Whenever someone learns about the concept of a dehumidifier for a crawl space or basement, they may ask the question, “Why do I need a dehumidifier? Colorado isn’t humid!” It’s true that Colorado isn’t a very humid area in general, and homeowners probably don’t need a dehumidifier for their general home the way they may in areas closer to the coast.
However, you may still need a dehumidifier in your crawl space or basement. Here’s everything you need to know about dehumidifiers and why they may be more useful than you would have thought.
What Does a Dehumidifier Do?
First off, it might be useful to learn a bit about what a dehumidifier actually does. There are multiple elements of dehumidification that you may experience with a dehumidifier.
- Removes Moisture from the Air
Of course, as the name would suggest, a dehumidifier does remove moisture from the air. The dehumidifier typically uses a system of heating and cooling to do so. For most dehumidifiers, the system pulls in the room-temperature air and runs it through a series of cold pipes. When the air goes across the cold pipes, it creates condensation. That condensation then drips down and out. The dehumidifier also warms the air slightly before ejecting it.
This lowers the moisture content in the air as a whole. The only way the crawl space or basement can become more humid is if additional moisture enters the area. For example, if you have crawl space encapsulation, no leaks, and otherwise no way to increase your crawl space moisture content, you’re going to end up with a low crawl space moisture level.
- Maintains a Specific Moisture Content
Many dehumidifiers have options that allow you to maintain a specific moisture content in your crawl space or basement. For example, you may choose that you want your crawl space or basement to remain at a healthy relative humidity of 55%. If you have a great dehumidifier, you may be able to set it at 55% and allow it to work to maintain that content.
The process often works through a “dehumidistat,” which is a cross between a dehumidifier and a thermostat. Essentially, this tool measures the level of moisture in the area. When it recognizes that you’ve hit that level of moisture, it stops pulling moisture out of the air. Once it increases too far, it will start to pull moisture out of the air again.
- Allows for Healthier, Conditioned Air
In general, a crawl space or basement dehumidifier makes it easier for you to have healthy, well-conditioned air. You want healthy air in your crawl space or basement because up to 50% of the air you breathe in your home comes from these areas underneath your main living space, in some shape or form. Like you would with any other element of your home, you need to make sure it’s healthy.
Having a dehumidifier in your crawl space or basement will also make your air conditioning have to work less hard. Air conditioning doesn’t work as well with very humid air, and humid crawl space or basement air will definitely mean more humid air throughout the rest of your home. When you have a crawl space dehumidifier, it’s better all-around for your home.
A Briefing on Relative Humidity
Relative humidity is the concept that you’ll hear a lot about when you start to learn more about crawl space or basement moisture. What is relative humidity? How does it work? Here’s what you should know about relative humidity, especially in your crawl space or basement.
- Warm and Cool Air
Relative humidity is different depending on the temperature of the air. When you see relative humidity, you’ll see it in a percent — for example, a healthy crawl space or basement should typically have a relative humidity level of 50-60%. This is an expression of how much moisture is in the air relative to how much moisture the air can retain.
Warm air can retain much more humidity than cool air can. For every degree the air cools, the relative humidity will increase by 2.2%. What does this mean? It means that if you have a room that’s currently at 100°F and 50% humidity, lowering the temperature to 75°F will cause the humidity to rocket above 100%, creating condensation as the water attempts to leave the air.
- Mold and Mildew
Mold and mildew start to thrive at humidity levels of around 70%, although this number is a little flexible and you’ll probably want to stay well below it. Mold will grow on all sorts of organic surfaces, which may include everything from wood, like your floor joists, to drywall, which may be in a finished basement.
If you get mold and mildew in your basement, you’re going to be hard-pressed to remove it. Unfortunately, both mold and mildew are very easy to start and extremely easy to continue growing. If you start out with these things, the problem will only continue to get worse. This is why you need to keep your humidity low throughout the entirety of your crawl space or basement.
- How to Reduce Humidity
A dehumidifier is really the only way you’re going to be able to reduce the relative humidity in the air. For the most part, relative humidity doesn’t reduce unless you do something to stop the humidity in the air. To some extent, it may escape through the crawl space or basement and into the rest of your home, but that can just increase your home’s humidity levels.
Additionally, you need to make sure water isn’t coming into your crawl space or basement if at all possible. Crawl spaces that have dirt floors and aren’t encapsulated tend to be most at risk for water intrusion, although it’s definitely possible for other crawl spaces to have issues with water. This way, there will be nothing to escape into the air.
