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humidifier 2

If you live somewhere that experiences colder weather or dry air, chances are you know first-hand the detriments of low humidity: itchy skin, chapped lips, cracked knuckles, staticky clothes, bloody noses, parched throats, increased vulnerability to respiratory illnesses, etc. Here in Ohio, humidifiers are almost a necessity during the winter months.

In our previous home, we installed a whole house humidifier right onto the upflow furnace unit in the basement to combat dry air. Our current house sits on a slab with a downflow furnace blowing heated air through ductwork that runs through the slab. (There’s no crawl space or basement.) Installing whole house humidifiers onto downflow furnaces isn’t impossible, but our current setup won’t facilitate it. There’s just not enough room. Additionally, we often use the gas fireplace in the living room to heat the house during the day which keeps the furnace from kicking on so, even if installation wasn’t tricky, a whole house humidifier still might not be the best choice for us.

We lived through our first winter in this house sans humidifier and we felt it. Someone was always sick. We all had cracked knuckles. I experienced nosebleeds. There was so much static we were afraid to touch each other and folding laundry was almost painful. The following winter I purchased a standalone humidifier and we’ve been using it during colder months ever since. It makes such a difference!

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After doing some research, I bought a Honeywell cool moisture console unit. (If there’s one thing I learned in pharmacy school, it’s that you should always use a cool mist humidifier. Warm units are breeding grounds for bacteria.) This is the third year we’ve used it and we’re extremely happy with it. It has a small footprint (~20″ x 12″) and can provide moisture for up to 1,900 square feet making it ideal for our 1,600-square-foot home.

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The humidifier must be placed on a flat, hard, water-resistant surface at least 6″ from any wall. I place it on the tile floor in the Everything Room. (You can add Humidifier Room to the running list of purposes that room serves.) It plugs in to an outlet hidden within the fauxdenza.

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The unit is relatively quiet. You can hear it running from the living room but it’s definitely not loud enough to disrupt conversation or TV watching. Every once in a while we hear a little glug-glug as water is released into the base but even that is miniscule. It doesn’t rattle or vibrate. I keep the fan speed on low and the humidity level somewhere between the two lowest settings depending on the day. Once the dials are set, the unit automatically turns on/off as needed to maintain the desired humidity level. It shuts off when the water tanks are empty. In contrast to traditional humidifiers, this unit is evaporative meaning you don’t see a visible mist or get water droplets on surrounding surfaces.

Standalone units do require some attention. The water tanks must be refilled periodically with tap water. Typically, I refill the tanks 1-3 times per week during the winter but, right now with outside temps barely in the double digits, I’m refilling the tanks every 1-2 days. The tanks and base must be cleaned regularly as well. I use the ProTec tank cleaning cartridges to extend the time between cleanings. I usually clean the unit at the beginning of the winter before the first use, once or twice during the winter and once at the end of winter. I flip the filter with every other water refill and replace it annually. When not in use, I keep the humidifier in its original box up in the attic.

I brought the humidifier down from the attic last week and set it up. Right away, I noticed a difference – not only in my skin (no more chapping and cracking!) and eyes (no more stinging!) but also in my houseplants. They were looking pretty droopy and sad but perked right up. We’ve also noticed that the humidifier helps prevent extreme shrinkage in our wood floors. Before, a gap would develop at the entrance to our bedroom (probably due to the leak we don’t speak of) in the winter, but it’s been nonexistent ever since we starting using the humidifier.

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Low humidity negatively affects so many things: people, pets, plants, wood floors and even furniture. If you’re looking for a small, effective standalone whole house humidifier that is easy to operate and maintain, I would recommend this one! (not sponsored, just sharing what has worked for us) I tried explaining the basics above, but the manual is easy to follow and gives more details on proper setup, maintenance, operation and storage.

