Single room humidifiers make it easy to replace lost moisture in small spaces, but to affect the entire home, you need a whole house humidifier. These provide a single, convenient source for balanced humidity that is beneficial for people and a home.
There are many aspects to consider when choosing a whole house humidifier. 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 in their respective categories.
- BEST OVERALL: Aprilaire 500 Whole Home Humidifier, Automatic
- BEST BANG FOR THE BUCK: AIRCARE 831000 Whole House Evaporative Humidifier
- BEST FOR LARGE HOMES: Aprilaire – 800Z 800 Whole Home Steam Humidifier
- BEST FOR SMALL HOMES: Vornado Evap40 4-Gallon Evaporative Humidifier
- BEST FOR HARD WATER: Aprilaire 700 Whole Home Humidifier
- BEST CONSOLE: AIRCARE 5.6 Gal. Evaporative Humidifier 3,600 sq. ft.
- BEST FAN: Honeywell Home HE280A Whole House Humidifier
- BEST PORTABLE: AIRCARE 3.6-Gal. Evaporative Humidifier 3,600 sq. ft.
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 freestanding 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 affect air cooling.
Bypass and fan humidifiers are also known as evaporative humidifiers because they don’t rely on steam.
Whole house console-style evaporative 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, a console-style evaporative humidifier is less powerful and has less coverage than its HVAC counterpart. 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, a home’s owner can remedy those deficiencies. This would lead to the need for a less expensive humidifier and a more energy-efficient home, reducing heating system bills.
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 affect overall convenience. As they can’t provide humidification when the tank is empty, this also affects runtime.
How efficiently the humidifier runs, the coverage area, and the desired humidity level 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 it 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.
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.
Additional Features and Ease of Use
The following extras may affect efficiency and ease of use.
- Different fan speeds are a huge benefit, allowing the user to boost humidity quickly or run the device more quietly.
- Handles and wheels aren’t only fitted to small portable humidifiers; they can also be found on larger models that might be used in open rooms, guest accommodations, or office spaces.
- Digital controls support the setting of humidity levels with absolute precision. This allows consumers to monitor and adjust performance with much greater accuracy than is possible with a manual dial.
- 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, however, for its combination of efficiency, comprehensive feature set, and suitability for the average modern home, which is about 2,300 square feet, according to the 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 makes installation more complex than some, but the affordable price of the unit goes a long way toward compensating for any increased labor costs. Once running, it is simple to use and highly effective.
- Coverage: 3,000 sq. ft.
- Maximum Runtime: Continuous
Tank Capacity: Not applicable
- Sensors automatically maintain humidity
- Economical to run
- Competitive price
- Additional cost for pro installation
- Not suitable for large homes
Get the Aprilaire 500 humidifier on Amazon and at Walmart.
Space is often at a premium in many modern homes, so the compact dimensions of this AIRCARE may be ideal. Despite its diminutive size, it can provide 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 the unit 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.
This humidifier provides alerts when the water level is low and when the filter needs to be changed. Casters provide for easy movement. This high-quality AIRCARE humidifier is a neat unit that is easy to live with and offers outstanding value for the money.
- Coverage: 2,700 sq. ft.
- Maximum Runtime: 70 hours
- Tank Capacity: 6 gallons
- Compact and relatively quiet
- Long runtime
- Competitive price
- Bright control panel is always on
- Occasional faults with fan switch
Get the AIRCARE 831000 humidifier at Walmart.
The Aprilaire 800Z is a high-output steam humidifier that works in conjunction with a furnace and can provide precise humidity levels for homes of up to 6,200 square feet.
Special heating electrodes allow use of ordinary tap water, 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.
- Coverage: 6,200 sq. ft.
- Maximum Runtime: Continuous
- Tank Capacity: Not applicable
- Runs from ordinary household water
- Dual sensors optimize humidity automatically
- Modest running costs
- Quite expensive
- Professional installation required
Get the Aprilaire 800Z 800 humidifier on Amazon.
For those who live in apartments or other small homes, most whole house humidifiers are overkill. Yet many room humidifiers don’t provide sufficient coverage. One efficient, low-cost solution is the Vornado Evap40.
This unit offers three fan speeds and a clever vortex action that spreads humidity evenly over an area of up to 1,000 square feet. There are two easy-to-manage 2-gallon tanks, giving 24 hours of runtime at the highest fan setting. Automatic sensors adjust humidity to the chosen level, so it might run longer.
The Vornado would also be a good choice for large single rooms, though the lack of wheels makes it a little awkward to move around.
- Coverage: 1,000 sq. ft.
- Maximum Runtime: 24 hours
- Tank Capacity: 4 gallons
- Vortex action for rapid circulation
- Simple controls
- Very affordable
- Regular filter replacement
- No auto-off feature when empty
Get the Vornado Evap40 humidifier on Amazon and at Walmart.
