Removing Moisture from Homes with Air Conditioners
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This LG window air conditioner at the BuildingGreen office has a setting that maximizes moisture removal. Click on image to enlarge. Last week, I addressed strategies for controlling moisture sources in homes during the summer--one of the contribu... The higher the relative humidity of the air, the higher the dew point temperature. On a really dry day (low relative humidity), not much condensation will form on that glass of iced tea, while on a day with 90% relative humidity, condensed water will drip down the glass and pool on the table it's sitting on. All this is important to know, relative to moisture removal, because that's exactly how most mechanical air conditioning systems work. (I'll cover dehumidifiers next week.) Copper coils in these systems carry cold refrigerant (heat-transfer fluid), and as household air is blown past these coils, moisture from the air condenses onto the coils and is captured. Air conditioners and moisture removal Standard compression-cycle air conditioners (both window units and whole-house models) remove moisture through condensation, as described above. Their effectiveness at moisture removal varies, however. Moisture-removal is reported several ways. On product literature, pints per hour or liters per hour is usually listed. A modest-sized, 12,000 Btu air conditioner, for example, such as the LG model in the BuildingGreen office that's pictured here, typically removes between 3 and 4 pints of water per hour. Unfortunately, as the energy efficiency of an air conditioner goes up--higher EER (energy efficiency rating) or SEER (seasonal energy efficiency rating)--the moisture-removal performance usually goes down. A special "dry" setting that maximizes moisture removal on this LG air conditioner can help in humid weather. Click on image to enlarge. Dehumidification efficacy is also measured by the "sensible heat ratio." (More terminology, I'm afraid: "sensible heat" refers to energy associated with a change in temperature; "latent heat" refers to energy associated with a change in phase, such as from vapor to liquid--which might not involve much change in temperature.) The sensible heat ratio is the fraction of the total cooling energy used for sensible heat removal. Thus, a sensible heat ratio of 0.8 means that 80 percent of the energy used by the air conditioner goes toward lowering the air temperature, while 20 percent goes toward moisture removal. Selecting and operating an air conditioner To achieve comfort in our houses, we need to both lower the air temperature and reduce the humidity. Selecting air conditioning equipment involves considering the desirable balance between sensible heat removal and latent heat removal. In a very humid climate where lowering the humidity is almost as important as lowering the air temperature, a low sensible heat ratio--say 0.75 or lower--makes sense. In highly energy efficient homes, humidity removal is also often more important than cooling (because less unwanted heat gets in), so a low sensible heat ratio makes sense--or even a dehumidifier, which usually provides no actual cooling. Success with air conditioning and moisture removal also involves equipment sizing and operation--it gets pretty complicated. If an air conditioner is oversized, it will operate for only short periods of time, and that will reduce the moisture removal performance. The ideal is to have the equipment sized so that it will operate fairly continuously during peek cooling periods--rather than switching on and off frequently. It also improves moisture removal to operate air conditioners on a lower setting. Blowing air across the coils more slowly increases moisture removal, so if you're buying a new unit, look for a model with variable cooling output (or a high moisture-removal setting). An air conditioner technician or mechanical engineer will help you choose the right product for your situation. He or she will considerable the variables (climate, moisture sources, cooling loads, etc.) and suggest a solution that makes sense. Don't forget that less you use an air conditioner, the lower your energy bills, so pay attention to the simple strategies for reducing cooling loads and controlling moisture that I've covered in the past two weeks. * * * In addition to this Energy Solutions blog, Alex writes the weekly blog on BuildingGreen.com: Alex's Cool Product of the Week , which profiles an interesting new green building product each week. You can sign up to receive notices of these blogs by e-mail--on the BuildingGreen.com blog page enter your e-mail address in the upper right corner. Alex is founder of BuildingGreen, LLC and executive editor of Environmental Building News . To keep up with his latest articles and musings, you can sign up for his Twitter feed .