Do you use a whole house humidifier? What about a hygrometer to monitor indoor humidity levels? Maybe it’s not necessary for your location or method of heating. I can remember my dad placing a pan of water on top of the wood stove in the house I grew up in to increase humidity. I’ve always wondered if homeowners with steam radiators or radiant floor heating need humidifiers. Anyone?

P.S. – Our biggest renovation regret. My winter essentials.

images: Dana Miller for House*Tweaking

68 Comments

20.January.2016

I’ve kept them running in the kids’ rooms at night since October. I got each of them a small, desktop size one and I like them a lot. Refilling the tank is less of a fuss and they easily last through the night. My 3 year old felt bad for me the other day because she noticed there isn’t one in my room and I have to say, good looking out, kid. I’ll pick one up for me, too, I think…

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20.January.2016

This sounds like a good buy for us our house is a little over 1,300 sq ft and we are having the same issues, dry, itchy skin, chappy lips, nose bleeds, static and I never thought this might be the reason why my plants are so droopy lately, it’s our first full winter in this new to us house. Thank you for sharing the details on how to maintenance it, and why not to get a warm air one.

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20.January.2016

When I was living in Northern Michigan, we used a humidifier in the winter- I always feel it most on the skin on my upper thighs and butt- how weird!
Now that I’m in the southeast where it’s pretty humid year-round, I’m actually using a dehumidifyer in the summer, to keep my place mildew-free. It would be great to find a unit that would make a place more humid in the winter and less humid in the summer.

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replied on January 20th, 2016

I think you’re on to something…

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20.January.2016

I have to wonder if we and our house would benefit from a whole house humidifier. We live in a 2-story 1930 brick home with steam radiators and original windows… But I’m thinking the steam travels through the pipes and into the radiators but isn’t released into the environment.

We have all wood floors though, everywhere. Maybe I could pick up a clearance tile to set it on in the kitchen? Do you think that would work?

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replied on January 20th, 2016

I think as long the unit is sitting on a water-resistant surface, it should be good! Great idea.

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20.January.2016

Yup. Had one installed on our new furnace after living with the driest air I have ever experienced our first winter in our current home. We lived through all the terrible things you did and when our furnace died the integrated humidifier was on our list of “must haves”. It is was money well spent. My eyeballs aren’t thirsty when I wake up.

Now if my office building would get one.

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20.January.2016

We have the same one! It’s great. One other tip: be careful not to over-humidify! We keep the unit in our bedroom with the door closed so that it’s not doing our whole house (we have one large open floor so it would be wasted). Problem is, last Spring we opened the bedroom blinds and found MOLD! Moisture was getting trapped between the window and blinds. We are guessing that the previous homeowners never properly sealed the wood windows (dust can also be a food for mold, which probably didn’t help either, cough cough).

We have big cast iron steam radiators too but they dont do anything for the humidity levels in our house.

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replied on January 20th, 2016

Good point. Too much of a good thing can be bad. Do you use a hygrometer? I always wondered about steam radiators and humidity!

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replied on January 21st, 2016

We have one in our basement and this is the first winter with our Nest thermostat, so we are trying to track it better.

I also realized I misspoke earlier–we have cast iron hot water baseboard radiators, not steam. If that makes a difference.

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replied on January 22nd, 2016

I’ve always found it really important to open window blinds every day. Even if not over-humidified, you can get mold. Just the heating and cooling behind the blinds can create moisture….and it does not have a chance to evaporate…then you get mold. And that is no fun to clean off!

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20.January.2016

Wow. You just listed a ton of things that my family deals with during the winter, yet I have never considered a humidifier. I just reserve those for when one of my kids is up coughing or something. But dry skin, runny noses, constant general sickness– yes, yes, yes.

This could be a winter game- changer.

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replied on January 20th, 2016

It really is!

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20.January.2016

I find it so funny you having to get a humidifier when I just ordered a dehumidifier five minutes ago for my house because it seems everything in the entire house is damp. It rains here about 250 days of the year but it this has been the wettest winter on record here in the west of Ireland so I guess a dehumidifier is us being lucky unlike so many who were totally flooded.

