Exploring the pros and cons of standalone dehumidifiers in cold climates
Humid, damp air can be a big problem for many Minnesota homeowners, causing damage to walls, furniture, decorative items, and other keepsakes. Dehumidifiers can improve indoor air quality, support health and wellness, and help protect your home. They keep the air nice and dry (and you comfortable), absorbing increased moisture and solving many of the headaches that come along with it. One of these headaches: mildew and mold. These two go hand in hand, and they thrive in damp, moist environments. The presence of mold and mildew in a home can worsen allergies and respiratory issues; long-term exposure has even been linked to depression and nervous system disorders.
But Minnesotans have always excelled at spotting a good thing when they see one. Various estimates indicate that standalone dehumidifiers are already being widely used in our state — in between 9% and 66% of all single-family homes. Though this number is promising, it’s only an estimate; the actual quantity of use and the motivation behind it (including how dehumidifiers perform in climates as cold as ours) has yet to be studied. What’s more, because of the impact of dehumidifiers on indoor air quality and health, it’s also important to consider how much energy they use. Recent reports estimate that dehumidifiers account for between 2% and 15% of single-family electrical use, and run for more than 2,000 hours each year.
CEE’s Field Study of Standalone Dehumidification and Efficiency Opportunities in MN Single-Family Homes will address the above challenges by examining standalone dehumidifiers and considering what motivates consumers to purchase and use them. The project, led by Josh Quinnell, Ph.D., senior research engineer, will monitor dehumidification performance levels and efficacy, as well as high-performance dehumidification, whole-house dehumidification, and management of air and water intrusion. The team will also compare the energy performance levels and lifetime costs of different standalone dehumidifiers.
Here are a few general pros and cons related to dehumidifiers:
- Keeps musty smells and odors away: Constantly damp air leads to unpleasant smells that can seep into your furniture and walls, decreasing your comfort level.
- Prevents dust mites (or cuts their numbers in half): these critters thrive in fabric, such as bedding, couches, and curtains, and can make allergy season worse.
- Reduces condensation: Most condensation is limited to water streams on your windows when cooking or showering, but it can also cause damage to wallpaper (peeling) and floors.
- Has a shorter lifespan (they’ll need to be replaced, and that’ll cost you)
- Are louder
- Controls humidity in a limited way, confined to one continuous area
- Requires users to empty condensate (though some dehumidifiers are self-draining)
- Tend to be less energy efficient and can lead to higher electricity bill
"For a relatively big end use of energy, we know surprisingly little about how dehumidifiers are used in practice — their efficiency in typical field conditions, how effective they are at solving moisture issues, or even if they are the best tool for the job,” says Josh Quinnell, Ph.D., senior research engineer. “This study aims to bring clarity to some of these questions so that consumers and utilities can make more informed decisions."
To learn more about the standalone dehumidification study check out the project page and upcoming Field Notes.