Single room humidifiers are very popular and make it easy to replace lost moisture in small spaces, but to affect the entire home, you need a whole house humidifier. They provide a single, convenient source for balanced humidity that is beneficial for people and a home.
The right humidity level helps resolve respiratory issues, suppresses certain bacteria and viruses, provides a general sense of well-being, and ensures wooden floors and furniture don’t dry out and degrade. Fortunately, there are plenty of humidifiers to choose from, and most are very affordable.
While there are many aspects to consider when choosing a whole house humidifier, some of the most important are detailed in the following sections. This guide can help you find the best whole house humidifier to replace lost moisture and restore comfort, whatever the size of your living space. To help make the selection process easier, below are some of the best whole house humidifiers selected by category.
- BEST OVERALL: Aprilaire 500 Whole Home Humidifier, Automatic
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: AIRCARE 831000 Space-Saver, Whole House Humidifier
- BEST FOR LARGE HOMES: Aprilaire – 800Z 800 Whole Home Steam Humidifier
- BEST CONSOLE: AIRCARE 696 400HB Whole House Credenza Humidifier
- BEST FAN: Honeywell Home HE240A2001 Whole House Humidifier
- BEST PORTABLE: AIRCARE MA1201 Whole-House Console-Style Humidifier
What to Consider When Choosing the Best Whole House Humidifier
Finding the best whole house humidifier for any given home is easier when shoppers have a basic understanding of the most important technical and practical features of these devices. The following section is intended as a quick and easy guide to those elements that may have the biggest impact on your choice.
Types and Effectiveness
Whole house humidifiers can be divided into two distinct categories: those that work with an existing HVAC system and those that are free-standing console models.
The installation requirements of humidifiers that work with an HVAC system vary. Some can be installed by DIYers with moderate skills, while others will require an HVAC engineer to install it. Once installed, though, whole house humidifiers that work with HVAC systems need little attention. They connect to the existing electrical and water supply systems in the home.
Whole house humidifiers that work with an HVAC system can further be divided into three types:
- Steam humidifiers are generally the most powerful and are often used for large homes. They heat water in a steam canister until it boils and then release the steam through the ventilation ducting. They can be expensive, and their energy consumption is higher than other models.
- Bypass humidifiers use warmth from the furnace rather than heating the water themselves. Water is held in a panel which is usually replaced annually. Water particles pass through the ducting in the same ways as a steam humidifier.
- Fan humidifiers don’t use heat at all, but blow air across a humidifier pad that is soaked in water. Again, this releases fine water particles through the ducting. They are more energy efficient and, because there’s no warm air, they don’t impact air cooling.
Bypass and fan humidifiers are also known as evaporative humidifiers because they don’t rely on steam.
Console humidifiers are much simpler. They just need to be placed where preferred, filled regularly with water, and plugged into a convenient power outlet. There’s also the question of noise. Permanent installations near the furnace seldom have a noise impact on the living space, whereas console whole house humidifiers can make a noticeable noise, particularly on high fan settings. Cool mist models are loudest, as they need a fan to project moisture. Usually only found on room-size humidifiers, warm mist and ultrasonic models have no fan and they are quieter.
While there are a number of clever DIY hacks that can improve the moisture level in a home environment without the added expense of a new unit, these are not really practical, nor are they consistent and reliable solutions to provide coverage throughout the entire home.
The coverage area required depends on the size of home. In general, console whole house humidifiers are less powerful and have less coverage than their HVAC counterparts. They range in coverage from around 2,500 to 3,600 square feet, which will be sufficient for many homes. However, HVAC systems can humidify in excess of 6,000 square feet.
When checking coverage area offered, it’s common to see the expression “tightly built home.” This describes a fully insulated living space where doors and windows also fit properly and thus the internal environment is well sealed. Older homes may not be so tightly built. Those that aren’t fully insulated or that have occasional drafts could require a model 40 to 50 percent more powerful for effective humidification. Alternatively, those deficiencies could be remedied. Not only could a cheaper humidifier be used, but also the home would become more energy efficient in general and heating bills would be reduced.