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replied on January 20th, 2016

Ah, humidity, you are hard to perfect.

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replied on January 20th, 2016

I had the same thought. In my old apartment we had to refrigerate everything or it would mold in a couple of days. Our house isn’t quite that bad, but we simply cannot follow the recommendation to leave tomatoes on the counter or they mold quite quickly.

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replied on January 20th, 2016

I was just thinking the same thing! I live in New Orleans where there is always pretty high humidity. We have a dehumidifier, but add a humidifier to the list of things I would never need here!

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20.January.2016

Same model we had when we heated a two-story house in New England primarily with a woodstove. We had one on each floor, and they made a big difference in our health and comfort (and had benefits for wood furniture as well).

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20.January.2016

I live in a two-story. Would you recommend this for the main level, or the second level, which is where we sleep?

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replied on January 22nd, 2016

How many square feet? If it’s <1,900 I don't think it should really matter where you place it.

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20.January.2016

We have a whole home humidifier. While my husband suffers from psoriasis, we actually had it installed after my then 3 year old was diagnosed with leukemia. We are doing everything in our power to prevent illness in our home, as any illness is life threatening to her as she endures her 2.5 years of treatment. If she gets a fever over 100.4, she faces immediate hospitalization, which is very disruptive (and scary) for our family of 5. So far, she has been mostly healthy. We attribute our health to the humidifier and feel it has made a big difference.

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replied on January 22nd, 2016

Sending healthy thoughts your way…

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20.January.2016

We have a daylight basement that had some significant moisture when the house was new and we were thinking about purchasing it. We ended up having a whole house humidifier/dehumidifier put in before we moved into the house. That was certainly some of the best money we’ve ever spent! We live in the southeast and the humidity is crazy in the summer so it really helps control that problem. But even here the humidty can really dip in cold weather with forced air heat running so the humidifier counteracts that issue. Now that we live in a perfectly humid environment I really notice it (in a painful way!) when we visit family or hotels.

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20.January.2016

Pinning this! We had a whole house humidifier installed two years ago but I’m still battling nose bleeds, cracked knuckles, and ultra chapped skin. I never had those problems when I lived in an apartment with radiators.

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20.January.2016

Dana! Once again you are helping me solve a household dilemma. I have considered and even talked to the heat and air guy about attaching a unit to our furnace, but was hesitant about spending the money in our very old house. I trust your opinion on things, so I think I’ll give this one a go. Thank you for always providing such useful and thorough information!

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20.January.2016

Our house seems to have high levels of humidity year round. My skin may be drier in the winter but I find that we have ALOT of condensation on the windows in the winter and mildew grows quickly if its left for too long. Our hygrometer says we’re in the highest of levels. We were thinking of getting a whole house air exchanger installed. We usually use a warm mist vaporizer for when we are sick but now I’m gonna get a cool mist one. Thanks!

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20.January.2016

Our winter air is dryer, but not nearly as dry at work which has forced air heat. I love our radiant heat. Still could use a little more humidity at least in the baby’s room.

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20.January.2016

i live in the pacific northwest and have hot water radiators (with radiant floors substituting for radiators in the bathrooms); our house humidity level pretty much tracks to the outdoors (which runs 40-90%). partly due to no forced air, partly due to having an old house that’s not sealed up tight like newer construction. my whole body freaks out whenever i spend any time in forced air heated houses, or in dryer climes.

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replied on January 20th, 2016

i should add that lots of people here actually have dehumidifiers, especially if they are relying on baseboard heat, to keep walls behind furniture from mildewing. my large radiators put out enough heat to keep that from happening.