Below-Ground Humidity and Its Potential Impacts
It’s important to know that below-ground humidity is different than above-ground humidity. This is the crux of the reason that you may need a crawl space or basement dehumidifier. Here’s what you should know about below-ground humidity.
- Cooler Air, More Moisture
As you already read, the cooler the air is, the less moisture the air can hold. The same exact moisture content will be a higher relative humidity in winter than it will be in summer. If your home as a whole feels like it has pretty low moisture content, that doesn’t necessarily mean your crawl space or basement will be the same way; it may have pretty substantial moisture problems, as a matter of fact.
Areas underground are cooler than areas above ground. The ground tends to make things a little cooler, which can be great on hot days but isn’t as good when you’re trying to avoid crawl space moisture. It’s common for crawl spaces to just have a higher relative humidity even though the moisture content is the same between the crawl space and the home.
- Structural Concerns
Your crawl space is where a lot of your home’s structure is. From the crawl space, you may be able to access the floor joists, plumbing, and much more. You might even be able to see the home’s floor. The same goes for the basement. The problem is that even though this is extremely useful for people who are looking to get more access to important areas of your home, it’s also dangerous if you have an unhealthy crawl space or basement.
If your crawl space or basement has mold and mildew, for example, that mold and mildew can grow on the floor joists and even the floor of your home. Wood rot is also a significant problem if you have very high levels of moisture. These structural concerns are significant, and it’s important that you address them if you currently have issues with condensation in your crawl space or basement.
- General Condensation
Condensation throughout the home is a huge problem in general, and it’s even more significant when you’re thinking about crawl space or basement concerns. Think about it: mold and mildew can grow on any organic material. That means wood, drywall, and cotton, among other things. A lot of the items in your home probably include organic material.
If you have high levels of humidity in your crawl space or basement, that humidity could end up coming up throughout your home. Even if the rest of the home is warmer, meaning you may not reach past the 100% humidity range, there will probably be areas that are cooler, which can create condensation that will significantly impact your home’s health.
Why Does a Home in an Arid Area Still Need a Dehumidifier?
Even in a more arid area like Colorado, you may need a dehumidifier in your crawl space or basement. Here are the most important things to think about when you’re considering your need for a dehumidifier.
- Control the Moisture Directly
When you add a dehumidifier, you’re able to keep an eye on the moisture of your crawl space or basement much more directly. Sure, you may not end up needing to use this dehumidifier very often. It’s common for the dehumidifier not to work very often, especially if you do the right thing and encapsulate your crawl space. You may be able to primarily control the moisture in other ways.
However, it is important to remember that when it comes to your crawl space or basement, it’s immensely preferable to be safe rather than sorry. You don’t want to realize all of a sudden that your crawl space or basement has had serious moisture issues for months, especially if that realization comes because you’re starting to have structural damage as a result of those moisture issues.
- Excess Moisture in the Ground
Does your crawl space have a dirt floor? Unfortunately, it’s incredibly common for crawl spaces to have dirt floors, even though this is one of the least effective and least healthy methods for crawl space building. That’s because no matter how well you dry out the top layer of your crawl space’s dirt floor, you’re still going to end up with moisture rising up from way down below.
This excess moisture is an important element of why you need to think about your crawl space’s generalized health. Your first step here shouldn’t be to put in a dehumidifier, but instead to encapsulate the crawl space. From there, you can add a dehumidifier to take care of any additional problems that you might experience.
- Issues with Waterproofing and Leaks
Waterproofing is a pretty serious problem, especially in a crawl space or basement, which will typically have more issues with hydrostatic pressure all around it. However, it’s not just the walls that you might have to worry about. In addition to making sure the walls are as well-waterproofed as possible, often with the aid of crawl space encapsulation, it’s also very important to make sure you’re protecting yourself from leaks that may come from the crawl space or basement.
This is one reason many people install interior drainage and a sump pump in their crawl space or basement. With these systems, if you have any leaks, you can intercept and pump the water out as completely as possible. Then, your dehumidifier will do the rest of the work to make sure none of that water lingers around in the air. It’s a great way to protect against problems in the future, especially if you’ve had issues with leaks in the past.
Make It Easier to Handle Your Moisture Levels with a Dehumidifier
As you can see, a dehumidifier can be incredibly beneficial for a crawl space or basement, even one that’s in a relatively arid area. Whether you’ve always had a dehumidifier, or this is your first time installing one, there’s a great option for you. Talk to a Complete Basement Systems repair expert to get more information about your home’s moisture levels as a whole. Contact us today for a free inspection and repair quote.