While many folks complain about high humidity in summer, winter can bring the opposite problem. As you turn the thermostat up, air inside your house passes through your furnace, and the humidity of that air drops–leaving you with cracked lips, itchy skin, and a sore throat.

For the winter months, ASHRAE guidelines recommend maintaining indoor humidity levels between 30 and 60 percent, and temperatures between 68 and 75 degrees. A whole-house humidifier can be crucial in maintaining these conditions.

Why Humidify?

Humidifying your home could be good for your health, your home and your electricity bill.

Maintaining the right level of humidity can help reduce:

  • Sinus congestion
  • Dry, scratchy throat
  • Irritated or bloody nose
  • Dry, brittle skin
  • Cracked lips
  • Sore throat and dry cough

Humidity also helps prevent wallpaper from peeling and the wood in your house from splitting. Your crown molding, hardwood floors, and wooden doors will thank you for adding a humidifier if your home is overly dry. You’ll also reduce static electricity, which can cause shocks and damage to your electronics.

Human comfort is also affected by humidity levels. As the relative humidity in our surroundings increases, the rate of evaporation of the moisture off of skin decreases. This evaporation of moisture is what makes our skin feel cool. So adding humidity will slow the moisture evaporation off your skin and make you feel more comfortable even when the thermostat is set a little lower on those cold winter days–which is great for your wallet.

Measure the Humidity

If you suspect a low humidity problem in your house due to comfort issues or respiratory problems, the first thing you need to do is accurately measure the humidity. You can do so with a gauge called a hygrometer. These are available at most hardware stores and will give you an objective reading of your home’s humidity. Record the humidity at different times of day and under varying ambient conditions. These first readings will serve as the baseline for any improvements you attempt in the future.

Increase Humidity by Fixing Leaks

If you live in a new, tightly-sealed house, you may not need a humidifier. But leaky older houses generally dry out in winter. Familiarizing yourself with general construction practices and materials, and then identifying how your house is constructed is an important first step in tightening up a leaky home. For homeowners with no interest in DIYing such an important upgrade, an HVAC contractor can be called to locate breaches in your building envelope, providing you with a proposal to remedy unwanted air infiltration. Adding a few living, breathing houseplants is a very economical option for increasing indoor humidity if you are looking to take more simple measures–but it won’t work as well as more drastic measures.

Consider a Whole-House Humidifier

Still too dry? A humidifier might be the way to go. While you can get an inexpensive plug-in humidifier at the drugstore, the best humidifiers are whole-house humidifiers which attach directly to your furnace and are controlled at your thermostat. They are installed in your attic or closet so they are out of sight. A portable humidifier can take up living space and be an eyesore. A whole-house humidifier never needs to be filled with water, because it is hooked up directly to a water line, whereas a portable humidifier will need your constant attention. Portable units are also quite often noisy. A whole-house humidifier uses your furnace fan as a means to distribute moisture so no new noise is created. A humidifier hooked up to your furnace will also use the existing ducts to deliver the moist air, and will therefore more evenly distribute it throughout the house.

Types of Whole-House Humidifiers

The three key components of all humidifiers are air, heat and water. Models that attach to your furnace come in several different types, each with pros and cons.

Flow-through humidifiers can be mounted right on the air return duct of your furnace. Inside is an evaporator pad. The warm air from your furnace absorbs the pad’s moisture and spreads it through the ducts. This type gives you the fewest worries about bacteria and mold.

In the reservoir type of humidifier, a water reservoir teams up with a rotating drum to spread moisture through the air. These are the most affordable, but require more maintenance.

Spray-mist humidifiers are compact, efficient, and require little maintenance. But they only work with gas or oil furnaces, not those powered by electricity.

Your humidifier comes with a nifty gauge called a humidistat. This is just like a thermostat, but allows you to control humidity instead of temperature. You can even get an automatic control with an outdoor sensor which continually monitors your relative indoor humidity level.

Whatever type of humidifier you choose, be sure and research the different types of humidifiers and contractors in your area. This will help you more efficiently meet the needs of both your family and your house. You and your family will benefit from having the right amount of moisture in the air. Your pets, plants, and house will too.

Top Image Credit: Motionspace Architecture + Design PLLC

Do you think a whole-house humidifier is worth the investment?