What Do Dehumidifiers Do?
Indoor comfort is the goal and a balanced indoor humidity is key. With proper humidity levels, you have a healthier home with less chance of certain airborne pollutants. You have the reduced chance of pests and less damage to your home, and it can all be achieved with a dehumidifier.
Reduce Humidity Levels in the HouseA dehumidifier only serves one basic function and it results in many benefits. First, let’s look in detail at how they remove moisture from the air.
Using various technologies, dehumidifiers actively remove water that is lingering in the air. Water in the air, which is often called humidity, can be a problem if levels are above 50%.
Dehumidifiers help solve the issue, and they often use a cooling system to do so. Called a heat-pump dehumidifier (because it pumps heat from the air), this type of appliance uses a cooling system and a coil. Air is moved through the coil where it is reduced in temperature. This reduction forces moisture from the air in a process called condensation, which is the same process seen when a cold drink “sweats” on a hot day.
Another type is called a desiccant dehumidifier. They remove moisture by absorbing it into various chemicals. This type of dehumidifier has a material called a desiccant, which is able to absorb moisture from the air. They can be small disposable units, or even units with rechargeable desiccants. There are also desiccant dehumidifiers that resemble a typical dehumidifier.
The result, however, it essentially the same: the removal of moisture which has many benefits.
Reduce the Chances of MoldMold thrives in wet, damp conditions, so when you remove airborne moisture, you are also reducing the chances of mold growth in your house. While nothing can completely eliminate the chances of mold, dehumidifiers go a long way towards reducing this fungus.
Mold is heavily dependent on the presence of moisture to ensure healthy growth. Like all lifeforms, it needs water to survive, but this water can be hard to come by. If humidity levels are high, mold can survive off the limited moisture from the air. Therefore, if you use a dehumidifier, you are taking away (or at least decreasing) one of the most important resources for mold and reducing the chances of fungal growth in your home.
A study from the University of Cincinnati sought to find if dehumidification in conjunction with a HEPA air purifier could be an effective tool for limiting household mold spores. The researchers noted that dehumidifiers alone, while not proven to reduce mold spores, may be effective when used in combination with HEPA technology. The study found that using both dehumidification and efficient air filtration could be a feasible option for controlling relative humidity and airborne mold spores.
Reduce the Chance of InsectsWhile humid air won’t lead directly to insects, it will cause the growth of mold. And if mold isn’t bad enough by itself, it can unfortunately act as a food source for many insects.
Infestations of insects that feed off mold are common in wet conditions, and there are many types of bugs that use the fungus as a buffet table. Mold beetle is a broad term that describes various species that feed on mold. In this category of insects, you will find the foreign grain beetle, the hairy fungus beetle, and the minute brown beetle. They are common in new homes, which have residual mold from the building materials that were left outside. If the mold lasts, the beetles are likely to stick around. While they are not harmful, don’t sting, and aren’t known to spread disease, the removal of these insects is a priority for any homeowner.
By using a dehumidifier, you remove moisture, which reduces the chances of mold growth. In turn, this reduces the chances of mold-eating insects in your home.
Protect Items in the HouseMany household items can be significantly harmed by high levels of humidity. For example, if you have vinyl records for music or as collector’s items, they can be damaged by the humidity in your home. Humidity can harm your records, rending them useless for playing music and reducing their value for resale.
Clothing is also harmed by humidity because it can cause mold and mildew growth. Too much moisture will lead to mold spores, which may start to grow on your clothing, especially natural fibers like wool, cotton, and linen.
If you have antique wood items in your home, they can become warped by high levels of humidity. Warping happens when one section of a piece of wood dries faster than another part. If the top of a table is dried out while the bottom is not, it can lead to warping. Generally, warping can be reduced with coatings, but to ensure you don’t destroy many of your wooden objects, you’ll want to maintain balanced humidity.
Electronics can also be impacted by humidity levels. High humidity can cause issues with the internal electrical components, especially the small wires found inside your equipment.
Protect Structural MaterialsAs we discussed, moisture is very bad for wood. If you have high humidity in your home, you may have issues with the structure of your house.
For example, it's common to have high humidity in the basement or crawl space, which can lead to significant warping of floor boards. Moisture can also cause issues with wall boards if they are not properly sealed.
High levels of humidity can also saturate absorbent materials, such as the paper on exposed drywall. This moisture can lead to mold growth on the building materials, which may eventually require removal.
Reduce Irritation to SkinIn general, a little humidity is good for our skin, but too much can be harmful. Most people associate skin problems with dry air, and this is certainly true, but too much humidity on your skin can cause issues such as acne and infections. Additional humidity to skin that is naturally oily or prone to acne can make the problem much worse.
Humidity in the air can cause the pores of your skin to open, which makes them susceptible to dirt, allergens, dust, and oil. Acne breakouts can occur, and conditions like eczema can be made worse.
There is even a term for this situation. Tropical acne is when acne is caused or made worse by hot, humid conditions.
Reduce Irritation to the Respiratory SystemHumidity is often associated with high heat, causing problems like heat exhaustion and even heat stroke. But it can also cause a variety of issues related to your ability to breathe, especially for people who already have respiratory conditions.
For example, high relative humidity can can make your COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease) much worse. According to Medical News Today, extreme levels of humidity can cause a person’s COPD to become worse, making it difficult to breathe.
High humidity will worsen symptoms for many different reasons; most of all, the body has to work much harder when it is trying to breathe air that is high in moisture.
