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 AirCare MA1201 (Est. $110). This evaporative 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 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. $15); 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 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 around 150 reviews. Around 87 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-star rating following more than 425 reviews.
The Kenmore 15412 (Est. $175) 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 100 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. $80) 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. The rating at HomeDepot.com is similar that of the Essick MA1201, 4.2 stars, albeit that's based on fewer reviews -- just over 70. Most say it does the job as intended, but some complain about noise, effectiveness and the need to replace the filters too often. Feedback is similar at Amazon.com, 4.2-stars, based on over 200 reviews.
The Kenmore 15408 (Est. $135) is smaller still. While features and design look to be near identical to the Essick AirCare MA0800, the 15408 has a smaller tank (1.2 gallons) and is only rated for homes up to 1,700 square feet, yet is priced higher than the Essick model (either is perfectly fine for spaces of 200 square feet or more) 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 80 reviews. We see a couple of complaints regarding durability, but more involving the cost, effectiveness and availability of the filters.