Whole House Humidifier: A Buyer’s Guide by HowToHome
While portable humidifiers can be ideal for controlling humidity in single rooms, allowing for fine tuning of levels on a smaller scale, sometimes a solution is needed for the entire home. Whole house humidifiers do exist — and are excellent for this purpose.
What is a Whole House Humidifier?
Aside from the obvious, a whole house humidifier is generally installed into your ductwork and connected to the fan of your HVAC (heating, ventilation and air conditioning) unit. These systems also avoid the need for refilling the water tank on the unit, as they draw water directly from your home’s supply, and then use that water to humidify the air.
There are some units — console and pedestal humidifiers — which work separately and independent of your existing HVAC system. These systems look similar to portable units but are much larger and more powerful. They are best for homes that have strong forced air circulation, and could display problems such as their bulk and their propensity for leakage.
The three most common types of whole house humidifiers include:
- Bypass humidifiers
- Fan-powered humidifiers
- Steam humidifiers.
While each is used in combination with your HVAC system, they produce humidity in different ways.
Let’s take a deeper look at how each option works.
Bypass humidifiers are almost exclusively used in homes with forced air HVAC systems. They work by drawing water from the home’s supply and adding moisture to the circulated air forced through the ductwork. These systems are quite energy efficient and require very little maintenance. They also conserve water by recycling the same water through the system.
In a similar manner to the bypass humidifier, the fan-powered system adds moisture to existing airflow. The biggest difference is the way in which this happens. Instead of injecting moisture into the air, it blows the air across a water panel to encourage evaporation which then enters the air and creates humidity — more so than in regular bypass units.
Steam humidifiers are very different than the other varieties of whole home humidifiers. Rather than adding humidity to water as it flows through the system, they are similar to warm air humidifiers. They use electricity to heat water to its boiling point. The steam that results is then picked up by the blower in the HVAC system and circulated through the home via the vents. These carry many of the same benefits as warm air room humidifiers, especially in terms of killing bacterial contaminants and pathogens in the water.
Why is a Whole House Humidifier Necessary?
There are a number of benefits to a whole house humidifier system. For many, they provide relief from a wealth of medical conditions that can result from or be exacerbated by dry air. For example, respiratory issues resulting from reduced lung function can be helped by maintaining the right levels of humidity in the home. People who have allergies or compromised immune systems, proper humidity (43-50%) can be useful in reducing bacteria, viruses and pathogens in the air. Issues of lesser severity that can be reduced by increasing humidity levels include:
- Bloody noses
- Irritated throats
- Asthma flare-ups
- Allergy symptoms
Ailments like colds, congestion problems, and sinus infections are commonly attributed to a change in the weather. What many people do not realize, however, is that it’s often the dry air indoors, and not the cold air outdoors, that causes these problems, or at least makes them worse.
The benefits of a whole home air conditioner go far beyond improving your health and well-being, and that of your family. They are also effective in protecting your home’s structural integrity. Homes with consistently dry air have been proven to see increased wear and tear, resulting in expensive damage to wood furnishings and flooring, can also cause wallpaper to peel and can even do damage to the wooden frame and plaster in the home. In the end, the combination of medical and home durability advantages makes some type of humidifier an absolute necessity for most homeowners.
How to Choose the Best Whole House Humidifier
Due to the complexity of most whole house humidifiers, it’s important to know what you should be looking for while trying to choose the best option. Some of the bigger things that you should be looking for include:
- Whole-home capability
- Proven effectiveness
- Ease of maintenance and care
Capable of Humidifying Your Entire Home
Most brands of humidifiers are labeled based on the square footage they can affect. As you explore different options, it’s helpful to know the total footprint of your home in terms of square feet and ensure that the units you are researching will meet those requirements.
Every company will boast the effectiveness of their humidifier and the features it offers. It’s important, however, to do your homework and research the options you are considering before installing a whole home unit. Take some time to read professional and consumer reviews, and talk to industry pros about their own recommendations as to which humidifier might meet your needs in keeping your air breathable and healthy. Customer reviews are always a good place to start — the more positive reviews an item has, the more reliable and effective it is likely to be.
Required Maintenance and Filter Changes
One advantage of a whole house humidifier is that it requires little maintenance or upkeep while they’re in use. However, once a season they should be thoroughly cleaned and their filters changed out. This will ensure that any mineral deposits, mold growths or contaminants that enter the water do not negatively impact the effectiveness of the unit as a whole.
