Whole-house humidifiers provide an economical and perhaps even stress way to boost the humidity levels inside your home. Depending on the type you’re buying, they can cost less than a few hundred dollars or just over $1,000. Some are also easier to install than others, while in a few cases, installation isn’t needed at all.
Regardless of the one you choose, however, you’re guaranteed reliable, whole-house humidification, meaning that you don’t need to purchase multiple smaller humidifiers for each room.
This guide is designed to help you pick the right whole-house humidifier for your needs. We review several excellent models you should consider, discuss how whole-house humidifiers work, and, in the end, even suggest a few tips to keep in mind when shopping.
So, with the reviews done, let’s shift focus to an even more critical step – picking the right whole-house humidifier.
What’s a Whole-House Humidifier?
A whole-house humidifier, as the name suggests, is a humidifier designed to serve the entire house. This quality makes them different from the room and personal humidifiers intended for medium-sized rooms and personal humidifiers that cover even smaller spaces.
There are two broad categories of whole-house humidifiers – console and furnace (also popular as HVAC) humidifiers.
- Console humidifiers: Console humidifiers are portable units that are more powerful than the standard room humidifier. Think of them as room humidifiers – only bigger. They come with independent, large water tanks and can serve multiple rooms in the home at a go, with some capable of serving the entire house.
- Furnace/HVAC humidifiers: These are permanently installed humidifiers that connect to the rest of the home’s HVAC system. Two key features characterize them. First, they draw water directly from the home’s supply system. Secondly, they depend on the home’s ductwork to distribute moisture throughout the house.
How do Whole House Humidifiers Work?
Console and furnace humidifiers work differently. Then, among each category, there are also a few subtypes. Here’s what you need to know;
How Console Humidifiers Work
- Evaporative Console Humidifiers: Evaporative humidifiers have a wick system, which also serves as a filtration system. The wick dips into the water in the tank, absorbing some of it through capillarity. Then, with the help of a fan, the humidifier forces a stream of air through the filter to break down the water into vapor. The vapor is then pushed out of the humidifier and distributed throughout the room with the fan’s help.
- Steam Console Humidifiers: Steam humidifiers don’t have wicks or filters. Instead, the water inside the humidifier is boiled to evaporation. The warm vapor is then forced outside the unit and circulated throughout the house. Most steam humidifiers also don’t have fans. Instead, they rely on the water heating process’s pressure to push out and circulate moisture throughout the house.
In both cases, the moisture leaves the humidifier via a nozzle, usually located at or toward the humidifier’s top. When the water runs low, or the tank runs empty, you must manually refill it.
How Furnace Humidifiers Work
Furnace humidifiers are installed to an existing furnace or a new furnace system, draw water from the home’s main supply, and utilize the home’s ductwork to distribute moisture throughout the house. There are three main models;
- Bypass/Drum Furnace Humidifiers
These install directly onto the HVAC system and use the furnace’s blower to move air over a rotating wet belt or pad. Water automatically flows from the home’s water line into a reservoir located inside the humidifier.
When the time for humidification comes, the water inside the reservoir passes over the belt, causing it to evaporate into a fine mist. The mist is directed into the home’s ductwork and distributed throughout the house with the furnace fan’s help. Drum humidifiers are the cheapest of the three to run.
- Flow-through Furnace Humidifiers
These units are called “flow-through” because they don’t require a water reservoir. Instead, when the humidistat indicates that more humidification is needed, water is drawn from the home’s main supply to soak a foam or aluminum pad. Warm air from the furnace destined for your indoors passes through the wet pad, absorbing moisture in the process. Then now-moist warm air is then blown out into the home via the main duct system.
A key advantage of flow-through furnace humidifiers is that the absence of a reservoir prevents the buildup of sediments and bacteria. As a result, maintenance time and costs are lower. In terms of running costs, flow-through humidifiers are more expensive than reservoir-type units but less expensive than steam humidifiers.
- Steam humidifiers
Similar to drum humidifiers, steam humidifiers feature a tank. But, this time, the tank is more important for the boiling process and not just holding water. When the need for humidification is communicated, the steam humidifier begins to heat water in the reservoir until it evaporates into steam. The steam is then pumped into your house via the home’s duct system.
Steam humidifiers are the most expensive to run of all humidifier types. But, they come with one critical advantage – unlike drum and flow-through models, steam humidifiers don’t need the furnace to be on in order to work. They can work even when the furnace is off. Steam humidifiers also generate more moisture per/minute than other humidifier types.
