Is a Whole-Home Humidifier Right For Me?

Is a Whole-Home Humidifier Right For Me?
Arne Jacobsen
Residential Sales Professional

I have been in heating and air conditioning trade for 44 years. In that time, I have installed, serviced, designed ductwork, sold, and sized thousands of residential heating and cooling systems.

About This Article

Low humidity levels can create a host of problems for homes, which a whole-home humidifier can assist with. Find out the types and costs of these units.

Dry, cracked skin. A bloody nose from nothing in particular. You shake hands with a friend at your door and are given a startling static shock. Meanwhile, that cough that you thought you beat doesn’t seem to want to go away, and you know your family is about to hit flu season.

These are all potential problems related to humidity control in your home. Many homeowners will try to put a band-aid on the problem by purchasing a single-room humidifier. Usually, this will reside in the bedroom and provide quiet steam while you or a loved one sleeps.

There’s a benefit to these smaller units. But they provide only a temporary reprieve from a larger problem. Namely, that your home’s relative humidity is too low.

Enter, the whole-home humidifier. Look, you could get through the next winter without one. Or the next, or the one after that. But how much nicer are those months going to be every single year if you have proper moisture levels in your air?

The home is where you eat most of your meals and spend most of your nights sleeping. Modern Americans spend over 90% of their time indoors, and the majority of that is in their own home.

A whole-home humidifier isn’t just a convenience. It’s directly affecting a significant portion of your life.

Ok, if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably interested. Below, we go into the types of humidifiers that you can get for your home, some variables that can affect the cost, and we’ll even give you price ranges for typical whole-home humidifier systems. We want you to know everything you’ll need to know to decide if you want one.

And if you do, our guess is that you won’t regret it.

Benefits of a Whole-Home Humidifier

We already talked about some of the benefits in that opening section, but it wasn’t an exhaustive list. Here are some of the things you can expect with a whole-home humidifier installed:

  1. Skin isn’t dry or cracked as often
  2. Floorboards can get creaky or, worse, start to warp with low enough humidity
  3. Related to #2 there, some home insurers will only insure certain things if a whole-home humidifier is installed
  4. Static electricity goes away
  5. Easier to breath means less persistent coughs, colds, and flus.
  6. It increases your overall comfort
  7. It can save you money on heating costs (more on this below!)

A woman blowing her nose.

Cost Benefits

So, wait, moisture can cut heating costs? As it turns out, yes.

See, our bodies feel warmer in more humid environments. It’s why we have metrics like the “heat index” or “true feel” temperatures, which take into account not just the air’s temperature but also its relative humidity level.

The ideal humidity level for a home can vary, but anything in the 30-60% range is fairly safe, and 30-50% is generally considered optimal.

However, relative humidity in a home can get as low as 15% in the winter. That’s lower than the average humidity of the Sahara Desert!

By increasing the relative humidity, your body will feel comfortable at lower temperatures. In practice, this means that maybe you’ll be able to set your thermostat to 70 degrees throughout the winter instead of 72 degrees.

That may not sound like much day-to-day, but it can result in a savings of hundreds of dollars per year in heating costs!

Types of Whole-Home Humidifiers

Any whole-home humidifier is going to accomplish the same task, but there are a few different ways that the unit can accomplish it. The type of humidifier you purchase can also affect cost.

All of the types listed below are ducted humidifiers; meaning, they are attached to the existing ductwork in a home. The technology used can vary, though.

Bypass Humidifiers

A bypass humidifier is connected to the return of your furnace or air handler. Unlike the other types, it does not proactively push moisture into the system. Rather, it is positioned so that warm air from your heating system passes through it. The air absorbs moisture from the humidifier and continues its journey throughout your home.

Bypass humidifiers are dependent on being able to be installed near the return of your system’s airflow. They lack some of the parts of the other system types since they’re relying on the furnace or air handler for airflow.

