March 19, 2017 by Blake

I don't want to belabor the point, but houses have evolved.

It used to be that houses were uninsulated and air-leaky.  They'd get wet, they'd dry out.  And energy was so cheap that we could afford to pump them full of heat to help them dry out.  It was kind of like putting your house in the dryer.

Then we started worrying about things like energy and climate change, and had to start thinking about how our houses would behave if we did things to them, like tightening them up (to save energy and make them more comfortable) and adding insulation (to make them more comfortable and save energy).  Part 1 was about how houses get wet and need help drying out, and if they don't, you get problems.  It's a short summary of moisture issues, but you can read more about it if you want.

A big dehumidifier will dry your house out and help save it.  Your house will be drier, your air quality will improve, your house will be healthier, and you'll feel better.  What would you rather wear, a damp sweater or a dry sweater?

If you take that step towards a high-quality dehumidifier, possibilities open up.  Let's say you want air conditioning.  "Central air" costs, at a minimum, about four thousand dollars.  Nobody reputable that I know installs AC for less than that (often it's more).  That assumes that you have a furnace (which means you have ductwork) that can handle having AC mounted on it.  If you have a boiler, you're basically out of luck.  You'll have to go in a different direction, and that usually means window units.

But I have a furnace, and I don't have central AC, and I have window shakers, and they keep my whole house cool.  And my house is not small.

My secret is my big dehumidifier.  It's the engine that drives my air conditioning system, because a dehumidifier is basically just an air conditioner anyway.  The big difference is that in a dehumidifier, the whole system is in one box, inside your house.  In an "air conditioner," there's an inside unit and an outside unit, and they're connected by tubes of refrigerant.  The inside unit sucks the moisture out of the air and removes some heat from it too, and the outside unit dumps that heat.  That's why it's got a big fan in it, to blow the heat away.

If you mash these inside & outside units together, you get a dehumidifier.  Then you put it in your house, it dries the air, there's still some heat hanging around...and that heat stays in your house.  So your house is drier, but not cooler.  And "air conditioning" has to do TWO things:

  1. Cool the air;
  2. Dry the air.

If it cools the air but doesn't dry it, it's not an air CONDITIONER.  It's an air COOLER.  And if you cool the air without removing the moisture, you get cool, clammy air.  Ew.  If you want to know more, download this free guide.  It's FREE and has the benefits of being helpful and easy to understand!

And that's how I have air-conditioning-without-an-air-conditioner.  I use a big dehumidifier and a couple of the smallest window units you can get.  Since I already needed a big dehumidifier anyway, I just added a couple of small store-bought things and now I have, essentially, "free" air conditioning.

Along the way, I saved thousands of dollars.  I could have installed central AC, but that would only have run occasionally during the summer, and wouldn't have performed the dehumidification I needed during those cooler, damper times in the shoulder seasons.

I love big dehumidifiers, mostly because they're things that you can get a lot of value out of.  Since they're useful during more months out of the year, they're more a part of your home's mechanical system - more like your water heater than your furnace.  And if they're on more often, they:

  • filter more;
  • help you with your allergies and asthma more;
  • keep your house healthier for longer;
  • circulate the air more;
  • even the temperatures out;
  • keep your house fresher.

A big dehumidifier can be a great part of a whole-house system.  In my case, it's combined with excellent overall airtightness in my home (some control over air leakage is an important piece of the puzzle) and is attached to a duct system that is sealed so completely that there's almost zero leakage.  This ensures that my dry air goes to the living spaces, where the people are.  And when the dehumidifier runs along with a couple of tiny window units, great things happen in my 2200 square-foot house.

See that?  In the middle of summer, during one of Ithaca's heat waves, my system reduced the temperature by 7 degrees and the humidity by 17%.  The humidity reduction is what really kept my family comfortable - 50% is a good target to aim for.

I used to say that Ithaca was air-conditioned all the time.  There was always that two-week period where my wife and I would debate air conditioning.  But lately, it seems like those hot periods have stretched out for longer, and that they're muggier.

I resisted air conditioning for many years, and I used to work in a swamp.  Everybody down there has air conditioning.  Up here the issues are different.  The housing stock is different, the seasons are different, the amount of moisture in the environment is different - Ithaca's definitely different, all right.

Big dehumidifiers solve lots of problems and are simple.  If you've always wanted air conditioning, give me a shout and we'll figure out a good plan for you.  Maybe it's central AC.  Maybe it's a heat pump.  Lot of talk about heat pumps these days...that's a topic for another day, whether or not a heat pump is worth it for you.  I'm not convinced that it is, and I've been using heat pumps for several years.

Bottom line, there's no one-size-fits-all solution, and you should have something that works for you.  Sometimes, it's the simplest thing.

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