Whole-House Vs. Portable Humidifier, Which Should I Buy?


What’s the difference between whole-house humidifiers and portable ones? Which should you spend your hard earned cash on? First, let’s start off with the basics.

Why Do You Even Need a Humidifier?

We get this question often, and we can’t fault people for it. We live in Northeast Ohio where the summers can be brutally humid and the winters are dry as a desert.

Health issues are the number one reason you should look into getting a humidifier. Air with humidity levels below 30% can cause nose bleeds, dry and itchy skin, respiratory issues, and can worsen allergies and asthma.

In addition, dry air will also pull moisture out of materials such as wood and cause splitting and cracking. Hardwood floors, antique furniture, and even moldings are susceptible premature aging and cracking due to low humidity. If you have bamboo floors, a humidifier is a necessity due to the materials expansion and contraction properties.

Almost all manufacturers agree (which they almost never do!) that the optimal humidity in your home should be between 30% and 50%. There many different types of humidifiers but for the sake of this article, we are going to lump them into two groups: whole-house humidifiers, which usually are part of your HVAC system, and portable or “single room” units.

Whole-House Humidifier Pros and Cons

Whole-house humidifiers are generally a get-it-and-forget-it type of item. Once installed, they require little to no maintenance. Equipped to the blower system on your furnace, it draws water directly from your homes water supply and automatically injects it into your air and throughout your entire home.

Because it draws the water straight from your water lines, you never have to fill a reservoir or worry that it is not working because it ran out. Some models even come with water saving features that use far less water than normal and cost almost nothing to operate. There is almost no noticeable noise when it turns on or off so you won’t have to worry about shouting at the dinner table just to be heard.

To install a whole-home humidifier, some knowledge about wiring and sheet metal work will be needed. Depending on the type you decide on, wires may need to be run to an outdoor temperature sensor and an indoor controller. A savy do-it-yourselfer could probably handle the job, but we recommend having a professional do the install as there is a good chance you could do major damage to your system during the installation.

They do tend to collect mineral deposits, depending on where you live, that will need to be cleaned out every year.

In addition, if you have a manual unit, you will need to turn your humidity settings up and down several times throughout the winter to avoid water condensing all over your exterior windows. On the plus side, automatic units change their humidity setting depending on the outdoor temperature by themselves.

Portable Humidifier Pros and Cons

Portable humidifiers are free standing and can usually be moved from room to room with ease. These are powered off of your normal 120 volt outlet and have their own, self contained water supply. They vary in size and can humidify part of a small room and up to two rooms.

Operation of these units is very simple but the best part about a portable humidifier is in the name: portability. You can move these humidifiers anywhere you need them. Have dry air problems at your office desk? Bring it in to work with you. Do you rent a small apartment and your landlord won’t have a permanent humidifier installed? Pop one of these on your night stand.

The biggest issue with portable units is the maintenance. Depending on the size of the humidifier and the area you are covering, you might have to fill a reservoir multiple time a day. Many units have removable tanks you can fill but some will need the water taken to them.

You’ll want to clean these units often as standing water can breed mold and bacteria.

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