Does a Dehumidifier Work for the Whole House?


Humid air in the hot weather can become a reason for an uncomfortable environment in the house. The moisture in the air makes it feel warmer as the sweat evaporation becomes slower.

Dehumidifiers are an excellent solution to the humid environment. Dehumidifiers decrease the air’s moisture and make the air quality comfortable for a living but does a dehumidifier work for the whole house? A whole-house dehumidifier works efficiently in decreasing the humidity level of the entire house, while a single portable dehumidifier works in a smaller area like the basement and is insufficient for the whole house. When you add up how many portable dehumidifiers you’ll need to cover the entire area of the home, you’ll realize that a whole-house dehumidifier is more energy-efficient to run over the years.

Most people don’t know the benefits of having a whole-house dehumidifier; therefore, it should be discussed in detail.


How a Dehumidifier Works

A dehumidifier works similar to an air conditioner, but when dealing with high humidity levels, a dehumidifier installed in line with your HVAC system is more beneficial than a portable dehumidifier.

A dehumidifier takes the air inside the machine from one side of the grille. This warm and dense air is then passed over the cold coils through a fan. These cold coils make the air cold, and the excess moisture in the air is transformed into water. The water drips are collected in a tank, which needs to be maintained to avoid mold growth.

This cold air then is heated to its original temperature with a heat recovery system and is then pushed back out in the room from the other side of the dehumidifier.

The ideal humidity level inside the house should be between 35 to 50%, as this level of humidity is not favorable for mold and other mildew to grow. Moreover, it makes the environment inside the house more pleasant.


Signs that Your Home Needs a Dehumidifier

Suppose you are noticing black spots of mold on the wall, water on the windows, or a damp and musty smell in the air. It’s is an indication of high humidity level in the house. High humidity levels make the air quality of a house poor as it gives mold a chance to grow and spread. Moreover, it can trigger various allergens and cause respiratory problems.

The following are some signs and misconceptions to look out for to help you control the humidity in the house.


Facing Uncomfortable Environment

Our body sweats to decrease its temperature in the warm weather, and when sweat dries, we feel cooler. Due to excess moisture in the air, the sweat of the body doesn’t dry in humid weather, and you feel sticky. Humid air makes you feel as if the temperature in a room is warmer than what it really is.

This humid temperature becomes a reason for an uncomfortable environment in the house, making you lazy and affects your health.


Condensation on Windows

In the winter season, the windows often get wet from the inside of condensation and indicate that the humidity level is high. 

You can remove this problem by installing a dehumidifier in the whole house directly connecting to the existing ductwork of the HVAC.


Water Stains On Walls

Water stains on the walls are another sign of a humid environment. Water stains on the walls and ceilings, if they are not due to leaks, are simply signs of high humidity inside the house during the winter season. As the exterior walls are in between a cold winter externally and a heated interior, the moisture of cold areas condenses because of this major temperature difference.

If these water stains are not noticed, and the humidity level is not decreased, they might worsen.


Mold Growth

If you see black spores of mold growing on the walls, it is also an indication that the environment is humid. Mold grows in a humid environment, and its spores move freely in the air. If the mold spores are inhaled, they can lead to health risks.

People with asthma problems can get severe attacks, and other allergens might also trigger humidity in the house.


Your HVAC Alone Can’t Dehumidify

The air conditioner also works as a dehumidifier and removes moisture from the air.

One might think that installing a large HVAC system might be a good idea as it works efficiently and decreases the temperature quickly, but you shouldn’t expect your HVAC to single-handedly take care of humidity of your home, no matter what its size is.

If your HVAC is constantly on without automatically shutting down in between cycles and yet, the air is still hot and humid, it’s a sign that it’s being overworked.

And since you already have a HVAC system, might as well modify it so you can use it for dehumidification more effectively before it gets overworked and breaks down on you. You can reduce the level of humidity by connecting a whole-home dehumidifier to the ductwork.


Benefits of Installing a Whole-Home Dehumidifier

A whole-home dehumidifier is better in various ways than a portable dehumidifier, and here are the reasons why:


Capacity to Remove Moisture

Whole-house dehumidifier have a greater capacity of removing moisture from a home than a portable dehumidifier does.

That’s because the capacity of moisture that it can remove from the air is typically measured at a 60% level of relative humidity (RH) with whole house dehumidifier. This is a standard set up by the Association of Home Applicance Manufacturers (AHAM), also known as the AHAM standard.

On the other hand, portable dehumidifiers are often tested at much higher relative humidity starting points, usually at 80% RH. Manufacturers of portable dehumidifiers often present their products at these humidity levels and not many of them follow the AHAM standard.

So why does this matter? 

Imagine this –

If someone told you to collect a bucket of rain in a 24-hour period, would it be easier to do when it’s pouring heavy rain outside, or when it’s just drizzling for a few minutes here and there?

Exactly my point.

If a dehumidifier is being advertised with statistics at 80% RH, of course, it will be able to collect many pints of water in a given period. If you really were to do an apples-to-apples comparison at a 60% RH between a whole house dehumidifier versus a portable dehumidifier, you’d find that the portable dehumidifier extracts far less moisture.

So be careful when reading manufacturer’s claims about portable dehumidifiers and make sure you understand how this applies to the real world (meaning, the starting humidity and temperature levels in your home).