There’s another element to coverage that needs to be considered, and it relates back to the type of whole house humidifier chosen. If you have one that works with an HVAC system, then even closed rooms still receive humidity. With a console model, a closed door cuts a room off from the humidified air supply.
Water Tank and Runtime
Since whole house humidifiers that link into the HVAC system are plumbed in, the supply is continuous. However, a water consumption rating is still generally given.
Console models are not connected to the household plumbing. They have onboard water tanks that need to be refilled periodically. How often that is required will have an impact on overall convenience. As they can’t provide humidification when the tank is empty, this also impacts runtime.
How efficiently the humidifier runs, the coverage area, and the level of humidity demanded by the occupants all have an impact. It’s impossible to say, for example, that a particular tank size offers a specific runtime. A small device for a 1,500-square-foot home might run longer than a large one for a 3,000-square-foot home when providing humidity over a smaller area, but will empty much more quickly if the space is beyond its intended capacity.
Since there is no general runtime guideline, each model needs to be checked and compared to those with similar output and features. However, most units run anywhere from 24 to more than 40 hours between refills. Manufacturers give reasonable guidance within product specifications, though the amount of moisture lost through loose doors and windows or lack of insulation will likely reduce runtime.
Additional Features and Ease of Use
In most whole house humidifiers, a built-in sensor called a humidistat (also known as a hygrometer or hygrostat) monitors humidity levels and turns the device on and off to maintain a consistent level. In addition to providing the level of comfort desired, it minimizes water and power consumption.
Console whole house humidifiers usually have water level monitoring and will turn the machine off to prevent damage if it runs dry. Refilling may be possible on the unit, but some require that the tank is filled from a faucet. Bear in mind that a gallon of water weighs more than 8 pounds, so two small tanks might be more convenient than one large tank.
Different fan speeds are another benefit, allowing the user to boost humidity quickly or run the device more quietly.
Smart controls via phone apps and integration with home management systems are becoming increasingly popular. However, currently, the choices are limited.
Our Top Picks
Now that you have had the opportunity to learn about key features, it’s time to focus on real-world examples. The market is dominated by several established brands that produce high- quality and reliable systems. The individual categories below can help make finding the best whole house humidifier for your needs quicker and easier.
It’s tough to pick a single best whole house humidifier because so many homes are different. The American-made Aprilaire 500 takes the award for its combination of efficiency, comprehensive feature set, and suitability for the average modern home, which is about 2,300 square feet, according to latest U.S. Census Bureau figures.
This is an HVAC humidifier with an actual maximum coverage of 3,000 square feet. It has two sensors: one for outside temperature and one for relative humidity. Once the desired level is set using the clear digital display, the Aprilaire automatically adjusts performance to suit. This reduces power and water consumption, keeping bills lower as a result.
The additional external sensor does make installation more complex than some, but the affordable price of the unit goes a long way to compensate for any increased labor costs. Once running, it is simple to use and highly effective.
Space is often at a premium in many modern homes, so the compact dimensions of the AIRCARE 831000 may be ideal. Despite its diminutive size, it is capable of providing humidity for areas of up to 2,700 square feet.
There are three speed settings that allow managing performance and volume. It can be noisy when working hard, but it will shut off when it reaches the user-set humidity level. The easy-fill water tank holds 6 gallons, allowing up to 70 hours of continuous output.
Alerts are provided for low water level and when the filter needs to be changed. Casters provide for easy movement. The high-quality AIRCARE 831000 humidifier is a neat unit that is easy to live with and offers outstanding value for the money.
The Aprilaire 800Z is a high-output steam humidifier that works in conjunction with a furnace and is capable of providing precise humidity levels for homes of up to 6,200 square feet.
