Over the past decade, I have installed countless air conditioners and dehumidifiers.
They have a lot of similar components (fans, condenser coils, vents), but they are designed to do very different jobs, and they aren’t interchangeable.
So, which do you need in your home?
In this guide, I will answer that question and give you the full dehumidifier versus air conditioner breakdown so you get the right appliance to meet your needs.
Dehumidifier Vs Air Conditioner – Key Differences Explained
Dehumidifiers and air conditioners work in similar ways. They both help you regulate the air in your home and have similar internal components.
Knowing when to use each appliance is key to correct use.
A dehumidifier is designed to deal with humid air, whereas an air conditioner is designed to deal with hot air.
So, which do you need in your home? It all depends on the problems you’re facing and how you want to use the appliance.
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Here’s a breakdown of the key differences between them and a clear guide on which is best in each situation.
Improving Air Quality Levels
Improving Comfort Levels
Cleaning and Maintenance
How Each Cools Your Home
Air conditioners are literally designed to remove heat and cool your home.
They do this using a coolant within cold coils that removes the hot moisture from your warm air.
A fan system then blows cold air into your home.
They’ll usually keep removing warm air until a specific temperature has been reached.
Portable air conditioners are slightly different because they don’t have access to outside fresh air, but they still work by cooling and drying the air that comes into the machine.
Dehumidifiers remove excess moisture from the air in an area which can have a cooling effect directly on your body, but not in terms of the the actual room temperature.
These appliances can actually add heat to an area because the device gives off a lot of warmth.
Which Is Best For Cooling?
If your goal is to cool your home, then you need an air conditioner.
The cooling effect of an air conditioning unit is measured in British Thermal Units, and it’s important to get an air conditioner with enough BTUs to cool the space effectively.
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How Each Device Removes Moisture
Dehumidifiers are designed to remove moisture from humid air by filtering the water particles from the air inside your home and leaving the room noticeably less humid.
The moisture will then be collected in a water tank or drained directly out of your home.
An air conditioner removes heat, and part of the way it does this is by removing some moisture and excess humidity from the air.
Many air conditioners have a special dehumidification mode called 'dry mode'. This is effective against moisture removal but still not as effective as a dehumidifier.
Creating dry air and removing excess moisture isn’t their primary function, but you should notice the air getting dryer in your home.
Which Is Best For Moisture Removal?
If you want to lower the humidity of a room, you need a dehumidifier.
Air conditioners remove moisture, but not on the same level, and a portable dehumidifier will be much more effective.
How Do Both Devices Improve Air Quality?
Poor indoor air quality can be caused by a number of different factors. To regulate it properly, you should really use an air purifier, but both a dehumidifier and an air conditioner can have a positive impact.
A dehumidifier removes humid air, which can act as a breeding ground for dust mites and other airborne contaminants.
By removing excess humidity and introducing dry air, a dehumidifier can also prevent mold and mildew from forming.
This helps to improve your indoor air quality.
Air conditioners remove moisture and introduce fresh air into your home. However, because the cold coils remove warm air and make a room colder if an air conditioner is operating in a damp room, it can actually make it even worse.
This will reduce the indoor air quality and can lead to the spreading of bacteria, mold, and mildew.
Which Is Best For Improving Air Quality?
A dehumidifier will improve the indoor air quality in your home more than an air conditioning system by removing the moist air.
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Climate Plays a Crucial Role in Deciding Which Device to Buy Or Not
The climate in your area, particularly the temperature and humidity, can make you very uncomfortable at certain times of the year.
Both air conditioners and dehumidifiers can be beneficial, but it all depends on the environmental conditions where you live.
Mississippi, Florida, and Louisiana are some states with the highest humidity levels in the US and would all benefit from a dehumidifier.
An air conditioner will help to reduce humidity and remove some moist air, but it won’t help as much as a dehumidifier.
Whereas Texas has a very dry heat, and an AC is more beneficial than a dehumidifier.
Areas like New York have hot summers but cold winters, so portable ACs work well so they can be stored when not in use.
Which Provides More Comfort?
The comfort provided with regard to location can be summarized as follows:
In many regions, it’s beneficial to have both appliances (or a combo unit) so you can manage both temperature and humidity separately.
How Much Does Each Device Cost To Buy?
The upfront cost of an air conditioner varies depending on the size and type of the machine.
You can usually get a fairly inexpensive small portable air conditioner that will work in a single area for under $200, but a full central air conditioner can cost over $5000 (though this will have installation costs).
The price of dehumidifiers also varies, but most dehumidifiers are portable.
Which Is A Better Value Purchase?
Overall, dehumidifiers are generally cheaper than AC units.
However, you can get an affordable portable air conditioner or portable dehumidifier from big box department stores or online retailers such as Amazon.
Remember, it’s worth spending a bit more on a durable model which offers longer-term value.
How Much Do They Cost To Install?
If you opt for a whole-house dehumidifier or an AC, you’ll need to factor in the installation costs.
HVAC system professionals will generally charge based on the size of your home and how much work is involved.
This is how it usually works:
Bear in mind that if you need ducts installed for the HVAC system, so if you don’t have them already, it will add to the air conditioner costs.
Of course, if you go for portable dehumidifiers or air conditioners, then there are no installation costs, so it can save you a fortune.
Which Is Easier To Install?
An air conditioner is more expensive to install, especially if you get a whole home air conditioning system.
Whole-house dehumidifier systems are also expensive, but the majority of homeowners will only need a portable dehumidifier.
