Wet Weather Confessions of a Delinquent Green Home Blogger

Wet Weather And In Home HumidityBy Trish Holder

Forgive me readers for I have broken my trend.

It has be two weeks since my last posting instead of my normal 5 -7 days.  But I’ve been trapped under a huge mass of humidity.  Furthermore, the relentless wet weather we’ve been having has led me to have inappropriate thoughts of moving to Utah.  Fortunately, given my huge aversion to canyons, I’m not likely to follow through with this impulse.

Seriously, the unusually wet weather has left me in a weakened state of mind and body, if not in spirit.  Not only is the weather affecting my knee joints, which are noisier than ever, but managing the moisture load in my home has become yet another daily task I must do – like walking the dog and cleaning out the litter box.

I purchased a portable dehumidifier this spring thinking it would get us through the shoulder seasons when the outdoor temperature is too cool for the air conditioner to operate enough to dehumidify the air—primarily spring and early fall.  I anticipated being able to retire the dehumidifier by the end of June, when surely our usual 90-degree days and drought summer conditions would kick in.  Now it’s the middle of July and that still hasn’t happened and the 70-pint dehumidifier I bought has been running pretty much non-stop since the day I first plugged it in.  I hate consuming that energy, but I also hate waking up to 68% humidity in my home.  Cool nights keep the air conditioning from coming on while the rain we’ve had keeps moisture accumulating inside the home while we sleep.  It’s a bad combination for indoor comfort, especially in the morning.

That’s what we’ve been facing here in North Carolina, where Raleigh has reported only two days over 90-degrees this year.  Compare that to 39 days in 2012 and 51 days in 2011.  At the same time, cumulative rainfall in the Raleigh-Durham area has be over 19-inches since April 15, which is a whopping 9-inches above average!

25+ Gallons of Moisture A Day!

I’m fairly astounded by the amount of moisture the dehumidifier is pulling out of the air in my home – over 25 gallons in less than a 24-hour period.  I do not have it connected to a drain by a hose, so I actually have to manually empty the 70-pint bucket at least three times a day.  If I actually got up in the middle of the night to empty the bucket I’m sure my totals would exceed 30-gallons. When the bucket fills up, an internal float shuts the unit off, so the bucket doesn’t overflow.  It’s not exactly an ideal solution but as I mentioned, I hadn’t expected to need it quite this long.  As it is, I’m managing to keep the humidity in my home in the low 50’s with the dehumidifier and limited operation of my air conditioning system.

All this hands-on dehumidification has taught me a few lessons – and created some additional questions.  First, I was hesitant to purchase a larger dehumidification unit because of the price jump between a 70-pint unit and anything higher.  I researched a lot of consumer opinions on the web before I decided to purchase a 70-pint unit for $250.00.  My main concern was that I would get a few years operation out of it before it went caput.  Portable dehumidifiers are notorious for not lasting very long.  I wonder now if I’d been better off with a larger unit that would occasionally turn off.  But higher capacity units tend to have more bells and whistles than I thought I needed for my seasonal requirements and they also cost a lot more.

If we had a floor drain we could operate this unit continuously without my having to empty it three times a day since it does have a hose attachment feature.  Unfortunately, we don’t have a location that would allow the unit to drain by gravity.  Other more expensive units offer the convenience of a built-in pump to push the water through a hose and into a sink drain.  The unit we have is pretty rudimentary with a fan, cooling coil, washable filter, and a built-in drain bucket.  But, according to the reviews I read, it has a decent track record for longevity.  So that’s what I chose, since there’s almost someone in the home to dump the bucket.

That brings up another dilemma which I’ve yet to solve.  What should I do with all that water?  I hate pouring it down the drain, and occasionally I do lug it out to water some plants on the porch.  But, given all the rainfall we’re having, we hardly need the extra irrigation for our predominantly drought resistant plantings.

I’d love to hear what other homeowners in waterlogged parts of the country are doing to maintain reasonable indoor humidity in their homes.  Like I said, I know my solution is imperfect but it was a compromise based on lifestyle, budget, and our intermittent needs.  Your solution for seasonal indoor humidity may have broader appeal.  Either way, I’d like to hear about it!

P.S. I can’t really blame the weather for my week-late post.  That had more to do with kids, work, and vacation.  But the part about my knees is completely true.


3 Responses »

  1. Hello again Trish.

    This is a great article outlining your challenges with humidity all while trying to stay “Green”. Staying “Green” takes a lot of effort and hard work to keep up with mother nature. The question is, are you ambitious enough to maintain those water filled buckets year over year? For those who have followed your well thought out construction process, we now get to see a close up of one of those “Green” draw backs in HVAC design. Mother Natures fury of heat and unbearable humidity.

    “Comfort planning” is a real draw back for many Green homes. Many consumers do not want energy miser appliances installed during the planning and construction phase. In retro fit applications the energy miser is rarely visited due to construction cost over runs. The granite countertop is priority over dehumidification. The whole house dehumidifier is one of those over looked energy misers. Most believe that the A/C alone will solve the issue of humidity. A well designed one can. When poor planning is the case, many HVAC systems need an additional retrofit to accommodate the special unpredictable needs of mother nature.

