Coming from a part of the world where the air does not get so dry, when I moved to Johannesburg, South Africa, a place where the air gets really dry for long periods, I quickly discovered the importance of a humidifier. It was not long thereafter when I stumbled on the idea of whole house humidifiers.
In reading this post, just as you are wondering, I too pondered, “Should I get a whole house humidifier?” Let me start by answering your question in short.
Many factors are entailed when considering getting a whole house humidifier. Chiefly, you should get one if you live in a region with dry seasons whereby humidity levels fall consistently below 30%. Next, as most whole house humidifiers require an air duct, get one only if you have an air duct.
With no existing ductwork, it is very difficult to install a whole house humidifier in your building without doing some serious renovations.
Your ductwork is the key part of distributing air across your entire home or office building and whole house humidifiers were accordingly designed to piggyback on your duct to distribute moisture.
So, you should not get a whole house humidifier if you do not have an existing air duct. With these two principal issues in mind when considering a whole house humidifier, I can now take you through all the other factors entailed.
Some factors I have found over time in my pondering about getting whole house humidifiers are weak and can be overlooked, but I still cover them here to help you leave no stone unturned when you finally reach a conclusion on this matter. Let’s dive into the discussion.
What Is A Whole House Humidifier?
Before I take you through whether you should get a whole house humidifier, I think it’s important to start off by defining what a whole house humidifier is. Once you know what a whole house humidifier really is, you will better understand and decide whether you should get one.
Simply put, whole house humidifiers are humidifiers designed to humidify your entire house at once. Sometimes they are also called in-duct humidifiers, fixed installation humidifiers, industrial humidifiers or central humidifiers. They are unlike portable humidifiers, which can only humidify a single room at a time.
Another type of humidifier you will often find being called a whole house humidifier is a console humidifier. Console humidifiers are, however, not placed in a duct to humidify your entire house. You place them in a room in the same way as portable humidifiers, but they can humidify multiple rooms in your home at the same time while running from one room.
They are usually much larger and heavier than portable humidifiers and because they can humidify multiple rooms at a time, they are also called whole house humidifiers. Personally, I don’t really think they deserve to be called whole house humidifiers.
This is because in situations where you have a really large house or you have air-tight doors between rooms, they cannot effectively humidify multiple rooms in your home and they definitely cannot do your whole house.
For this reason, when I talk about whole house humidifiers in this post, I’m referring to the type that you connect to your building’s air duct and that can truly humidify all the rooms in your house at the same time. Now, there are several types of whole house humidifiers out there.
The main ones are drum, flow through and steam/warm mist humidifiers. Let's briefly look at each of these.
Drum Whole House Humidifiers
Among the main whole house humidifiers, drum whole house humidifiers are the least expensive and they often turn out to be the easiest to install. When you install them, you normally attach them on the cold air return line of your duct.
Drum humidifiers rely on a motor and belt to rotate a drum sitting in your humidifier’s water tank to continuously lift this cold water into the air. Then, as the drum continuously flings water in the air, passing air movement in your duct causes some of the water to evaporate.
The passing air then carries this vapor through your duct and eventually releases it across your building, raising your humidity level. Though they are relatively inexpensive compared to the other types of whole house humidifiers, drum humidifiers are difficult to maintain. This is because they have standing water in their tank.
With standing water, if it stays in their tank long enough, you risk having mold problems and mineral dust accumulation if your water is not well demineralized prior to using it in your humidifier. You also have to change the belt that keeps your drum system rotating often as it wears out.
Flow Through Whole House Humidifiers
Unlike drum humidifiers, flow through whole house humidifiers can be installed on both the supply and return line of your air duct. In terms of price, flow through humidifiers are in the midrange when it comes to whole house humidifiers.
Similar to drum humidifiers, they also use cold water and rely on air movement and evaporation to add moisture to your home or building. However, instead of a spinning drum, they use a filter through which gets saturated by water and air blows through.
They also have no standing water in their system, so your risk of mold issues is lower, however you're still prone to spreading mineral dust around your home should you use untreated water in your humidifier.
The beauty of flow through humidifiers is that they use no electricity. Only their humidistat and valve components use electricity and these have an insignificant on your electric bill.
All you have to do is supply the filters with water and provide drainage for excess water to flow out of the system. Then maintenance wise, you simply have to change the filter annually or whenever it wears out. The video below shows how flow through whole house humidifiers work.
Steam Whole House Humidifiers
As the most expensive, steam humidifiers are the most effective type of whole house humidifier. They are not so difficult to install but it's still best to hire an expert if you want one installed well. Instead of adding moisture to your home using air movement and evaporation through your duct, steam humidifiers make vapor through steam.
Your furnace’s air movement then pushes this vapor through your duct and into your home through your vents to increase your humidity as needed. Installing a steam humidifier entails simply attaching a steam hose from the main humidifier unit that produces the steam to your furnaces supply duct.
