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A Quick Guide to Whole-House and Portable Humidifiers


Low levels of humidity can dry out your skin, increase the spread of bacteria and viruses in the home, and make your house feel uncomfortably cold, especially in winter. Dry air can also absorb moisture from porous materials, resulting in extensive damage to your home. On average, humidity levels in your home should be maintained at 30-45 percent.

A humidifier can help you stay within this safe range. Before installing one, here’s what you should know about the two types of humidifiers – whole-house and portable.

Whole-House Humidifier

A whole-house humidifier works alongside a home’s HVAC system to add moisture to the air. The humidifier is installed on the ductwork’s supply or return end close to the furnace. The main types of whole-house humidifiers are steam, fan-powered, and bypass.

Depending on your model, water runs through the bypass and is propelled by a fan or is misted into the humidifier in steam form.

When air from the HVAC ductwork enters the humidifier, it mixes with the water inside the device, causing the water to evaporate and to increase the moisture level of the air on the exit side of the humidifier.

While the furnace is running, some of the air it generates is directed into the humidifier where it mixes with the rest of the home’s air. This process delivers a higher moisture level to your home’s airflow.

Portable Humidifier

A portable humidifier is a small appliance that you can plug into an electric outlet to induce moisture into a room’s air. Portable humidifiers are categorized into ultrasonic, vaporizing, and evaporative humidifiers depending on the humidification technique.

Ultrasonic humidifiers vibrate a metal transducer inside the device, which sends acoustic waves through the water. These waves compress the water, increase its internal pressure, cause the water to vaporize, and release this vapor into the home’s airflow.

Vaporizing humidifiers heat the water inside the device and release the vapor into the room’s air.

Lastly, evaporative humidifiers feature a fan that pulls in air through a moist filter. The air causes the water in the device to evaporate, and the fan distributes the ensuing vapor into the room’s air.

Selecting a Suitable Humidifier

Both whole-house and portable humidifiers have their advantages and disadvantages. When deciding between the two, consider the costs, maintenance, and effectiveness based on your needs.


Whole-house humidifiers come with higher purchase and installation costs. Bear in mind that installation involves altering your existing ductwork, which is a job for a professional HVAC contractor.

Portable humidifiers are plug-and-play devices with virtually no installation costs. However, whole-house humidifiers have a significantly longer life, while the cost of buying more than one portable units can add up quickly.


Whole-house humidifiers are low-maintenance appliances that require a one-time setup. On the contrary, portable humidifiers require daily maintenance, including filling the tank with water and keeping the unit clean for optimal performance.


Because a whole-house humidifier is connected to your home’s HVAC and water supply systems, it does not use up extra resources. However, portable devices can consume a lot of energy especially when you install several units in the home.

Whole-house humidifiers have a significantly larger capacity as they provide adequate humidity for the entire house. The effectiveness of a portable humidifier is however limited to a single room.

Talk to a professional for help deciding on the system that suits your needs and is within your purchasing and maintenance budget.

When it comes to humidifying your home, a lot is at stake, including your family’s health. A professional HVAC contractor can help you install a humidifier that will deliver the ideal levels of humidity to your entire house.

At HELP Plumbing, Heating, Cooling and Drains, we can help you breathe cleaner, fresher, healthier air. Get in touch with us today to learn about our innovative air treatment services.

Posted in: Humidifiers

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