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Whole-house vs. portable dehumidifiers: Which is best for basement?

HVAC Logo IconBy HVAC.comAugust 1, 2023
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Your basement can be a great usable space in your home — as long as the humidity’s not too high. A dehumidifier can help keep moisture out of your basement.

But which is best? In this piece, we’ll review the pros and cons of whole house vs. portable dehumidifiers for your basement.

What is a basement dehumidifier?

Basement dehumidifiers are air treatment devices that create a drier, less humid environment. They draw out moisture from the air, then collect the water or drain it with a hose.

Excessive moisture is more likely to impact a basement than the upper levels of a home. Water vapor often creeps in through the foundation of the home, so the basement is the first area affected.

Whole-house problems like water leaks and high humidity levels can also trickle down into the basement. High moisture levels create a breeding ground for airborne allergens.

When contaminants like mold grow, you risk health concerns and structural damage to your home. A basement dehumidifier lowers humidity levels, making these issues less likely.

When humidity stays in the sweet spot between 30% and 60%, allergens and mold stay under control.

Signs you need a dehumidifier

High moisture levels aren’t always easy to detect. If you see some of these warning signs, your basement humidity has climbed too high.

  • There is visible mold growth on floors, ceilings, walls, or other surfaces.
  • Walls feel damp to the touch.
  • There is condensation on surfaces.
  • There is an odor of mold or mildew in the basement.
  • There are water marks on your floors.
  • Items stored in the basement have a moldy odor.

Whole-house dehumidifiers vs. portable dehumidifiers

We break down the differences between whole-home and basement dehumidifiers. Learn which may be the right option for you.

Whole-house dehumidifiers

ProsCons
Quiet

Energy-efficient

Tackles moisture in other rooms
Expensive

Not suited for temps below 65℉

Must have ductwork

Whole-home dehumidifiers attach to the ductwork of your central HVAC system. Homeowners don’t usually hear these models at work, because most of the sound is contained within the ducts.

If you want a whole-home model, you’ll pay up to $1,000 more than you would on a portable dehumidifier. On the other hand, the increased energy efficiency could save you in back-end electricity costs.

We recommend this route if you want to treat rooms in addition to the basement and you don’t mind the price tag. However, a whole-home option isn’t necessary or practical if your moisture problem is only in the basement.

Keep in mind that some whole-home dehumidifiers won’t effectively work in temperatures below 65℉. Basements tend to be colder than the rest of the home, so make sure your dehumidifier can operate in temperatures as low as 55℉.

Also, whole-home dehumidifiers require a central HVAC system. If you have ductless or window heating and cooling, portable dehumidifiers are your only option.

Portable dehumidifiers

ProsCons
Inexpensive

Simple to install

Easy to move
Less energy efficient

Does not remove moisture from other spaces

Sometimes noisy

Compared to whole-home models, portable basement dehumidifiers offer you more flexibility. You can move them to other rooms of your home as needed.

They’re also easy to set up. Just plug the dehumidifier into a standard 120V outlet.

One con is that you get better energy efficiency with a whole-home model. Also, portable dehumidifiers fall on the noisier side because there’s no ductwork to muffle the fan.

We recommend a portable dehumidifier in the basement for anyone without whole-home moisture issues. They cost hundreds less than whole-home models, so portable dehumidifiers are the more practical option for most shoppers.

Portable dehumidifiers aren’t powerful enough for whole-home use. If moisture issues have spread to the upper levels of your home, a whole-home dehumidifier is a better option.

Whole-house vs. portable dehumidifiers: the bottom line

A basement can be optimized as extra space for your family to enjoy. There’s just one catch: you’ve got to keep moisture levels in check, which is harder to accomplish below ground.

Portable dehumidifiers bring basement moisture levels to a reasonable level, keeping allergens and mold at bay. However, if you have moisture issues in other rooms of your home, a whole-house dehumidifier is likely a better investment.

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