Humidifiers: Why We Need Them, How They Work, and Other FAQs

Humidifiers: Why We Need Them, How They Work, and Other FAQs

by | Educational, Energy Efficiency

Humidifiers are a frequently overlooked household appliance that can make a vital difference in your at-home comfort. When used correctly, they offer health benefits and add a level of protection inside your home. Plus, humidifiers can provide homeowners with energy savings 

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the benefits of using a humidifier in your home. We’ll also discuss the ideal home humidity level, how humidifiers work, and the different types of humidifiers. 

Why Use Humidifiers? 

Measures of air moisture are expressed as a percentage: how much water vapor is in the air relative to the maximum amount of water vapor that could exist at that air temperature. We refer to this measurement as relative humidity. Get too much moisture, and you put your home at risk for the growth of mold and mildew, plus peeling paint, rotting wood, and other things that most of us would prefer to avoid.  

But when there’s not enough moisture, you can suffer from a significant amount of dry air-related problems. (We’ll get to those in just a second). So, what’s the proper relative humidity level for indoor air? The ideal relative humidity level for inside your home or business is 30-50%. Regardless of your residential region, having control of the humidity levels in your home is crucial for your health and happiness. Here’s why. 

The Health Benefits Humidifiers Provide 

Humidifiers Need | Chapped Lips Imagesource:

One of the most significant benefits that humidity offers is that it’s a natural moisturizer, relieving problems associated with dryness. And when it comes to dry air problems, there’s no shortage. Cold symptoms, like coughing and wheezing, along with bronchitis, thrive in dry air. Using a humidifier will not only help subdue these issues if you get sick, but it can also help you avoid getting sick in the first place.  

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If you have allergies and asthma, the risk of infection can increase with dried-out airways. And unfortunately, the list of dry-air related health issues doesn’t end there. If you suffer from any of the issues mentioned below, consider a humidifier to improve the air quality in your home: 

  • Cracked lips 
  • Dry skin 
  • ​Fragile hair 
  • Influenza 
  • Irritated nasal passages 
  • Irritated vocal cords 
  • Itchy eyes 
  • Sinus congestion 
  • Sinus headaches 
  • Sinus inflammation (sinusitis) 
  • Snoring 
  • Sore throat 
  • Throat dryness 
  • Nosebleeds 
  • Nose irritation 

The cold winter months are when people most commonly experience these issues, but if you live in a warm, humid climate, you’re not off the hook. Air conditioner season is also a prime time for these dry air-related issues because air conditioners act as dehumidifiers by removing moisture from the air and circulating cool, dry air throughout your home.  

How Can Humidifiers Reduce Your Electric Bills? 

Using a humidifier can keep your space feeling warmer since humid air feels warmer than dry air. This helps reduce your energy bills because the air temperature literally feels warmer just from increasing the humidity. Now, you can keep your thermostat set at a lower temperature. Sometimes, you can even eliminate the need to turn on your space heater or heating system. 

On average, humidifiers use about 35 watts to operate. If you used your humidifier non-stop, 24-hours per day for an entire year (not that you would), and your electricity rate is 12 cents per kilowatt-hour (kWh), it would cost you less than $40. That’s for the entire year.  

This could potentially save you a pretty penny on your heating bill, plus you keep your inside atmosphere at a healthy humidity level. You can use this electricity usage calculator to figure out your exact costs.   

What Causes Home Humidity? 

Humidity Produced by Steamsource

Anything that creates moisture can be a source of natural humidity inside our homes. Here are the usual suspects: 

  • Cooking 
  • Sinks 
  • Showers 
  • Dishwashers 
  • People (or pets) breathing 
  • Open windows and doors 
  • Leaky windows and doors 
  • Poorly maintained HVAC systems 

How Do I Measure the Relative Humidity Level in My Home? 

Checking the humidity levels inside your home or business is something that should become a daily habit. Sometimes there are humidistats built right into your humidifier. But, if not, you can easily purchase a hygrometer. You can buy these from many general retail stores, hardware stores, or Amazon for well under $20. 

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What Are the Different Types of Humidifiers? 

Humidifier Types Illustrationsource

When it comes to humidifiers, you’ve got options. There are two main types of humidifiers: cool-mist humidifiers and warm-mist humidifiers (also called steam vaporizers). But, there are several different styles to choose from. They all work equally well, so you can base the type of humidifier you choose entirely on personal preference and features offered. So, let’s see what the options are and how they work. 

1. Impeller Humidifiers 

These are cool-mist humidifiers that work for single rooms. Impeller humidifiers are typically one of the more affordable types. They work by using a fast rotating disc to stir water into little droplets, which then enter the air. Many offer different mist types so you can adjust the amount of humidity you are creating.  

These are child and pet-friendly since they don’t create hot steam. The lack of a heating element means there’s no burn risk. However, it’s critical to clean them properly so that bacteria and viral material don’t grow within the unit. Dirty units that are allowed to grow bacteria will expel that bacteria into the air along with the mist. 

2. Ultrasonic Humidifiers 

These use ultrasonic vibrations to create a mist. Both cool-mist and warm-mist versions are available. The price of ultrasonic humidifiers varies based on the size of your home. Cool-mist ultrasonic humidifiers are a good choice for homes with children, but again, proper maintenance is required.  

