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Humidifiers can keep homes comfortable in winter
Kids need humidifiers that match their needs. Those using expelling cool mist are the safest, as they don’t pose the risk of steam burns, experts agree. This owl-shaped cool mist humidifier from Crane promises to provide relief for cold and flu symptoms, sore throats, stuffy noses, dry itchy skin and chapped lips; $44.99,

About this time of the year, you halfheartedly crank up the heat in your home.

You welcome the warmth but cringe at the prospect of feeling dehydrated.

A humidifier can turn that scenario around by infusing moisture back into the air and bringing relief to chapped lips, flaky skin and even flulike symptoms. If you start seeing health problems such as cracked skin or breathing problems arise, consider adding a humidifier to your home.

Sharon Winkler, office manager at Winkler Air Conditioning Services in Gainesville, said she knows the house is dry from a few indicators.

“When you wake up and your throat is scratchy from being dry, maybe your nose and sinuses have a problem, and there’s static in your hair, you kind of know your house is getting dry,” she said.

Another indicator is if wooden furniture or flooring starts cracking, she said.

But, it’s important not to add too much humidity.

“Sometimes when we add humidity, we create problems such as mold and mildew,” said Bob Cornett, owner of Temperature Control Services Inc. in Gainesville.

Older humidifiers with standing pools of water can be breeding grounds for fungi, he said. But an easy fix is available.

“The kind (of humidifier) I recommend just adds moisture to the air and then dries out,” Cornett said. “They don’t have any water standing in them.”

Cornett advises purchasing a free-standing humidifier from a home improvement store and putting it near a return vent to circulate humidity throughout the house.

“Most of the time I tell people to ... put it in a bedroom or wherever they think they need it the most,” he said.

Winkler also recommends mounting a humidifier to the home’s duct work. Those types of humidifiers help the humidity circulate through the house, she said.

Winkler said selecting the right humidifier depends on humidifying the whole house or just certain areas.

“The wonder of humidifiers is that there’s something out there for everyone,” said Lynne Hammell, at Kaz, maker of Honeywell humidifiers.

She and Stephanie LaGrotta Martinez, associate merchant at The Home Depot, dished out advice on making humidifier shopping a breeze.

Think square-foot coverage

The rule of thumb is the size of the appliance should match the size of the room. A voluminous humidifier in your child’s room, for instance, might cause more harm than good.

“When it comes to humidity, the sweet spot is between 40 and 60 percent,” Hammell said. “If it’s higher, you’ll notice it: codensation on the windows, the wallpaper peeling a bit for those who have it.”

Convenience factor

While portable humidifiers with water filters solve the problem of over-humidification, most people don’t want to deal with the hassle of replacing filters. Enter the ultrasonic models, which expel fine water mist using high-frequency sound vibrations. No extra steps required.

Martinez said a gallon-tank capacity is ideal for a single room, such as a bedroom. For good ultrasonic options, Martinez points clients to brands such as Air Innovations, Hunter, Crane and Vornado.

Go big or go home

A well-humidified house might feel like a combo between a breath of fresh air and a hug.

“It makes for a comfortable home setting,” Martinez said.

When you decide to extend that sense of coziness throughout your entire home, invest in a whole-house appliance.

Some mount directly to the furnace, working with the heating system to replenish moisture.

Behind their whopping price tag — up to $700 for some brands — there are several boons. For one, they can prevent the wood floor from drying and cracking. Plus, the nice warming effect allows you to lower the temperature on the thermostat, which will result in energy savings.

Cool mist versus warm mist

Both warm-mist and cool-mist humidifiers will get the job done, Hammell said. The first type boils the water to emit a cooled steam, and the second uses a fan to blow moisture.

“It’s just a matter of personal preferences,” she said.

When it comes to kids, though, most experts favor the cool mist. The Mayo Clinic warns warm-mist devices pose the threat of steam burns for little ones.

On the flip side, cool-mist humidifiers can disperse white dust calcium deposits from hard water. The U.S. Department of Labor says “the main hazard of exposure to mineral dust is pneumoconiosis, a general term for disease of the lungs caused by dusts.” But simple ways exist to counteract this issue. Regularly clean the tank and use distilled or purified water, which is lower in mineral content than tap water.

Anti-microbial features

Want to up the germ-fighting game? Opt for a humidifier with anti-microbial features such as the Honeywell Germ Free Cool Mist Humidifier. Earlier this year, Consumer Reports ranked this model second out of 34 tested for their efficiency at inhibiting bacterial growth in the tank and for not emitting bacteria into the air.

Adjustable fan speeds or a humidistat are other features worth purchasing, Martinez said. Also pretty handy: the automatic shut-off feature.

“This will help prolong the life of the motor,” she said.

Keeping the humidity in check might help shield you from the germs in your house or office.

“It actually helps reduce the survival of the flu virus on surfaces and in the air,” Hammell said.

Andreea Ciulac, a freelance writer for the Chicago Tribune, contributed to this article.

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