Is a Dehumidifier for Summer or Winter?

When is the best time to use a dehumidifier? Is it for winter or summer? Summer months can get really hot and humid in some regions. Likewise, winter months can be wet and clammy for some. No matter the weather, you can use a dehumidifier to keep the humidity level within the comfortable range of 35% to 55%. 

What does a dehumidifier do?

Dehumidifiers work to reduce indoor humidity using different processes. Depending on the climate in your region, running a dehumidifier also has secondary benefits. 

Excess humidity creates ideal conditions for mold, mildew, dust mites, and other airborne allergens. This can trigger allergy symptoms, asthma attacks, and other respiratory issues. Over time, humidity and its effects can compromise the structural integrity of the house. A dehumidifier helps maintain humidity levels in the optimal range. This reduces the risks of health problems and prevents damage to properties. 

Additionally, dehumidifiers can help get rid of unpleasant odors and improve the air quality in various indoor spaces. Less humidity in the air also helps dry laundry, preserve stored food, protect electronic equipment, and save important documents. 

Why do you need a dehumidifier?

High humidity and excessive moisture in your home can be uncomfortable. If left unattended, it can cause serious damage to your house structure and negatively impact your health. 

There are many alternative ways you can try to eliminate any excess moisture in the air, but the best solution is by investing in a good dehumidifier. If you see a few of the following signs, it may be time to look for a dehumidifier.

The optimal indoor humidity range is 35% to 50%. Anything above 60% can be considered too high. These conditions may feel hot and sticky in the summer or cold and clammy in the winter. If you live in a region with a humid climate, it’s important to control indoor humidity levels. Keep track of the humidity in your house and if it usually goes above 50%, consider getting a dehumidifier. 

If you notice water droplets on the windows and walls, this may be a sign that your home is too humid. Condensation occurs when the warm and moist air touches a cold surface, such as the window glass, mirrors, and metallic surfaces. In worse cases, you may find water stains or damp spots in the ceilings or walls. Check your basement or crawl space. These areas are often overlooked and they usually suffer the most from high humidity.

A musty or moldy smell is a sure indicator that you need a dehumidifier. Damp and humid conditions are the perfect environment for mold and mildew. Little black spots, especially in the bathroom walls, around the toilet and bathtub, are signs of mold growth. 

Wooden surfaces and other porous building materials are highly susceptible to mold and mildew if moisture levels aren’t controlled. Some common spots for hidden mold are behind furniture, under permanent carpeting, or between walls and insulation. 

Excess moisture may also lead to wood rotting and termite infestation. If you notice cracks in drywall and gaps between the floor and baseboard, this may be signs of high humidity as well. Have your house examined and identify the root cause of humidity. Fix any leak or crack, check your insulation or drainage if that’s the source of moisture. Afterwards, install a dehumidifier to maintain the optimal relative humidity.

How Does a Dehumidifier Work?

A dehumidifier reduces the amount of moisture in the air through different methods.

Compressor Dehumidifier

Most people are familiar with the compressor-based dehumidifier. This type of dehumidifier uses a compressor to power the condenser and evaporator coils that remove moisture and warm the air. A fan draws the humid air and passes it over the cold coils. As the air cools down, it loses its ability to hold moisture.  Water droplets form and drip down into the tank or out through the drain hose.

Desiccant Dehumidifier

The other type of dehumidifier is called a desiccant. It uses a hygroscopic chemical that absorbs or adsorbs moisture from the air. It comes in a variety of sizes, from disposable packets or tubs, full-size consumer grade models, to high-capacity commercial units. The main difference from compressor-based dehumidifiers is the desiccant doesn’t use refrigerant coils to remove moisture. Instead, moisture is transferred to the desiccant substance when the air comes into contact. 

Peltier Dehumidifier

Another method that is common in mini dehumidifiers is called the Peltier effect or thermoelectric cooling. It works similarly to a compressor dehumidifier, except that it uses a voltage of electricity to create a temperature difference on the Peltier module, whereas the other uses a compressor. Humid air is drawn by a small fan through the cold side of the unit where moisture condenses. The cold, dry air then passes through the hot side and warmer, dryer air is released.

Using a Dehumidifier in Summer

In some places, the summer season can be extremely hot. Certain regions also suffer from high humidity, which, when combined with the heat, can make it almost impossible to feel comfortable. Moisture clings to your skin as it cannot evaporate into the already saturated air.

Sometimes opening your windows helps—that is, until the bugs fly into your home. It may seem like the best option is to turn up your air conditioner to maximum cooling, but overuse can be damaging to the unit and not to mention, heavy on the pocket. An air conditioner works to lower temperature and excess moisture in the air makes this task a lot tougher.

Opting for a dehumidifier and air conditioner tandem during summer months will keep both the temperature and humidity in optimum levels. This ensures maximum relaxation for the entire family at any time of day. Dehumidifiers generally work best in warmer temperatures, so there should be little problem as long as you find the right size.

