Dehumidifiers 102

This is part 2 of an analysis of dehumidifiers by my husband.


1.  Customer Satisfaction  & Reliability with various Brand or Models:


From what I read, virtually none of the brands and models are immune from premature failure (after 1-2 years in many cases) across their model lineups.   Every brand seems to have both it’s share of on-line customer complaints and poor reviews, sprinkled with some glowing customer reviews.  It’s hard to say how prevalent these failures really are — the mad customers are more prone to complain, the happy ones are less prone to post their results online.

Consumer Reports magazine only rates the features of specific new models and units that they tested.  They only conducted initial short-term testing of 1 unit of each model.  Sometimes they may have gotten a lemon, sometimes not — so it’s hard to say how truly accurate their test results are.   Some units they rate highly (yet have numerous on-line customer complaints and poor reviews) are nearly identical to other units that they rated poorly — despite being designed and built nearly identically (with a few minor variances).  That seems a bit questionable.  In my view, they may not have tested a large enough sample.  Plus, they don’t report on the long-term reliability of various brands or models.  Bummer.

Anyway, the same day I took my Kenmore in for service, I saw another guy with the same model coming who had just dropped his off for a 2nd time in 2 years (each of his problems was different than mine).   Hmmm.

So that may be saying something.  Kenmore units (made by LG Appliances & Electronics of China, which also makes the LG and Goldstar brands, and perhaps some other brands too) could be crap.
Maybe most/all brands could be crap.  Maybe everything made in China (which is just about everything these days) is crap!

Dehumidifiers may be prone to high rates of failure, due to the amount of constant use and abuse they may endure.  Other owners enjoy many years of trouble-free use before failure. It’s a mixed bag.

Hundreds of on-line reports of premature failures and customer complaints, out of the millions of units sold, is still a relatively small fraction.    But many repair shops (including the Sears Service Center that I went to), are full of dehumidifiers in their back rooms awaiting diagnosis, repair, etc.  The service technician I spoke to suggested that next time I buy a new unit, I shell out the $$ for the extended service contracts — though I’m still leery of that.

Warranties (default):

Home Depot sells the LG brand with a 5-year “bumper to bumper” warranty on the complete unit — amongst the best and longest I’ve seen around.

Sears sells the nearly-identical Kenmore units (made by LG) with just a 1-year warranty on most parts, but a 5-year warranty on the sealed refrigerant system.   Most other brands and retailers offer just a 1-year warranty, period — which they try to pad with Extended Service contracts (for extra $$ of course).  NOTE: You may come across exceptions to what I’ve found…

Extended Warranties (for a fee):
Should you pay for an Extended Warranty?
Maybe for these devices, it’s warranted? (or maybe not).

Because at an annual cost of $15 to $20 for those service contracts, you could nearly pay for a brand new unit after 5 years worth of service contract payments…  That is, if your unit happens to last that long…which used to be a slam dunk with the older simpler units made in America, but it’s much more of a  gamble these days with the newer electronically-controlled units made cheaply in China….

Besides, extended warranties rarely extend beyond 5 years anyway (those retailers aren’t stupid).  So it could fail in year 6 or 7 and you wouldn’t be covered anymore (even though you would have spent a cumulative $90 to $120 on the extended warranty for the first 5 years) and then still end up having to foot the bill for a costly repair, or just scrap the unit (for an extra fee) and buy another anyway…

That’s your own decision, depending on your own risk tolerance and pocketbook.

Efficiency and Energy Usage:

The smaller-capacity units are less efficient, typically (versus the larger-capacity units),  so even though their motors use less electricity, they end up running longer and could burn out (or otherwise fail) sooner. The larger-capacity units have larger motors that draw more Amperage, but they’ll typically run less often, saving $$ and wear-and-tear in the long run.

Different models of motors (even amongst the same brand, and even amongst slightly different sub-models of the same general model#) might be more or less efficient.

If you want to ensure that you get the most efficient unit in a model line, check this website out for details of specific brands and sub-models:

Example:   The  LG LHD65EBLY8 submodel  is more efficient than the LG LHD65EBLY7 submodel.
The wattage (electricity) used by the …Y8 submodel is 15% or so less than the …7Y submodel.

