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Increase your comfort and health with a humidifier

Q: Dear Jim: My house gets so dry in fall and winter that the static electricity sparks from my fingers could light Soldier Field. I have seen so many humidifiers at stores I get confused. What type is best and can one really lower my utility bills? - Dan T.

A: Dear Dan: There are hundreds of models of humidifiers ranging from $20 to $200, so your confusion about which to buy is understandable. The effectiveness of each design does vary significantly depending on your specific home and needs. Actually, the static sparks from fingertips are the least of the problems, especially if you have allergies. ic0012181.jpg

Indoor air that is excessively dry can be as much of a problem as air that is overly humid. For example, harmful bacteria and viruses can thrive in your home in very dry conditions, while dust mites and molds thrive in very humid conditions. Large seasonal indoor humidity level swings can seriously damage the house structure, furniture, cabinetry, etc.

Running a humidifier to maintain a comfortable and healthy indoor environment can lower your heating bills overall in several ways. When the indoor air is too dry, moisture from your skin evaporates at a very rapid rate even though you are not aware of the moisture loss.

This evaporation lowers your skin temperature. With properly humidified air, you can often set the furnace/heat pump thermostat a few degrees lower to reduce your heating bills and still feel comfortably warm. Also, if your house is overly dry, the lumber framing may shrink during the heating season. This allows cracks to form and gaps to open which increases cold outdoor air leakage into your house.

When making your selection, first determine the moisture output capacity (gallons per day) of the humidifier that you need. Although this is somewhat dependent on your climate, a newer airtight, 2,000 square feet. house typically needs about 5 gallons per day and a loose one needs about 10 gallons per day to maintain an adequate humidity level.

The humidifier packaging often has sizing capacity charts. Since humidifiers are not extremely expensive, it is better to err on the smaller side. You can always buy another one and locate them in each end of your home. If you err on the large side, it will not run often and it may dump too much humidity into the air where it is located.

Once you determine the proper moisture output capacity, you must select

James Dulley is a mechanical engineer who writes on a wide variety of energy and utility topics. His column appears in a large number of daily newspapers.

Copyright 1999 James Dulley



Small humidifiers for comfort and savings

among the various humidifier designs available - evaporative, steam mist (vaporizers), warm mist, cool mist and ultrasonic. Each humidifier design has particular advantages depending on your specific comfort and health needs.

Evaporative models, where a quiet, low-wattage fan draws the room air through a wet wick or filter, typically have the greatest moisture output, up to 13 gallons per day (gpd). Select one with a tank housing and wick materials that are antibacterial. These designs are also easy to clean out. A humidistat is a plus, but evaporative models tend to self-regulate the moisture output even without a humidistat. I use this type in my own home.

Many models are available with replaceable paper wicks or permanent wicks. The newest design concept uses continuously cascading water over the wick instead of the wick being submerged in water. To also help clean the air, consider getting several smaller evaporative tabletop (3.3 gpd) models that combine an air cleaner along with a humidifier in one unit.

Hot steam mist humidifiers are effective. Since they boil the water, most microorganisms are killed and no hard water deposits (white dust) are emitted. Steam mist designs use more electricity than other fan-only designs and they do not self-regulate the humidity level. Although the multi-wall housing stays cool, the steam outlet may get hot enough to hurt a child's hand.

A warm mist design combines a hot steam mist with a cooler airflow for safety. It uses the most electricity of all the designs to boil the water and run the fan. Ultrasonic humidifier designs vibrate ic0012183.jpg the water at high frequency to introduce moisture into the room air. These use little electricity, but can create the white dust like a cool mist model.

Cool mist designs use little electricity and are safe around children. There are many variations, but basically, a spinning impeller picks up water from the reservoir and slings it into a screen to create a fine mist. In hard water areas, this can create a fine white dust near it and it does not kill or filter out microorganisms like a steam mist model.

One of the best indications of excessive humidification is when your windows (especially double pane, thermal) start to sweat. As the outdoor temperature drops, you will find that you have to run the humidifiers less to control window condensation. You can generally maintain a humidity level 25% higher with thermal windows than with single pane windows without causing condensation.

For more information, write for (instantly download Update Bulletin No. 468 - buyer's guide of 10 humidifier manufacturers listing designs, styles, moisture outputs, features, prices, recommended sizing chart and window condensation charts. Please include $3.00 and a business-size SASE. James Dulley, Illinois Country Living, P.O. Box 54987, Cincinnati, OH 45254.


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