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20.January.2016

My husband installed a humidifier on our furnace this past fall. It’s made life easier. We used to use a portable unit like what you currently use. Even using that, we’d get a gap in our wood floors in the same spot every winter. But this winter…no gap in the floors.
But we are getting a lot of water around the inside edges of our wood windows. The windows are painted white & the paint has been chipping for years. I don’t pull my blinds open all the way up so I don’t have to look at the chipped paint. I can only imagine it’s going to get worse.
My husband claims you can’t turn down the humidity, you can only turn it off. Can that be right?
We’ll see what happens first…me painting all of our windows. Or getting new vinyl windows.

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replied on January 22nd, 2016

Water pooling around the windows definitely isn’t a good thing. If you aren’t able to adjust the humidistat on your integrated humidifier maybe you could only run it at night? Although, turning it on and off isn’t the most convenient task.

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20.January.2016

I never knew whole home humidifiers existed until we moved into our 1968 ranch two years ago. It’s awesome. The first winter we didn’t know we had it and used stand alone humidifiers in all the bedrooms. This winter has been great and its awesome not having to fill and clean all the time.

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20.January.2016

I used to run free-standing humidifiers around my house until I learned that I’m allergic to dust-mites… now I only use them in my kids’ rooms when they have colds. One of the most common recommendations for managing dust mite allergies is to keep the humidity level in your home low, under 50%. My allergist told me to ditch the humdifier. : (

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20.January.2016

For homes with steam radiator heat, those systems are made to be a closed system. Ideally, whatever water they were unstalled with should still be there 30 years later. If you have to put water in it, you better be looking for the leak!

We have been using this exact model all winter in our PA home. We have a two story 2200 sqft home though we close off over half of the upstairs each winter. The unit is placed downstairs (semi open floor plan with an open staircase) and it maintains a 40% humidity level. Considering it was in the 20’s my skin is lapping up this moisture. We refill the 3 gal tanks every day. The glug sound sounded exactly like someone tapping on a window, so that was slightly unsettling until I got used to it. But we also couldn’t be more happier with the product. It is very easy to wheel around and super easy to refill.

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20.January.2016

We just moved into a house that had to have the furnace replaced, and we opted to re-install a new humidifier as well. I have to say, in the early winter we had to turn the humidifier off! We were having such a condensation problem on our windows with the furnace on that we were constantly mopping up puddles on the windowsills! Has anyone else had this problem before? It’s pretty humid in the summer here, and apparently houses can retain moisture for a few months into the winter? The problem has abated since we’ve turned it off, and we might try humidifying later in the winter. I’m just now finally molting into my lizard-like winter skin.

Funny over-humidifying story: before we lived here my husband and I lived in a high rise condo that was basically hermetically sealed. One winter night, I was feeling all dry and itchy, and we both had terrible colds. He had a small room humidifier so we filled it up and left it on in our room with the door closed and went to sleep. We woke up at 2am to blaring fire alarms and a room that was so full of “smoke” you couldn’t see your hand in front of your face! I panicked for a good few half-awake minutes or so before I realized that the building wasn’t burning down. Lesson learned.

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replied on January 22nd, 2016

“molting into my lizard-like winter skin”…haha! So I think the ideal indoor humidity depends on the outdoor temperature. Read more here…

http://www.startribune.com/fixit-what-is-the-ideal-winter-indoor-humidity-level/11468916/

Investing in a hygrometer to measure humidity might be your best bet.

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20.January.2016

I live in Denver and have felt the difference a whole house humidifier can make. My husband has terrible allergies and I deal with the annoying dry skin and nose bleeds. Since moving into our house (with the humidifier), he has far less allergy symptoms and I’ve stopped waking up in the middle of the night with a nosebleed. YEA for moisture!!

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21.January.2016

Static really bothers me a lot. I have even purchased a can of static guard and I don’t generally buy anything in an aerosol can (they seem so polluting). As an Oregonian, now Californian I only have to deal with it occasionally but my husband just had a job interview in Ohio, and I was starting to think about this. Well timed post for me!

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replied on January 22nd, 2016

Oh my, why would you ever leave the west coast for Ohio?! Just kidding. Kind of.

