How and Why You Should Use a Humidifier

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Living in the Midwest has many rewards, and well it should because to earn those rewards we have to endure long and cold winters. 

This winter my outdoor thermometer has been stuck at around 0 degrees for most of December and January.  Most of the time, I’m comfortable in my home, but as the thermometer drops the moisture in the air (the humidity) drops as well. 

I knew I was reaching the critical stage a couple of weeks back when I went to pet my cat Tucker and I was zapped with about 1.21 jigawatts of static.

(For some added winter fun, pull the bed covers over you and your cat, give them a pet and you will have a blue spark light show to rival Tesla and Edison alike).

So the topic of this article is of course humidifiers.

Having moderate humidity (the amount of moisture in the air) in your home promotes a healthier, more comfortable home environment.  Maintaining the appropriate level throughout the year can be difficult with the use of heaters during winter months or in dry climates.

In those situations, the humidity level usually drops dramatically, creating an uncomfortable environment for your family and pets and can lead to health problems such as irritated sinuses, allergies and respiratory problems, and of course dry itchy skin and my least favorite, cracked skin and dry lips.  And of course the dreaded static electricity

It can effect your home as well, structural issues such as shrinking /cracking wood in floors and molding, gaps and cracks and permanent damage in drywall and plaster, as well as permanent damage to furniture and artwork.

Humidifiers add much-needed moisture into the air to relieve those dryer than the Salt Lake conditions.  They reduce the build up of static electricity in the home, and provide a heat index-effect making it feel warmer than it is, allowing you to lower your thermostat in winter and save energy which means lower heat bills. 

How to select a humidifier

• First, you need to decide what type of humidifier you are looking for, whether warm or cool mist.
• Choose between a portable/table top model and furnace-mount model that treat the whole house.
• Consider the benefits of each technology and water/vapor output needed for your home.
• Determine if you need extra features such as automatic humidistat, user-controlled night light or digital controls.

There are only a few differences between warm and cool mist humidifiers and the type that is better for you depends on which type is recommended by your physician, or which type helps you breathe better.

Cool Mist Evaporative Humidifiers

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Work by air blowing across a saturated wick, moisture is absorbed and exits as vapor into the room.

The benefits:
• Self regulating – the unit can’t produce more humidity than the air will hold
• Water minerals and contaminants remain in the unit.
• Choices are available for small, medium and large room sizes.
• Minimal maintenance cost.

* Note:  You will have to replace filters with this type of unit.

Cool Mist Ultrasonic Humidifiers

These units work by a metal diaphragm vibrating at an ultrasonic frequency which creates water droplets that are discharged from the unit.

The benefits:
• Quiet and energy efficient
• Visible fog leaving the unit
• Choices available for small to large rooms with minimal maintenance cost. 

Warm Mist Humidifier

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A heating element heats water and releases it up a chimney and into the room. These humidifiers actually boil the water which causes a distilled steam to be expelled into the room. This steam is like a gentle spray of warm water, as opposed to a vapor, and this is concentrated in the area closest to the humidifier. This warm mist is easier to breathe in a cool room. These units are often also used for steaming medications. They are a little quieter than cool mist humidifiers, and are sold in small portable units. They require more frequent cleaning due to the warm water which encourages bacteria growth in the unit.

The benefits:
• Heated water eliminates any contaminants
• Steam exiting the unit isn’t as hot as steam from a vaporizer
• Quiet operation
• Choices available for small to medium room applications.

For my home, I use several table top models (smaller units work best when placed at least 3 feet from the floor) and I like the cool mist models.  I suffer from allergies and the cool mist makes it easier for me to breathe. I’m not much of a sauna type – warm air is harder for me to breathe, but if you find Phoenix your type of place and warmer air is easier to breathe, opt for the warm mist models.

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To determine how much humidity is right for a room, use a hygrometer (a little square desk top unit – some come with the humidifier- a great feature to look for).  The hygrometer measures the humidity level in the home, a healthy level is between 35 and 45 percent.  I place one in the bedroom and in my living room to keep track of the levels.

What size humidifier should I purchase?

What size of room are you looking to humidify? Humidifiers are rated for coverage area in sq. ft. Take measurements to determine the correct room size you are looking for. Models for 700 sq. ft. are adequate for a bedroom or small room.

How often to you need to refill and what about the noise factor?

Portable room units are sold in varying sizes of water reservoirs, from 1 gallon to 5 gallons or larger. This is a convenience factor – how often do you want to refill it? A 2-gallon will usually run for 1-1/2 days, but a 1 gallon will require refilling every 8 hours or so. Run time will decrease substantially if the unit is operated on high.

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I get in the habit of refilling before I go to bed and then again when I wake up.  I use my utility sink to refill the unit.  It has become part of my bedtime and waking ritual, no big deal.

Some water tanks are a little harder to remove and refill, some lift off easily.  Most aren’t too heavy to lift once full, but take time to inspect the unit before purchasing to see how easy the water tank removes from the unit and if it will be too heavy to carry.

Also note if the model will require filter changes (cool mist evaporative models) check on availability, and how easy they are to change.  Purchase a couple of filters along with your new humidifier, that way you can have the model you need on hand.

If the humidifier is for a bedroom, you may want to look for a unit that has a low or silent option.   The model that I use has a soft hum to it, actually I have grown so accustomed to the sound, and I miss it when it is turned off, great white noise.

Many models have safety features where the unit will shut off automatically when the water reservoir is empty. This is really a must-have feature. If you cannot tell from the packaging, this is certainly worth asking the retailer. 

Regular Maintenance & Warranty

All humidifiers require regular cleaning to reduce bacterial growth. Check the product information as some models have dishwasher-safe water reservoirs which makes cleaning easier. The base of the unit also requires a manual cleaning regularly. Warranties are generally 1 year, but there are some models with longer periods. These units are affordable and replacement usually is more economical than trying to get it serviced after the warranty expires. 

Recommendations for Use and Care

Cleaning
• Turn your unit off, and unplug it before dismantling

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Remove the water reservoir, and fill 2/3 full of water and a tablespoon of chlorine bleach. Let it sit for 20 minutes, and move the solution around to clean into the corners. Empty and rinse several times to remove all chlorine from the tank. 

• Remove the filter or wick, and if these are washable, immerse in a sink of cool water, or rinse under running water. They may require replacing – inspect their condition.
• Empty any water residue from the base of the humidifier, and add undiluted clear vinegar. Let is stand for about 20 minutes and drain. Add a little water to rinse, drain, and wipe clean.
• Replace your filter.
•  If you are not operating your unit for a few days, drain off any water, clean it and dry completely before storing. Do not allow water to remain in the unit.

Storing the Unit after the winter or when not using for prolonged periods.

Wipe the outside of your unit with a warm water/vinegar cloth. When time does not allow for a full cleaning, at the very least: 

• Empty water tank or reservoir, rinse and dry
• Remove old filter; either discard or wash and dry
• Empty any water remaining in the base of the humidifier
• Ensure unit is completely dry before storing
• Store carefully in a dry and cool place
• When removed from storage, insert a new or clean filter before operating.
• Disinfect it with a regular humidifier cleaning if this was not done before storing it.

Besides my television, I can’t think of any other appliance in my home that I use more than my humidifier (OK my microwave, but you get the point) it runs almost non stop from November to the end of March.  Just make sure that you follow the manufactures recommendations, and that you check it daily and do all the maintenance, an above all keep it clean and replace filters if needed.  It is an invaluable friend for any season that your home is overly dry.  Your family and your pets will thank you.

Matt 

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