    Mother nature is relentless and unpredictable with this global warming effect! This is where the law of averages back fired in many home HVAC planning stages. Now here comes the basket of should have’s, the almighty whole house dehumidifier which empties itself. Every home should have one of these dehumidifiers installed as a dedicated system in the basement (Aprilaire 1710a) and one dedicated to the remainder of the house. (This model depends on a few variables) This can simply mean sleep tonight or sleep at work where it’s more comfortable.

    Humidity is a real problem for many consumers who live in tight and loose homes alike. Tight homes generate a larger problem. They trap high levels of volatile organic compounds. Loose homes a simple fan usually cures the problem or a simple window air conditioner. Many tight homes contain spray foam and/or well installed cellulose. Along with tight home construction and humidity, is chemical odors. Sometimes these odors we can smell them and sometimes we can not. They are still present and they need to be exhausted from the home. Spray foam was thought to be “Green” until you ask LEED or any good chemical engineer. There’s a question mark as to all the safe language due to a lack of human health science in the medical and scientific community. Ask any doctor what they know about spray foam. Not many are well versed on this topic.

    Being a contractor/homeowner who is not industry affiliated, I have received many calls from consumers due to my writings on blogs like this, relating to spray foam odors. Typically the main call is about really bad musty chemical like odors permeating the home from either an unvented attic space or the chemical like vapor emissions coming from and around window jambs, baseboards and fireplace surrounds, etc. All these consumers have one thing in common, open cell spray foam. These homeowners are mad and want honest answers. They called the manufacturer’s and installers to only be shunned.

    Many homeowners have moved out fearing they are being poisoned by an unknown chemical. These same homeowners asked industry for help to only be told it’s not the foam without any air testing to prove their theory behind the phone call.

    Here’s reality in my opinion, the smell in some cases can be contributed to poor ventilation, poor spray foam installation, poor HVAC design or a lack of humidity control. When it’s humidity control, water vapor gets sucked into open cell foam or cellulose insulation. Some say it happens with closed cell to. Some argue that’s not true. As the water vaporizes during the drying period (usually at night when it cools down) it releases volatile organic compounds (VOC) from building materials and furnishings alike. This cycle has been horrible here in the northeast this season. When it comes to a poor foam job the complaints are about a distinct musty chemical or sweet smell. Each one of these angry homeowner’s have one thing in common. They all have either a combination of open and closed cell foam, open cell foam and fiberglass, open cell foam and cellulose or all open cell foam. Get the point? When it comes to complaints, open cell is always in the mix and open cell is always in the unvented attic space.

    Building “experts” and the spray foam industry say ventilate, open the windows, turn the air exchanger(s) setting to high. But, open and closed cell foam is suppose to create an unvented attic assembly according to industry rules.

    What if that air exchanger does not have a mechanical means of humidity control through a dehumidifier? Sometimes the fan is Not enough when your dealing with high humidity outdoors and indoors. Now your pumping water vapor inside your home. Your also magnifying the problems your trying to resolve. The air exchanger is designed to “Help” mix good outdoor air with bad indoor air while removing the bad indoor air. This is called dilution. This design is to reduce your exposure to building product VOC’s. So what do we do? Open the windows and deal with it? Unless you plan on starting over, you either suffer with the humidity and odors or invest in top notch air exchanger(s) for air dilution and install whole house dehumidifier(s) on the intake air side of each air exchanger. The same can be done for the duct work connecting the HVAC system.

    Here’s the catch.. this process is expensive for the machine and it’s operation. There’s no energy stamp of approval that I have seen for any dehumidifier. They all are blatantly expensive for a really good system. These systems require very little maintenance. All you need to do is clean the filter every 6-12 month’s, fill the drain trap with water after the winter month’s and once a year clear the drain trap of debris collected through the pass through air. These system’s will help any home with high humidity but it will not resolve a bad spray foam odor problem. It may simply reduce the odor to tolerable levels until you can have the problem remediated.

    “Green Chemicals” are good in theory but they do come with a hidden cost to health and the environment. Green they are not!

    • Thanks for your comments, Richard. Homeowners expect easy answers to the issues you bring up, and many builders and contractors are willing to act like easy answers exist. Sometimes, they aren’t acting — they really don’t know any better themselves. You, I, and others have experienced (full circle) how these situations turn out. Building a home is a white knuckle enterprise. I LOVE my home. But because I know what can go wrong, I sometimes lie in bed thinking about the “What if’s”. The tough part to swallow is that a homeowner can try their very best and do all the right things, and still things can go wrong, and they are virtually left unprotected. Sadly, a home is not like a car. There are no “recalls”. There are no big corporations to cover the cost of major blunders. Homeowners are left cleaning up the mess.

  2. Hi Trish – came to your site after reading your article on Linkedin and found this lovely issue of humidifier water removal. Living in upstate New York this year has been a little different from the norm as well. Tons of rain in June and July and 90+ degree temps for all of July. Now we’re into August and are getting a nice reprieve from the heat (which is also not the norm).

    Back to water – not only do I water my plants with it, but I dump it into the washing machine when doing laundry, use it to bathe the dog, wash the windows and mop the floors (that’s right – I do not use Swiffer or any of the many fill-the-landfill options for floor mopping). Once you start thinking about everything you use water for it becomes easier to think of ways to use it.

    For many years we had a garden pond, which became the easy recipient of all that water. Now that we have closed the pond, a rain barrel (the new closed variety to prevent mosquito hatch-outs) stores excess water nicely until needed. Not for everybody perhaps, but it works for us.

Leave a Response