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replied on January 22nd, 2016

Well let’s see, our mortgage is $3,000 a month, a gallon of gas costs $2.60, a candy bar is $1.30, we have to pay $5 to cross the bridge to get to work every day (it costs $6 to cross the Bay Bridge + $5 to cross our local bridge) and tax is 9%. Sometimes we feel beat up with all of the high prices. We are very fond of SF but really only go in every couple of months, it’s hard to park there!

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21.January.2016

My husband and I used a tiny humidifier for the master bedroom to keep us from completely drying out, but since then I have been exploring a whole-house solution, complete with humidistat. It seems well within my ability to install it.

The trouble is, everywhere I’ve read that a whole house humidifier should not be needed. Normal humidity, they say, should be maintained simply by normal activity (showering, cooking, etc.). If the house is dry, it’s far more likely to be that I have leaks (say, around my recessed lighting), and then adding a humidifier would risk mold issues.

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21.January.2016

I have steam radiators (I have an older house in New England). When the radiators kick on, it can make the air very dry (although I don’t think it’s as bad as forced hot air overall). We use a small humidifier just in the bedroom to ward off dry skin and noses. We have to monitor it with a hygrometer ourselves, fill it every day, and clean it weekly, so yours sounds lower maintenance! I have spent a weirdly long time searching for a brand that doesn’t have negative reviews, because the fans on our humidifiers always crap out and become really loud after being subjected to daily use for a while. I gave up a few weeks ago and bought one with a warranty that will at least replace it when this inevitably happens again.

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21.January.2016

Pan on the wood stove, yes! That was us growing up. Our whole home was heated with that wood stove and we’d fill the pan on top with water. It was so cool to see the mineral build up in it from our hard water, but you could smell those minerals when the water had all evaporated!

My kids have been sick most of the winter and I’m thinking I need to do a better job upping the humidity around here…

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21.January.2016

Thank you so much for posting this! I think this is exactly what we need. I live in NJ, and though we do have radiators, I really don’t think they contribute much to our humidity levels. I’m guessing that’s because the house is well-insulated, which means the radiators are not constantly running/spitting out steam.
We all have skin issues and my daughter has eczema, so I’m sure this would be a big help. Does anyone know how this helps those with allergies? My whole family suffers so I’m not looking forward to that starting in a month or two.
About the hygrometer, do you use one? And what is an optimal humidity level for a home?

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21.January.2016

We have one for our boys’ room but have been talking about how we need one for the whole house. This post is super helpful and timely. Thank you!

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21.January.2016

We live in Denver. After we bought our house in 2009, our furnace crapped out altogether and had to buy a new one. For just a little extra, we added the whole house humidifier as an attachment to the natural gas furnace. We absolutely love it. not only is is great for us and our floors, no annoying static everywhere. The humidifier runs every time the furnace turns on. Bread is still fresh, crackers crispy, fruit on the counter still ages at normal speeds. In the summer, we use a swamp cooler (with a dehumidifier in the basement) and just put the furnace on circulate. If I had to do it again, I would choose it every time! We have the Lennox Healthy Climate.

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replied on January 22nd, 2016

Good to know! Thanks for sharing.

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21.January.2016

A little off topic, but how do you clean your tile floors? I have the same and I only use water on them, but feel like they need a little something more… and yours appear to be a little shinier than mine.. might just be the lighting tho!

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replied on January 22nd, 2016

It’s probably just the lighting! I mainly use water but I’ll add a little Mrs. Meyers all purpose cleaner once or twice a year.

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21.January.2016

So would this be effective for a multi-level home (that’s about or smaller than 1900 sq feet)?

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replied on January 22nd, 2016

I wouldn’t see why not. Even with our vaulted ceilings, it works throughout the house.

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21.January.2016

We also use the same humidifier and couldn’t survive winter without it. We only run at night while we’re sleeping (like the hum for white noise) and it has dramatically helped our three little boys with their dry noses, nasal passages, skin, etc. Like the idea of flipping the filter! Thanks for sharing this post reaffirming our love of our humidifier.

