Humidifiers can solve your dry-air problem

James Dulley Starcott Media Services Jan. 7, 2006 12:00 AM

Question: The air in my home is so dry, I am afraid the static sparks will ignite me. Seriously, though, I need a humidifier, and I heard using one also will lower my heating bills. Is this true, and which ones are best?

Answer: I have never heard of anyone self-combusting from static shocks in their homes, but it is unpleasant.

It also is not healthful to live in such dry air. If indoor air is too dry or too humid, unhealthful microbes, mold and dust mites may thrive in your home.

Using a humidifier can reduce your utility bills. By reducing the amount of evaporation from your skin, properly humidified air can make you feel comfortable at a lower air temperature. Even though the humidifier uses some electricity and does cool the air slightly, you save overall by being able to set the thermostat lower.

Before you invest in a humidifier, try making your home more airtight to reduce the amount of cold dry outdoor air leaking in. Normal human activities, such as cooking, washing, bathing and breathing, produce moisture. By reducing air leakage, the humidity level will rise.

If you do not have a problem with mildew in your bathroom, run the bathroom vent fan less or not at all. Leave the warm water in the bathtub so it gives off humidity to the air. This also allows the warm water to heat the air. Do the same when you wash dishes or boil water. Place pans of water near floor registers so the warm air passes around them.

If you need additional humidity in the air, a free-standing humidifier is your best option. Furnace-mounted ones are convenient, but they work only when the furnace is running. With one or two free-standing units, you can control when they run and at what humidity output.

Evaporative humidifiers are effective and easy to use. These use a large vertical piece of wick material with the lower end submerged in a water reservoir. A small fan draws room air in through the upper portion of the damp wick. As the air passes through the wick, it picks up moisture. Select one that has at least two fan speeds and a large reservoir, so you do not have to fill it often. For bedroom use, some models have a super-quiet low speed. Many models use anti-microbial filters. Even so, clean the unit regularly per the manufacturer's instructions.

Warm-mist humidifiers use more electricity because they boil the water, but they are designed so the vapor output is just warm for safety. They are quiet, and require little maintenance. A few companies still offer ultrasonic models, which are quiet and use little electricity. I use one by the corn-burning stove in my home.

James Dulley welcomes readers' questions and comments, but he cannot give personal replies. Address correspondence to James Dulley, in care of The Arizona Republic, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244, or go to

Humidifier suppliers

The following companies offer free-standing humidifiers:

Emerson, 1-800-654-3545 or

Essick Air, 1-800-826-2665 or

Holmes, 1-800-284-3267 or

Hunter, 1-800-448-6837 or

Kaz, 1-800-332-1110 or

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