Dehumidifiers: a cautionary tale

Submitted by Ben on Tue, 05/12/2009 - 15:41

Back in September, I wrote about our frustration in trying to follow Consumer Reports' guidance in buying appliances, including a dehumidifier.  Then in November I reported on the energy consumption of our appliances, including the dehumidifier, which was the number one energy hog in the house, costing us an estimated $593.09 per year to maintain the relative humidity at 50% (dry enough to keep mold from growing).

Well, I had hoped that the ($$$$) improvements to our foundation and basement windows would pay for themselves by bringing down the humidity and allowing the dehumidifier to run less often.  No such luck -- it ran more each month, even when we had no precipitation.  It got louder, too, with grinding and gurgling, driving me to distraction like the Telltale Heart.  This was a model (Comfort-Aire BHD-651-D) that had been specifically recommended by Consumer Reports for being quiet and efficient, for pete's sake!  If you look at the reviews on Amazon now, though, you will see that other people have since had similar problems with this model -- not the case last year when we were looking at it.

Frigidaire FDF70S1But was the humidistat broken, or was it low on coolant?  Without another dehumidifier to compare it to, I didn't know for certain that there was even a problem... maybe the basement was just getting more humid, and the machine had to work harder to keep up.  So finally this weekend we bought another Frigidaire dehumidifier (pictured at left), the big brother of the one we originally bought (and returned) back in September.  Ah, quiet!  And it reached 50%RH in no time.  I put the Kill A Watt meter on it for a couple days and found it averaging only 341 Watts, which translates to about $371.33 per year... and which means that (compared to the Comfort-Aire) it will pay for itself in less than a year!

I've contacted Heat Controller, Inc. (parent company of Comfort Aire) to request service.  But here's my advice to anyone with a damp basement:

  1. Check the reviews at a site like Amazon before you buy.  Don't rely on Consumer Reports, particularly if CR doesn't review the other brands that are available to you.  (We initially went with the Comfort-Aire because CR did not review Frigidaire.)  And contribute your reviews if you're satisfied or unsatisfied with the model you've got!
  2. If you already have a dehumidifier and it runs a lot, meter it and find out how much it's costing you.  If it's averaging more than 400 watts, you can probably save money with a larger unit.  Which brings us to our third point...
  3. Bigger is probably better, from what I can tell.  Dehumidifiers are rated by how many pints of water they can remove in a day.  The first Frigidaire we bought was 50 pints/day, the Comfort-Aire was 65, and the new Frigidaire is 70.  The cost difference is only about $20 between the two Frigidaire models, but the Comfort Aire was almost $100 more!  So unless you have a really small space to work with, spend the extra $20 and be prepared -- you will probably save that much or more in a year.