Benefits of Whole House Humidifiers
Humidification comes with a ton of advantages. For one, the moisture boost prevents dry skin, alleviates cold and flu symptoms, helps with asthma and allergies, and is good for sinuses. Optimal humidity within the home is also good for your pets, plants, wooden surfaces, and the home’s structural integrity.
So, why whole-house, particularly furnace, humidification over a room or personal humidifier? The following are a few reasons;
- It’s a one-time investment: One you’ve installed the humidifier, you can forget about humidification costs for a while. Aside from the steam models, the cool-mist models are inexpensive to run.
- Serve the entire home: This is another key advantage. With the smaller humidifiers, you need to buy multiple units to meet your humidification needs. For furnace humidifiers, you only need one to meet all your needs.
- Little to no maintenance: Unlike portable humidifiers that require substantial maintenance, especially regular water changes, furnace humidifiers are the definition of plug-and-play. There’s no tank to refill, no filters to replace (in most cases), and very little cleaning to do.
Furnace Humidifier Challenges
Despite the many advantages, however, furnace humidifiers are known for a few challenges. The following are two common downsides;
- High initial investment: Furnace humidifiers are the most expensive of all humidifier types. Steam models can cost up to $1,000. That’s pretty high, considering that some room humidifiers cost under $30.
- They’re only an option for homeowners: If you’re a renter, a furnace humidifier may not be a practical solution as there’s a need to connect to the home’s water system and the furnace. Most landlords may not grant such access.
How to Install a Whole House Humidifier
All furnace humidifiers require a degree of installation. Fortunately, most manufacturers often provide the installation instructions in the user manual. As such, you can handle the process on your own. However, it’s important to check the document to determine whether DIY installation would void the warranty.
Drum and flow-through models install the same way. They both install on the home’s bypass duct so that the humidifier can use the home’s supply plenum to draw in air and the return-air duct to push moisture into the home. The humidifier can be installed either on the supply plenum or the return air duct.
Steam models must be installed by a professional. Never attempt to install a steam humidifier on your own. Also, since some of the products in this category run on 240 volts, you may need to install an extra circuit. As with the other two options, the steam humidifier installs on the supply plenum or return air duct.
Furnace Humidifier Noise
You may notice that your furnace humidifier makes a few sounds during operation. It could be normal sounds or a sign of wear/tear. Or, it could even indicate that the unit is failing. Here’s what you need to know;
- Are Humidifiers Supposed to Make Noise?
Yes. All humidifiers produce a level of sound during operation. Whole-house humidifiers, owing to their size, therefore, are likely to make substantial sounds. Many are rated around 50-60 decibels, which is the same range as a fridge. If yours is making louder than usual or strange sounds, then something is likely wrong.
- Why is my Humidifier Making Bubbling Noise?
The “bubbling” sound is perhaps the biggest challenge with humidifiers because there’s no easy solution for it. It results from rippling and vibration as water particles are broken down. The agitation causes water to bubble – thus, the bubbling sounds. The only real solution to this sound is to buy a humidifier with minimal bubbling sounds. Otherwise, the only other alternative is to have the humidifier as far away from you as possible. The good news is that the “bubbling” is no reason for alarm.
- How to Fix a Noisy Whole-House Humidifier
There are several steps you can take to fix a noisy humidifier. Buzzing noises are often a sign of debris within the system or worn out lubrication on the fans. Regular maintenance should fix the problem. Use only motor oil to lubricate the fan. If you hear vibrating sounds, there are likely a few loose parts. Tightening the screws should resolve the problem.
Let’s kick off with the reviews. There are many whole-house humidifier models out there. The following are five wonderful options to consider;
- Aprilaire 700 Large Capacity Evaporative Whole-Home Humidifier
- Ideal for up to 4,200 square feet
- Processes 18 gallons of water/day
- Automatic control
- Dual humidity sensor
- Built-in fan
- The user manual is confusing
- Requires professional installation
- Floor drain purchased separately
The Aprilaire 700 is an evaporative furnace humidifier that works by piping water into the distribution tray located at the top of the humidifier. This water is uniformly distributed throughout the tray’s width and flows through gravity over the water panel evaporator.
