Dehumidification product sales are on the rise as building envelopes become tighter and more end users become educated about the benefits of humidity control. In fact, the global dehumidifier market is expected to grow from $1.93 billion in 2013 to $2.97 billion by 2020, according to a recent report by Transparency Market Research.
PORTABLES ON THE RISE
According to Tom Kelly, vice president, sales and marketing integration, air quality, Haier America, the use of portable dehumidifiers has slowly been creeping down the east coast.
“Historically, this was a product used north of the Mason-Dixon and east of the Mississippi River, predominantly in basements,” he said. “Weather conditions, environmental conditions, and housing construction drove demand.
“In the past, you might have seen 75-80 percent of sales in the upper-right quadrant of the U.S.,” he said. “Now, about 20 percent of business occurs in the South Atlantic region.”
Weather-related humidity is driving the demand in the Southeast, Kelly said. “It’s strictly a matter of getting the humidity level down, whether it’s in a living space above grade or a below-grade environment used strictly for storage. When you start getting into 60, 70, or 80 percent relative humidity (rh), all kinds of bad things happen with mold and mildew; furniture starts absorbing moisture and swelling up, and, when it dries out, it tends to crack. There are a host of reasons why people are buying these products.”
Using a portable dehumidifier is an excellent way to address humidity problems in older homes, Kelly said.
“I live in an 80-year-old home in New Jersey, and we have steam heat, so we don’t have any ductwork running through the house. So, for us, a whole-home dehumidifier really isn’t an option because it’s typically hooked up to a central air conditioning and heating system. For a lot of people, especially those living in older homes, a portable dehumidifier is an absolute necessity, not so much by design, but because they don’t have that central system available to apply a whole-home dehumidifier.”
Additionally, portable dehumidifiers are beginning to include more electronic features, such as ways to adjust humidity much more precisely, timer options for run times, reminders to clean the filter, and alarms to let end users know the bucket needs to be emptied.
“Also, we’re starting to see more units with a pump system built into them,” Kelly said. “So, customers that don’t have access to a place where they can let the water drain out of the unit by gravity can pump them up into a laundry sink, air conditioning drain system, or even to the outside through a basement window or something of that nature.”
“Installing a permanent dehumidifier system is expensive and unnecessary in most dehumidification applications,” Peery said. “Portable dehumidifier units are used only when a moisture problem occurs. It may be a seasonal application when temperatures and relative humidity levels rise or when water damage occurs from a storm or broken water pipe.”
Peery said he’s seeing more high-cfm refrigerative units with electric reheat being used in the dehumidifier industry. “Our end users are using larger machines to tackle larger projects. By controlling the project temperature with the electric reheat function, larger amounts of moisture are being removed with the larger dehumidifier machines.”
Nikki Krueger, marketing manager, Therma-Stor LLC, which manufactures Ultra-Aire and Sante Fe brands, said Sante Fe’s portable units are most commonly used in basements and crawlspaces where people want to protect their valuable belongings and the structure of their home.
“If a home has a crawl space, it should have a dehumidifier in it to control the moisture ingress penetrating through the walls, imperfections in the envelope, and the ground,” Krueger said. “Basements will need dehumidification, as well, due to being located below ground and the natural presence of water vapor pushing through the floor and walls. Lots of homes these days have partially finished basements with furniture, electronics, and other valuables that need to be protected from high rh levels. Even if the basement is not finished, a dehumidifier is highly recommended in order to protect the foundation of the home.”
Kevin Graebel, director, IAQ business, Honeywell Intl. Inc., agreed that there are applications where portable dehumidifiers make more sense than whole-home solutions. “If you are in a space that’s relatively small — maybe just one room in the basement — and you want to be able to remove moisture from it, or maybe you want to reduce the moisture level over a narrow period of time, typically, portable units are less expensive, and you don’t have to pay for the labor cost to get them installed. You can pick it up on a weekend visit to your favorite retail store as opposed to calling up a contractor. If it really is a spot problem, a portable unit is a great way to remove spot issues. The problem becomes how you define what is a spot issue versus what is a larger issue.”
THE WHOLE-HOME SOLUTION
Basements in Northern climates, which tend to be more humid than the rest of the home, are examples where a whole-home solution may be the better option, according to Graebel.
“A lot of the times, it’s because there is not a great vapor barrier on the walls of the basement, so moisture comes in from the Earth. This is an issue that’s not easily fixed,” he said. “It’s going to keep happening all year-round, especially in the summer. People assume, ‘Oh, it’s just the basement, I can solve that with a portable dehumidifier.’ But, I’ve spoken with homeowners and contractors, and people are putting in up to three units because of the lack of airflow. The portables are just not able to keep up.
A whole-home dehumidifier that can be installed and integrated within the ductwork and get much better circulation going will do a much better job dehumidifying a basement — even if it’s not a whole-home problem.”
Whole-home dehumidifiers may also help preserve wood flooring and furniture, provide a health benefit by reducing mold growth and dust mites, and increase energy savings within a home, according to Mike Rimrodt, marketing director, Aprilaire.
