Whole House Humidifiers: Steam Vs. Flow Through

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A whole house humidifier is designed to provide enough air moisture in winter to counteract the dry air produced by a furnace or other heating source. Humidifiers can help reduce the risk of illness and bodily discomfort due to dry skin. Different styles of humidifiers exist to suit a wide range of needs. Two of those styles are steam and flow through humidifiers. How do these two types of units measure up?

Here are some pros and cons of steam units compared to flow through units. Contact your local heating services company for more information.

Pro: Doesn't Use Furnace

A flow through humidifier contains a pad moistened with a water inlet valve connected to your home's water supply. Hot air from the furnace blows through the unit and the pad moistens that air. The air is then pushed on out through your ducts to join the rest of the furnace-heated air. A flow through humidifier only operates when the furnace is running; otherwise, the unit would have no air to moisten.

Steam humidifiers contain a canister that boils water coming in through an inlet valve. The boiled water produces steam, which is pushed up and out through your home's ventilation system. The steam humidifier can produce its own moisture and air so it doesn't require the cooperation or even presence of a furnace.

A steam humidifier is therefore the better choice if your home lacks a furnace, the furnace is rather weak, or if you don't want to run your furnace as much as the moisture.

Pro: Lower Maintenance

Flow through humidifiers are lower maintenance than the similarly operated drum style humidifiers, which have a standing tray of water that can collect mold. The flow through pad receives new water continuously ,so mold and mineral buildup isn't as much of a concern. However, the pad will still need to be checked and cleaned periodically to ensure you aren't pushing contaminated air out into your home.

The steam unit has less maintenance involved since there is no standing water and any incoming water is quickly boiled, which provides a natural sterilization method.

Con: Utility and Maintenance Costs

While steam humidifiers involve less maintenance, any repairs from an HVAC technician will cost more than flow through as the steam unit is more advanced. The canisters will also need to be replaced periodically as the canister, much like a hot water tank, can erode over time.

Both the steam and flow through units have associated utility costs. Steam units use more electricity than other units, so if electric bills are your main utility concern, you might want to go with a flow through. The flow through does use more water less efficiently than other systems, however, so if water usage is more of your concern, the steam unit would be a better choice.