Portable vs. Whole-Home Humidifiers: Which is Better?

Nashoba Air & BoilerWorks, Humidifiers

DRY AIR!  It causes many irritating issues, especially during the winter months when your heating system is a major contributor to the problem.

You can relieve the symptoms of dry air – dry skin, itchy eyes, and scratchy throat – with lotions, drops, and over-the-counter products to help keep the body moisturized.  But, the best way to treat the cause of the problem is to raise the humidity levels in the home.

Adding moisture to the air as vapor or air is how you can raise the level of humidity.  This can be done with portable humidifiers or with a whole-home humidifier.  Here are some pros and cons to help you decide which is best for you and your family.

Portable Humidifiers

Room humidifiers add moisture by blowing a fan over a wick of cold water, or using a heating element to create steam. Both can change the humidity in a small space … if there is water in the tank. Water usually needs to be replaced daily to keep the humidity levels correct in just one room.


  • The set-up is easy.  Buy one, add water, and plug it in.
  • You can move them from one room to another
  • If you move, you can take your humidifier with you.
  • They normally humidify one to two rooms, though larger units can provide enough humidity to keep several rooms comfortable.


  • A high-end portable unit is more expensive than a whole-house humidifier.
  • They can be heavy and as noisy as a window air conditioner.
  • You need to add water daily to ensure enough moisture is released.
  • They can be most costly to operate, especially if you are using more than one.
  • They can leave calcium dust on your furniture and floors.
  • The unit must be cleaned regularly or the tank can become a breeding ground for mold or bacteria.  (The Mayo Clinic recommends the use of distilled or demineralized water, rather than tap water.)
  • Portable humidifiers are used in the middle of a room where they take up space and can be unattractive.

Whole-home Humidifiers

Whole-home humidifiers use the central HVAC system to deliver humidity throughout the house. They blow hot air from the furnace over a water panel to deliver moisture to the air evenly throughout the house as the home is being heated.


  • They are connected to the home’s water supply so there is no tank to fill
  • Steam units plumbed directly to the water supply with fan packs provide whole home capacity in homes without central heat.
  • They are easy to maintain, needing only a change of the water panel once or twice a heating season.
  • Whole-home humidifiers are quiet and out of sight.
  • They can humidify an entire house for less energy than portable humidifiers require to treat one room.
  • Whole-home humidifiers last longer than portable units.


  • Whole-home humidifiers require professional installation.
  • Once installed, they cannot be moved.
  • There must be somewhere for the excess water to drain.
  • Whole-home humidifiers are more expensive to install.

In most cases, a whole-home humidifier is the best option for controlling humidity levels because they are more efficient, quieter, easier to maintain and more attractive than portable units. Portable units only make sense if you want to control humidity levels in a single room or you are not yet ready to invest in a whole-home unit.

If you have any questions about a whole-home humidifier vs a portable humidifier, please contact Nashoba Air & BoilerWorks by email or call 978-486-0600.

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