3. Evaporative Humidifiers 

Evaporative humidifiers, or evaporators, use a fan to blow cool air through a wet filter, expelling moisture into the air. These are another affordable single-room option. You have virtually no control over this type of unit. So, if you choose to use an evaporative humidifier, it’s essential to monitor your humidity levels regularly. Over-humidifying can lead to mold growth and other serious issues. With evaporative humidifiers, you’ll need to make sure that you keep up with proper cleaning of all components, which means the unit itself, the filter, the water tank, and the fan. 

4. Whole House or Central Humidifiers 

These humidifiers are built right into your heating, venting, and air conditioning (HVAC) system. Of course, they will cost more than the smaller, single room humidifiers. Still, if you’re looking for a consistent humidity level throughout your entire home, these are your best choice. Since whole house or central humidifiers don’t create steam, there is no burn risk associated with them.  

However, if you think you’re going to get one of these so that you can skip the hassle of the cleaning it, think again. Whole house humidifiers still have a water tank that needs to be cleaned regularly. The manufacturer directions will let you know how frequent that is, but it’s generally going to be about every two to three weeks. Fortunately, many whole house filters typically last for an entire year. These should be cleaned or replaced annually.  

5. Steam Vaporizers 

These single-room units are electrically powered. Steam vaporizers heat then cool water to create steam. The steam exits through a tube which then humidifies the entire room. One benefit to steam vaporizers is that some models feature an aromatherapy diffuser for essential oils and inhalants. You can even sit near the unit to breathe in the humidified air directly into your lungs. This feature can be especially helpful for those with asthma and allergies.  

Steam vaporizers are also the most portable humidifiers, plus they’re affordable and readily available. Finally, any pathogens or bacteria that grow in the water boil away before the steam is released, so in this sense, they are safer. While you still have to clean these units, you can get away with a simpler, less frequent cleaning routine. However, there is a risk factor, as the heating element creates a burn risk. Because of this, experts consider these units dangerous to use around children or pets. 

6. Console Humidifier Units  

These large units, often mounted on wheels, are used to humidify large rooms quickly. Console units can even humidify your entire house without having to build something into your HVAC system. Console humidifier units are typically cool-mist evaporative humidifiers but on a larger scale. Their size and ability to humidify large spaces quickly equals a heftier price tag than you’ll see on portable humidifiers. Although these units are large, they are considered cool-mist portable humidifiers and will need to be properly cleaned and maintained according to the manufacturer’s recommendations.  

How Often Should I Clean My Humidifier? 

How often you need to clean your humidifier is based on its water tank capacity. Follow these recommended guidelines to ensure that you’re cleaning your humidifier frequently enough: 

  • Humidifiers that have a water tank capacity of five gallons or less – daily cleaning and weekly sanitization  
  • Humidifiers that have a water tank capacity of five gallons or more – follow the recommendations of the manufacturer for cleaning, and sanitize every-other-week. 

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What Other Features Should You Look for in a Humidifier? 

Humidifier Features | Modern Humidifier photosource

We went over the basics of what each of the different types of humidifiers has to offer. On top of that, humidifiers come with a variety of features. Not all steam vaporizers offer the same features, and that goes for the other humidifier types as well. Here are some features you can look for when you go humidifier shopping: 

  • Size: Pay attention to the room size that you are interested in humidifying. Is it 25 square feet or 1,000 square feet? Most humidifiers will state the room size that they’re able to cover. 
  • Water tank capacity: How much water does the unit hold? Does it have a half-gallon tank or a two-gallon tank? If you plan to run your humidifier a lot, how often will you wind up refilling the tank? Every model has a different output, which is listed under the product’s specifications or features.  
  • Top fill: This feature makes refilling and cleaning the water tank easier. 
  • Mist level: Do you have the ability to control how much or how little mist output there is? 
  • Run Time: Does the unit have an automatic shut-off, sleep mode, or programmable run time? 
  • White dust filter: Many humidifiers create what’s referred to as white dust, leading to buildup. This is just dried mineral content from the water, which is harmless to people, but can be messy or even damaging to furniture. Some humidifiers have a white dust filter to prevent buildup from occurring. 
  • Filter-free: If you prefer to avoid the nuisance of replacing filters, look for a filter-free model. 
  • UV light: Some models come with a UV light designed to discourage the growth of bacteria and other germs. While you still have to clean these, you don’t have to do it quite as frequently, and the process is much easier. 
  • Quiet operation: If you’re planning to use your humidifier while sleeping, look for a model that has a quiet operation feature. 
  • Night light: Not all, but many models come with night lights. Some offer the ability to shut off the night light. 
  • Humidistat: Some humidifier models come with a built-in humidistat to measure and monitor the humidity levels for you. Remember, maintaining the proper humidity level is vital. If you choose a unit that doesn’t have a humidistat built-in, make sure to purchase a hygrometer.  

Humidifier Manufacturers 

You now know about the different types of humidifiers and what features you should look for. There’s also no shortage when it comes to companies that make humidifiers. Some of the brands that produce the best humidifiers are: 

  • Crane 
  • Dyson 
  • HoMedics 
  • ​Honeywell 
  • Levoit 
  • Pure Enrichment MistAire 
  • TaoTronics 
  • Vicks 

So, What Are You Waiting For? 

Humidifier Producing Mist | Child in Bedsource

Congratulations! You now understand the importance of maintaining a proper humidity level and the options that are available to help humidify your home. All that’s left to do is to go shopping for humidifiers so that you can select which model is best for you.  

For more great at-home tips, check out the Just Energy blog. 

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