In the winter months, when heating systems are really chugging away, indoor air can become dry and staticky. A whole-house humidifier is a great way to add back a little moisture. Here are the basics.
Scratchy throats, frequent nosebleeds, dry skin, and static electricity can be common occurrences in winter—particularly when the combination of heated air and tightly insulated houses reduces humidity levels indoors.
“With frigid temperatures gripping most of the country, heating systems on full blast, and houses all buttoned-up against the cold, the air in a home can get pretty dry this time of year,” points out Daniel O’Brian, one of our tech team members. The solution to improved health and comfort, however, can be as simple as adding a humidifier.
Although everyone knows the old adage “it’s not the heat, it’s the humidity,” few people understand the relationship between the two. The actual heat a body feels is a combination of both temperature and humidity. The minute you turn on your home heating system in the winter, it begins to remove moisture from the air. Dry air feels cooler than moist air, so in a dry interior, in order to maintain a temperature that seems comfortable, you end up raising the thermostat higher than necessary. By adding humidity back into the mix, you can alleviate the dryness, lower the thermostat, and still feel comfortable—saving money on heating bills in the bargain.
“Not only can low humidity dry out your skin and throat, and generally make you feel uncomfortable,” says O’Brian, “it can contribute to other health issues—from making you more susceptible to colds and flu to aggravating conditions like asthma, allergies, and sinus problems.” Children and pets—especially birds—can be particularly sensitive to dry indoor air.
“Extremely low moisture levels can even be damaging to your home, causing wood floors and fine furniture to warp and crack, interior paint to dry out, chip and flake, and wallpaper edges to shrink and peel,” O’Brian notes. “And, if you think those static shocks are painful to the touch, think of what they are doing to your electronics!”
The simple answer to alleviating all these problems is to install a humidifier, which can be used to increase the moisture levels in specific rooms or throughout the entire house. Indoor humidity levels of 35 to 50 percent are considered to be the most comfortable, depending on personal preference.
Most people are familiar with single room humidifiers, which use cool mist, warm air, or steam vaporization to increase humidity in a room. There are also a variety of whole-home humidifiers that can be installed directly in line with your heating system to increase humidity levels throughout the entire house.
While there are various types of whole-house humidification systems, nearly all are controlled by a device called a humidistat, which allows you to set the exact level of humidity desired. Depending on the type of system you choose and the size of your home, a whole-house humidifier will use from 1.5 gallons up to 12 gallons of water per day when the furnace is operating.
Drum humidifiers are commonly used with forced-air heating systems. Drum systems feature a sponge attached to a drum that rotates slowly through a water reservoir. Warm air from the furnace passes through the sponge and picks up moisture, then the moist air is distributed throughout the house.
Bypass humidifiers are connected between hot and cold air return ducts. They use the pressure difference between the ducts to force heated air to pass through the humidifier and return to the furnace. Such humidifiers don’t contain a foam drum but rather a series of plastic discs with small grooves on both sides that allow for sufficient evaporative surface area without requiring a great deal of space.
Whole-house humidifiers are typically controlled by humidistats, devices that sense the moisture in the air and and allow you to maintain the desired level of humidity; they come in both manual and digital models. As the humidity level in a space drops, a set of electrical contacts in the humidistat close, turning the unit on. When the humidity level rises, the electrical contacts open, thereby turning the unit off. Some models have a dual function and can be used to control a dehumidifier in the summer months, when excess moisture becomes a problem.
The amount of humidification you need in your home is determined by the total square footage of the house, as well as the home’s construction and insulation. SupplyHouse.com offers a handy calculator to help consumers determine the best product to meet their needs. SupplyHouse.com offers a large selection of humidifier products and packages from leading manufacturers, and informative articles and instructional videos.
For more about humidifiers and heating products, visit SupplyHouse.com.
This post was written in collaboration with Bob Vila