Speaking of temperature, that’s also another thing that can affect the capacity for a dehumidifier to remove moisture. Take a look at the graph below. It not only shows just how different a portable dehumidifier’s capacity actually changes with RH changes from 80% to 60%, but it also shows how it changes at different temperatures.


(Source: EcoSeb user manual)


(Yes, this graph also shows that a desiccant dehumidifier is a better choice than a compressor dehumidifier. You can read about that in this post. Now, back to the topic of a whole-house dehumidifier and its benefits!)



A whole-house dehumidifier is connected to the house’s ductwork and removes the moisture from the entire house more efficiently. Simultaneously, the portable dehumidifiers have weaker fans, which cannot flow through the entire house or even a little larger area than a room.

In an actual, real home, a portable dehumidifier simply does not have the same airflow as advertised. Inside temperatures are constantly changing, inhabitants breathing, cooking, and taking showers constantly contribute to more humidity, furniture blocks airflow – you get the point.



Whole-house dehumidifiers are made up of good materials and have a longer life span than portable dehumidifiers. Moreover, a portable dehumidifier collects moisture in a tank, which has to be emptied after a while, and when it uses a drain hose, it can be difficult to configure and maintain that as well.

Having to crack a window open or creating a hole in the exterior so that a portable dehumidifier’s hose can drain to the outside is not always feasible for everyone.

The whole-house dehumidifiers send the extracted water from the moisture directly to a drain hose as well, but at least your entire home is being dehumidified instead of just one small area with a portable dehumidifier.

And since we’re on the topic of performance, you’ll need to be careful that your portable dehumidifier’s coils doesn’t freeze, which is very typical. Many homeowners install a portable dehumidifier in a basement and forget about it, only to find out that their electrical bill went through the roof for a dehumidifier that was just blowing air and not really working because its coils were constantly frozen.

Don’t let that happen to you. It’s better to go with a whole-house dehumidifier if you can afford one at the start, than to constantly have to get new portable dehumidifiers that break down every few years. Plus, by the time you add up just how many portable dehumidifiers you’d really need to get even near the same results as one portable whole-house dehumidifier, you’ll find that the portable dehumidifiers will probably cost you 3 to 4 times more per month in electricity bills.

A whole-house dehumidifier simply performs so much better.


Portable vs. Whole-House Dehumidifier

Here are the pros and cons of a portable and whole-home dehumidifier that can help you select the best one for your house.


Whole-House Dehumidifier Pros and Cons


  1. It automatically controls the level of humidity in the house
  2. It has low sound and is located out of sight
  3. It is energy-efficient
  4. They have a better life span as their quality is good
  5. Lower monthly electricity bill is multiple times lower than for portable dehumidifiers
  6. Unlike most portable dehumidifiers, you will most likely have a warranty on it and not just throw it out
  7. Can get your air down to the lower relative humidity range (down to 45% to 35% RH), something that is virtually impossible to do with most portable compressor dehumidifiers



  1. It is expensive to purchase and usually costs over $1,200 plus installation
  2. It isn’t effortless to install and requires a professional’s help
  3. It takes more space and is heavy


Portable Dehumidifier Pros and Cons



  1. It is less expensive
  2. It is easy to move as it has casters
  3. It is easy to operate
  4. It is easier to install
  5. Also can extract water using a drain hose



  1. Its life span is less than the whole-house dehumidifier; it isn’t unusual for it to barely last a year if you don’t keep it up or clean and store it away during the winter
  2. It is louder as placed in the room
  3. You have to empty the tank filled with moisture frequently if you don’t use the drain hose
  4. It is insufficient for the whole house and you may find yourself having to buy several to get the proper coverage
  5. They are less energy efficient and can quickly shoot up your monthly electricity bill
  6. There won’t be enough space to place a portable dehumidifier on the floor of small bathrooms or other humid areas in your home


Related Questions

Is it cheap to run a dehumidifier or AC?

The dehumidifier consumes more energy than the air conditioners, but air conditioners are less efficient in reducing the humidity than the dehumidifiers. If you purchase a dehumidifier with sensor optimal fan speed, it can lower your energy cost.


How to identify the need for a whole-house dehumidifier?

If you notice moisture on the windows or water vapors on the walls, it is time to get a dehumidifier. There are many other signs like mold growth and stale air, which indicate the high level of humidity. 

If the humidity level is higher than 50%, your house needs a dehumidifier as humidity affects both the interior of the house and the health of the family. Anything over 70% RH is a must as this is the optimal environment for mold growth.


How much time does a whole-house dehumidifier take to dehumidify the house?

The duration of removing humidity from the house depends on the humidity and the dehumidifier’s capacity. If the whole-house dehumidifier is connected to the ductwork, it will work more efficiently and quickly remove the humidity.

But we’re talking just a few hours here for a whole-house dehumidifier, maybe up to 12-24 hours for higher starting humidity levels.

Otherwise, it can take days to remove humidity while using a portable dehumidifier. And if a portable dehumidifier still is struggling after a week or two, chances are, it’s either faulty or too small for the space.


What should I look for in a dehumidifier while purchasing?

The dehumidifier should be of the right capacity. If the humidity level is on and off depending on seasonality, then you can save money by purchasing an energy-efficient portable dehumidifier.

Another point that you should pay attention to is water capacity if you plan on using the tank instead of the hose to drain.