Want Things a Little Steamy?

February 14, 2017

For most Coloradoans, adding humidity to their home during the winter is a nice quality of life improvement. Health benefits, improved general comfort, and protecting wood products from excessive expansion and contraction are all advantages that proper indoor humidity helps provide. How to add that humidity can sometimes be a challenge.

The most basic approach is to purchase a low cost, free-standing humidifier. You fill it with water, plug it in, and voila! out pours humidity. However, with its primitive controls and distribution system, and continuous need to be refilled and cleaned, a free-standing humidifier leaves a lot to be desired. It is also unlikely that a single free-standing unit will have significant impact on the needs of an entire home.

The most common choice, if you have central forced air heating, is to install a basic central humidifier. With a relatively low installed cost and simple maintenance requirements, these types of units have long been the standard. However, basic central humidifiers often fall short in achieving complete customer satisfaction. The most popular standard units, flow-thru humidifiers, were addressed in greater detail in a blog last month.

Last, but not least, the most effective humidification solution for those with a central ducting system is a steam humidifier.

How Do Steam Humidifiers Work?

A central steam humidifier adds humidity to the air by boiling water. A hundred years ago this was accomplished by putting a pan of water on the wood stove and boiling away. Steamers for wood stoves are still available and in use, but steam technology has certainly advanced a bit since then! Today, steam humidifiers use electricity to boil water inside a vessel, and then deliver the resultant steam into your ducting system where it can be distributed throughout your home.

Central steam humidifiers typically incorporate one of two general designs: either a standing-water reservoir with an immersed heating element, or a specialized canister that rapidly boils water to be metered into the home. Steam simply rises out of the reservoir models to be carried away by the fan system in your furnace or air handler. Canister-style units employ a hose to more precisely direct the steam into your ducting system. Proper installation of the humidifier, in general, and placement of the steam hose outlet, in particular, are critical to successful performance of canister humidifiers. We have found the canister-type design to be considerably more reliable and maintenance friendly than the reservoir design.

To operate most effectively, a dedicated 240V electrical circuit for the steam humidifier is strongly recommended. This will require wiring from your main electrical panel to the humidifier. While some steam models can function using a lower, 120V electrical connection, this will reduce humidity output so severely that it eliminates much of the performance advantage. Thus, if going steam, we advise using a 240V connection.

Humidity can be created much more quickly by boiling water than via evaporation, making steam models far more productive than their conventional, evaporative-type counterparts. Most importantly, unlike conventional, standard humidifiers, steam humidifier performance doesn’t require that your furnace be generating heat in order to operate effectively.

In summary, and quite simply, with a steam humidifier you can consistently regulate the humidity level in your home throughout the winter months. With other choices, you cannot.

Pros & Cons Of Central Steam Humidifiers

While steam humidifiers represent the pinnacle in performance, it’s good to know what you’re getting, so following is a brief summary of what to expect:


  • Steam humidifiers are the most effective humidification product available.
  • If you require precise, consistent humidity control, a steam humidifier is the only option.
  • On days when our sunny Colorado winters provide significant solar gain, and your central heater doesn’t fire up very often, a steam humidifier will still keep your home properly humidified.
  • For homes with wood flooring, fine wood furniture, a valuable piano or other acoustic musical instruments, steam humidifiers provide enhanced protection against aging and cracking due to dry air.

Note: Steam humidifiers are not a substitute for humidifiers built specifically for musical instruments.


  • Routine maintenance for steam humidifiers is more detailed and time consuming than for more basic humidifiers.
  • Maintenance parts for canister-type steam systems are more expensive than the basic water panels used in standard units.
  • Central steam humidifiers are more costly to install than standard units.
  • Annual maintenance plans are available from most HVAC professionals to keep steam humidifiers in good working order and help extend their life. If investing in this type of product, professional maintenance should be considered a given.

Contact An Experienced Pro For Advice!

For expert advice on central humidifiers, and friendly assistance choosing the product that best meets your needs, contact Save Home Heat Company in the Denver and Boulder, Colorado area. You can count on our 35-plus years of experience serving Front Range homeowners to provide you with reliable, professional service–now and in the future.