How do you pick the best whole house humidifier?
The best answer depends on your home—how it is heated and how much space you need to humidify.
The goal is to raise the humidity in your home to a 35% to 45% range . . . that's the optimal range. The challenge? When you heat a home, the hot air naturally dries out the air. Naturally, the colder (and drier) the climate you live in, the bigger the lift for a humidifier to reach that range.
When we talk about a whole house humidifier, we aren't referring to those small ultrasonic humidifiers designed for bedrooms or other small living space. That type holds a gallon or two of water and must be frequently refilled. These small, bedroom-style humidifiers are good solutions if you live in a small apartment or condo.
To humidify an entire home, however, requires a bigger humidifier solution. There are basically two choices: furnace-attached humidifiers (typically installed by a professional HVAC technician) and portable large-capacity humidifiers that can be moved from room to room.
If you have a forced-air furnace, then a furnace-installed humidifier is an effective solution for most homes. These evaporation-style humidifiers have wicks where water passes through, humidifying air from a furnace. Here's a graphic on how that works:
For the best furnace-based whole house humidifier, we'd recommend Aprilaire's 500M Whole Home Humidifier. We've been using an Aprilaire humidifier in our home for the past 19 years, so we can give a long-term perspective on what has worked . . . and what doesn't. Here's more:
What We Liked
• Simple design. Dry air comes in, humidified air goes out.
• Little maintenance. You have to change the water filter panel once a season—and it's rather simple to do.
• Hard or soft water = no problem. Because this is an evaporative humidifier, the type of water you have doesn't matter . . . this model works just as well either way.
• Manual control is easy to use. You dial the humidity and it just works.
What Needs Work
• Only works up to 3000 square feet. If your house is bigger, you may need a model with higher capacity than this one. Good news: the same brand offers other models that do just that.
• Professional installation by HVAC contractor/plumber may be required. Yes, we do see some reports that do-it-yourself folks can install this by themselves . . . but it takes some experience to pull this off.
• May not be the best solution for extremely dry or cold environments. In our experience, this humidifier can raise the humidity about 10% to 15%. That works well for moderately dry climates. However, in places like where we live (Colorado), that 10% boost isn't enough when the furnace runs constantly (think January). A steam humidifier may be a better bet for those folks.