Humidifying your home to provide proper moisture levels will help alleviate these symptoms.
Dry air can also cause problems that are not health-related:
Low humidity can be an aggravation for homeowners, but a humidifier is a simple solution. Humidifiers increase the humidity in the air in a safe, water vapor form. They help make your home healthy and comfortable.
Financial Benefits of Humidifying Your Home
Controlling humidity can also help you save money on energy bills. The heat our bodies feel is a combination of temperature and humidity. In other words, the more humid the air, the warmer you feel. If you add humidity to dry, heated air in the winter, you can set your thermostat lower and still be comfortable.
Choosing a Humidifier
Don't simply look at cost when purchasing a humidifier. Capacity is an important factor. A humidifier's capacity should match your household's needs. Capacity is measured in gallons per day of operation. One method of estimating the capacity you need is to determine the square footage of the area you want to humidify. Use the chart below to determine what output level is best for you:
|Area||Output Rating (Gallons per day)|
|500 sq. ft. or lower||1.5--2.0|
|530-600 sq. ft.||2.2--2.5|
|700-800 sq. ft.||3.0--3.5|
|900-1000 sq. ft.||4.0--5.0|
|1000--2000 sq. ft.||7.0--9.0|
|Over 2000 sq. ft.||10.0 or higher|
Types of Humidifiers
When selecting a humidifier, take into account the purchase price, operating costs and maintenance costs of the unit. Some models consume more energy than others, so choosing a model that is right for your home and budget is important. Some of the most popular types of humidifier are listed below.
Whether you choose a warm mist or cool mist humidifier is a matter of personal taste. Both types raise the humidity level and make your home more comfortable. The cool mist humidifier is the most effective in adding moisture to the air: it works faster, doesn't make the room hot and lasts longer. Also, with a cool mist humidifier there is no risk of being scalded with hot water or steam.
Central heating can lower humidity levels in your home to as low as 10 percent during extremely cold weather. A humidity level of 35-40 percent is considered best. You may want to raise or lower it slightly, depending on personal preference, but the Environmental Protection Agency recommends a humidity level no higher than 50 percent. Many humidifiers feature a humidistat that allows you to control the amount of humidity released into the air. When the humidity level in the room is below the level you have set, the humidifier will produce moisture. When it has reached the set humidity level, the system stops. When the humidity drops below the set humidity level, the unit will automatically start and produce moisture again. This cycle will repeat until the tank needs to be refilled.
Consistent maintenance helps prolong the life of your humidifier for several reasons. After each operation of your humidifier, the inside should be cleaned to prevent the accumulation of concentrated minerals and to prevent bacterial growth. Follow the manufacturer's instructions. If your humidifier has a filter, it needs maintenance also. If you don't change your filter, minerals will build up and reduce your humidifier's output. As a filter collects impurities, it begins to discolor. When the lower portion of the filter shows discoloration, it's time to change it. Replace your filter at least once during the season. If you have hard water or water with high mineral content, you need to replace your filter more often. If you haven't used your humidifier for an extended period of time, dispose of the filter and install a fresh one.
Whole-house humidifiers are installed in the ductwork, next to your furnace. They add humidity to your entire home. Most have humidistats, allowing you to set the exact level of humidity you want. Installing a humidifier is an easy job if you're replacing your furnace, but you can also have a humidifier fitted to your current system.
Most whole-house humidifiers operate on the basis of a simple concept. Air heated by your furnace or heat pump passes through a ceramic-coated pad in the humidifier, called an evaporator pad. The evaporator pad is saturated with water. The air absorbs moisture from the pad and adds humidity throughout the home as it circulates. Depending on the model you choose and the size of your home, a humidifier will use from 1.5 to 12 gallons per day when the furnace is operating. This small amount of water is enough to raise the humidity to your desired level, but not enough for you to notice a difference on your water bill.
Be careful not to add too much humidity to your home. When warm, moist air comes in contact with a cold, dry surface, the water in the air condenses, creating water droplets. Your humidistat is set too high if this moisture is excessive. There are several ways to determine excess humidity:
Keep in mind that a tight, energy-efficient house holds more moisture. Adjust your humidistat until you reach an appropriate humidity level. Additionally, you may want to run a kitchen or bath ventilating fan or open a window briefly if the humidity level gets too high.