As dry, hot air from the furnace moves across the moisture-filled water panel evaporator, it is vaporized. The now-humidifier air is then distributed to the entire house.
Some of its key features include a built-in fan that pulls air directly from the furnace and a dual-sensor function to monitor and respond to outdoor temperatures and relative indoor climatic conditions. The convenient digital control panel displays humidity levels and features a blower activation switch. It processes up to 18 gallons of water daily.
- Aprilaire 800 Large Capacity Whole Home Steam Humidifier
- Ideal for homes up to 6,200 square feet
- Automatic humidity control
- Made from durable stainless steel
- Features convenient control panel
- Steam hose and drain tubing included
- Most expensive on this list (at close to $700)
- Fan purchased separately
For a bigger home, the Aprilaire 800 is one of the most powerful whole-house humidifiers. Capable of processing up to 34.6 gallons of water per day, it’s simply unmatched. The high capacity allows it to serve homes up to 6,200 square feet! You, however, get to choose from six output levels, with the lowest one generating a modest 11.5 gallons of water/day, which is more than enough for a standard-size home.
The unit implements electrode technology that forces impurities in the water to promote the transfer of electricity. As a result, these impurities become mostly harmless. It also means that you don’t need purified water.
The unit features dual humidity sensors to respond to both outdoor and indoor climatic conditions. Remember that this is a steam humidifier the parts and water/steam gets very hot. So, professional installation is a must.
- Honeywell Home HE360A1075 Whole House Humidifier
- Low-maintenance flow-through humidifier
- Ideal for large homes, up to 4,200 square feet
- Most installation hardware and materials provided
- Easy and flexible mounting options
- Backed by a one-year warranty
- Some installation components sold separately
- Requires a separate drain pan
This is a flow-through humidifier, and one of the best in the category. It requires no bypass ducting. Mount it onto the warm air supply or air handler of your forced air furnace. The connecting components are included in the package. The only challenge is that you need to access the nearest floor drain to provide drainage.
The unit draws heated air through a moistened humidifier pad (included) where it collects invisible moisture. A PerfctFLO water distribution tray ensures fast and thorough humidifier saturation for consistent and even moisture distribution.
The package includes most of the components you need to complete the installation. These include a saddle valve assembly, connecting and mounting hardware, and an installation kit. It comes with a 1-year warranty.
- GeneralAire 1000A Humidifier, 120V
- Ideal for up to 3,000 square feet
- Manual or automatic mode
- Features outdoor sensor
- GFX3 humidistat included
- Backed by a 10-year warranty
- A drain pan is required
- DIY installation voids warranty
The GeneralAire 1000A is another value-for-money whole-home humidifier. Priced at under $400, it’s considered a medium-range whole-home humidifier. A fan inside the unit pulls warm air into the humidifier and the highly evaporative Vapor Pads where the air is humidified. The moistened air is then delivered throughout your home through the home’s duct system.
Key features of the 1000A include a humidity control bypass damper, fan-powered moisture distribution, and the DuraPlast UV-stable automotive-grade plastic build. The unit delivers 18 gallons of warm air per day.
The unit is recommended for homes up to 3,000 square feet but connects to a standard 120V electrical outlet. It comes with a 10-year manufacturer warranty.
- BONECO Model AOS S450 Digital Steam Humidifier
- Ideal for homes up to 860 square feet
- Intelligent controls
- Supports essential oils use
- Filters not needed
- A large, 3.5-gallon tank
- 3-year warranty
- No remote control
- Somewhat pricey for a console humidifier
Finally, we’ve only looked at furnace humidifiers that connect to the rest of the home’s HVAC system so far. If you desire quiet whole-house humidification but want a more portable solution, this BONECO model would be a great fit.
As the name suggests, it’s a digital steam humidifier. The water is boiled to 212F to ensure bacteria and mineral-free humidification, and the vapor is then pushed into your home. The touch control panel with auto dimmer lights makes it easy to stay on top of the house’s humidity control.
The unit implements self-cleaning for automatic cleaning and decalcification. It also features clear-mist technology, scented humidification, anti-mineral pads, and a programmable hygrostat. It comes with two anti-mineral pads.
Whole-house humidifiers are the perfect solution for home-wide humidification. Furnace models, in particular, are powerful enough to service the entire house, no matter the size. They are also low maintenance. Make sure to find the right size, though. Also, pick one that’s corrosion-resistant and with overflow protection.