The minerals in hard water can play havoc with whole house humidifiers. Some eject calcium and magnesium into the air, which can aggravate breathing conditions. White dust can settle out too, covering furniture and getting into sensitive electronics. Others trap the chemicals, but the buildup eventually causes blockages or damage.
The Aprilaire 700 can operate with hard or soft water, and hot or cold supply. Any minerals from hard water are collected in the water panel, preventing them from getting into the air. As water panels need to be changed on an annual basis (they are not expensive) there is insufficient buildup to cause problems.
Other key features of the Aprilaire 700 are precise digital control, sensors to automatically monitor humidity levels, and a powerful fan that uses furnace air to increase humidification speed over an area of up to 4,200 square feet.
- Coverage: 4,200 sq. ft.
- Maximum Runtime: Continuous
- Tank Capacity: Not applicable
- Runs off hard or soft water
- Automatic monitoring and adjustment
- Fan provides rapid humidification
- Needs professional installation
- Annual water panel replacement
Get the Aprilaire 700 humidifier on Amazon and at Walmart.
With its wood-grain effect and classic credenza styling, this AIRCARE 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 whole house control allows precise adjustment of the environment. Once set, it only needs to be refilled with water periodically. The twin tanks have to be removed to refill, but the task is not too onerous with 2.8-gallon 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 this AIRCARE can be moved, it weighs more than 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 this humidifier.
- Coverage: 3,600 sq. ft.
- Maximum Runtime: 45 hours
- Tank Capacity: 5.6 gallons
- Accurate digital control
- Very manageable twin tanks
- Energy-saving auto shutoff
- A little noisy at high speed
- Appearance not to everyone’s taste
Get the AIRCARE humidifier at The Home Depot.
The Honeywell Home is a fan humidifier that is designed for DIY installation and can be mounted on either the warm-air supply or the return duct of any forced-air furnace. It has a capacity of up to 4,000 square feet.
Without the need to heat water, the Honeywell Home HE280A is usually more economical than comparable steam humidifiers or bypass models. The flow-through design prevents the buildup of microorganisms that can cause mold and reduces maintenance. The included hygrostat is manually operated, though an automatic conversion is possible.
Installation is a relatively straightforward process when compared with other HVAC humidifiers, and all the necessary components are included. However, a floor drain is also required.
- Coverage: 4,000 sq. ft.
- Maximum Runtime: Continuous
- Tank Capacity: Not applicable
- Good coverage area
- Low running costs
- Minimal maintenance
- Floor drain required
- Some concerns over longevity
Get the Honeywell Home HE280A humidifier on Amazon and at Walmart.
The modest size of this AIRCARE 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. This AIRCARE is also very competitively priced.
- Coverage: 3,600 sq. ft.
- Maximum Runtime: 36 hours
- Tank Capacity: 3.6 gallons
- Easy mobility
- Simple and accurate controls
- Automatic humidistat
- Filters require regular replacement
- Loud at high speed
Get the AIRCARE humidifier at Walmart and The Home Depot.
The Aprilaire 500 is the ideal choice for today’s average home. It is inexpensive and economical to run. However, it is not designed for DIY installation. The AIRCARE 831000 offers surprisingly competitive performance from a low-cost device, though it can be loud at times.
How We Chose the Best Whole House Humidifiers
I am an engineer by profession, so I have a good understanding of how whole house humidifiers function. I installed one in a previous home. However, that was some years ago, so the Bob Vila team researched the latest models from all the leading manufacturers to ensure we had up-to-date information. Feedback from customers who live with these devices day-to-day also formed an important part of our selection process.
In making our choices, we wanted to provide a wide range of options encompassing the various technologies and different types of installation. By doing so we have provided solutions for the widest possible range of needs, as well as whole house humidifiers to suit most budgets.
Although the number of manufacturers represented is relatively low, we felt it important to focus on brands that have built a reputation for producing reliable, durable equipment. In the longer term, this ensures buyers get the best value for their money.
Now that you are more informed about how to choose the best whole house humidifier for your particular situation, you may have additional questions. Below are answers to some of the most common concerns about this type of humidifier.
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.
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, allowing the correct indoor relative humidity to be maintained.
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, however, can also cause problems, so users should clean tanks regularly and empty them when not in use.
Q: What is the recommended indoor humidity level?
The ideal indoor humidity level for health and comfort is between 40 and 50 percent to help ease cold and allergy symptoms and make breathing easier while not making the air so humid that it promotes mold growth.
Q: How often should I schedule maintenance for my whole house humidifier?
Maintenance very much depends on the type of humidifier, and each manufacturer will offer a schedule to 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.