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Side Note: Crawl Space

Wood + Water = BAD NEWS

Exposed earth contributes a lot of water vapor into the crawl space air.  The earth is damp and as that damp soil dries into the house.  In climates where there are dirt crawl spaces, you can never dry the earth, and this invisible stream of water vapor from the exposed earth in a crawl spaces continues forever.

There are several ways water gets into a house.  Groundwater seeps, leaks or could even rush into many crawl spaces.  It can enter under the footing, between the footing and the walls, right through block walls, and through cracks in poured walls.  After it seeps in, it just lays there in puddles, slowly evaporating upward into the house.

Some of the common symptoms of a crawl space moisture problem are:

  • Mold or moisture damage in the crawl space or living area
  • Musty odors in the living area
  • Condensation (“sweating”) on air conditioning duct work or equipment
  • Condensation on insulation, water pipes or truss plates in the crawl space
  • Buckled hardwood floors
  • High humidity in the living area
  • Insect infestations
  • Rot in wooden framing members

These symptoms are most often noticed in the humid spring and summer seasons but can occur at any time of the year. Often, the heating and air conditioning contractor is the first person the residents call to deal with the problem. Typically though, the problem is not due to a failure of the air conditioning system; it results from poor moisture control in the crawl space.

Keep up with our Side Note Series for more information on crawl spaces and how to maintain them.

 

Excerpts from Dry Basement Science – What to Have Done and Why by Lawrence Janesky

Side Note: Just Add Water

In this week’s Side Note, we switch gears from basements to crawl spaces. Since air flows upward into the upper levels of your home from the crawl space, it brings the humidity from the crawl space with it. The effects on your home include:

  • Dust Mites
  • Sticking (swollen) doors and windows
  • Smelly, Damp Carpets
  • Buckling hardwood floors
  • Frost or Condensation and mold on the inside of windows in cool weather
  • Increased energy bills

While damage in the crawl space itself can be obvious, the list above represents many of the effects that can happen UPSTAIRS that you may not associate with your wet or damp crawl space.

Fixing your crawl space is one home repair expense that you can’t afford not to make.

Keep up with our Side Note Series for more information on maintenance and repairs to your crawl space.

 

Side Note: Basement Waterproofing – Inside Strategies

In previous posts we’ve covered a few exterior options to protect your basement.  Now let’s review what options you have inside!  By installing a drainage system around the inside of the basement along the wall, you can capture water at the most common point of entry – the floor/wall joint.  Capturing water from the walls can prevent the center of the floor from leaking by intercepting the water at the perimeter.

There are advantages to an interior drainage system.

  1. Accessibility
  2. Affordability
  3. Quick Installation
  4. Serviceable
  5. IT WORKS!

Even in basements that are already finished, it is still much easier to waterproof from the inside than the outside.  Most Full-Time basement waterproofing companies offer interior drainage systems – – – each with their differences. Watch for our next Side Note where we cover the different interior waterproofing options.

Excerpts from Dry Basement Science – What to Have Done and Why by Lawrence Janesky

Side Note: Outer Limits

By now we’ve learned that there are two types of basements – the ones that already leak and the ones that will eventually leak.  If the soil around the foundation of your home is pitched toward the foundation, it is a good idea to change the grade by adding dirt so that the soil slopes away.  Do not use sand or mulch which may absorb and hold water rather than water flowing away.  Don’t rely on grading alone to protect your foundation and keep your basement dry.

Try to keep any added dirt or additional landscaping 4″ below any siding.  If the siding is close or touching the soils it may rot, creating a new set of issues.  Proper grading as well as the proper use of gutters and downspouts will be a great help to your overall dry basement project.  Don’t rely on clean gutters alone to keep your basement dry.

Join us for more basement waterproofing facts as we continue our Side Note Series on Basements!

Excerpts from Dry Basement Science – What to Have Done and Why by Lawrence Janesky

Side Note: Dry Basement

Buyers expect a dry basement.  No one wants to buy a home with a wet basement.  These days most states have disclosure forms that would require the seller to details a series of questions about the property…one of which is water in the basement.  Home inspectors are trained to find this sort of defect during a standard inspection.  A keen eyewall-floor-joint-basement-water1 for moisture problems can save you time and money.

There’s simply no way to hide a wet basement.  Buyers will often view a wet basement as a “Fixer-Upper” and lower their offer…sometimes up to 10%.  On a $150,000 house, that’s $15,000!  The moral of the story – – Fixing your wet basement is a lot cheaper than not fixing it.

Stay tuned for more information on basement waterproofing!

 

Excerpts from Dry Basement Science – What to Have Done and Why by Lawrence Janesky

Side Note: Basement Space

Build-a-Basement-DesignEven though it may not be counted in the actual square footage of your home, your basement is VALUABLE space!  What can you do with your basement?  How about a Playroom for the kids, a Party Room or Family Room?  A home gym to keep you fit and healthy, or maybe a craft room for your creative side?  All of this and more could be possible.

You’re not going to finish your basement you say?  Even an unfinished basement is valuable space.  All the “stuff” that you would normally put into a dry, unfinished basement is now taking up finished space.  It’s crammed into the closets, the spare room, and the garage.  Taking some simple steps to drying and waterproofing your basement, you can move all that “stuff” downstairs and reclaim your finished space.

Keep up with our new series Side Note for more great basement information.

 

Excerpts from Dry Basement Science – What to Have Done and Why by Lawrence Janesky

Side Note: Radon Gas & Waterproofing

Radon Gas is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that comes from radium deposits in the earth’s crust.  If present in the soil under your home, it can get sucked into your house via the basement or crawl space.

DON’T PANIC!  It’s fairly common and easy to get rid of.

