While tabletop humidifiers can provide moisture in a single room, whole-house humidifiers (sometimes called console humidifiers) can humidify several rooms at once. Since a console humidifier has a larger tank, it needs refilling less often than a tabletop model, but the process can be awkward. Many whole-house humidifiers are evaporative rather than ultrasonic, are louder and require the use of costly replacement filters. However, these humidifiers will not produce white dust like ultrasonic models.
The top rated whole house humidifier is the Essick MA1201 (Est. $115). This evaporative humidifier has a 3.9-gallon tank and can produce up to 12 gallons of moisture per day -- enough to cover an area of 2,500 square feet. It includes a humidistat and a digital display, and humidity can be adjusted in increments of 5 percent. The humidifier uses a double-fill tank system: You fill the external tank, let it empty into the humidifier, then refill the tank and replace it. Other features include a four-speed fan, a mildew-resistant filter (Est. $13), check filter light and a refill indicator light. The humidifier sits on four swivel casters, so it can be rolled from room to room. A Dry Out mode is provided to make sure that the base of the humidifier is dry before maintenance begins, something that the maker says should be done once every two weeks.
The Essick MA1201 earns the top rating among whole-house humidifiers from one expert reviewer, and relatively strong user reviews across the board (at least when compared against other humidifiers). At HomeDepot.com, for example, it earns a rating of 4.3 stars following 110 reviews. Around 88 percent of owners say they would recommend the humidifier to a friend. Some owners complain of defective machines, others that they received a returned unit instead of a new one. Some complaints regarding the filter's effectiveness and cost can also be seen. However, most owners say that this whole-house humidifier works as promised.
The Kenmore 15412 (Est. $175) is eerily similar in features and design. Like the Essick humidifier, it can produce up to 12 gallons of moisture per day and features a 3.9-gallon tank, a humidistat, double-tank refill system and a four-speed fan. It can even accept the same filter used by the Essick MA1201. In one professional test it was rated just a couple of points lower than the Essick MA1201. The chief difference seems to be the tested outputs: the Essick humidifier outputs roughly .7 gallons more per day. User reviews at Sears.com (the primary retailer for Kenmore appliances) are also less positive -- roughly 3.5 stars overall. Given those factors, and the notably lower price, we think that the Essick MA1201 is a clear top choice.
If you have a more modest house to humidify, the Essick MA0800 (Est. $80) is similar. This evaporative humidifier has a smaller, 2.26 gallon tank and a maximum rated output of 8 gallons per day, sufficient for an area of 1,700 square feet. There is only a three-speed fan, but other features are the same, including a humidistat, water-refill light and double-fill tank system. We saw no expert reviews, but owners seem largely pleased. The rating at HomeDepot.com is identical to the Essick MA1201, albeit that's only based on 33 reviews. Most say it does the job as intended, but some complain about noise, effectiveness and the need to replace the filters too often.
Kenmore again offers a near clone as the Kenmore 15408 (Est. $135). Specs and features appear to be identical, but the price is a bit higher than the Essick version. It is the top-rated humidifier in an older comparative review at Slate.com Users rate this humidifier higher than the larger Kenmore 15412, granting it 4 stars at Sears.com. We see a couple of complaints regarding durability, but more involving the cost, effectiveness and availability of the filters.
Elsewhere in this Issue:
Best Humidifiers: Ultrasonic humidifiers get the lion's share of attention and positive feedback from experts, but how do they stack up in owners' eyes. We look at the feedback and name top choices.
Best Cool-Mist Humidifiers: If you have a smaller area to humidify, or want to keep an eye on your bottom line, these evaporative cool-mist humidifiers make terrific choices. Here are the best of the best.
Best Warm Mist Humidifiers: We look at the pros and cons of warm-mist humidifiers, and make our recommendations for those who find warm moisture preferable to cool.
Buying Guide: Need more information before deciding on a type and model of humidifier? You can find the answers to many common questions regarding humidifiers in our helpful Buying Guide.
Our Sources: These are the sources of expert and user reviews we used to prepare this report on humidifiers. We rank them in order of timeliness and helpfulness.