Using a Dehumidifier in Winter

Winter air is usually cold and dry, hence a humidifier is more commonly used during these months. However, regions with wet winters know the damaging effects of high humidity during the coldest season. A dehumidifier helps eliminate excess moisture in the winter months that may encourage mold growth. Mold thrives in cold and damp areas and it can be hard to get rid of once it spreads.

If you get extremely cold winters,  keep the humidity around 30% to 40% throughout the day. For refrigerant dehumidifiers, regularly inspect the condenser coils for frost buildup. If you operate in cool temperatures, condensate may freeze on the condenser coils. Frost buildup can reduce performance and ultimately damage the compressor. 

Standard dehumidifiers have an auto defrost function that stops the compressor while the fan continues running to allow the ice to melt. Even with this feature, you must regularly inspect the coils to prevent any problem. In winter, your best option is to use a dehumidifier specifically designed for low temperatures. 

How to Choose the Best Dehumidifier

Capacity

The capacity refers to the amount of moisture that your dehumidifier can remove from the air in 24 hours. This is usually measured in pints per day or PPD. To find the right capacity, consider the size of your space and the level of dampness in the air. The heavier the moisture, the higher capacity you need. Standard home dehumidifiers range from 20 to 70 pints.

Coverage

The area of your space also plays a huge role in how efficient your dehumidifier will be. Standard home dehumidifiers have coverage areas between 1,000 to 4,500 square feet. Mini dehumidifiers can cover around 150 to 500 square feet. Manufacturers often indicate the recommended area of coverage of each dehumidifier. Multiply the length and width of your space to get the square footage. 

Drainage

Dehumidifiers collect moisture in the internal tank, which you will need to drain manually once full. Most full-size models also allow automatic drainage through a drain hose or condensate pump. A drain hose enlists the help of gravity to pull the water down, while a pump enables drainage in any direction. Depending on your space and whether you have a floor drain nearby, a built-in condensate pump is usually the most convenient option.

Portability

To minimize the costs, you may want a portable dehumidifier that you can roll out and use in different parts of your house. Most modern dehumidifiers are built with wheels or casters and handles for easy movement. Some also have onboard storage for the cord and drain hose. If you’re only using your dehumidifier for a certain season, you may want a unit that won’t take too much space and can easily be stored and dragged around.

Energy Efficiency

If you want to use a dehumidifier 24/7, look for the Energy Star label to make sure you’re getting an energy efficient dehumidifier. Energy efficiency is measured in liters per kilowatt-hour (L/kWh). You can find the energy efficiency information in the manual or on the unit itself. For more specific information, check out the Energy Star website.

Other Useful Features

A built-in humidistat makes it extra convenient to maintain your desired humidity even when you’re away. The dehumidifier will stop when the current humidity is lower than your target, thus saving energy. Standard features like auto shut off and auto restart are included in most dehumidifiers for your convenience. You can also find indicators for when the tank is full or when you need to wash the filter. 

How to Use and Maintain a Dehumidifier Year-Round

No one wants to have to buy a new dehumidifier every time summer comes around. Whether you’re using your dehumidifier all year or only during particular months, it’s essential to observe proper usage and maintenance for optimal functioning and longevity.

  • Getting the right size dehumidifier for your space is the first step in maintaining its efficiency. If you use a dehumidifier with a smaller capacity than you need, it makes the job harder and also takes longer than it should be. Next, find the best location for your dehumidifier. Make sure that the air can flow freely on its way in and out of the unit. It is recommended to maintain at least 6-8 inches distance from walls or furniture to allow for breathing room. 
  • Select the right humidity settings. Most compressor dehumidifiers feature an onboard humidistat to automatically adjust the room humidity to your setting. The compressor stops when the current humidity is lower than your target and starts back up when it rises again. It’s important that you pick the correct settings for the location and application. The ideal range for the average person is 30-50%. Turn off the dehumidifier if it’s not needed. This way there’s less noise and you’re also saving energy.
  • Any appliance needs frequent cleaning to maintain proper functioning and prolong its life. Dehumidifiers typically require little maintenance, but you must still check up on your unit from time to time. It collects dust, lint, and all sorts of impurities in the air and these may accumulate inside the unit. To ensure your health and comfort and keep your dehumidifier in excellent condition, clean the unit at least every few weeks. Use a damp cloth with soapy water to wipe the exterior, then vacuum the inside to remove any remaining dirt. Don’t forget to wash and rinse the tank or drain hose.
  • Clean or replace the filter when needed. Dehumidifiers come with at least one filter to catch impurities in the air. Dirt and bacteria may accumulate in the filter and eventually get in the air. This can also cause the unit to malfunction. Most filters are easily washable and each dehumidifier has a recommended period in which you need to change out the filters. Check the manufacturer’s instructions on filter cleaning and replacement to be sure.