Power Humidifiers

A power humidifier isn’t dependent on airflow from your HVAC system’s blower motor. It has a blower motor of its own to be able to circulate moisture into your ductwork. Otherwise, the technology works similarly to a bypass humidifier unit, with air passing through water and absorbing moisture from it, before traveling throughout your home.

Steam Humidifiers

Whole-home steam humidifiers do exactly what the name says: produce steam that travels through your home’s ductwork. In order to turn water into steam, these units require electrical components. The humidifier heats water in a reservoir that is converted into steam and distributed throughout the home.

Trane humidifier.

Cost Considerations

There are a number of cost considerations for any job, but the biggest ones are Type, Accessibility, and Size.

Type: The different types of humidifiers come with different considerations. Steam humidifiers require electricity, so a separate wire will need to be run to them. Depending on your home’s electrical infrastructure, this could require significant electrical work.

The additional components in power and steam humidifiers give them a wider range of size options, but can also make them cost more on occasion.

Accessibility: The placement of your furnace, the positioning of the ductwork, or other home features around your equipment might make installation of a particular type difficult or impossible. It may necessitate another type of humidifier, or it could mean that work would need to be done to your home or ductwork to prepare it for installation. This will increase labor costs, even if the equipment is the same price.

Size: This is the biggest determiner of price. The size of your home determines the size of the humidifier you’ll need. The smallest whole-home humidifiers are generally sized for homes up to 1,000 square feet, while the largest are sized for up to 5,000 square feet (anything beyond that would need multiple HVAC systems and is generally only seen in commercial properties). Depending on the brand, type, and model, there are usually sizes in between those two extremes corresponding to either every 500 square feet or 1,000 square feet.

Installation Options

Each of those cost considerations can also affect installation requirements. Many bypass models, for example, don’t cover square footages as large as those that power or steam models can service. If your house is very large, that may limit your options for type of installation.

Additionally, the accessibility and configuration of your HVAC system will sometimes eliminate one type of humidifier (or at least make it more costly due to the labor costs that would be involved).

Lastly, electrical access may preclude a steam humidifier. A good HVAC contractor should be able to assess each of these to determine which styles and sizes are the most viable for your home.

A scale balancing money and family.

Cost of a Whole-Home Humidifier

Now that you know what goes into cost, how much does a whole-home humidifier cost?

If we think about price floors (least expensive) and ceilings (most expensive), power humidifiers have the highest floor. They’ll start around $800 for equipment and installation, even for smaller homes. For bypass and steam humidifiers, that floor is approximately $600.

The ceiling for each can be as high as $2,500, though that will be more due to the size of your home than anything else.

Here are some typical price ranges:

Low-end (500 - 2,000 sq. ft.):

$600 - $1,500 (or $800 - $1,500 for power humidifiers)

Mid-range (1,500 - 4,000 sq. ft):

$1,000 - $2,000

High-end (3,500 - 5,000 sq. ft.):

$1,500 - $2,500

Within those ranges, any of the factors mentioned earlier can push a homeowner toward the higher or lower ends of the ranges.

Importantly, those ranges include installation costs. Many online calculators don’t include this. As a result, they’re very misleading, since installation costs are a significant portion of any whole-home HVAC cost.

Is There a Best Time To Buy?

There isn’t necessarily a best time to buy in terms of equipment cost. However, if you’re installing a new furnace or air conditioner, that’s a great time to consider installing indoor air quality products like humidifiers.

Reason being, you’ll almost always be able to save on labor costs if you pair together multiple installations at the same time. Again, these costs can be significant, but so can your savings if you time it properly.

Is One Right For Me?

Whether or not a whole-home humidifier is right for you is something only you can answer. However, if it’s something that would benefit your home and your family, it’s always worth discussing with a trusted HVAC partner.

Otherwise, a humidifier can be one part of a holistic HVAC system that optimally manages your air quality and temperature year-round.

RELATED: Is a Whole-Home Dehumidifier Right For Me?

RELATED: IAQ and You: Indoor Air Quality HVAC Products

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