Should I use a whole home humidifier?
“Cold weather = dry skin. Does anyone have a humidifier attached to their furnace ductwork? Tell me about it, please..” – @anitalynns
It’s going to be better for your home to buy lotion in bulk rather than install a whole-home humidifier, especially in Minnesota. As temperatures drop, you want to lower the humidity level in your home to prevent moisture issues. For example, if you’ve ever seen windows that develop a layer of ice on the inside, it’s from too much moisture in the air hitting the cold window and condensing. This can cause serious damage to window components, your walls and your insulation. Moist air can also infiltrate your attic and cause mold, rot and other damage there as well. Yikes!
“When operated in a new or newly retrofitted house, improper use of humidifiers only adds to moisture problems. Improper use of a humidifier can cause trouble in any house. Humidifier use should be limited to avoid condensation on windows. As a general rule humidifiers are needed when homes have over-ventilated living space.” Division of Energy Resources (PDF)
So, if you have a newer home or if you have done any air sealing, adding a whole-home humidifier could cause your home damage given the lovely climate we put up with 6 months out of the year.
UPDATE: I did a little more research and found an article in the Star Tribune that is asking just the same question – how do I stay comfortable without damaging my home? The answer might be sealing some of your air leaks:
Cold air can’t hold much water vapor, and the colder the air, the drier it is. That means winter air that makes its way into the house through leaks, holes and combustion air ducts or is pulled in by ventilation fans is going to be dry. Heating that air only makes it drier, and the result often is low indoor humidity levels.
You don’t need to get new windows to help seal air leaks – in fact, only 10% of the air leaks in your home might be coming from your windows or doors. I would suggest caulking and weather sealing around your windows, adding a door sweep to doors if you haven’t done that already, and plastic weather wrap to your windows. (Here’s a great guide on air sealing from the Division of Energy Resources (PDF)). This will prevent your indoor heated air from leaking, allowing it to be humidified naturally by the people in your home and bathing, dishes, etc, as well and keeping dry indoor air from coming in as much. You might also consider getting an energy audit from your utility with a blower door test; that will measure the air leaks and help isolate some areas where air sealing could be really useful.
The Star Trib article also has a guide to the exact level of humidity to maintain during winter months. I’d suggest you buy a hygrometer at your local hardware store to monitor the humidity in your home so you can make sure you’re at the right level – and if you choose to add humidity, make sure that you turn down the humidifier if you see any condensation on windows that can mean condensation around other air leaks in your home.