NOTE:  Retailers often just specific the primary model #  (e.g. LHD65EBL in this case) on their websites and the boxes.   You have to open up the box and look behind the water tank, to see the label on the inside of the unit, in order to see the sub-model#.

NOTE:  Grossmans Bargain Outlet sells refurbished LG LHD65EBL  models (which are refurbed units originally sold at Home Depot — hence the LHD… model #:   L = LG,  HD = Home Depot).   FYI:  The trailing ‘L’ at  the end of the model# indicates that it’s a “Lower Temp” operating model.

Different stores may stock one or both of the -Y7 and -Y8  submodels, so shop carefully, if you want the most efficient (or lowest wattage and Amperage) submodel.

Design Differences & Construction Quality:

Without doing a full blown engineering deconstruction or reverse-engineering exercise, from what I saw with some limited hands-on examination of the innards of the units, many different brands and models appear to be built to very similar designs and from very similar (if not identical) components made in China these days.  Sometimes motors, for different models of the same brand, or even the same model, are supplied by different suppliers (perhaps at slightly different specs).   But the internal designs were very very similar.

LG Appliances makes the Goldstar, LG and Sears Kenmore brands, and perhaps others — and has been doing so for the past several years.  Each of those brands have very slightly different grills/cases and control panels (just to give them visual differences) but the innards appear virtually the same. GE and Frigidaire (sold at Lowes, Charlotte Appliances, etc.) appear to be constructed and designed very similarly to each other, if not the same.  Probably made in the same factory in China.

= = = = =

Since I planned to buy a 2nd unit (and will probably get my 4-year-old Kenmore repaired under warranty), I took a chance and bought a refurbished LG unit for nearly half-price, at Grossman’s Bargain Outlet — despite the piddly 90-day warranty.

These LG units are the same ones sold originally at Home Depot  (but were probably returned by the customer, in opened or damaged boxes that couldn’t be resold as “new”, etc.).   I’ll take my chances.   But I might end up regretting that decision?  We’ll see.  Keeping my fingers crossed…

2.  Common Types of Failure:

Many people don’t realize that Dehumidifiers are essentially similar to portable room air conditioners.  They have 2 electrical motors inside:
– one for the fan/blower
– one inside the refrigerant compressor

If they hear something running (without realizing there’s 2 motors) they just assume all is well.  Not necessarily.

For those of us who have opaque drain hoses attached, and draining into a sump pump or some other area that is not easily visible, we may not realize that water may not be condensing or draining at all.
Gotta check carefully.  Should probably do so every month during the wet season.  Or install a cheap $20 hygrometer (humidity meter) in the basement to monitor the humidity levels.

a) One, or both, motors could fail for various reasons (burned out, seized bearings, tripped and damaged thermal fuses, etc.).

b) Or both motors may still be running, but the sealed refrigerant could have leaked out and thus is not condensing moisture properly (much like an older automobile A/C unit, etc.).  This can occur due to worn or cracking O-rings and seals, leaks or cracks in the copper refrigerant lines and condenser coils, etc.

c) Digital circuit boards and control panels and switches could fail.  Sometimes adding fancy electronics and automated features can backfire and create an increase in failure-prone components.  Sometimes the old fashioned simple dial-controlled models may last longer…  But those are increasingly harder to find these days, and usually only on the smallest and cheapest units.

d) Corrosion/rust on some of the electrical connectors, etc. — it operates in a very wet and high-humidity environment after all.

e) Sometimes the fan/blower or compressor motors fail or seize up (often due to overuse, overloading or worn/rusted/seized bearings) brought on by nearly constant use.  Other times by the owner not oiling the motor bearings periodically (if the motor requires it)  — which requires that the protective grills or casing be opened up to gain access to the oiling points on the motor shafts and bearings — not something that most people can or will easily do themselves.  SO, this is a situation that is almost designed to fail (probably sooner than later — usually after the short warranties have expired).   Ah, how convenient for the manufacturers, repair shops and retailers!!!   Planned unreliability… Keeps a steady flow of business… 😉

That happened on my very oldest Sears unit (it lasted 12-13 years, until 2004).   After years of use (and no oiling of the motor bearings),
the motor bearings seized up and/or rusted.  The fan motor won’t turn easily anymore and probably burned up.

