We need our Roanoke furnace to survive Virginia cold, but that heat comes at a price: dry indoor air.
Most people notice that they have dry, itchy skin during the winter. For some, sore throats and “permanent colds” are a problem. Dry winter air can worsen asthma and dust allergies and even cause nosebleeds in some people.
Properly humidified air can help alleviate some of these dry air symptoms. It might be tempting to buy a small desktop or portable humidifier. But the only way to truly solve the problem is to install a furnace humidifier. A whole house humidifier built into your HVAC system is the only way to truly change the humidity in the entire home at once.
Pros and Cons of a Furnace Humidifier
Healthier Air Quality
Humidifying the air throughout the home has many health benefits, such as relieving allergies and reducing chapped lips, dry, cracked skin, and respiratory infections and colds.
Just be sure to properly maintain your humidifier, as if the humidity is too high and a dirty furnace humidifier runs the risk of mold or bacteria.
Maintain Humidity Control
Not only our bodies, but also our homes hate dry air. Hardwood floors and wooden furniture require a minimum moisture content of 35% to prevent cracking along the grain (so-called “cracking”).
Our bodies like more humidity, but if it exceeds 35%, there is a risk of mold forming. High humidity (over 55%) can promote the proliferation of germs and cause the wood to warp.
Whole-house humidifiers don’t require a tank to be refilled. Furnace humidifiers connect directly to your water supply line, so you don’t have to worry about the weight of a larger tank or the constant refilling that a smaller tank requires.
Quiet and Discrete
With a humidifier, there are no boxes to clutter up the living area of your home. You won’t be subjected to the constant white noise of a portable humidifier in the room because a furnace-mounted humidifier works automatically when your furnace is running.
Adds Home Value
Healthy indoor air quality can have a big impact on the value of your home. Installing a whole house humidifier can help keep the humidity in your home well controlled.
Reduced Energy Costs
Furnace humidifiers can even help you save money on heating, as moist air feels warmer, and you don’t need to keep the temperature set as high. Because the humidifier is connected to your home’s water supply, there’s less wasted water with filling portable humidifier tanks.
Like any HVAC device or system, whole-house humidifiers come at a price. Depending on the type you want to install, you could pay between $150 and $1,100 for the humidifier alone. Installation can be additional and varies depending on the style chosen.
Preventive maintenance is the key to preventing humidifier leaks. Your furnace humidifier’s filter (also called the water panel or evaporator pad) needs to be replaced regularly or it will become clogged with mineral deposits, limescale, and other debris that could restrict the flow of water.
You should also regularly check the water flow and pressure in your home’s water supply, as too much pressure can cause leaks.
How Do Furnace Humidifiers Work?
As you may have guessed, furnace humidifiers are built directly into your main heating and cooling system, usually in the ducts exiting your furnace. The warm air leaves the furnace, passes through the fan, which pushes it through the ducts, then passes through the humidifier and escapes into the rest of your home.
There are 3 main types of furnace humidifiers:
- Steam humidifiers create a warm or cool mist and therefore produce the most humidity. A steam humidifier heats water using electricity to produce steam and is relatively easy to maintain. There is almost no risk of mold.
- Current humidifiers expose the warm air in your furnace to a constant stream of water. Water evaporates naturally in the air leaving your furnace. Although there is a humidifier filter pad that needs to be changed regularly, recirculating units require little maintenance overall. Here, too, there is practically no risk of mold.
- Drum humidifiers have a tub filled with water and a rotating belt that runs across the tub. Water from the moistened belt evaporates into the air leaving your furnace. Since this type of humidifier has a tray filled with water, you must be careful when cleaning it or mold may form. This is the most cost-effective type of furnace humidifier.
You can install a humidifier on almost any kind of furnace system, even older ones.
How Dry is Your Winter Air?
There are simple ways to determine if your home is too dry. If you get electrocuted by static electricity, it’s obviously too dry. If condensation forms on the windows (“sweat” or even frost), it is too humid.
But to be on the safe side, you should purchase a hygrometer (also called a humidistat) from your local hardware store. They are inexpensive and allow you to accurately determine humidity.
Does a Furnace Humidifier Cause Mold?
The short answer is no – if you take basic steps to avoid it.
Mold spores occur naturally everywhere – they are just an essential part of our environment. Mold needs two things to grow: water and oxygen. But they don’t need light.
Mold can grow in any damp area of a home, often in bathrooms or near leaky plumbing. furnace humidifiers do not cause mold unless they are set way too high, creating the conditions necessary for mold to form. Again, setting your humidifier to 45% should work. However, remember to constantly check your hygrometer to ensure you are getting the correct results.
Here are some other important steps to keeping mold in check in your home:
- Make sure your bathroom has a working fan. Moisture caused by an entire family taking long, hot showers can contribute to mold growth in the bathroom.
- If you frequently cook with boiling water, consider turning off your humidifier for a while and making sure you have an exhaust hood to exhaust the air outside.
- If your technician suspects that mold may be forming in your ducts, a UV cleaning system will help eliminate the problem. Cleaning and spraying your ducts can help.
- Front-loading washing machines can develop mold if they are not cleaned regularly.
Watch for Temperature Drops
The amount of moisture the air in your home can hold depends on the temperature. Warmer air can hold more moisture than cold air. Therefore, when the temperature drops, condensation can form if the air is too humid. Therefore, try to maintain a comfortable, constant temperature throughout the house and ask your family to agree on an appropriate temperature range.
If a sudden cold snap occurs, your windows may become colder than ever and frost may form. As it melts, it can leak and build up in the walls if there is a leak around the window. Check the caulk around your windows and replace it if the caulk is worn out.
Should I Maintain My Furnace Humidifier?
Whole-house humidifiers work best with modern variable-speed furnaces. This is because these operate at lower, more efficient speeds most of the time and can provide a more continuous flow of moist air into your home. It’s also good to know that variable speed furnaces are much more energy efficient and require less maintenance.
Having your home assessed by a qualified technician is the smartest thing you can do to ensure you stay warm and healthy all winter long.
Want to Know More?
In fact, there are different types of furnace humidifiers, and the right one depends on your needs, the size of your home, and your budget. You can learn about different types of air filtration systems as well as whole-house humidifiers and dehumidifiers.