“We recommend that contractors separate the set point for humidity control and temperature control,” Rimrodt said. “An air conditioner has the ability to dehumidify as part of its solution, but it isn’t dedicated to rh, and it will turn off when temperature set point is met. When you install a whole-home solution, you can raise your temperature setting and still be comfortable. A byproduct of installing a dehumidifier is energy savings because the air conditioner is going to run less often.”
“If it’s 78°F and there’s not very much humidity in the air, it’s a beautiful day,” explained Randy Lenz, product specialist, Aprilaire. “If it’s a 75° day with high humidity, you just feel yucky — everything feels sticky. Everybody thinks it’s the heat, but it’s the humidity that makes you feel that way. So, people end up driving their thermostats down to 68° when all they’re trying to do is reduce the RH in the house. You don’t feel comfortable at 68°, that’s too cold. It’s better to control the humidity with a dehumidifier and set the thermostat to a higher, more comfortable temperature.”
Just the sheer number of portable dehumidifiers in “a lot of brands that most people have not heard of before” is proof a problem exists, and that problem is growing, noted Kris Robertson, product manager, Source 1™ Parts, a Johnson Controls business. “A lot of that relates to the way homes are built now — they’re tighter and better insulated, which leads to fewer air changes with outdoor air over the course of a day. So, if you have indoor sources of moisture that create a need for dehumidification, that’s going to be exacerbated by tighter construction.
“With a more tightly insulated space, the run times on the climate control equipment are often decreased, so it doesn’t take as long to cool a space to the set point,” Robertson continued. “But, the fact that you’re running the air conditioner for a shorter period of time reduces the amount of dehumidification that’s happening via the air conditioner. Often times, a residual need for additional dehumidification is required without overcooling. So, a whole-home dehumidifier is a great option there.”
“Ultra-Aire whole-house dehumidifiers also feature a dedicated fresh-air ventilation duct — all but the smallest 70-pint unit which can be ducted into the return — in order to supply fresh air to dilute indoor air pollutants,” Krueger added. “Dedicated dehumidification is especially important in the shoulder seasons and in the evenings, when the air conditioning is not operating or hasn’t run long enough to remove enough moisture from the air.”
Builders and homeowners alike are increasingly aware of the issues associated with high humidity in a home or occupied space, according to Anubhav Ranjan, director of product management, Lennox Intl. Inc. “Today’s homeowners are much more health-conscious and aware of the benefits of humidity control when it comes to the importance in treating conditions such as allergies and asthma. Manufacturers are also discussing how books, clothing, and even food products can stay in better condition and not develop mildew odor if humidified appropriately.”
Ranjan said he believes products that use a combination of desiccant technology and mechanical refrigeration will evolve in the coming years.
“There will be additional development around membrane technology capable of rejecting humidity only from the space as well as the continued growth of ventilation in combination with dehumidification technology to control the indoor environment,” said Ranjan. “Combinations of products, home systems, and controls will be developed to maintain a conditioned space in the ideal range, which is inhospitable to microorganisms, mold, mildew, etc., yet, with sufficient moisture to prevent irritation to sinus and lung tissue.”
Graebel believes the dehumidifier sector will only continue to grow as contractors pursue proper selling techniques. “It’s a bigger investment up front, but the benefits are very noticeable for the people willing to do that. It’s also a great way for contractors to improve their profit margins. One of the things Honeywell has been working on the last couple of years is finding ways for contractors to become more profitable in their businesses by offering more value-added solutions to homeowners. It’s really a win-win because the homeowners are happy with what they’ve purchased, it gets them more excited, and they’ll recommend it to their friends. The contractor then gets more referrals out of the deal, and they make more profit on the customers they already know.”
The dehumidifier market will not escape the multitude of regulatory actions facing the HVACR industry. The U.S. Department of Energy (DOE) issued a pre-publication Federal Register notice of a final rule concerning test procedures for dehumidifiers on June 26. Additionally, the DOE recently hosted a public meeting regarding proposed energy-efficiency standards for dehumidifiers.
According to Kelly, the changes in test procedures could have a damaging impact to the market. According to the new rule, room conditions for testing will change from 80º and 60 percent rh to 65º and 60 percent rh. Preliminary testing shows a current 65-pint dehumidifier would yield a 45-pint capacity under the new conditions.
“The same unit tested under new conditions will have about a 25 percent reduced capacity indicated on it, even though it’s going to remove the same amount of moisture it always did,” Kelly said. “It’s going to be a difficult time for manufacturers and retailers to explain to customers why a unit historically marked as a 65-pint dehumidifier might now be marked as a 45-pint unit after the new testing regulations take effect. A lot of our business is in the replacement market. People have had dehumidifiers and, they’re happy with the performance of their old units. They’re going to look for a similar pint size, but, when this takes effect, it’s going to be a bit of an education challenge.”
Additionally, a 65-pint unit in the marketplace is going to be significantly more expensive than a 65-pint unit today because it really would be a larger capacity unit, Kelly noted.
Publication date: 8/10/2015