I never realized it needed oiling.  The Owners Manual never specified that.  It was only after it failed, that I removed the protective grill so I could extract the motor — and that’s when I saw the label on the motor itself — stating it needed to be oiled every 6 months!  Oh great!  Thanks a lot (for no warning) Sears!!!  Couldn’t you have specified that in the Users Manual???  And no, they don’t provide an easy way for most customers/owners to even access the motor bearings to oil them if they wanted to…

I kept this old dehumidifier as a potential backup, just in case.  But I recently learned that the cost of the smaller blower/fan motor alone (just the part, not labor to install it) is $85 from Sears Direct Parts.   Aaack!

I removed the old motor (with a bit of sweat equity) and could install a replacement fan motor myself, but the cost of the part is prohibitive — given the age of this unit — other parts could fail at any time. I’m currently looking for a cheap used or rebuilt replacement motor for  under $25 if I can find one.  Probably like a needle in a haystack.

However, I’ve heard of some older units lasting for 15 to 20+ years…   A lot of variables and contributing factors may be involved…

3.  Possible things that Owners do that may Cause Premature Failure:

a) Improper setup / wiring:

– Using an undersized or too lengthy extension cord (note: don’t use a regular or common 16-gauge cord — instead, use a heavier duty appliance-grade 14-gauge cord) — preferably of 6′ or less.

NOTE: Most user manuals specify not to use extension cords (and smaller undersized cords could reduce the Amperage flowing to the unit and could “starve” the motor of enough current and cold damage it).  Using undersized cords can pose a fire hazard for one thing.  It could, under the right circumstances, starve the motor of sufficient electrical current flow, which could damage it.

– or having several devices on the same electrical circuit or outlet box (e.g. a sump pump, spare fridge or freezer, etc.).   If the motors in those devices coincidentally started up simultaneously, the spike in the demand of electrical current could potentially damage one or more of the motors (especially if using an undersized extension cord), even if it didn’t quite overload and trip the household circuit breaker.

b) Improper setup or environment:

– many units are designed to only operate properly/efficiently in room temperatures above 65 degrees.  Below that room temp, their coils could develop severe and frequent frost buildup (inhibiting airflow) and they won’t sufficiently condense enough moisture from the air at lower temps.

NOTE:  That was the situation with my 4-year old 50-pint Kenmore  — the owners manual says so in fine print, buried in the TroubleShooting section (but nowhere else).
Note, however, the nearly identical 70-pint Kenmore unit was designed to operate down to 42 degrees.   Go figure.  The salesman neglected to point out that feature to me when I bought my 50-pint unit.  Guess I should have paid the extra $30 for that feature alone!!

I never gave that a serious thought before, because I figured our basement would always be above 68 to 70+ degrees, especially in summer.  Wrong.   I put a digital thermometer and hygrometer (humidity meter) in our basement.  As it turns out, the average temps fluctuate between 63 and 67 degrees, even now in the summer.   If we run our A/C, the basement can sometimes get a bit cooler — which is great for watching movies in the basement on those sweltering 90-degree summer days (oops, not this year!!!).

Winters: the basement can get even cooler. You’d be surprised.  I was.  I keep a digital thermometer in the basement so I can monitor it.

So be careful if shopping for a new unit –  be sure to buy one that is rated for “Lower Temperature Operation” (e.g. below 65 degrees) just to cover your bases.
Only about half the models for sale appear to be rated for lower temps.

c) Overuse:

Sometimes, overheating of bearings and motors, is a result of nearly constant use (e.g. nearly 24×7 for months at a time, etc.), especially in damp/wet Rochester’s climate.

– This could be because the unit is too small or undersized/inefficient for the size of the basement.   Perhaps a larger-capacity or higher-efficiency unit should be used instead.

