Frustrations rise over millions of recalled dehumidifiers

Burned metal and coils are all that remain of a recalled dehumidifier that caused $200,000 damage to a Kokomo home.
Dehumidifier fire danger
Dehumidifier fire danger

INDIANAPOLIS (WTHR) - Five months after a massive recall involving millions of dehumidifiers, many frustrated consumers are still waiting for a replacement unit promised under the terms of the recall.

GD Midea Air Conditioning Equipment agreed to recall nearly 3.5 million dehumidifiers last fall because the units can catch fire and destroy an entire home. The dehumidifiers caused dozens of serious fires and millions of dollars in damage. They were sold under 50 different brand names such as Danby, Frigidaire, GE, Honeywell, Sunbeam and Sylvania, and they were sold online and at major retailers throughout the United States and Canada.

After 13 Investigates reported, several dehumidifier-triggered blazes in Indiana back in December, thousands of Hoosiers families filed a recall claim for a free replacement unit.

As part of the claims process, Midea required those consumers to unplug their old unit and cut the cord. In return, they were promised a new dehumidifier within eight weeks.

14 weeks later, many frustrated customers are still waiting for their replacement.

“I don't get the dehumidifier. I just get the runaround,” Ron Davault told WTHR last week. “I get a different story every time I call them. It's the classic, ‘Yours is going to ship on Tuesday. No, it’s going to ship on Thursday. It'll be out next week.’ I’m just tired of calling and not getting a straight answer.”

Davault said he learned of the nationwide dehumidifier recall by watching WTHR’s December investigations, which prompted him to take immediate action.

“Saw that report and my wife said, 'Hey, we better check our dehumidifier.' I came down here and checked this one and, sure enough, it's one of the ones that needed to be recalled,” Devalut explained, pointing to a 2011 Frigidaire dehumidifier still sitting in his basement. “I contacted them right away and did what they said to do in terms of cutting the cord and sending them pictures and all those sorts of things to start to process to get a new one.”

As winter turned into yet another wet Indiana spring – and eight weeks turned into twelve with no sign of his replacement dehumidifier – Devault continued his weekly calls to Midea to share his concerns added urgency.

“I explained to them I've got to have one...and I've said several times, 'You do understand that a person has the dehumidifier because they're controlling humidity issues, right?’,” he said. “I've got to do something. I can’t make it through the spring without a dehumidifier in my basement.”

Other Hoosier families share the same frustration. Like Davalut, they, too, contacted 13 Investigates for assistance after twelve weeks had passed and Midea had still failed to send their replacement dehumidifiers.

“I did the paperwork on 12/30/16. I have yet to receive the replacement unit,” explained Robert Koehne. “When I call the phone number they tell me ‘some day.’”

Company admits shipping delays

A spokeswoman for Midea admitted replacing millions of defective dehumidifiers has taken longer than expected. The company sent WTHR the following information:

"With the number of brands and unit sizes involved, providing the appropriate replacement unit of the same or similar capacity has unfortunately taken a little longer than we hoped. We originally informed customers with completed registrations that they could expect replacement units in 8 weeks. Currently our estimate is 8 to 11 weeks.”

Asked to further explain the cause of the delay, the company pointed out the units are being manufactured and shipped from China:

“In replacing the products, we make sure consumers receive a replacement unit appropriate for the old unit, and the availability of certain replacement models was delayed. This and shipping schedules delayed by the major holidays in China contributed to the current 8 to 11 week shipping estimate."

But customers like Ron Davault have waited 14 weeks – even longer than the newly-revised estimate.

Just one day after WTHR contacted Midea to ask specifically about Davault’s dehumidifier, the company informed him his unit was being shipped. Tuesday afternoon, Davault told 13 Investigates his replacement dehumidifier had finally arrived.

“I plugged it in and it seems to working fine. It’s surprising to me that it actually came. The irony that they shipped it the day after you spoke with them about my case is not lost on me, and I’m sure it has something to do with it,” he said.

WTHR has confirmed replacement dehumidifiers are now being shipped to consumers across Indiana who filed a recall claim in December. Koehne said he just received his unit, too.

“As of this week, all registrations completed in December should be on their way to customers. We encourage customers who are not sure of their status or have been waiting to contact us to ensure their registration is complete," Midea said in a statement sent to WTHR on March 30.

The company would not tell WTHR how many claims have been submitted by consumers who own recalled units or how many replacement dehumidifiers it has shipped to consumers.

$24 million in fire-damaged homes

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the Midea recall in November 2016, and it is one of two major dehumidifier recalls announced by the CPSC in the past three years. Those recalls involve 5.6 million dehumidifiers manufactured by Midea and Gree that are blamed for causing hundreds of fires and a combined $24 million in reported damage.

The recalls impact 60 different brands of dehumidifiers, all built between 2003 and 2013, and they were sold at big-name retailers like HH Gregg, Home Depot, K Mart, Lowes, Menards, Sams Club, Sears and Walmart -- and online at eBay and Consumers are being offered either a replacement unit or a refund.

Max McCauley learned about the recalls the hard way. He arrived home from church last fall to find his Kokomo home was filled with smoke and flames.

“It’s just totally devastated,” McCauley told WTHR, walking through the charred remains of his basement. “All the floor coverings, all the furniture, all of our belongings -- you name it – they can't salvage anything. They said everything's got to go,” McCauley explained.”

Based on the extent of the damage and estimates from insurance adjusters, the total cost to gut and repair McCauley’s home is nearly $200,000. He had no idea the faulty dehumidifier was recalled in 2013 because it could overheat and lead to a fire.

He now urges other families to check their dehumidifiers immediately to see if they are among the millions of dangerous units now under recall.

How to check your dehumidifier

To find out whether your dehumidifier poses a fire hazard, find the label on the back of the unit. Write down the brand, model and serial number and see if that information matches any of the models from one of these two dehumidifier recalls:

2016 RECALL: In November 2016, about 3.4 million dehumidifiers were recalled by the GD Midea Air Conditioning Company of China. Midea manufacturers dehumidifiers under the following brand names: Airworks, Alen, Arctic King, Arcticaire, Beaumark, Comfort Star, ComfortAire, Continental Electric, Coolworks, Crosley, Daewoo, Danby, Danby Designer, Dayton, Degree, Diplomat, Edgestar, Excell, Fellini, Forest Air, Frigidaire, GE, Grunaire, Hanover, Homestyles, Honeywell, Hyundai, Ideal Air, Kenmore, Keystone, Kul, Midea, Nantucket, Ocean Breeze, Pelonis, Perfect Aire, Perfect Home, Polar Wind, Premiere, Professional Series, Royal Sovereign, Simplicity, SPT, Sunbeam, Sylvania, TGM, Touch Point, Trutemp, Uberhaus, Westpointe, Winix, and Winixl. Enter the product information from the back of your dehumidifier into this searchable database provided by Midea to see if it is included in the recall.

2013 RECALL: You can also check this list of 84 affected makes and models recalled by the Gree Corporation in late 2013. That recall involves dehumidifiers with brand names Danby, De'Longhi, Fedders, Fellini, Frigidaire, Gree, Kenmore, Norpole, Premiere, Seabreeze, SoleusAir and SuperClima.

If your dehumidifier is on one of the recall lists, the Consumer Product Safety Commission advises you to turn it off, unplug it and stop using it immediately. Contact the manufacturer (at the links provided above) for a replacement or refund under the terms of the recall.