Because they rely on steam rather than evaporation, steam humidifiers give you a more precise and constant humidity level across your building compared to other types of whole house humidifiers. They have no standing water and so are quite a low mold risk but consume relatively more electricity than other whole house humidifiers.
You also need to connect a water supply unit to these types of units and make sure that your water is demineralized prior to entering your humidifier using a water treatment system. Steam humidifiers are very low maintenance and probably only need a heating element change once in a while.
Whatever type of modern whole house humidifier you get, they all come with a humidistat, thermostat and digital control panel like the one on your HVAC systems. Together, these help control your humidifier and furnace to maintain your desired temperature and humidity level autonomously across your home.
With this said, I think I can safely say I have given you quite a thorough definition of what a whole house humidifier is, and I can now confidently take you through whether or not you should get one. For more info on how whole house steam humidifiers work, see the video below.
Let's start with the reasons you should get a whole house humidifier.
6 Reasons You Should Get A Whole House Humidifier
There are plenty of reasons you should get a whole house humidifier. Foremost, get one for the standard reasons anyone would get any type of humidifier. These are your typical comfort, prevention and preservation reasons such as,
- Preventing and easing dry skin, flus and other health conditions,
- Keeping your pets and plants healthy
- Preventing valuables from getting damaged and
- Improving your air quality
For more detailed information on these reasons, I write about them in more detail in two of my posts here and here. These reasons apply to all types of humidifiers. Where things become unique to whole house humidifiers is when we look at coverage and some operational advantages. Let’s look at each of these unique reasons in more detail.
1. Get A Whole House Humidifier If You Need To Humidify Multiple Rooms
Besides the standard reasons for getting a humidifier, the main reason you should uniquely go for a whole house humidifier is if you are looking to humidify multiple rooms in your building at the same time.
If you have a home or building with over 3 rooms or an extremely large open plan office space and your building has an air duct and you are aiming to humidify all these rooms, portable humidifiers will not help you. Console humidifiers will also do a lackluster job.
This is simply because no matter how large their capacity, because we can only place these types of humidifiers in one area at a time, their reach into other areas away from where they are placed is limited either by barriers between the areas or coverage distance.
You can resort to getting multiple console or portable humidifiers and place them in each room or area where there is limited coverage, but this can get costly real quick. You have more maintenance costs, energy consumption, and no centralized control of your entire building’s humidity level, which can prove disastrous if one of your humidifiers malfunctions.
In view of this, it makes more sense to have one humidifier that can reach all your rooms and areas of your building through your air duct at the same time. You save yourself a lot of headaches as a whole-house humidifier can simultaneously manage your humidity level across your entire indoor space at the touch of a button.
2. Whole House Humidifier Provide More Precise Humidity Levels
In addition to being able to humidify your entire indoor space, whole-house humidifiers will maintain the most constant and accurate humidity levels in your home. Working with your furnace, they optimize your humidity level across your entire home.
The ease with which you can control them also enables their preciseness. They are self regulating and you just set your desired humidity and temperature and they adjust themselves to maintain this as your ambient temperature and humidity change.
If installed properly, they will always autonomously add the right amount of moisture in your space, without you ever having to worry that they will add too little or too much moisture in your space and cause damage to your property because of excess or inadequate moisture.
So if you are looking for the best level of precision you can get when adding moisture across your entire home or workspace, then you should get a whole house humidifier.
3. Whole House Humidifiers Are Low Maintenance And Less Work
If you are looking to humidify your entire building in the least involving way, then you should consider whole house humidifiers. With whole house humidifiers, you will never have to manually add water to your humidifier like you do for most portable and console humidifiers.
This is because whole house humidifiers are usually connected directly to your plumbing system and autonomously draw water from your municipal water supply as and when they need water.
Any excess water they draw is also autonomously drained out of your whole house humidifier system, except for drum humidifiers, which are designed in a way that they always hold standing water in their water reservoir.
Then, for maintenance, with a whole house humidifier, you will only ever have to replace one set of filters and other humidifier components for your entire building. This is way less time and money spent if you were to compare to a situation whereby you had multiple humidifiers running to cover your entire indoor space.
4. Get A Whole House Humidifier If You Need Discreet Humidification
If you don’t want a bunch of other appliances lying around your indoor space and you could use less noise in your work or living space, then you have every reason to get a whole house humidifier. If there are words that describe whole house humidifiers well, it's “quiet” and “invisible”.
Because they are installed in the same area as your furnace, unlike other types of humidifiers, whole-house humidifiers are hidden away, giving you more space and less noise within your work or living space while adding moisture to your air.