– And/or perhaps 2 units, on opposite sides of the room, could be used (thus reducing the load, and reducing the run-time or frequency that each unit is operating).

– Using the automatic 2-hour on, 2-hour off cycle (or similar), if your unit has one, might help the motor and bearings from getting overheated due to continual use.

– And/or perhaps set the unit’s humidistat to a higher target level (e.g. to perhaps 55% or 60% humidity) to avoid having the unit work so hard and so often to try to dry out the basement air to an unrealistic target 35% to 40% humidity level (which is often the default setting, on digitally controlled units, from the factory — and often it’s reset to that level when the unit is turned off, and back on again — so you should double check your unit).

d) Improper maintenance:

– not periodically cleaning the air filter and/or the condenser coils (e.g. much like a refrigerator’s coils) — if either gets really dirty and clogged, it could prevent proper air flow, leading to overuse  and excessive wear-and-tear, and possible overheating, etc.

– not periodically oiling the bearings on the motors if the motor label says it needs it;  unless some motors may happen to have “permanently lubricated” bearings — yeah right, like these cheaply Chinese made units are gonna have that… 😉 (NOTE: Most user manuals never say anything about oiling the motor bearings — so most of us “uninformed & lazy users” are not going to open up the units and check it, nor service it ourselves).


15 thoughts on “Dehumidifiers 102

  1. Pingback: Hot & Sticky « How to maximize money for your stuff

  2. Pingback: 2010 in review « How to maximize money for your stuff

  3. My observations / experience on the Dehumifier (D.H.) subject:

    Now a days ( things change over time) – 2013 – I am under the belief that buying used, pre 2000 – any brand (in working order) is clearly the best move here. These aren’t matresses, after all. Nothing personal about them. They churn away in the dark corner of the basement during the summertime. Period.

    All of the stories related to above, I’ve heard repeated at work and in my neighborhood. The D.H..’s in the past 8 + or so yrs. are garbage. Period.

    History: My grandmother’s D.H. was purchased by my parent’s back in the late 70’s / early 80’s – used. It was about 10 yrs old when they purchased it at a garage sale. It still works in 2013. We’ve not done anything to it, other than genearl cleaning, ever. I don’t necessarily recommend this, but I’m just stating the facts. Never even oiled a motor. Never.

    History: I purchashed an Emerson in 1986. Sold it to a friend in the early 90’s – still woking fine w/ little or no maintenance what so ever.

    History: I purched a new (larger capacity to reduce run-time) in the early 90’s. I think it’s a G.E. Other than clean the coils: did nothing to it. I have a semi-damp basement w/ carpeting & furniture. Want to keep things dry. Runs fine still.

    History: Mom & Dad bought a new one in 1958 – G.E. Still working today. Clean coils. That’s it!
    They also purchased a used one ( brand ?) at a garage sale in the early 80’s b/c they have a large, furnished basement & wanted to balance things a bit – so ’till this day, they have 2 running w/o incident.

    So – take the risk. If you see one at a garage / estate sale that looks mint & they claim it works, but it looks like it belongs in a museum: BUY IT! Save it for your children some day – or yourself. My experience says, depending on age, we’re talking $15 –> $65. Done. And “Energy efficient” you may wonder? Fagetabadit! As Jim Salmon from the WHAM Home Repair Clinic likes to say: “A compressor’s a compressor’s a compressor!” He’s correct. 80% + of any DH’s power cosumption is this thing. It’s the ‘motor’ that essentially is the refridgeration element of the equation. These ALL consume approximately the same amount of energy. In 1958 & in 2013. The savings is in the fan speeds, for the most part. But I want mine on high: move that air!

    For maximum efficiency ( = less run-time & electricity): clean coils / filter, elevate the DH as high as you can. Mine is on an old milk crate thing – but higher’s better. Here’s why: the warmer the air, the more moisture the air can hold. The floor, then, is the coolest, and can hold less moisture – the stuff that we’re looking to remove! And folks: close your basement windows!!

