For those that want to humidify several rooms, or a whole house, the top rated whole house humidifier is the Essick AirCare MA1201 (Est. $110). This evaporative console humidifier has a 3.6-gallon tank and can produce up to 12 gallons of moisture per day -- enough to cover an area of 3,600 square feet. It includes a humidistat and a digital display, and humidity can be adjusted in increments of 5 percent.
The MA1201 is easy to fill for a console model. 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 multi-speed fan; a mildew-resistant filter, the MAF1 (Est. $14); 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 AirCare MA1201 earns the top rating and Best Buy status 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 more than 175 reviews. Around 86 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. Feedback is similar at Amazon.com, with a 4.2-star rating following nearly 725 reviews.
The Kenmore 15412 (Est. $165) is similar in features and design to the MA1201, and it can even accept the same filter used by the Essick MA1201, though some of the specifications differ. This Kenmore humidifier can produce around 12 gallons of moisture per day and is rated for rooms up to 3,700 square feet. It features a 3.9-gallon tank, a humidistat, double-tank refill system and a four-speed fan.
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 -- 3.5 stars overall based on just over 110 reviews. 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 AirCare MA0800 (Est. $70) is similar to the MA1201. This evaporative humidifier has a smaller, 2.5 gallon tank and a maximum rated output of 8 gallons per day, sufficient for an area of up to 2,600 square feet. Features are similar, including a multi-speed fan, humidistat, water-refill light and double-fill tank system. We saw no expert reviews, but owners seem largely pleased. It earns a 4.2 star rating at Amazon.com based on more than 340 reviews, while at HomeDepot.com, it earns a 4.3 star rating based on more than 85 reviews. Most owners say it does the job as intended, but some complain about noise, effectiveness and the need to replace the filters too often.
Once again, Sears offers a near clone of that Essick model. The Kenmore 15408 (Est. $135) has a 2.5 gallon tank, though a slightly smaller coverage area (2,500 square feet). But while the features and design look to be near identical to the Essick AirCare MA0800, the 15408 is priced higher than the Essick model, so seems to be a poorer buy. That said, Sears users rate this humidifier higher than the larger Kenmore 15412, granting it 4 stars based on 85 reviews. We see a couple of complaints regarding durability, but more involving the cost, effectiveness and availability of the filters.