When I was a kid, I would suffer the same things every winter. I’d have terribly dry skin and plugged sinuses, and I’d wake up every morning with a dry scratchy throat. The occasional bloody nose would also make its appearance. I was definitely not a fan of northeastern winters.
My family’s heating system was the cause of my suffering. Our home was heated by forced air which kept the house warm but, at the same time, removed much of the moisture out of the air.
The colder it got outside, the drier it got inside, and eventually it was like living in a desert climate.
At the time, there were no reliable humidifiers on the market, and vaporizers were considered dangerous. My dad did have a humidifier attached to the heating system, but it never worked well.
In the summer months, we often complain about the dreadful humidity. However, for some of us, a lack of humidity in our homes in the winter can be just as uncomfortable and even lead to serious health issues.
Today, there are several options for raising the humidity in your house. These can help ensure that your home is a much healthier and pleasant place to live in during those cold winter months.
Let’s take look at several reasons why keeping a proper humidity in your home is important during the winter, the pros and cons of vaporizers versus humidifiers, and which vaporizer my family uses.
Winter And Low Humidity
During winter months, however, humidity can fall dramatically. This is because cold air can’t hold as much water vapor as warm air. The colder the air, the less water it will hold. Therefore, during cold winter months, air leaking into your house from the outside will be very dry.
When this already dry air is made even drier by your particular kind of heating system (such as a gas furnace with forced air), your home’s air quality could become excessively dry. We who live in colder areas know what this means: dry sinuses, dry throats, cracked lips, dry itchy itchy itchy skin, and sometimes even bloody noses. I hated when that happened.
And if you don’t think those things are bad enough, constant low humidity can also cause your piano to go out of tune, your guitar neck to shrink, or your violin to crack (that’s not funny to us instrument owners).
Also, if you are exposed too long to excessively dry air, the mucous membranes of your respiratory tract might become impaired, thus raising your risk of colds, the flu, and other infections.
Of course, you do not want to raise the humidity in your home too high. Too much humidity can lead to mold and mildew. In order to measure the humidity of your home, you can use a hygrometer, like this one.
Low Humidity And The Flu
In 2013, the CDC’s National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health did a study on the transmission of influenza as it related to humidity.
They found that after an hour of humidity levels at 23% or less, 70 to 77% of the flu virus particles were still able to cause an infection.
But when humidity levels were raised to 43%, just 14% of the virus particles were infectious. Most of the flu particles became inactive 15 minutes after they were released into the humid air. Chief researcher Dr. Noti statedt, “The virus just falls apart, at high humidity levels.”
These studies seem to explain why the flu is more prevalent in the winter in temperate climate areas. So if you want to reduce the threat from the flu virus in your home, you should keep the humidity levels around 40 – 50%.
How To Raise The Humidity In Your Home
Today there are two easy ways to add humidity to your house: vaporizers and humidifiers.
Vaporizers – Pros and Cons
Vaporizers use a heating element to boil cold water and produce steam. The steam escapes from the vaporizer, and thus raises the surrounding humidity.
Pros of a vaporizer
- Since vaporizers basically boil water, there is a minimal risk of germs and bacteria being present in the vapor.
- There is no need to use distilled water.
- Vaporizers will release some heat into the room.
- They usually contain a medicine cup that allows medicine or essential oils to evaporate into the steam.
Cons of a vaporizer
- The biggest drawback to a vaporizer is that since water is being boiled, there is a possibility of a burn hazard. Caution must be taken to place it where children or pets cannot get to it.
- They use more electricity than a humidifier.
- They tend to be more expensive than a humidifier.
- They don’t have a humidity control.
Cool Mist Humidifiers – Pros and Cons
A cool mist humidifier works in 3 different ways. An impeller humidifier has a rotating disc that throws water on a diffuser which breaks water into fine droplets. The droplets exit as a cool mist. An ultrasonic humidifier breaks down water into small droplets. These droplets exit as a fine mist. In a wick evaporative humidifier, a wick sits in a reservoir of water. As the water evaporates, a fan forces moisture into the room. We had this type of humidifier attached to our home heating system, but, like my father’s, it never really worked.
Pros of a humidifier
- A cool mist humidifier does not boil water, so there is no danger of scalding.
- They often contain a hygrometer.
- They use less energy than a vaporizer.
Cons of a humidifier
- They can be noisy because a fan is used to disperse moisture.
- Minerals, dust, or microorganisms might be expelled with the moisture (some cool mist humidifiers have a new technology that limits bacteria, mold, and spores).
- The water tank may need to be cleaned more often.
- There is no medicine cup to allow the use of essential oils or medications.
Humidity And Outside temperature
Indoor humidity is in some way dependent on outside temperature. When the outside temperatures are extremely cold, trying to maintain an inside humidity of 40 – 50% might cause ice or frost to develop on your windows. This may force you to lower the humidity in the house.
We’ve used vaporizers in our house for over 10 years. This is the one we use. We have one in the dining room and one in the living room. We have additional ones for bedrooms if they are needed there.
When our kids were small, I made sure to place the humidifiers where the kids couldn’t get to them.
We usually run our units from the time we first start using heat in the fall until it is no longer needed in the spring. So far this month, the temps have been moderate so we’ve only run the vaporizers on low.
Remember the goal is to maintain a 40 – 50% humidity level. If we don’t have to run them, I will rinse the tanks out with cold water. During colder months, we usually have to run them 24/7 on high and refill the tanks twice a day.
The units have generally lasted for about 6 years. After this time, they have gotten either damaged from handling or become too difficult to clean.
Be careful when placing a vaporizer on a wood floor or wood furniture. Make sure you have something underneath them because water can drop off the tank when refilling and potentially damage the wood underneath.
Cleaning The Vaporizer
Since vaporizers boil water, some mineral scaling appears on the heating element. At the end of the season, I clean the vaporizers as best as possible with a stiff non-metallic brush. This seems sufficient. If you are concerned about the scale, you can try a water softener. I’ve never tried them so I don’t know how effective they are.
After I finish cleaning with the brush, I fill the tank with water, add a capful of bleach, and let it sit overnight. The next day I empty out the tank, rinse it a few times, allow it to air dry, and then store it until the next season. To start a new season, I rinse the tank with bleach again.
Fight Flu Season
Ultimately, vaporizers or humidifiers should be an essential part of the home when flu season rolls around. They help ensure that the air is at healthy humidity levels. Just one more way to protect one’s immune system during these winter months.
Do you use vaporizers or humidifiers during the winter? Share your thoughts in the comments below.
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