Dehumidifiers can mitigate moist conditions that cause condensation on windows as well as musty smells, mold, and mildew. Mold flourishes in areas above 65% humidity and can cause breathing problems, skin conditions, and other illnesses. Over time, humidity can also wreak havoc on furniture, appliances, fixtures, and structures. Thus, maintaining proper humidity levels is important for healthy, comfortable living — and a dehumidifier is often the go-to small appliance for handling it.
Like refrigerators and furnaces, dehumidifiers are designed to automatically run as needed around-the-clock without supervision. This introduces a potential hazard worse than the humidity itself: house fire. A spike in house fire incidents linked to dehumidifiers is bringing heightened awareness to dehumidifier safety, use, and maintenance.
There are two risk categories related to dehumidifier-caused fires:
- Manufacturer risks involve defective units, which typically means bad wiring or poor construction. Though rare, these risks do arise and cause manufacturers to issue recalls. When investigated, these manufacturer-related fires have most often been linked to defective parts that overheat and ignite dehumidifiers’ plastic housings.[br][br]Among the most recent major recalls was one in November 2016 in which manufacturer Gree issued a recall on dehumidifiers sold under recognizable brands like Frigidaire, General Electric, and Kenmore. These particular units caused 450 fires and $19 million in property damage.[br][br]If you’re looking to purchase a new dehumidifier, you may consider starting by researching recalled brands via Saferproducts.gov.
- End-user risks, on the other hand, are typically attributed to incorrect use or poor maintenance. Never place a dehumidifier in a tight space as they need airflow around them. Lack of airflow can cause overheating, which can lead to a fire. Also, never block a unit’s grill area. Placing clothing or laundry items on a dehumidifier can impede airflow and lead to overheating.
Dehumidifiers require simple yet regular maintenance to work well and operate safely. Depending on how much you use it, clean or replace dehumidifier filters monthly or even more frequently. Lightly vacuum grills to ensure airflow isn’t restricted by dust or lint buildup. A more thorough cleaning involves wiping fan blades and, for the types of units that have coils, removing the unit’s outer casing to wipe off the inner coils. Dehumidifiers can be professionally serviced, too, which is a good idea from time to time as it often includes motor service.
A fire-free future?
Fortunately, dehumidifier technology is advancing to prevent fire risk. Compressor dehumidifiers, those with coils as opposed to desiccant dehumidifiers, now come with a feature called Auto Defrost that stops the unit from working when the coils get too cold and can’t extract any moisture. If the units keep running while not extracting moisture, they can overheat and spark a fire.
Automated dehumidifiers tend to cost more but offer safety and energy efficiency that older models do not. These units change settings automatically when a set humidity level is reached. The units go into sleep mode for a set period and then “wake up” for five minutes to sense whether humidity levels have changed. If not, the dehumidifiers will go back to sleep for 30 minutes and repeat this cycle until sensing enough humidity to turn back on. This means the units are never on full power long enough to overheat.
The lesson with dehumidifiers is threefold. When buying dehumidifiers:
- Do your homework by researching recalled brands and models.
- Pay more for automated units that don’t run constantly.
- Regularly maintain your dehumidifiers by following manufacturer guidelines.
A final lesson for homeowners is to review their homeowners insurance policies and understand what is covered in the event of a fire. Do not assume that fire insurance is part of a standard homeowners insurance policy. Fire insurance typically is an addition to a homeowners policy. Fire insurance covers the replacement and repair costs beyond what property insurance policies cover. They may also cover damage to nearby structures, personal property, and costs associated with being displaced from home during reconstruction. As their homes increase in value, homeowners should be diligent in ensuring their fire insurance policies are sufficient to cover current value of their homes.