After the oppressive summer humidity evaporates, we seem to jump right to heating season and the opposite problem: super dry air. Due to COVID-19, dry indoor air is a much bigger concern than usual, since the virus thrives in low humidity conditions. Installing a central air humidifier can be a helpful solution.
In this article, we’ll explore what a central air humidifier does, and help you find a central humidifier system that will best suit your needs.
Why consider a central air humidifier?
You can say good-bye to the dry skin, flyaway hair, itchy eyes, and the irritated sinuses and throats caused by dry air by investing in a central air humidifier. You will not miss those static electricity shocks you get when walking across your carpet. All of those annoyances can be reduced or eliminated.
A central air humidifier can also help to protect the occupants of your space from COVID.
During the winter months when our spaces are closed up and heated, humidity levels tend to drop to extremely low levels (below 40 percent). Unfortunately, those are the ideal conditions for the COVID-19 virus to thrive and remain viable for longer periods.
Research has shown that adding moisture to the air (which a humidification system does) may damage the outer membrane of the virus, and also make “droplets” less likely to linger in the air. Increased humidity has the added benefit of moisturizing our mucous membranes, which increases your body’s ability to fight the virus.
If you’re concerned about preventing the spread of COVID in your space, get this helpful guide that reviews HVAC strategies.
What exactly is a central air humidifier?
When we think of humidity, we typically think of too much moisture in the air. But too little humidity is a problem, too. It’s a central air humidifier’s job to ensure a moderate amount of humidity is in the air (generally between 40 and 50 percent humidity).
The system contains a humidistat, which is similar to a thermostat. The humidistat monitors the amount of moisture in the air, signaling the humidification system to maintain the optimal humidity level your home or business.
When the air is uncomfortably dry, the humidifier adds moisture (water vapor) to the air circulating throughout your space via your HVAC system. The central air or central heating humidifier, which is connected to your furnace and HVAC ductwork and also hooked up to your plumbing system, produces humidity by using water and heat from your furnace.
Unlike portable humidifiers, the central air humidifier system can improve air quality conditions throughout your entire home or commercial space.
Central humidifier pros and cons vs. portable units
Besides central air humidifiers, standalone or portable humidifier units are also available. Let’s take a look at the pros and cons of these two types.
Central humidifier advantages
- A central air humidifier can maintain the correct level of moisture in your entire home or building. Portable units can only provide proper moisture to the room where the unit is located.
- A central air humidifier requires less maintenance than a standalone unit because it connects to your plumbing system, so water needed for moisture is automatically supplied to your humidifier. Portable units contain a reservoir that could require daily manual refilling.
- A central humidifier system is quiet and out of sight. Portable systems can be noisy, obtrusive and possibly a tripping hazard. Care is required not to get scalded by steam.
- Central air humidifies are more energy efficient, often using less energy to humidify an entire house than a standalone unit uses to moisturize a single room.
Portable humidifier advantages
- Standalone units can be moved from room to room.
- A portable unit can aid someone who is sick or suffering from allergies.
- A portable unit is a good option for tenants who live in residences that do not have central air.
Central humidifier types: there’s one for you
Here are the basic central humidifier types:
Flow-through. The flow-throw is the most commonly used central air humidifier. With this type of device, water trickles into an aluminum panel. Air blows through the panel, which results in the water evaporating into the air.
Drum-type. This features a rotating porous surface, such as foam or a sponge, that absorbs water from an underneath tray. The absorbed water evaporates.
Steam humidifiers/spray mist humidifiers. Steam humidifiers can handle arid environments and are more powerful and usually more expensive. Steam humidifiers add moisture to the air by heating water electrically until it boils and creates steam. The system’s blower extracts the steam and then pushes it throughout the home vents. With a spray mist humidifier, water is sprayed directly into the air supply as a mist and picked up by the flowing air.
Consider the extent of your dry air problem, your commitment level to performing maintenance, and your budget when choosing the right central air humidifier to suit your needs. Keep reading for more information about comparing different types.
Central air humidifier maintenance
Although the drum-type central air humidifier may be the least expensive upfront, it also requires a good deal of routine maintenance. The water tray, sometimes called a reservoir, must be emptied and cleaned regularly. If it isn’t, stagnant water can be a breeding ground for bacteria and you certainly don’t want contaminated air blown through your space.
Another maintenance issue with the drum style is hard water can deposit mineral sediments on the pad, which will become hardened and lose its absorbency. Through routine inspections, you will discover if the pad becomes encrusted with minerals and needs replacement. Not changing the ineffective pad will pad will result in impeded airflow (which can lead to problems with your air conditioning performance).
Though flow-through central air humidifier units require far less maintenance, every heating season should see the replacement of its evaporative screen pad.
A steam central air humidifier automatically flushes out the water tank regularly during the humidifying season. However, the tank must be manually cleaned each heating season because mineral deposits tend to remain in the tank after automatic flushing. If you have a spray mist central air humidifier, the spray nozzle can become clogged with mineral deposits, which requires cleaning.
Central humidifier cost
The cost for a central air humidifier is relatively low compared to the comfort and health benefits it can provide. As with anything else, the price will vary based on style and capacity. The drum-type is generally the least expensive to purchase, ranging from roughly $75 to $275 or more. Flow through units can cost in the $100 to $300 range, but if you want a high-end model, it could cost as much as $500. Spray mist types cost about $150 and steam humidifiers, a favorite of owners of retail establishments and other businesses, can cost between $300 and upwards of $1,200.
Bear in mind, a HVAC professional must install a central air humidifier and these costs do not include an installation fee. Arista Air would be glad to help you choose the best humidifier option for your home or business and provide you with installation estimates and information on maintenance plans.
Another clean air consideration
Though a central air humidifier can provide you with the proper humidity level to enhance air quality in your space, dirty air ducts can undermine the benefits of a central air humidifier system. To find out how dirty ducts can affect your indoor air quality, check out our free guide: FAQ: Duct Cleaning and Your Indoor Air Quality.