Humid air is more dense than cooler air, and this density can increase the resistance of our airways. Because of this increased effort, COPD symptoms can flare up.
Reduce the Chances of Asthma AttacksThe Asthma and Allergy Foundation of American says that high humidity can impact asthma in three specific ways. As we discussed earlier, humid air is harder to inhale, which means asthma sufferers may feel the effects on an attack much more severely.
Humidity also causes the body to feel much hotter, and because asthmatics tent to be more sensitive to temperatures, it can mean difficulty breathing.
Humidity also increases the chances of mold, dust mites, and ground-level ozone, which can all be an asthma trigger, increasing the chances of an asthma attack.
Helps Control AllergiesFor many of the same reasons, dehumidifiers can help reduce the chances of allergic reactions. This is especially true for people who suffer from mold allergies. If you have mold allergies, any contact with mold spores can be problematic. Mold spores that reach your skin can cause itchiness or even visible skin irritations. The issue can also cause breathing issues, as inhaled mold spores can reach the windpipes and lungs, causing a large variety of symptoms.
While there have been few scientific projects linking dehumidification and a reduction in allergies, many authorities on the subject have drawn the connection between the two.
An article published in Pediatric Allergy, Immunology, and Pulmonology discussed the sources of allergy triggers in the home. This article noted many sources, including triggers that are caused by humidity. The author noted a few studies that focused on the link between allergies and humidity, although a few of the studies were inconclusive.
One study that was cited found that airborne allergens, in this case dust mites, could be controlled by maintaining relative humidity of less than 51% during humid summer months.
As you can see, there are numerous benefits to owning and using a dehumidifier, but to have the best possible benefits, you need to select the right one for your needs, and that means you need to understand the various types of dehumidifiers that are available on the market.
Types of Dehumidifiers: A Deeper LookIf you want to understand how dehumidifiers work, you need to know about the various types.
Heat-PumpOne of the most common types of dehumidifiers is a heat-pump unit. With this type of unit, air is cooled to a point that it begins to lose its moisture. This happens because as air cools, it is unable to hold as much moisture; this is why cold air in winter is dry, while hot air in summer is able to, and often does, hold lots of water. These types of humidifiers use a heat pump, which performs essentially the same task as a refrigerator coolant, to take the warm air and cool it rapidly. Water then becomes liquid and eventually collects in a reservoir or is drained through a hose.
DessicantThere are also desiccant dehumidifiers, which remove moisture by using a chemical reaction with a specific material. Certain chemicals are able to absorb moisture from the air, which makes them effective for use in dehumidification. These types of dehumidifiers can come in convenient disposable or rechargeable units, although full-size options are available.
Crawl SpaceThere are also dehumidifiers build specifically for a crawl space. While basement dehumidifiers are generally portable, with a size and weight about the size of a medium-sized air purifier, crawl-space dehumidifiers are designed to be mounted on the floor joists at the top of a crawl space so it stays out of the dirt and potential water that could pool under the home. These are effective for homes in wet areas, and help maintain the air quality and material integrity of your house.
Things to Consider When Choosing a DehumidifierTo have the right dehumidifier for your home, while enjoying all the benefits of proper humidity, there are a few things you should look for, including…
Water ExtractionThe ability to extract water at a certain rate is important for all dehumidifiers. This capacity is measured in pints per 24 hours. The capacity you need is determined by the level of moisture as well as the size of the space you need to dehumidify.
If your space is small and moderately damp, you may only need a dehumidifier with the capability to remove 10 pints per day. However, if a large area has a damp, musty smell with visible wet spots on walls, it may require up to 32 pints per day. If it is extremely wet, a large space could need as much as 44 pints of water removal per day. Water Storage or DisposalThe way your dehumidifier gets rid of water will also make a difference in how you use the unit. Most have a removable storage bucket that fills with water as the dehumidifier operates. So ensure you don’t have a mess, you need to constantly empty the reservoir. Some units also have an indicator light, which makes operation more convenient, and some have an automatic shutoff when the bucket is full.
Many also come with a fitting that allows you to attach a hose to the unit. Instead of having to empty the bucket, you simply need to check that the hose is flowing to a drain. This is often the preferred method for basement dehumidifiers.
Ambient TemperaturesThe temperature of the air surrounding the dehumidifier can also make a difference in its overall performance. If the dehumidifier is in a spot where temperatures can fall below 65 degrees, you will likely need a unit that is made specifically for these conditions. If the air coming into the dehumidifier is too cold, frost can form, harming the dehumidifier.
HumidistatsYou may also want a unit that comes equipped with a humidistat. These are essentially measurement tools that actively test the air for humidity and can turn on or shut down the dehumidifier as needed. These tools are excellent for maintaining balanced humidity while not having to constantly check the current moisture levels throughout your home.
If you purchase a unit that does not have a humidistat, you will want to purchase a hygrometer. These tools measure the humidity, giving you information on current moisture levels. Using this information, you can regulate the use of your dehumidifier.
Where to Place Your DehumidifierIn some cases, where you place the dehumidifier can be just as important as which unit you select. Most come with an air discharge at the top, which allows you to place them against walls. However, walls may not provide the best air circulation; usually near the center is better for air flow.
Place the dehumidifier away from sources of dust and dander, such as equipment or a pet’s bed, as too much debris can harm the efficiency.
You will also need to ensure that the cord is not placed near water, and always keep the unit connected to a grounded outlet. For safety, if you are using a hose it also helps to place dehumidifiers close to the drain so you don’t have a long tripping hazard running across the room.