Officials at several companies that sell moisture-control HVAC products cite a variety of developments, including new codes that require tighter building envelopes, the drive for greater energy efficiency in HVAC systems, and wetter weather, in saying they see a growing awareness of the benefits of residential dehumidification.
But it’s the coronavirus pandemic, now entering its third year, that’s pushed IAQ in general — optimum humidity plus air filtration and purification — to the forefront.
APRILAIRE: AprilAire’s E080 whole-home dehumidifier covers up to 4,400 square feet of indoor space and can pull up to 10 gallons a day. (Courtesy of AprilAire)
“The pandemic changed everything,” said Damian Mannino, a senior product marketing manager at AprilAire, which has a line of whole-house dehumidifiers in addition to thermostats, humidifiers, air purifiers, and more. “Consumers are hyper-aware of the impact the air they breathe has on their health — especially as they spend more time in their homes.”
“We have seen a huge uptick in sales of our dehumidifiers since the start of the pandemic,” said Nikki Krueger, director of marketing and business development at the Santa Fe brand of dehumidifiers for residential and light commercial use, which are built by Therma-Stor.
Homeowner comments to Santa Fe, Krueger said, indicate many realized their homes were uncomfortable after spending more time in them during the pandemic.
“This, combined with the extensive media coverage of ventilation, filtration, and humidity control, resulted in a huge increase in sales,” Krueger said.
Maintaining a healthy indoor humidity is important in maximizing comfort and controlling mold growth as well as allergens, viruses, and other harmful airborne particles.
Humidity levels can also affect how hard heating and air conditioning systems have to work. A change in relative humidity of four percentage points, up or down, feels like a 1°F temperature change, according to the AprilAire website.
The American Society of Heating, Refrigeration, Air Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) recommends maintaining a relative humidity of between 40% and 60% in the home. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in an online booklet on IAQ, generally recommends a relative humidity in the home of between 30% and 50%.
YORK BRAND: This fan-powered York Affinity whole-home dehumidifier can take up to 18 gallons a day of moisture out of the air. (Courtesy of York / Johnson Controls)
Manufacturers say the greater focus on dehumidification can translate into business for HVAC contractors. Tom Tasker, a product manager at Johnson Controls, which offers the York brand of HVAC products, including dehumidifiers, referred to a 2021 York study that found that nearly 62% of homeowners said their IAQ needed improvement.
“It truly is the perfect time for contractors to start the conversation with homeowners, as indoor air quality awareness is at an all-time high,” said Krueger.
Contractors should be ready to educate homeowners on the benefits of dehumidification and IAQ, manufacturers said.
“There is a new opportunity for dealers to educate homeowners, not only in the benefits of individual products but also in the synergy between IAQ products,” said Tasker. “Proper humidity control obviously improves comfort, but it also interacts with filtration and UV-C (germicidal ultraviolet light) products in a way that increases their effectiveness.”
In addition, contractors should stress that proper indoor humidity is important in protecting the structure of the home itself as well as the belongings inside, such as furniture.
RESIDEO: The Resideo Honeywell Home whole-home DR 120 dehumidifier can take up to 15 gallons of moisture out of the air per day. (Courtesy of Resideo)
“It is helpful to look at the initial cost as an investment that not only benefits the occupants, but also helps protect the homeowner’s valuable and expensive assets,” said Hossam Rasheed, a senior product marketing manager at Resideo, which offers a whole-home dehumidification system and a thermostat with room sensors that can measure humidity.
“The cost of fixing or replacing these assets could be much higher than the initial investment to install a dehumidifier in the system,” Rasheed added.
Krueger suggested that residential HVAC contractors note when a customer has a portable air cleaner or dehumidifier in the home, and use that to start a conversation about IAQ and dehumidification.
“Presenting them with a commercial-grade, whole-home solution with a six-year warranty is not as hard to sell once the homeowners understand the value and benefits the units provide,” she said.
Contractors, Krueger also said, can link dehumidification to greater energy efficiency.
“Overcooling to control relative humidity is not an effective or economical answer,” she said. “The ‘AC’ in HVAC cannot be counted on for dehumidification anymore. Most homes need dedicated dehumidification in green-grass climates.”
Mannino pointed out that many homeowners are looking for ways to expand their living space. When that includes basement renovations, he said, that leads to greater interest in dehumidification in many regions of the U.S.
Successful contractors, said Mannino, “see their role as an educator who gets to know their customers and homes and is able to point out things going on in the home that affect air quality and health, then identify ways to solve these problems.”
Manufacturers say they’re looking out for contractors when designing dehumidification products.
Mannino, at AprilAire, said his company came out with a line of dehumidifiers — the E Series — in 2021 “after spending time on job sites with contractors seeing their pain points firsthand and listening to their ideas.” Contractors have been reacting positively to the new line, he said, which includes upgrades such as a built-in level that makes it easier to balance the unit, a drain system that eliminates the need for a P-trap, and a digital interface that makes setup and servicing more efficient.
“Our recommended install is the simplest and most energy-efficient install option — dedicated return to the dehumidifier, and tie the supply of the dehumidifier to the HVAC supply,” said Krueger, at Santa Fe.
That’s one of only two installation methods allowed by the building code in Florida, she said. Florida is generally listed as the state with the second-highest relative humidity.
“We always include their feedback from the field in the product-development process in order to provide solutions that enable their success,” said Rasheed, at Resideo. The company, he added, also provides best-practice training materials to distributors and contractors.