Will A Dehumidifier In The Basement Help The Whole House?

It’s a question many people ask when thinking about buying a basement dehumidifier – will it help the rest of the house? Or, does the basement dehumidifier strictly serve the basement alone?

The short answer is – yes. A basement dehumidifier, though stationed in the basement, ultimately benefits the entire house. In addition to resolving moisture issues in the basement, you’ll notice reduced moisture and related issues in the upper floors and throughout the home.

Read on to find out how a humidifier in the basement can improve air quality throughout the home and how to find the right dehumidifier for your basement.

How Basement Dehumidifiers Work

A basement dehumidifier is a regular dehumidifier with specialized features and capabilities to make it more suited to the demanding conditions of the basement.

As such, basement dehumidifiers work just like any other dehumidifier – albeit with a few differences. The dehumidifiers have fans that blow stale air into the intake vents. This air passed over cold coils where the moisture in the air is condensed.

From there, cool, moisture-free air returns into the house through a separate set of outlet ducts. Meanwhile, the condensed moisture collects in a pan or tray inside the dehumidifier unit and is later drained out manually or automatically.

The main difference in the working mechanism is that basement dehumidifiers are more powerful and have a higher capacity for moisture removal.

  • Remove moisture faster: Basement dehumidifiers can remove up to 100 pints/day, whereas the standard dehumidifier can only remove about 30-40 pints/day. That’s the equivalent of about 12 gallons!
  • Larger water tanks: Dehumidifiers store condensate water in tanks rather than pans (as is the case in standard dehumidifiers). To keep up with the higher moisture removal rate, they typically have huge tanks, up to 40 pints.
  • More extensive coverage area: Due to the higher moisture removal capacity, basement dehumidifiers can serve much larger areas, often up to 7,000 square feet – the size of two medium-sized houses.
  • Electric drain pumps: Basement dehumidifiers also typically employ electric drain pumps and implement auto-drainage such that condensed moisture is automatically pumped out of the dehumidifier and into a sump pit, the sink, or through the window and out of the house.

Benefits of Basement Dehumidification

Before we look at how removing excess moisture from the basement can help the rest of the house, perhaps it might help to discuss how dehumidification can benefit the basement itself. Dehumidification benefits in the basement include;

Ensure optimal moisture levels

The basement dehumidifier, first and foremost, helps lower moisture levels in the basement. Condensing some of the moisture and draining out the water helps keep the moisture levels in check. All modern units are equipped with a humidistat to monitor moisture levels in the room and control dehumidifier operation to keep the area at 50-55% relative humidity.

Eliminate basement dampness 

This is especially important for active basement (if you actively use the area for various purposes). A damp basement can be uninhabitable. It makes the area feel musty and uncomfortable. For instance, if you have an office down there, it may be impossible to concentrate. Damp conditions in the basement can also affect your clothes, paper documents, and furniture.

Eliminates odors 

Dampness typically causes a noticeable musty smell that can make the place even more repellent. Moreover, damp conditions can cause the rotting of wooden structures and furniture in the basement, resulting in a characteristic musty smell. Mold growth of clothes and wood can also cause the same smell. Keeping the area dry is the first step to fighting basement smells.

Reduce water pooling 

Basements can have pooling water for different reasons. For one, groundwater can seep into the basement through the basement floor and walls when there’s more moisture in the ground than in the basement. Additionally, condensation on the basement walls due to excess heat in the summer can cause pooling. But, again, a dehumidifier can go a long way in helping fight this menace.

Prevent mold and mildew 

Damp, warm conditions create the perfect breeding ground for mold and mildew. It means that left unattended, the sweaty walls and pooled water in your basement could soon attract all sorts of fungus, especially mold and mildew. The two are a significant risk to both your health and the structural integrity of your home.

Basement Moisture Can Seep Into the Main Home

Most people don’t usually realize that you’re doing good to the entire home when you dehumidify the basement. However, it’s true.

If the basement air is clean and of high quality, the air on the upper floors is just as likely to be of high quality. The opposite is true – damp basements often lead to damper conditions on the upper floors. 

Scientists have found that this happens in three main ways, i.e., capillary suction, air leakage, and vapor diffusion.

Capillary suction 

Capillary suction refers to the process through which moisture moves through a porous material. Water is drawn into the upper floors through the tiny pores in the concrete footing and slab and laterally through walls.

This effect is often projected as a ring of dampness at the base of many basement walls, particularly at cold joints.

The rate of suction depends mainly on the type of soil and the amount of capillary rise. In gravel, it’s less than a few inches, while in sandy soil, it’s about 1-8 feet. However, in silt and clay, water can rise by up to 16-20 feet, which is more than enough to reach the walls of the main house.

Air leakage through the stack effect 

Moisture can also move from the basement to the main floor through the “stack effect.” The stack effect refers to air movement through temperature differences – meaning that hot air will rise, with colder air taking its place at the floor level.

Warm (moist) air in the basement will always rise to the top of the room due to the stack effect as cold air at the bottom takes its place. Then the moist air will seep into the main floor through gaps in the basement ceiling – no matter how small – again through the stack effect.

The worst part is that the stack effect never stops. When warm, moist air from the basement rises to the main floor, more moist air from the surrounding soil will seep into the basement to replace it. The air then becomes warm as you heat the basement and eventually rises to the upper floors too. The effect usually affects the entire house, from the basement to the uppermost floor.

Air movement through diffusion 

Elementary physics will tell you that diffusion is the transfer of anything from a region of low concentration to that of low concentration. In gases, it occurs when the particular when two adjacent environments have different concentrations of the gas.

The same happens when there’s a difference in moisture concentration in the basement and the upper floors. If the upper floors are drier than the basement, water vapor will naturally diffuse through the walls and floors to the main home until a balance is achieved.

Unfortunately, diffusion is a natural process that you cannot stop. As long as the barrier between the two environments is air-proof, water vapor will always seep to the main floor.

Other Ways Poor Air Quality in Basement Can Affect Rest of the Home

Dehumidifying the basement can prevent or slow down the three issues, i.e., capillary suction, air leakage through the stack effect, and vapor diffusion. But that’s not all. Keeping the basement dry and livable can also benefit the upper floors as follows;

Mold infestation  

If you have mold in the basement, rest assured that it will reach the upper floors and ultimately affect people even on the second and third floors. The reason is simple – mold spores are extremely tiny and spread with ease. A typical model spore is 0.00002 inches in size or about 10 microns. So you can’t see it with the naked eye. Instead, what you usually see are colonies of billions of spores.

Therefore, the air traveling from a mold-infested basement to the main house usually has thousands of mold spores, each of which can form a large colony. In addition, as we’ve seen, air escapes from the basement to the main floor all the time.

Smells and odors

Aside from mold, another thing you should be worried about is odors and nasty smells. We’ve already seen that excessively humid conditions can cause rotting, usually characterized by a foul odor. Failing to dehumidify the basement can create similar issues on the main floor in two ways.

First, just like mold, smell travels within the air, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Even the best filters can’t remove all the rotting smells. Some of it will eventually reach the main floor. Secondly, moisture leaks to the upper floors can cause rotting, leading to the same odor issues.

Key Takeaway

So, as you can see, it’s critical to dehumidify the basement as doing so doesn’t only benefit the basement but the entire home.

Otherwise, you’ll have excess moisture leaking into the main floors through capillary, the stack effect, and water vapor diffusion. The excessive moisture conditions in the basement can also cause mold that may spread to the upper floors.

Finally, odors resulting from moisture-occasioned rotting in the basement can easily spread to the main house, making the place unlivable. Dehumidification is the first line of defense against all these issues.