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Don't Overlook Dehumidification -- It Makes a Major Impact on Your Indoor Air Quality

While you might think that the need for an efficient dehumidification system in your Chicagoland home is restricted to dealing with the aftermath of water damage incidents, just about any home can benefit from reduced humidity. Remember that the air you breathe is never totally dry, even in desert climates. Moreover, there are all sorts of factors that add to the moisture levels within your home, including steam as a byproduct of bathing and cooking, humidity emanating from damp goods, building materials that are slowly losing their moisture, and even transpiration from plants, animals and people within the household.

Recent advances in technology, as well as the need to combat rising energy prices, has led to more airtight homes and businesses, with improved insulation. While this provides an excellent way to provide greener temperature control, the byproduct is a reduction in air change, as well as more humidity being trapped inside. Because of this, there's a greater need for dehumidification than ever before, especially during the warm months. While the signs of excess moisture in your home are often subtle, you can be certain that you need dehumidification solutions if you notice:

  • Dew on your windows
  • Wet stains on the walls or ceiling
  • Peeling wallpaper
  • Metal corrosion or malfunctioning electronics
  • Moisture damage on furniture and woodwork
  • Sticky doors and cabinets
  • Creaky floors
  • Increased discomfort due to indoor climate (that clammy feeling)

The truth is that if you are not practicing dehumidification within your home, all you need do is take a look around to see the evidence. However, cosmetic wear and tear on your structure should be the least of your worries. There are other more dangerous issues associated with a structure harboring too much humidity:

  • Build-up of fungus and mold
  • Favorable conditions to breed other microorganisms and bacteria
  • Swelling or rotting wood, loosened joints, and popping screws or nails in the structural frame
  • Higher amounts of dust mites and allergens
  • Invasions from roaches and other insects

While your A/C or heat pump is designed to remove some humidity, it may not be up to the challenges in your home, especially if you have an older cooling system or one that's oversized.

With so many good reasons in favor of utilizing dehumidification systems within your home, there's nothing that should stop you from taking the plunge. At this point, however, you'll need to decide which type of dehumidification system to use. There are two main types of dehumidifier. The first of these are portable models while the second are whole-house systems. By comparing the differences between the two, it will be easier for you to see which system will work best for your situation.

Price Versus Capacity

The first thing that you are likely to notice when you compare the price range between portable dehumidifiers and whole-house systems is that the portable models are a whole lot cheaper. They cost less for obvious reasons – the portable models are smaller and have far less capacity for removing moisture from an area. At the same time, however, if you were to buy enough portable models to dehumidify the same area as a whole-house dehumidifier, this likely would cost a lot more than the whole-house model.

The capacity of any dehumidification system essentially relates to its water-removing capabilities. Portable dehumidifiers might be able to tackle any one room with efficiency, but a whole-house system can remove the moisture from every room on every floor of your home. Moreover, whole-house systems sport a larger compressor, as well as more condensing coils, which can remove greater amounts of moisture from large spaces in less time. 

In regards to capacity, the manufacturers of portable units tend to inflate the ability of their units to perform by indicating their overall capacity based on the non-realistic notion of a 100 percent relative humidity environment. Under that circumstance, moisture is very evident and therefore easy for the unit to locate and remove. When tested in realistic environments, though, the performance of the same unit will almost always be significantly lower.

Whole-house dehumidifiers, on the other hand, are usually rated based on their performance level at AHAM. This represents the amount of moisture that the system is able to remove from a space that is 80 degrees F and has 60 percent relative humidity. Because this rating indicates performance standards in a realistic environment, it's likely that the system will perform very close to the way it's advertised. Essentially, the capacity of each type of system indicates that you get what you pay for.

Physical Differences

There are some physical differences in the materials used to construct both types of dehumidification systems as well as their features. To compare and contrast:

Portable dehumidifiers:

  • Are typically constructed mostly of plastic
  • Are generally waist high or lower, and are fairly compact
  • Are highly portable
  • Contain a water bucket (or else an attachment for a plastic drain pipe)

Whole-house dehumidifiers:

  • Are typically constructed of stainless steel or heavy duty plastic
  • Are significantly larger
  • Are portable or ductable
  • Never have an onboard water bucket

Because of the physical size of portable dehumidifiers, they can be easily moves to areas with acute moisture problems. However, their size and capacity limitations usually fall short. A whole-house system, meanwhile, typically attaches right to your HVAC system, with a connection to your home's plumbing or drain to evacuate the considerable amount of moisture that the appliance removes from your home's air.

Air Movement

In order to assess the abilities of any dehumidification system, it's important to know its CFM rating. This rating is the indicator of how many cubic feet of air is pulled through the humidifier’s condensing coils each minute. Unfortunately, most manufacturers of portable models choose not to disclose the CFM ratings of their units because most of them rank low on the scale. This in turn means that they do not have the ability to cycle a large enough quantity of air in order to adequately lower the humidity levels in any large area.

To the contrary, the CFM rating of whole-house units is almost always disclosed because they are more powerful and typically sport large fans that can move tremendous amounts of air through the condensing coils. While the sheer power of these systems will sometimes make them a bit loud, there are quiet models that have been developed as well as muffler kits that can greatly dampen any noise output. In any event, they're usually quieter than portable units.

Optimal Temperature Range for Operation

Whether you realize it or not, indoor temperature plays a big role in how difficult it is to remove moisture from the air. This is because the lower the ambient temperature is, the harder dehumidification units will have to work in order to adequately remove any moisture that's present. If you have a room or crawlspace that dips below 60 degrees, a portable dehumidifier will simply not have the power to properly deal with even small amounts of moisture in the air. What it will do instead is run constantly in an attempt to compensate, drive up your energy bills, shorten its overall lifespan, and never even make the difference that you want it to.

Whole-house systems, meanwhile, are designed to deal with temperature fluctuations flawlessly without showing any significant difference in their dehumidification capacity. Even if your home has some areas that are temperature controlled and others that are significantly cooler (such as an unfinished basement), a whole-house unit should be able to compensate for this while controlling moisture levels in every room.


Whole-house dehumidifiers require little maintenance, unlike the portable models, which require constant attention (that bucket needs to be emptied!). 

In regards to shipping, small units are far more prone to be damaged because of the flimsy materials they're typically built from. Even if the manufacturer chooses to replace the dehumidifier for free, it creates a headache for you to have to deal with customer service and shipping back a broken unit. Once you get a portable unit home, it's inconvenient to operate because you will be moving it from place to place and dumping the water bucket far too often. Most importantly, replacement parts for portable units are often difficult to find if they're available at all, which essentially may make your purchase a throwaway. Whole-house units, on the other hand, are usually durable and long-lasting, especially if installed by a reliable HVAC technician.

The Takeaway

While a portable dehumidifier might work for a small studio apartment or a very isolated moisture problem in your home, if you want a real dehumidification solution, contact professionals to help you choose and install a whole-house system. has offered such solutions to many households in the Greater Chicago area, including Northwest Indiana and Southwest Michigan. We are ready to help you be our next satisfied customer.

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