Why do I have moisture in my walls?

The inside of a wall filled with entrapped moisture

I just received a question that was too complex to answer quickly, and so interesting that it deserves an entire post. Unfortunately, it represents a situation that occurs far too often.

To summarize, the question came from a reader who opened a small hole in their wall and found condensation on the vapor barrier at the inner surface of the wall. The question is, what could cause this?

Here are some more clues:

  • The moisture was observed during the winter
  • The hole was cut in a south wall
  • The home has 3″ foam board sealed to the exterior wall
  • A 2×4 framed wall was built inside this wall and insulated with Roxul
  • A 6-mil poly vapor barrier was then applied just behind the inner sheet rock
  • They did not measure high moisture towards the outer wall
  • The wall was built during a humid summer

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Insulating walk-in attics

A walk-in closet behind a knee-wall

Most walk-in attics are behind knee-walls – those little walls about 3′-5′ tall that intersect the sloping roof line. Usually the entire space would have been an attic, but they were reclaimed for living space and a wall was installed to make a bonus room. The resulting rooms are often neglected and poorly conceived and are the least comfortable areas of the house. In addition, their design leads to a variety of insulation and moisture problems that can be tough to rectify. Continue reading

Attic insulation problems and solutions – Part 2

Fiberglass insulation against roof deck plus moisture = roof failure

In the first post, we looked at how adding insulation could lead to frozen pipes if the insulation was put in the wrong location. But, just like a sweater, if you put everything you want to be warm inside the insulation, you can keep your house and pipes happy and energy efficient.

This time, we’re looking at how to install insulation properly so that you don’t rot out your roof. Unfortunately, the photo above shows how not to insulate under your roof!

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When can adding insulation cause problems?

What happens if you add insulation?

Sometimes, attics and insulation can be confusing. Usually they make a lot of sense, but occasionally, they’re really confusing! So when people ask “how do I insulate my attic?” – the only correct answer is: “it depends…”

Suppose you purchased this house this past October. You get your first electric bill and it’s  really high, so, after reading Ted’s Energy Tips,  you go up to the attic to look for problems and find this. “Holy cow!” you think – not only is there a space heater up in the attic, there’s all this missing insulation.”

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Doing your own energy audit and save energy – step 1: Open your eyes

What is your house telling you?

During the winter, as I look around, houses yell out to me. Do they speak to you?

Look at this photo. It’s a beautiful day after a light snowfall. Half of the roof has virgin snow. The other half is totally melted. Clearly, the melted side is losing energy compared with the other side.

This winter, I encourage you to look at your roof after a cold night. If some of the roof is covered with frost or snow and some isn’t, ask yourself why? Sometimes, you’ll think that it’s the Sun melting the snow, but this photo is a perfect example. The roof faces south and gets lots of sun. Half isn’t melted, so obviously, it’s NOT the sun melting the snow.

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Are you unintentionally poisoning your family?

A missing barometric damper

A family friend recently told me of “issues” with their home heating system – “when it runs, the lights get halos around them from all the soot in the air.”

I couldn’t believe it when I heard this, and immediately warned him that the condition likely is making his family sick and could easily kill them. No joke.

Carbon monoxide poisoning is the “leading cause of accidental poisoning deaths in America” – it’s colorless, odorless and quickly affects your brain, knocking you out then killing you. In lower amounts, it can lead to chronic headaches, dizziness, depression, nausea and a host of other problems.

As we tighten up our homes to make them more energy efficient, we have to be particularly vigilant about keeping any combustion devices in the home tuned up and properly vented.

Let’s look at this in more detail….

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Reduce your heating bills – seal your ducts

This is wasting more energy than leaving a window open

I admit it – I go crazy when I see leaky ducts. I’m not talking about ducts that have little leaks, I’m talking about problems that cost you hundreds of dollars per year and could be fixed in a few minutes with a piece of tape.

Incompetent heating contractors hate me. Why? Because I’m on a mission to give you the information you need to know when they’re ripping you off.  On the other hand, quality contractors love my information because I arm you with knowledge so you can tell the difference between the good ones and the bad ones.

Sound interesting? Read on!

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Eliminating Problem Smells in Your Home

At some point, everybody deals with unpleasant odors in their home. Whether it’s from people, animals, mold, chemicals or something else, smells are everywhere.

As home get tighter and more energy efficient, odor and chemical problems can get worse and worse because the stinky air remains in the house longer since it isn’t flushed out by fresh air leaking in the house.

What not to do

My first advice is: do not cover up foul odors with other smells!

Manufacturers would have you buy air fresheners or sprays to make your house “smell better.” But what do these do? They add more chemicals to the air of your home. Chemicals that you and you family are going to breathe. Chemicals that you might have allergies to.

I know I am sensitive to the volatile compounds found in air fresheners, nail polish and similar things. They almost immediately give me a headache and make my eyes burn. Many household cleaners have the same effect on me.

I also strongly advise against disposing of cleaning rags and other ‘tainted’ materials inside your home. If you’ve wiped up some nail polish remover, put the rags into a bag and toss it outside in the garbage. You don’t want those fumes continually entering your home.

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Cleaning up after a hurricane or basement flood

You survived the storm, but now you have to clean up the mess. Maybe your basement or first-floor got flooded. Now’s it’s time to clean up!

! Be aware of dangerous electricity !

I can’t stress this enough. When you’re wet, you conduct electricity well enough to kill you if you get zapped. If you are working down in a flooded basement, do not risk touching an electrical outlet or working with plug in devices with your bare, wet hands, especially if you’re standing in the water.

If you absolutely must deal with something electrical, please, wear thick rubber gloves to insulate your hands. And don’t be standing in a puddle while you do so!  You’ve been warned!

If water is still entering your home…

Active water leaks are a real nightmare. If your foundation is still surrounded by water and water is flowing into your basement, the chances are good that you don’t have a big enough pump to get the water out faster than it can enter.

Often, water will seep up around a “floating slab” in your basement. The channels cut around the perimeter are meant to allow water to drain out but they do just the opposite during a big flood. And there’s pretty much nothing you can do to stop it.

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April showers bring May flowers, August storms bring…roof leaks!

Summer rains bring flooding

There’s nothing like a gentle Springtime rain. But Summer often brings us torrential downpours, and along with them, roof leaks, incredible moisture and mold!

A few days ago, we had record rainfalls in Eastern Pennsylvania – five inches of rain in some areas. This fortunately came after an extended dry spell, so the rivers didn’t flood this time. We got really lucky.

These heavy rains often bring high winds, fallen branches and roof damage. Sometimes, they’ll just lead to enough leaking for you to notice. Maybe there’s a discoloration on your ceiling or window jamb. Whatever the sign, please pay attention. Failure to deal with a “small” leak now can lead to thousands or tens of thousands of dollars of damage to your house later. Worse, the accompanying mold can pose a severe health/allergy risk.

When dealing with leaks, you need to take several steps in order to minimize the chance of more serious damage to your home:

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