A Central Humidifier Buying Guide
If the air in your home is constantly dry and you’re tired of dealing with portable humidifiers, you might want to make the transition to a central humidifier. Central humidifiers are installed directly into your heating or cooling system. They cost more upfront than portable humidifiers, but they’re very low maintenance – you’ll never have to refill a water tank again.
Central humidifiers vary in price from about $250 to $1,500, depending on the type. We’ll get into a more detailed breakdown of costs later on in this guide, but first a little background information.
Why Is Dry Air Problematic?
Every home should have a certain level of humidity. Dry air can lead to nose and throat problems, inflamed airways, dry skin and chapped lips. It can damage your home, causing wallpaper and paint to peel, and causing cracks in wood furniture, cabinets and floors. More importantly, certain disease-causing pathogens, including those that cause the flu, spread more easily in dry air.
About Central Humidifiers
Central humidifiers are hardwired to your home’s furnace and hooked up to the plumbing system. Essentially, they just add water vapor to the air that is discharged by the furnace. Central humidifiers are used primarily in the winter, when the air is driest, and they’re more common in older homes that are not as air tight.
With a central humidifier, every room in the house receives the moisture it needs with a single unit, which is more convenient and more energy efficient than using a bunch of portables. Central humidifiers can be adjusted with a single control to provide the right amount of moisture for your comfort.
One word of caution: It’s possible to put too much moisture in the air. Illness-causing bacteria and fungi grow rapidly in environments with too much moisture. Look for a unit that automatically adjusts to changes in humidity, or invest in a separate humidity meter that will alert you when moisture levels are too high.
Types of Central Humidifiers
There are three basic types of central humidifiers. The one that is right for you depends on the severity of the dry air problem, your budget and how much maintenance you are willing to take on.
- With flow-through central humidifiers, fresh water is lightly trickled or sprayed into an aluminum panel, then air is blown through, causing the water to evaporate into the air. These systems are by far the most common. They use less water, too.
- Drum-style humidifiers absorb water into a foam pad or similar component from a tray of standing water, rather than trickling in water. These are less expensive than flow-through humidifiers, but they require more maintenance. They tray is prone to mold and other impurities.
- Steam humidifiers are more powerful and more expensive. They are designed for very dry environments.
All three types of central humidifiers are compatible only with forced hot air heating systems, not steam or hot water systems. If you have a boiler, a standalone humidifier is your only choice because there are no ducts for distributing the moist air. However, dry air is usually less of a problem with steam or hot water heating systems.
How Much Does a Central Humidifier Cost?
The price of a central humidifier depends on the model you choose, whether you opt for professional installation and geographic location.
- Flow-through and drum-style central humidifiers usually cost about $150-$300, although high-end models can cost as much as $500.
- Professional installation adds anywhere from $100-$300, depending on your location and the difficulty of installation.
- Steam humidifiers are more expensive – about $400-$1,200, not including installation. Professional installation can bring the cost to $500-$1,500.
- Keep in mind that you’ll want to have the unit serviced occasionally, ideally once a year. Service visits usually run $100 to $150.