Monday, April 1, 2013

Healthy Home Humidity

Maintaining the ideal humidity level in your house can protect your family from illness and, at the same time, make your home more comfortable to live in.

In winter, you may have difficulty keeping your home at what is considered to be the “right” level of humidity.  If you live in a cold climate, the winter air is naturally more dry than in summer.  As well, your home heater dries the air even more.

If you haven’t yet considered making your home humidity healthier, perhaps you should.  You wouldn't be alone; Consumer Reports Magazine says that sales on home humidifiers triple during colder months.  Industry estimates indicate that we buy nearly 10,000 humidifiers in the U.S. every year! 


Healthy home humidity levels

Ideal indoor humidity should be between 30 and 50 percent.  Within that healthy humidity range, your throat, nasal passages, and skin is in its most healthy and comfortable state.  Keeping your home at the right humidity level also makes your home more comfortable. A dry-air 70-degree temperature will feel colder than the same 70 degrees in a humidified home.
Unhealthy home humidity levels
In humid climates or in the summer, the problem is often too much humidity for comfort.  Too much moisture in your home’s atmosphere also increases the risk of mold. 

In the colder seasons, too little humidity is the bigger problem in most homes.  Without added humidification, the moisture level can easily drop below that 30-50-percent range, to as low as 10 percent.  Why?  Cold air naturally retains less moisture than warm air.  And the effort to heat up that air will dry it even more.
Measuring your home humidity level
The easiest way to find out if your home humidity is too low or too high is to purchase a humidistat.  These are available online and often at less than $40.  Either digitally or with a needle gauge, a humidistat will give you a level reading. 

If you don’t have a humidity gauge, your own body can speak of your humidity level for you.  Common symptoms of an unhealthy humidity level in winter include a sore throat, itchy eyes, dry skin, or a stuffy nose. 

Best ways to control home humidity

Since your heating system can dry out your home to unhealthy low humidity levels, humidifying your home is likely already a hot topic.  You have a few options to improve your home humidity. One of the first things to consider is how draft-free your home is. Any humidifier you get will be working overtime if your home is inadequately insulated from drafts, as the home humidity will seep out.
Whole-house humidifier vs. portable humidifier?
If you have a forced-air heating system, one option you have for home humidification is a whole-house humidifier, also known as an in-duct humidifier. Whole house humidifiers are attached near your furnace ducts, using your air ducts to carry humidified air.

Whole house humidifiers are generally much more efficient, and therefore cheaper to operate, than a portable unit.  While this may seem to be a slam dunk choice then, compared to portable humidifying units, consider this:
  • Because whole-house humidifiers are plumbed into your water supply, they usually require professional installation.
  • They are generally more expensive to purchase that a portable unit designed to humidify just one or two rooms.
  • If you don't want to humidify the entire house, portable units may be a better choice for you.
If you decide that a room humidifier is the better choice for you, then what follows will help you with the challenge of narrowing down your selection from the scores of models available.
Warm mist or cool mist or ionic humidifier – does it matter?
Research indicates that air moisture is air moisture – whether it enters your home environment as a cool mist or as a warm mist, the goal is the same: to raise the overall humidity level to the right zone.  By the time the moisture from your humidifier has mixed into your home air, the temperature effect difference between a warm mist humidifier and any other type of humidifier will be nonexistent.

That said, there are important considerations when deciding whether to choose a warm-mist humidifier versus a cool-mist humidifier versus an ionic humidifier:
  • The hot steam of up-close contact with a warm-mist humidifier is a burn danger.  Therefore, if you have children in the house, you should avoid using a warm-mist humidifier.
  • Warm mist humidifiers tend to be more expensive, due to the added manufacturing cost of the heating element.
  • Cool-mist humidifiers and ionic humidifiers use less electricity than a warm-mist humidifier, as there is no heating element involved.
  • Some people find the background noise of a humidifier's motor hum to be soothing. But if you are noise sensitive, consider the ionic type of humidifier.  The ionic humidifiers tend to have a much quieter operating level.

Humidifier reviews and humidifier purchasing considerations

No matter which type of humidifier you buy, here are some tips to consider when making a humidifier purchase decision.
  • How quiet is "very quiet" vs. "super-quiet"? Be wary of any humidifier manufacturer's quietness claims, unless they are backing it up with actual decibel level figures.
  • Investigate humidifier reviews: A good way to determine the relative quietness of one humidifier to another is to look at independent comparative ratings, such as the humidifier reviews at or
  • Check out consumer ratings: To get in-depth opinions on a specific humidifier model from current owners, make sure to look at the customer comments and ratings, available at many online retailers that are selling humidifiers.
No matter which portable house humidifier you buy, make sure you follow its instructions for proper cleaning and disinfecting. Not doing so can cause mold to grow inside your humidifier, creating other health risks.

Ric Moxley
Contributing Writer

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