I recently moved most of my 600 houseplants out of their IKEA cabinets and into my unfinished bathroom.
A big problem with the IKEA cabinets is humidity. After learning about VPD (Vapor Pressure Deficient) I learned how important it is to have a good ratio of humidity to temperature. I learned that having IKEA cabinets that were 80% humidity and 70 degrees F were really bad.
That causes a perfect environment for mold, pests and for plants to basically not be able to breathe so there was no leaf growth or they would start to grow new leaves and then die off. So I had to figure out how to either raise the temperature of the cabinets or lower the humidity of the cabinets.
Well, since higher temperatures naturally lower the humidity I figured it would work to install multiple heat mats in each cabinet. It did work a bit. I was able to have an average of 82 degrees F and 70% humidity in my cabinets.
However, it was really hard to keep constant. After watering my plants the humidity would be way too high and when they were getting close to needing watered the humidity was way too low. I was having to change the temperature of my cabinets multiple times a day. Of course, I wasn't very good about doing that so the plants weren't doing so well.
When we added on to our house 7 years ago we didn't upgrade our HVAC system but we went from 1900 sf to 2900 sf. I'm pretty sure our air conditioner was on all day, every day this summer.
It naturally has a hard time in the summer because it's not large enough for the new space but also because the main floor will generally be about 10 degrees warmer than the downstairs. So if you cool down the upstairs enough that you aren't sweating upstairs then it's freezing downstairs.
It seemed extra bad this year so we did some research and put some vent magnets over about half the vents downstairs to try to even out the temperature. It helped a little because the temperature difference was only about seven degrees after doing that.
Well, we just so happened to start having our heating system leak around the same time. The heater would leak at random times, usually in the middle of the night and we would wake up to a large puddle in the the hall carpet outside the heater closet.
We had multiple techs come out and try to fix it and we spent so much money on that darn system. During the middle of it we even installed a ductless mini split in the main part of our upstairs addition to supplement our heating and cooling system.
We kept thinking we had the leak fixed and then it would leak again. What seemed to help the most was we discovered that the condenser wasn't draining properly so we had that fixed - but then like a month later it leaked again. This time we figured out on our own that the whole house humidifier feature was broken so we turned that off and haven't had a problem since. We generally have really low humidity where we live (like 20-30% most of the time) but because of all the plants we do NOT need a humidifier.
What really got me thinking about finding an alternative to our nine IKEA cabinets was one of the heating techs. He took a look at our main floor living room with seven IKEA cabinets trying to heat up to an average of 82 F while the air conditioning was trying to cool the same space down to 75 in the day and 67 at night and said that was a big reason why we were having so many cooling problems.
He said the cabinets were making it much hotter upstairs than downstairs and making the cooling system be on constantly. I sure wish I would have thought of that before we spent $6500 on a ductless mini split!
Around that same time l we got our first electric bill in the summer and it was $200 more than normal! Yikes!
What to do?
So I tried to figure out a solution to the whole humidity, temperature, and cooling system problem. I already had about 200 cheaper houseplants in my unfinished master bathroom in my basement but they weren't doing well. They were cold in the summer because they were in the basement and the humidity was way too high in the room so mold was a big problem in the room, especially around the window and the plants were just surviving in there.
What worked best was opening the window in the summer and trying to get some heat in and humidity out. That wasn't a very controlled environment though, especially when I would forget to shut the window at night. And it wasn't a good year-round solution.
I did try a small dehumidifier in the room and it was good at its job but it would only lower the humidity about 2% when it was turned on constantly and I didn't want to spend hundreds on a large, whole house dehumidifier that may not even work.
I finally came up with a solution a few days after I saw an awesome whole house dehumidifier on clearance for 75% off at Target in the fall. I figured it was worth a try in our downstairs master bathroom to see if would actually get the humidity down. The experiment was a success! It can get the humidity down about 10% in about 10 minutes.
It actually works too well because I wanted to keep the room at about 60% humidity. The dehumidifier is supposed to turn off and on at a certain humidity % but it was really inaccurate so I found a humidity controller and have the dehumidifier plugged into it and it turns the dehumidifier on when it gets above 62% humidity and turns it off when it gets below 58% humidity.
I am also able to drain the water that the dehumidifier pulls out of the air down the shower drain with a one foot hose connected to the unit.
That way I can easily keep the humidity at an average of 60% humidity and I can keep the temperature around 72-75 degrees with just a little space heater that has a built-in thermostat. It mostly only turns on at night.
This way my plants are in about the lowest humidity they can be to thrive but the room is at the max humidity to hopefully not grow mold. It is also very energy efficient to maintain, at least compared to my cabinets.
So between a much cheaper setup and the hopefully much lower energy costs, I will hopefully save a lot of money on plant maintenance. The best part is my plants seem to really like the constant, ideal environment. I can really notice a difference in how healthy they are and how fast they are growing.
The only thing I had to buy for my new setup was two wire shelving units at Costco, the dehumidifier, the humidity controller, and flaps to put at the bottom of the doors leading into the bathroom so we can keep the perfect environment in that room and not heat up and humidify the entire house.
It was also able to sell most of my IKEA cabinets and most of the things inside them, like heat mats, thermostat controllers, shelving, fans, lights, etc.
What About the IKEA Cabinets?
I'm going to keep 2-3 cabinets in my front living room of the plants for sale and some larger favorites of mine. What I've done with the IKEA cabinets is turn off the heat mats, have about half as many plants in each cabinet as I used to and control the humidity by opening or closing the cabinet door. The plants don't get as good of conditions as the plants downstairs but its good enough and a lot less money to maintain than before so that's what I'm going with for now.