How Much They Cost To Run?
On average, an AC will cost between $0.06 and $0.75 to run per hour, so the cooling costs can really rack up if you have an inefficient unit.
Running costs of dehumidifiers will be between $0.04 and $0.16 per hour on average, so they are significantly cheaper, but you will normally need to run them for longer.
In fact, many dehumidifiers are designed to be used 24/7 to remove moist air, whereas your AC may only run for a few hours a day.
Which Is Cheaper To Run?
Overall, dehumidifiers are cheaper to run, and air conditioners have higher cooling costs.
Whether you’re getting an AC or dehumidifier, it pays to go for a modern, energy-efficient model.
Look at the BTUs of the model and consider the SEER rating (the higher the rating, the more efficient the device is) before making a purchase.
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How Easy They Are To Clean & Maintain?
You should have your AC checked by an HVAC services professional annually to ensure it’s all functioning properly.
You should also look to clean your AC filters every 3-6 months, depending on how often you are using the device.
Other than that, you should look to examine and clean your filter if you think there are any issues.
Your dehumidifier takes a bit more active maintenance because you usually need to empty the water storage tank.
As soon as it fills up, you’ll have to pour out the water, or the dehumidifier won’t work.
You’ll also need to replace the filter every 2-3 months to ensure that clean air is being circulated in your home.
Which Is Easier To Maintain?
It pays to stay on top of both appliances so you can avoid any issues, but generally, a dehumidifier will take a bit more active management.
If you are concerned about emptying the dehumidifier frequently, then I would suggest plumbing it in.
How Does A Dehumidifier Work?
Dehumidifiers are devices that are designed to remove excess moisture from the air.
In doing so, they help to protect your home from mold and mildew, which can build up in wet conditions.
This can prevent damage to your belongings and your home, and they are often used in basements and garages where it can get quite damp.
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The majority of dehumidifier types are electrical and work using a fan, and evaporator coils.
The working principle of most dehumidifiers can be summarized as follows:
You can also get desiccant dehumidifiers which work using absorbent pads.
These are generally portable dehumidifier models which use absorbent materials instead of cooling coils.
Water vapor is naturally attracted to the materials and removes humidity from the air. Eventually, the absorbent material will need to be dried out or replaced.
Most dehumidifiers are portable, but you can also buy and install whole-house dehumidifiers.
Portable dehumidifiers can be moved between rooms as needed, whereas a whole-house dehumidifier works to remove the excess humidity across your entire home.
I prefer portable dehumidifiers because I can store them when they’re not in use, but if you live in a very damp area, you may need a whole-house dehumidifier.
Pros & Cons Of Dehumidifying Your Home
Home AC Units Explained
Air conditioners function to help you control the temperature in your home.
They do this by removing heat and some water vapor from the air, which lowers the temperature within your home.
Air conditioners work similarly to dehumidifiers in that they use a fan and condenser coils. Here is the general working principle of ACs:
Some air conditioners draw air in from the outside and direct it across cooling coils, and it’s this cool air that impacts the temperature in your home.
There are several different types of AC used in residences:
A central air conditioning unit is typically part of an HVAC system.
Central air conditioners are more expensive but are much more effective.
Some other models, like mini-split ACs or window ACs, work well in a single room or area and don’t require too much effort to install.
The choice of AC you go for will be determined by your home, climate, and budget.
Air conditioners are ideal for homeowners who want a cool, well-ventilated home. I use mine in the summer months, and they work well in hot and humid climates.
Every home will probably benefit from an AC at some point, and there’s a wide variety of models to choose from.
Pros & Cons Of Air Conditioning In Your Home
Can You Use Dehumidifiers As An Alternative To An AC?
No, these two appliances are different and should be used differently. However, there is some crossover in functionality.
Dehumidifiers take moisture out of the air.
This doesn’t reduce the temperature, but it can have a cooling effect on your body, therefore, leaving you feeling cooler and more comfortable when it’s hot.
Air conditioners reduce the temperature in the room, but they can also help to reduce the moisture in a room by bringing fresh air in.
However, this won’t work in very damp conditions, and in some cases, it can actually help bacteria, mold, and mildew spread and cause damage to your home.
Using a dehumidifier instead of an AC won’t work, but it can still give you some benefits.
You can also have an AC and dehumidifier in the same space, and it may well be beneficial for you to have them both setup.
Can I Use The Dehumidifier And Air Conditioner At The Same Time?
Yes, you can use both simultaneously, and an AC can make your dehumidifier more effective.
Be careful with the running costs though as using both appliances will take a bit of electricity.
Do Dehumidifiers Reduce Temperature?
No, but removing moisture from an area can make it feel colder. In most cases, dehumidifiers will add heat to the room and make it warmer.
Should I Run My Dehumidifier In The Summer?
Yes, moisture and humidity levels will get highest in summer, so your dehumidifier will work well.
Do Dehumidifiers Get Rid Of Mold?
No, dehumidifiers will not kill bacteria or get rid of mold. However, mold is formed by damp conditions, and your dehumidifier will help remove this moisture and prevent mold from forming in the first place.
So Which Is Right For You?
Dehumidifiers won’t reduce the temperature, but they will reduce the humidity levels, and this can help your body feel cooler.
Air conditioners won’t reduce the humidity (much), but they will reduce the temperature.
That’s why in my home, I use my dehumidifier year-round to battle humidity, but I only use my portable AC in the summer when temperatures spike.
Hopefully, this guide has helped you understand the similarities and differences, and you now know which one will benefit you the most.