Special heating electrodes allow ordinary tap water to be used, unlike competitors that often require a purified supply. Once the digital humidistat is set, outdoor and indoor sensors ensure automatic maintenance of the desired humidity, so this is a set-and-forget device. Alarm lights on the main unit warn of problems with water supply, steam production, drain blockage, or when the humidifier needs to be serviced.
For homes without an existing HVAC system, a version is available that uses a wall-mounted fan situated in the main living space. Professional installation is strongly recommended for either model. However, the steam canister, which needs to be replaced every 6 to 12 months, can be changed by the user.
With its wood-grain effect and classic credenza styling, the AIRCARE 696 makes an unobtrusive addition to the home. This is one of the most powerful whole house humidifiers on the market with a coverage area of up to 3,600 square feet.
The built-in humidistat with digital control allows precise adjustment of the environment. Once set, it only needs to be refilled with water periodically. The twin tanks do have to be removed to refill, but the task is not too onerous with 2.8 gallons tanks. When full, they offer a maximum runtime of 45 hours. There are three fan speeds and an automatic shutoff for when the correct humidity is reached.
While the AIRCARE 696 can be moved, it weighs over 30 pounds and has no wheels. Like other furniture items, it is designed to be stationary. Given its attractive appearance, it shouldn’t be difficult to find a permanent site for it.
The Honeywell Home is a fan humidifier that is designed for DIY installation and is easy to mount on either the warm-air supply or the return duct of any forced-air furnace. It has a capacity of up to 3,000 square feet. A 4,200-square-foot capacity model is also available.
Without the need to heat water, humidifiers of this type are usually more economical than comparable steam or bypass models. The flow-through design reduces maintenance. The included hygrostat is manually operated, though an automatic conversion is possible.
While installation is a simple process when compared with other HVAC humidifiers, an additional kit is required.
The modest size of the AIRCARE MA1201 whole house humidifier belies its performance, which has a coverage area of up to 3,600 square feet. The digital humidistat is controlled from a clear and easy-to-use front-mounted panel. Once set, it can be left to regulate humidity automatically.
Should there be a desire to move it from one place to another, casters and a built-in handle make the task almost effortless. There are four speeds to offer flexibility of choice between high output and low noise. It is easy to clean, too.
The tank size is modest at 3.6 gallons and provides a maximum runtime of 36 hours. However, given the performance, that’s perhaps not a major drawback. The AIRCARE MA1201 is also very competitively priced.
FAQs About Whole House Humidifiers
Now that you are more informed about how to choose the best whole house humidifier for your particular situation, additional questions may have arisen. Below are answers to some of the most common concerns about this type of humidifier.
Q. Do whole house humidifiers cause mold?
They can cause mold, but the problem is generally easy to prevent. Mold usually grows when humidity is higher than normal. The United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recommends that homes should ideally be between 30 and 50 percent humidity, which is the range most of these devices cover. Mold shouldn’t normally grow within these parameters. Stagnant water can also cause problems, so tanks should be cleaned regularly and emptied when not in use.
Q. How often should I schedule maintenance for my whole house humidifiers?
Maintenance very much depends on the type of humidifier, and each manufacturer will offer a schedule that will help achieve maximum benefit. Some filters need to be changed every 3 months. Steam chambers usually last 6 to 12 months. Humidifier pads are usually replaced annually.
Q. How long do whole house humidifiers usually last?
Though there are a number of variables that make it impossible to give a precise answer, console units would be expected to last 5 years or more. HVAC-mounted models have a life expectancy of around 10 years.
Q. Are whole house humidifiers safe?
Yes, whole house humidifiers are safe when properly installed and maintained. Mold has the potential to cause problems, but it shouldn’t occur if the humidifier is properly looked after.
Q. Can a humidifier help with health issues?
Absolutely. A humidifier can have a positive impact on skin issues and respiratory problems, and it can help suppress some types of viral and infectious diseases. Most pets feel more comfortable with ideal humidity, too.