5. Whole Humidifiers Can Increase Your Properties Value
I don’t think this is such a strong reason for you to get a whole house humidifier but when looked at together with all the other reasons for anyone getting one, the thought of an added benefit or an increase in property value easily swings my decision towards getting a whole house humidifier.
A higher property value is always good to have in case you plan to put up your home as collateral or should you ever have to sell it and an upgrade to your HVAC system like a humidifier contributes positively to your property value.
So, don’t get a whole house humidifier solely for this reason, but because you get an increase in your property value as an extra benefit of getting one.
6. Get A Whole House Humidifier If You Want To Cut Your Energy Cost
Last, with savings costs when humidifying your entire house or office, whole house humidifiers almost always rank first in terms of saving you energy.
First off, some whole house humidifiers like flow through humidifiers, which I described earlier, do not use electricity to add moisture to your home.
Then of the whole house humidifiers that use electricity, compared to using multiple humidifiers to cover your indoor space, you only use a single whole house humidifier and consume way less electricity to get the same level of humidification.
Besides, your savings on electricity consumption, because whole house humidifiers humidify your indoor space more efficiently than other types of humidifiers, they are better at keeping you warmer at lower temperatures through dry winters than other types of humidifiers.
They will save you a lot more on heating costs across your entire home than portable or console humidifiers can.
With the 6 main reasons you should get a whole house humidifier out of the way, next, to answer your question fully about whether you should get a whole house humidifier, it only makes sense for me to also take you through reasons not to get a whole house humidifier.
7 Reasons You Should Not Get A Whole house Humidifier
For the reasons not to get a whole house humidifier, I am going to be a lot more brief. If you want more details, ask in the comments below.
1. Don’t Get A Whole Houses Humidifier If You Have No Air Duct
The first reason I would advise you against getting a whole house humidifier is that your home or building does not have air ducts. This is because of the money you will have to fork out and the amount of work that needs to be done to firstly install an air duct before you install your whole house humidifier.
If you have no air duct, unless you can easily afford to get one and you do not mind doing some hectic renovation, I would stay away from whole house humidifiers. Instead, opt for console humidifiers. These will work out cheaper even in the long term.
2. Whole House Humidifiers Are More Costly To Get
The cheapest whole house humidifier I could find was a flow humidifier on Amazon. At the time of writing this article, the cheapest one was going for about US100. A hundred bucks is not so bad for a humidifier that will humidify your entire home or workspace.
However, when you get a whole house humidifier, unless you can install it properly by yourself, you also have to fork out cash to set it up. This is where things get costly. Expect to pay an additional US$200 just to get one installed.
The Higher end whole house humidifiers cost up to US$1200 and these are usually steam humidifiers while the lower end ones are mostly flow through humidifiers. For whole house humidifiers on the lower end, budget about US$300 including installation and on the higher end, about US$1500.
I have seen portable humidifiers that cost as much as US$1000, but you can get other portable humidifiers that perform as well as some of these really expensive ones, if not better, at less than US$300.
So, when you compare the startup cost of a portable and even a console humidifier to that of a whole house humidifier, you obviously end up paying a lot less in start-up cost with your portable humidifiers as you have no installation costs.
That said, if you factor in the benefits you get from each type of humidifier, this all balances out and long term it, if you do the math's, it actually works out cheaper to humidify your indoor environment with a whole house humidifier.
So what am I saying here? If you don’t have at least US$500 set aside to spend on a whole house humidifier, and you need to humidify your home asap, then rather opt for a more affordable portable humidifier.
Otherwise, you might just end up buying a whole house humidifier and sitting on it because you don’t have enough cash to get installed. However, if you have the patience, the other option is obviously to buy one and wait until you have enough money to get it installed if money is tight.
If you are not ready to fork out upwards of US$500 on an appliance, then leave the idea of a whole house humidifier alone. I say this mostly for those based in the US. However, if labor costs are much lower in your country, then this may not apply to you and your upfront costs may not be so bad.
I’m sure there is a country where you can get an installation done for under US$100. Yes, we can argue about living costs and the economics entailed, but if you are paying less than US$100 to install an in duct humidifier and your humidifier costs you less than US$200, don’t dare hesitate getting a whole house humidifier.
3. Whole House Humidifiers Are Harder To Install
This is again a relative reason not to get a whole house humidifier. Compared to portable or console humidifiers, it’s trickier to install a whole house humidifier. If you want to do things by yourself, but you have as much as a slight doubt you could properly cut through your duct and attach and seal your humidifier, then you should not get a whole house humidifier.
They are a DIY project that could go wrong with costly consequences. The installation process takes over an hour and can take half a day depending on your furnace, drainage, plumbing and air duct is set up. So, if you cannot get things done professionally, it best you avoid getting a whole house humidifier.
4. They Can Have Damaging Effects If Not Properly Installed
As I alluded to earlier, if you did not properly install your in duct humidifier, the results could be costly. You are bound to get mold in your air duct, which will eventually spread through your house and you could damage your furnace or wear it out faster than you are meant to.
