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FRIDAY, JANUARY 12, 2007
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Humidifiers lower bills, raise comfort

Dear Jim: The air in my home is so dry, I am afraid the static sparks will ignite me. Seriously though, I need a humidifier and I heard using one will also lower my heating bills. Is this true and which ones are best?

- Ron D.

Dear Ron: Fortunately, I have never heard of anyone self-combusting from static shocks in their homes, but it is unpleasant. It is also not healthy to live in such dry air. If indoor air is either too dry or too humid, unhealthy microbes, mold and dust mites may thrive in your home.

Using a humidifier can reduce your utility bills. By reducing the amount of evaporation from your skin, properly humidified air can make you feel comfortable at a lower air temperature. Even though the humidifier uses some electricity and does cool the air slightly, you save overall by being able to set the thermostat lower.

Before you invest in a humidifier, try making your home more airtight to reduce the amount of cold, dry outdoor air leaking in. Normal human activities, such as cooking, washing, bathing and breathing, produce moisture. By reducing air leakage, the humidity level will rise.

If you do not have a problem with mildew in your bathroom, run the bathroom vent fan less or not at all. Leave the warm water in the bathtub so it gives off humidity to the air. This also allows the warm water to heat the air. Do the same when you wash dishes or boil any water. Place pans of water near floor registers so the warm air pass around them.

If you still need some additional humidity in the air, a freestanding humidifier is your best option. Furnace-mounted ones are convenient, but they work only when the furnace is running. With one or two freestanding units, you can control when they run and at what humidity output.

Evaporative humidifiers are very effective and easy to use. These use a large vertical piece of wick material with the lower end submerged in a water reservoir. A small fan draws room air in through the upper portion of the damp wick. As the air passes through the wick, it picks up moisture.

Select one that has at least two fan speeds and a large reservoir so you do not have to fill it often. For bedroom use, some models have a super-quiet low speed. Many models use antimicrobial filters. Even so, clean the unit regularly per the manufacturer’s instructions.

Warm mist humidifiers use more electricity because they boil the water, but they are designed so the vapor output is just warm for safety. They are quiet and require little maintenance. A few companies still offer ultrasonic models that are quiet and use little electricity. I use one by the corn stove in my home.

The following companies offer freestanding humidifiers: Emerson, (800) 654-3545, www.moistair.com; Holmes, (800) 284-3267, www.holmesproducts.com; Essick Air, (800) 826-2665, www.essickair; Hunter, (800) 448-6837, www.hunterfan.com; and Kaz, (800) 332-1110, ww.kaz.com.

Dear Jim: We recently made a two-room addition to our home. We don’t use those rooms often and they have electric baseboard heat. Would it be better to run ducts to those rooms from our heat pump?

- Julia K.

Dear Julia: During mild weather, a heat pump can be two to three times more efficient than baseboard heat. Baseboard heat is usually installed because of its lower cost and it provides simple room-to-room temperature control.

In your situation, since the rooms are not used often, the electric baseboard heat was a good choice. You can turn the temperature very low when the rooms are not used and they will heat up quickly when they are used.

Send inquiries to James Dulley, The Decatur Daily, 6906 Royalgreen Drive, Cincinnati, OH 45244 or visit www.dulley.com.

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