Whole-house humidifiers can make you breathe easier in wintertime

There's a whole host of reasons that homeowners might not enjoy the winter: shoveling snow, heating bills, and so on. Those with sensitive skin may dread the dry winter days above all else.

The low humidity of winter can have detrimental effects beyond chapped lips and dry skin. Cory Contreras, writing for the home improvement site Porch.com, says it can also cause wallpaper to peel and wooden floors and furniture to crack. Dry conditions also increase the possibility of static shock, which can damage your electronics.

Humidifiers are one solution to this seasonal problem, but they will only improve the humidity in nearby areas. Homeowners who are particularly concerned about the moisture levels in their residence might consider a whole-house humidifier.

As the name suggests, a whole-house humidifier is designed to boost moisture levels throughout the home instead of just in select rooms. It involves a modification of the HVAC system to help distribute water vapor.

There are several types of whole-house humidifiers. Some use evaporator pads to absorb moisture into the air, while others involve a water reservoir and rotating drum. A whole-house humidifier may also involve the spray of a water mist. Each system distributes vapor through the ductwork of your HVAC system.

Whole-house humidifiers don't require as much maintenance as portable humidifiers, which constantly need to have their water reservoirs refilled. Mariette Mifflin, writing for the home design site The Spruce, says the humidifier is connected to your existing plumbing to provide a ready source of water. A humidistat monitors the humidity levels in the home to control when moisture is distributed.

The system is typically quiet and inexpensive to run. Jennifer Noonan, writing for the home improvement professional Bob Vila, says occupants will be less susceptible to viruses and other pathogens if adequate humidity levels are maintained. Higher humidity levels can also make a home feel warmer, allowing you to save money by lowering your thermostat a few degrees.

Measuring the humidity levels in your home can let you know just how dry it is getting during the winter. Contreras says a hygrometer will give you a reading, and you should be sure to take measurements at different times of the day and in different rooms. Mifflin says a humidity level of 30 to 50 percent is adequate.

Before you get a whole-house humidifier, you may want to see if there are any inefficient parts of the home that need to be addressed. PV Heating & Air, an Atlanta company, says gaps, cracks, and other openings will allow cold, dry air to infiltrate your home. Sealing these openings will not only allow you to save money on your heating costs, but also allow you to preserve humidity levels.

Whole-house humidifiers have a few disadvantages you'll need to consider as well. The water vapor might condense on cold surfaces, creating wet surfaces where mold can grow. This might not be readily apparent, since the mold can form on the inside of the ductwork. In addition to being difficult to clean out, the mold can cause air quality problems of its own.

While whole-house humidifiers are sometimes advertised as "set it and forget it" items, they will still need some maintenance. Jay Markanich, a home inspector writing for the real estate community ActiveRain, says minerals in your water can build up deposits on the humidifier's components. These should be cleaned with a vinegar solution at least once a year.

PV Heating & Air recommends that homeowners who get a whole-house humidifier get a steam system. It is also best to run the humidifier when the furnace is running, since the ductwork will be warm and condensation will not occur.

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