Types of Humidifiers for Your Home: Whole-House vs. Portable Humidifiers

December 11, 2015

Des Moines is experiencing some above-average temperatures this December. But even though Iowans are celebrating the warmer weather, the air is still very dry. Maybe you’ve noticed your skin getting extra itchy or cracked. You may have woken up some mornings with a bloody nose or respiratory problems. All these things are associated with low humidity in your home. And the dryness will only get worse the deeper we get into winter. But how do you know which type of humidifier to get? Depending on your needs, you may want to invest in a whole-house humidifier or purchase a portable humidifier.

Whole-House Humidifier

Also known as central humidifiers, whole-house humidifiers are integrated within your home’s hot air ducts and cold air return. Depending on which kind of whole-house humidifier you choose, the system can operate with or without your HVAC unit’s heat cycle. Hot air, especially at higher pressure, holds water vapor, which is then fed into the cold air return. Once the air is heated again, it is blown out through the vents where the water droplets vaporize into the air and add moisture into your home. As with portable humidifiers, whole-house humidifiers come in several types. If you opt for a whole-house humidifier, make sure you get one with a humidistat to automatically regulate the humidity in your home.

Bypass Humidifiers

Bypass humidifiers use the furnace to add moisture to the air. Warm air is accumulated from the heat ducts and passed through a water panel, absorbing moisture. Humid air is then circulated back into your home. Bypass humidifiers are also available in a drainless model that recycles its own water and cuts down on water usage.

Evaporative Humidifiers

Evaporative humidifiers, or console humidifiers, are powered by a fan that blows air across the water panel for increased water evaporation. These humidifiers produce more humidity compared to the bypass humidifier (up to a whole gallon more per day) and are extremely energy efficient. Because evaporative humidifiers don’t require a bypass duct, they can be installed in smaller spaces. Homes built on slabs or that house the HVAC unit in a closet benefit most from evaporative humidifiers.

Steam Humidifiers

Steam humidifiers heat water electrically until it boils to humidify the home with steam, even if the furnace is not running. Steam is circulated throughout the house by the system blower, pushing the moist air through the vents. This type of humidifier is the fastest and most efficient way to humidify and maintain the desired moisture level in your home.

Portable Humidifiers

Portable humidifiers are ideal for smaller spaces, such as a bedroom or a living room, or if you need to humidify a space in your home temporarily, such as to help alleviate seasonal allergies. Room humidifiers come in two broad types: warm mist or cool mist. You have the option to add medication to warm mist humidifiers, and they typically will also warm the room slightly. Some warm mist humidifiers use steam, which are not recommended for use around children due to steam burn hazards. Cool mist humidifiers are typically more effective than warm mist humidifiers in that they add moisture to the air faster, are safer to use, and last much longer.

Portable humidifiers require more frequent maintenance, so be sure to check the manufacturer’s instructions for how to clean and change the filter for your humidifier.


Which type of humidifier you prefer for your home is really a matter of personal preference and need. If you would like help selecting the best humidifier for your home, ask one of our HVAC professionals today.