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21.January.2016

Dana, I love the more frequent posts! Keep em coming!

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22.January.2016

I’d say that ultrasonic humidifiers are better than standard cool mist ones. They also vaporize cool mist, but instead of a fan that blows it, there’s a small, vibrating metal place that causes it to go airborne. Fewer moving parts to potentially break, easier to clean.

For people curious about how much space a given unit can effectively humidify, if you read up on a model, it should give specifications for area coverage and for min/max running times based on how high you have the vapor cranked up.

I can’t believe there are people who go through winter without them. Even with mine, my lips and hands are still chapped. If it wasn’t around, I think my lips would just fall clean off.

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22.January.2016

I use a warm humidifier because I’ve never found a cool mist type that doesn’t leave a white powdery dust all over the place. Is that a problem for you?

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replied on January 26th, 2016

This one does NOT leave a powdery dust on surfaces in our home!

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23.January.2016

We’ve always used humidifiers though I’ve found boiling a pot of water on the stove with a few drops of tea tree oil to be quite effective. The tea tree oil tip came from our doctor. My son had a nasty virus – sore throat, cough, congestion etc. The tea tree oil was very soothing.

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24.January.2016

Always learn so much from your posts…….Thank You!
& from all the comments too!

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replied on January 24th, 2016

PS Your post reminded me to text my son who is away at college to get out his humidifier so he will stay healthy this winter!

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24.January.2016

We live in Colorado and I have been meaning to buy a humidifier for a long time. I don’t know why I just didn’t do it but this post pushed me to purchase! I’m so tired of my cracked knuckles and nose! Your point about the furniture and floors was also a selling point! Who knew one could be so excited for this, but I can’t wait until Wednesday when it arrives! Ha!

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24.January.2016

I just ordered one. We are in Minnesota and sooo need this. My tiny has a chapped bum, poor kid. Do you think you could put any essential oils in this? Or is that a total no-no?

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replied on January 26th, 2016

Don’t tell anyone (cough, cough, the manufacturer) but I do put two drops of geranium oil in each water tank at the beginning of each winter and then maybe once more mid-winter. I haven’t noticed it affecting the efficiency (yay!) but it makes the house smell so fresh and can help keep bacteria in the humidifier at bay. But you didn’t hear it from me… wink, wink.

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26.January.2016

How interesting! I never even considered a humidifier, but i think we may to invest in one. We dont have harsh winters here in Sac, but we have pretty much zero humidity anytime of the year here, summers are especially brutal since we have desert like super dry heat. I wonder if one wwould help with my seasonal allergies and asthma? My kids gets nose bleeds throughout the year and im betting thats why. Also our wood floors suffer in the winter bc of us running the heat. Great post sweets.

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28.January.2016

Love this post, great tips. We try to do the same, but struggle. I enjoy buying, but hate when I feel like the toys are taking over my living room! I need to be the solution instead of the problem. Haha. On an unrelated note, I would love to see a list of your kids favorite books. We love reading too.

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28.January.2016

We have radiant in-floor heating and use our fireplace to compliment it and the first winter we were parched! We now have one in every bedroom and really do need one in the main living space. Having so many drive me nuts though! One for the whole house would be much easier to manage, lesson learned. Thanks for posting!

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07.February.2016

Thank you for this post! We live in a 3 story townhouse in Washington, and even with all the rain the interior was very dry. The townhouse is a rental so I needed a short term fix that was cheap. I’ve been using a bedside humidifier that helped, but not enough. This little guy is great! I also got the humidifier detector which is helpful for, and the wheels allow me to move it around to different rooms.

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14.July.2016

We have a humidifier in our baby’s room and it has proved to be really useful ;)

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04.January.2017

Have you ever had issues with the filter looking moldy? I’ve only had the unit out for a month and the filter looks so gross I just threw it away. Wondering if that’s why we have all been stopped up recently!

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