    – That’s my experience anyway ~

    – mh, Greece, NY

  4. Mark,
    Thanks for sharing your experiences. I agree with you that stuff made recently is generally poorly made and unreliable. Good luck finding an old dehumidifier. I can’t imagine people will give an old working model.

    • True, The only folks who would sell a good, working Dehumidifier are:
      (1) Those who think they’re going to save a bundle on electricity savings ( not! )
      (2) Those who, for whatever reason, think new = ‘better’

      Look on Craigslist. I think I saw at least 3 or 4 just posted yesterday (4/15/13)

  5. Since we bought our home, we have owned about SEVEN (7) dehumidifiers in 15 years, averaging about a TWO year lifespan. EVERY UNIT failed due to loss of refrigerant, ie, leak in the closed system. This is evidenced by a freezing up of the coil and ultimately no dehumidification. The warranty service centers have repeatedly told me that these units are designed to fail, as seen by the DOZENS of defective units piled up in their shop! We need a another dehumidifier now and are so frustrated by the whole situation. A dehumidifier should last AT LEAST 10 YEARS. For the price of these units, you would THINK they would last ten years! Good grief!

    • I feel for you Tony. I agree that a dehumidifier should last way longer than 2 years. Unfortunately it seems to be the way things are made these days. You have to get your hands on an older model that will live for another 10 years. Good luck finding one though.

  6. One trick to try ( before throwing in the towel when ice, or frost shows up on the coils ): This usually occuurs during the 1st power – on for the season. Even my 1990 model does this occasionally. It has something to do with the dew-point temp @ the coils…
    When experiencing this:
    1) Let the unit thaw completely.
    2) Go back, turn the D.H. on – for about 2 – 4 min. (or until you start to see a HEAVY, thick frost begin to form on the coils.
    3) Turn the unit off again.
    4) When the HEAVY frost turns into regular condensate – ie., turns to water & begins to ‘drip’, turn the D.H. back on & you should be all set.

    Your D.H. will have less propensity to do this if you elevate it off of the floor where the air is a bit warmer. I’ve used an old plastic Milk – Crate – type thing for years. Works well.

    Another thing I’ve noticed with Sears Units, is that there’s a filter ( nice idea) that’s removable so that you can simply rinse this quickly & easily in your washtub. The trouble is, if you’re like most folks & do not read the Manual that comes with it, you’d have a hard time even knowing that it’s there! In my opinion, I think they deliberately disquised it that way (in order to create at least 1 Service Call to the un-suspecting Customer who didn’t read!!) on purpose.

    – M – Greece, NY

    • Thanks for the really helpful info Mark. I’m guessing someone will be able to benefit from this advice.

  7. As a heating and air conditioning contractor in SE Wisconsin, I see a number of these big-box-store made-in-China junkers come to our shop for service or answer questions on serviceability over the telephone. The usual problem isn’t with the sealed system, it’s with the bogus digital controls! I’ve found that with many of these units, if I bypass the controls, the cooling/dehumidifying sealed systems works fine. To replace the control board/humidistat/sensor assembly turns into over $100 easily. Most of these digital controls are not available – per the manufacturer! How’s that for disposable? If a person can afford the initial investment, there is a company based in Madison, Wisconsin that builds whole house dehumidifiers that are very well built and designed to last. For many people, this is the best solution to those disposable units, but at a price.

      • For a world “concerned” with sustainability of our use of natural resources, energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions we could do better than building flawed products that are designed to end up in the landfill after a few short years (at best) of use. Sure, the copper can be recycled – if it is – but there are “rare earth” materials used in the digital controls that are wasted along with the rest of the plastic components and cabinet. I shudder to think of how much refrigerant is released into the atmosphere by those who don’t know or care when they scrap a two year old $200 dehumidifier. It’s a shame these units, like so many other consumer goods, aren’t built the way my dad’s Hotpoint dehumidifier was built back around 1955. That U.S.A. built unit ran until the early 1990s. That unit was built before corporations lost their concern for their customers and the public good in favor of exporting jobs in order to increase profits and their shareholders’ ROI.

      • I completely agree with you Chuck that companies seem unconcerned with how their products, with such short lives, will have major impacts on the environment.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s