Our house has forced-air heat: The furnace blows warm air through the ducts and out through vents in most of the rooms. Our vents are in the baseboards, so they push out the air horizontally at floor level. This tip also would work with a wall vent that is just above a shelf or table, and would probably work with floor vents or a floor furnace as well. (If you have ceiling vents or another type of heat, such as radiators, and have a humidifying tip, I’d love to hear it! Please post a comment.)
The trouble with forced-air heat is that the air coming out of the ducts is very dry. Most winters this has bothered me a bit, but this year it’s really getting to me! Maybe I’m more delicate because I’m pregnant. I have awakened at least once almost every night with my mouth completely dried out, and I often have a slight nosebleed in the morning. Our whole family had viral bronchitis in January, and the dry air was making our coughing worse. We needed more moisture!
We tried an electric humidifier. I could see mist coming out of its spout some of the time, so I knew it was doing something, and it did seem to make the air slightly gentler. But there were several things about it that bothered me:
- It took at least 3 days to use up a quart of water, even when I was sick and running it almost all day long–so it wasn’t making all that much humidity.
- After 3 days, or even 2, the remaining water contained a lot of black specks that worried me (what are they??), and the bottom of the tank was coated with pinkish-orange slime, which didn’t seem like a healthy substance to vaporize into our air.
- The slime was very difficult to remove because of the shape of the tank and the small size of its opening made it difficult for me to reach all the edges, and the rough edge of its opening hurt my arm, and then it was impossible to rinse completely because there was no angle at which the thing could be held that would allow all the water to get out the opening!
- The humidifier made a noticeable noise while we were trying to sleep.
- Its power light is orange (our least favorite color) and about 3 inches across; it lit up that whole side of our room, and we couldn’t block it without blocking the mist.
- All this inconvenience was brought to us by power consumption equivalent to a 3-bulb light fixture.
We knew from past experience that better models of humidifier exist. I happened to pick a real dud when I bought this one a few years ago. But they all use electricity, they all need frequent cleaning, and past experience had also taught us that a determined humidifier can damage walls or furniture. Anyway, we were too sick to go shopping, so I thought of a better method!
I simply place a shallow pan of water in front of the heat vent. As the hot, dry air blows across the surface of the water, it evaporates into this air which then moves across the room toward the bed. On a cold night when the furnace runs frequently, this method can put 3 cups of water into my bedroom air. It’s a big improvement!
My pan is a metal pie pan (probably enameled aluminum) that originally contained a supermarket-bakery pie; it’s one of several I brought home after people brought pies to church events. We use them to bake things in our kitchen, but because they were free, I don’t feel that I need to clean this one well enough to return it to kitchen use in the spring. It’s much sturdier than a “disposable” foil pan, which I wouldn’t want to use here because it could spring a leak.
It’s easier to fill the pan by setting it in front of the vent and then pouring water into it from a cup, than by filling it in the bathroom and trying to carry it full.
There are no black floating specks, no orange slime, and no evidence of any other moldy-type stuff in the water. After about two weeks, a white residue became visible on the pan–minerals from our tap water. These are minerals one can take in supplements (calcium, magnesium) so they’re probably harmless, especially in the tiny quantities that are evaporating rather than sticking to the pan. I can get the residue off the pan by wiping with a rag soaked in white vinegar; this also kills any germs. When we had a warmer spell, so that my water wasn’t all evaporated by the following evening when I added more, I began to see dust floating on the water that had fallen in from the air; this was easily removed by dumping the water into a potted plant and rinsing the pan.
UPDATE: The day after posting this article, I received my electric bill for January. It’s $15 higher than usual! Not all of that is the humidifier–we also used the television a lot more while we were sick, and although our furnace burns natural gas it uses electricity for the blower and was blowing a lot more in the very cold weather–but surely the humidifier contributed to that extra electricity consumption.