December 19, 2022
Woman on Laptop for HVAC Services Peoria, IL

Overly dry indoor air is a common issue during the winter. Not only is colder air always much drier, but your furnace also dries out the air inside your home even further. Constantly breathing in dry air will dry out your skin and sinuses. Dry air can worsen respiratory issues and potentially cause wood and leather furnishings to crack. The easiest way to overcome these issues is with a humidifier, and here is everything you need to know about the differences between portable humidifiers and whole-home units.

Whole-Home Humidifiers vs. Portable Units

Individual or portable humidifiers are smaller units that work to raise the humidity level inside one room or space. You can find much larger portable units that are marketed as whole-home humidifiers. However, a few major differences separate portable units from true whole-home humidifiers.

The first is that portable humidifiers have a water reservoir that needs to be refilled as the unit runs. Whole-home humidifiers are much lower maintenance as they are connected directly to the building’s plumbing system, which means you never need to worry about refilling them.

Another important difference is that most whole-home humidifiers are installed inside your ductwork and function alongside your HVAC system. This means that the blower circulates the moist air throughout the home whenever your heating system is running.

Some whole-home humidifiers are standalone units that are not connected to the HVAC system. These units utilize an internal fan to blow out warm, moist air. However, they are less effective since they have no way to circulate moisture throughout the house. This means they will take much longer to raise the humidity level inside the entire home, and they will need to run more frequently to maintain a consistent humidity level. This is also true of all portable humidifiers, as they also have no way to circulate air, which means that they can only effectively raise the humidity level in one room or smaller space.

How Does a Whole-Home Humidifier Work?

Whole-home humidifiers are typically installed inside the return air duct where cold air is drawn into the furnace. These units can also be installed in the supply plenum where hot air exits the furnace and enters into the supply ducts. If the unit is in the return duct, it will humidify the cold air before it enters the furnace, whereas installing the unit in the supply plenum means it will humidify the hot air as it exits the furnace.

Either location will work equally as effectively. However, it is always best to install the unit in the return duct whenever possible. The issue is that there is always a small risk that the humidifier itself or the water line that feeds into it could develop a leak. If the unit is in the supply plenum, this could cause water to leak inside the furnace and damage its components. Another benefit of having the unit in the return ductwork is that it will take some strain off your heating system by slightly warming the air as its being drawn into the furnace.

A whole-home humidifier is controlled by something known as a humidistat, which constantly measures the relative humidity inside the building. You can program the humidistat for your preferred humidity level just as you set the temperature on a thermostat. Whenever the humidity level is below what the humidistat is set to, the humidifier will automatically turn on whenever your heating system starts. It will then continue to pump out moist air until either the heating system switches off or the humidistat registers that the humidity level is where it should be.

Whole-home units can also work even when your heating is off by switching the fan setting on your thermostat to “On” instead of “Auto” so that the blower continually runs and blows moist air throughout the home. This isn’t recommended except for milder days when your home is still dry but you don’t need to run your heating. If you were to leave the fan running constantly on colder days, it would quickly result in cold air blowing out of all of your vents.

Since the purpose of a whole-home unit is to control the humidity level in the entire building, it is generally always best to have the humidistat installed in a central location. The humidistat will most likely be mounted on the wall next to your thermostat. If you have a smart thermostat, you can also use this to control the humidifier, as many of these units are compatible with both whole-home humidifiers and dehumidifiers.

At Bratcher Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc., we install a range of indoor air quality equipment including whole-home humidifiers, dehumidifiers, and air purifiers. We also install, repair, and maintain furnaces, air conditioners, and geothermal HVAC systems for both residential and commercial buildings. To learn more about the benefits of a whole-home humidifier or if you need any other HVAC service in the Bloomington, Champaign, or Peoria areas, give Bratcher Heating & Air Conditioning, Inc. a call today.

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