You could spread excessive moisture in your home, which can damage valuables made of materials that easily absorb moisture like fabric, wood etc.. Excessive moisture will also cause not just metal items around your home to rust, but can also destroy your air duct through rust.
These are a few of the disastrous effects of poorly installed duct humidifiers among many. So, to avoid such accidents, you should not get a whole house humidifier if you cannot ensure someone properly installs it.
5. They Can Be Dangerous If You Don’t Clean Your Duct
If you do not get your air duct maintained and cleaned as per recommended schedule, the moisture from your duct humidifier will mix with all the filth in your duct and create an environment for all kinds of mold, fungi and mites to thrive.
Eventually, these get spread around your indoor air with negative consequences for your health. Therefore, if you cannot keep your air duct clean, do not make things worse by adding a whole house humidifier to it.
6. Whole House Humidifiers Can Mask Air Leaks In Your Duct
Sometimes you may actually have enough humidity in your home with no humidifier. However, because there are holes and poor insulation around your home or office, you cannot keep this humidity.
In such a case, you could solve your indoor humidity issues by simply doing an air leak audit and sealing and insulating your building and duct better. But if you came in and installed a whole house humidifier, it would hide your poor insulation problem by making your home warmer and better humidified.
“What’s wrong with that?”, you might think. The problem with this is you end up wasting energy and money on an appliance you might actually not need. In the long run, if all you had to do to improve humidity and temperature levels in your building was to insulate it better, then you save a ton of money.
Considering this, before you set out to get a whole house humidifier, do an energy and air leak test first. Then once you seal and insulate your home based on the findings of the audit, and find that your humidity levels are still not good enough, then get a whole house humidifier. Otherwise do not bother getting a duct humidifier if better insulation fixed your low indoor humidity problem.
7. You Have Not Tried Alternative Humidification Approaches
My last reason you should not get a humidifier is that you have not tried some alternative humidification approaches. Sealing and insulating as I have just mentioned is one alternative but to add on to this, in some indoor environments, especially homes, you can generate enough moisture from your day-to-day activities to keep your humidity level in a good range.
Avoiding using air extraction fans when you cook or shower, washing dishes, drying clothes and some heating appliances can add just enough moisture to maintain a good humidity level in your home if your house is well insulated.
With a well insulated indoor environment, you may also find a console or portable humidifier does a good job at humidifying your entire home or work environment. If that's the case, then you really have no need for a whole house humidifier and on this note, I think it's time I conclude this post.
Final Verdict - Should You Get A Whole house Humidifier?
Going through all the reasons you should and should not get a whole house humidifier, for me, the main issue that stands out most for not getting one is the danger of your humidifier causing problems by producing excessive amounts of moisture. This has been a common issue among whole house humidifier owners, but in this day and age we have largely solved this problem.
The reason excess moisture was such a problem and continues to be a problem was because for most whole house humidifiers made in the past, though they have an autonomous humidistat they have no thermostat so you have to monitor your outdoor temperature manually and tune your humidistat accordingly to avoid excessive moisture.
When the temperature outside your home rises, and you don’t turn down your humidity level on your humidifier, the physics behind humidity are such that you will suddenly have more wet conditions around your home through condensation. As a result, things get soggy, damp and mold grows, and it's basically a situation you do not want in your work or living space.
Considering all, the solution here is simply to make sure when you are getting your whole house humidifier or if you already have one, that you get an automatic humidistat. The automatic humidistat has thermostats inside and outside your home that sense your outdoor and indoor temperature.
These thermostats signal your humidistat to adjust the amount of moisture your whole house humidifier produces to a level whereby your humidifier does not produce excessive moisture because of changing outside temperature.
With an automatic humidistat, you get rid of the tedious manual process of adjusting your humidistat based on outdoor temperature, which people often forget to do and do poorly, resulting in your whole house humidifier causing excessive indoor moisture levels.
In view of this, go for a whole house humidifier with an automatic humidistat (must include an indoor and outdoor temperature sensor) should you decide to get a whole house humidifier.
The other thing I could say is that if you can, opt for a steam humidifier if you can. They are cleaner and less invasive to your duct when it comes to installation and they provide more consistent humidity levels across your building.
In conclusion, if you can make sure your humidifier is properly installed and that your whole house humidifier comes with an automatic humidistat, my take is that a whole house humidifier is quite a beneficial investment in any building.
It is a worthwhile investment if you live in any part of the world where you have a dry season and humidity levels drop below 30% for extended periods. I think I have said enough now and I hope the information I have shared here was helpful.
Should you come to the conclusion that you are going to get a whole house humidifier, before you make your final decision have a look at some of the one's I highly recommend on my recommended humidifier post over here.