Again, consumer reviews are an excellent place to start when it comes to determining which system will be the easiest to maintain. If too many consumers have identified maintenance issues with a particular humidifier, this should immediately throw up a red flag. The same goes for filters, which should be bought and replaced fairly easily. If reviews show that buying and changing filters is a difficult process for a particular humidifier, it may be best to steer clear of that option.
Cost, of course, is always a factor when purchasing any whole-home system. The good news is that unlike the HVAC systems to which they are tied, whole house humidifiers tend to be very affordable even at the high end of the spectrum. The biggest cost that you will have to worry about will likely be the labor costs for professional installation.
Ongoing costs also tend to be low-impact, as most require only a few dollars per year to operate, an additional cost that for most won’t even be noticeable in monthly utilities. The biggest thing you want to look for in terms of overall cost with a whole house humidifier is energy efficiency. If a unit is not certified energy efficient, it should probably be avoided.
Reviewing the Best Whole House Humidifiers
Now that you know why you need a whole house humidifier, and what you should look for when choosing one, let’s take a closer look at some of the top options on the market today.
#1 – Emerson HSP2000 Whole House Steam Humidifier
One of the most expensive whole house humidifiers on the market at around $500, the Emerson HSP2000 Whole House Steam humidifier has also proven to be one of the most effective and efficient. As a steam humidifier, it includes an automatic humidistat, allowing for optimal control of humidity levels throughout the home, an automatic flushing timer and even a fan control relay. Safety features include a blower safety switch. Consumer reviews are very positive, even focusing on its ease of self-installation. All of these factors combined make this an excellent whole home option.
#2 – Honeywell HE120A Whole House Humidifier
The Honeywell HE120A Whole House Humidifier is an easy-to-install humidifier that is best used in small to mid-sized homes. It has a relative humidity control and is a very affordable option at under $200. This unit does require a bit more maintenance than other options, as it will require regular cleaning to ensure that stagnant water doesn’t lead to bacteria build-up. This issue can generally be avoided through the use of a flushing timer combined with regular changing of the filter.
#3 – Aprilaire 500 Whole House Humidifier
The Aprilaire 500 Humidifier, 24V Whole House Humidifier w/ Auto Digital Control Bypass Damper .5 Gallons/ hour is a bypass humidifier which has built up quite a few strong reviews from consumers. It is capable of humidifying homes up to 3,000 square feet and includes an automatic digital control, outdoor sensor, and built-in bypass damper. The price tag of around $200 is solid, although reviews point to some difficulty during installation. Overall, its reliability and proven effectiveness makes this one of the best options on the market.
#4 – Holmes HCM3888C Smart WeMo Whole Home Humidifier
The Holmes HCM3888C Smart WeMo Whole Home Humidifier is an innovative humidifier that can be controlled and monitored through a smartphone app. It’s very affordable with a price right around $200. It works a bit differently than the other options on this list, with the biggest difference being that it plugs right into the wall in your home instead of being integrated into your HVAC system. This standalone unit does take up a bit of space, but it provides a wealth of technology and convenience-based advantages.
#5 – Aprilaire 600M Whole House Humidifier
The Aprilaire 600M Whole House bypass humidifier is capable of humidifying homes up to 4,000 square feet. It has very few working parts, making it easy-to-install and maintain, and includes an automatic digital control. It also has an excellent price tag, resting right around $150. This humidifier is a great value that is capable of producing optimal humidity levels in every season. The only issue identified by multiple consumers is that it uses more water than most, which can lead to higher long term costs.
#6 – Honeywell HE260A Whole House Humidifier
The Honeywell HE260A Whole House Humidifier is yet another bypass humidifier which is used with forced air furnaces. It requires virtually no maintenance, works in homes up to 4,000 square feet, and is offered at the very reasonable price tag of around $150.
It does require an installation kit to install it yourself. This kit is sold separately, which leads to many going with the additional cost of professional installation instead.
#7 – Aprilaire 400 Whole House Humidifier
The Aprilaire 400 Humidifier Bypass requires minimal water usage and is effective in homes up to 4,000 square feet. It has an automatic digital humidifier control, offers an easy self-installation process and has a cost of just around $150.
On the down side additional parts may be required for DIY install.
#8 – Sunbeam SCM3755C Whole House Humidifier
The Sunbeam SCM3755C is a cool mist humidifier that operates separate from your HVAC system. It is best used in smaller houses, being rated for effectiveness only in homes of up to 2,000 square feet.
This option is also known to have problems with leaking, so you’ll want to install it in an area with good drainage. However, the least expensive option on our list at around $120.