Some people that know “a little”, think that basement waterproofing systems and radon mitigation systems are incompatible.  While it is true that gaps, cracks and hols in the basement floor and walls need to be sealed as part of the strategy to get rid of Radon, this can be done without compromising the waterproofing system.

 

Excerpts from Dry Basement Science – What to Have Done and Why by Lawrence Janesky

Spring Thaw

springthawEach year, Michigan homeowners and businesses are hit with the harsh reality of winter, dealing with everything from snow covered roads and pot holes to slippery driveways and the dreaded NO SCHOOL Snow Days. You can’t change the weather, but we can minimize the toll it may take by implementing a few simple safeguards.  Heating and plumbing maintenance and the right insurance coverage, can help minimize any financial burdens that may follow seasonal storm damage.

This time of year, it is important to be aware of water damage that can be caused by Spring Thaw.  You can’t stop the water, but you can take measures to limit or prevent damage and save on restoration repairs.

Understand your insurance coverage

Read the details of your homeowner’s insurance coverage as it applies to water damage and flooding, because unless you carry flood insurance, any damage to your home caused by spring-thaw flooding is generally not covered. Many policies also don’t cover backed-up sewers unless you pay a higher premium specifically for this added coverage.

How to prevent water damage

No homeowner can prevent water damage under every circumstance, but you can prepare your home ahead of spring-thaw months to prevent common causes of damage.

  • Basement pumps. Install a sump pump or a sewer backflow value and keep a battery-operated backup in case of power failure. Consider installing a water alarm that warns when water is accumulating in your basement.
  • Basement storage. Keep valuable items out of your basement. Removing any electronics or stored valuables from your basement prior to spring-thaw warnings could prove to be an important ounce of prevention.
  • Debris removal. Remove debris from window wells, gutters and downspouts.
  • Doors and windows. Check for any leaks around doors and windows.
  • Exterior walls. Keep all exterior walls of your home well painted and sealed.
  • Flood drains. If you have flood drains, make sure they work properly.
  • Foundation cracks. Inspect your foundation for cracks that will allow water seepage and initiate repairs.
  • Grading. Inspect the grading around your home and make any changes. Design the grading to encourage the water to flow away from your home.
  • Landscaping. Trim trees and bushes away from your home and do not store wood or compost piles nearby.
  • Roof. Keep your roof in good repair. Unless a tree falls on your roof during a storm, most insurers expect you to maintain your roof to prevent water leaks caused by snow melting or torrential downpours.

Adapted from https://www.safetyinsurance.com

4 Simple Checks for Winter Savings

During the cold winter months, homeowners in most of the country find it necessary to turn on the heaters to keep warm. You can save energy when heating your home by taking the time to winterize for maximum energy savings.

Create a Winter Plan

Due to increasing energy costs, winter heating will consume an increasingly larger portion of a household’s energy budget. That’s why it’s important to check your home to insure that your heating dollars aren’t being wasted.

The end of summer and the beginning of fall is a perfect time to get your home ready for the ensuing cold-weather months. Use the steps listed below to help formulate a plan to winterize.

Check for Leaks

Weather stripping and caulking are the least expensive, simplest, most effective way to reduce energy waste in the winter. Improperly sealed homes can waste 10% to 15% of a home’s heating dollars.

  1. Check around doors and windows for leaks and drafts. Add weather-stripping or caulk any holes that allow heat to escape. Make sure doors seal properly.
  2. If your windows leak badly, consider replacing them with newer, more efficient ones. Remember that replacing windows can be expensive – it could take you quite a while to recover your costs from the energy savings alone.
  3. Every duct, wire or pipe that penetrates the walls, ceiling, or floor has the potential to waste energy. Plumbing vents can be especially bad, since they begin below the floor and go all the way through the roof. Seal them all with caulking or weather-stripping.
  4. Electric wall plugs and switches allow cold air in. Pre-cut, foam gaskets that fit behind the switch plate can effectively prevent leaks.
  5. Don’t forget to close the damper on your fireplace if there is no fire burning. This acts as an open window.
  6. Examine your house’s heating ducts for leaks. Since you don’t see them every day, ducts can leak for years without you knowing it. They can become torn or crushed and flattened. Have damaged ducts repaired or replaced. Duct tape can work for a short time, but after a while, it dries up and becomes useless.

Check Your Insulation

Insulation reduces the heat flowing out of your home during the winter months. Ensuring that your home is properly insulated will help your save energy when the temperatures drop.

  1. Insulate your attic. In older homes, thin can be the most cost-efficient way to cut home heating costs. Prior to energy efficiency standards, homes were often built with little or no insulation. As a result, a large amount of heat is lost through walls, floors, and ceilings.  The amount of insulation that you should install depends upon where you live. Insulation is measured in R-values, or the resistance to heat flow. The higher the R-value, the less resistant the product is to heat flow. Ask the salesperson at your local hardware store about the recommended R-values for your location.
  2. Weather-strip and insulate your attic hatch or door to prevent warm air from escaping out of the top of your house. Since warm air rises, this type of heat escape is common.
  3. Seal holes in the attic that lead down into the house, such as open wall tops and duct, plumbing, or electrical runs. Any hole that leads from a basement or crawlspace to an attic is a big energy waster. Cover and seal them with spray foam and rigid foam board if necessary.

 Review  your Heating System

Autumn is the perfect time to perform routine maintenance on your home’s heating system to ensure that it is running efficiently and effectively during the winter.

  1. Replace your heater’s air filter monthly. Since your heater will have to work less hard, it will run more efficiently. Cleaning and removing dust from vents or along baseboard heaters will have the same effect.
  2. If your heating system is old, you might consider updating it. A pre-1977 gas furnace is probably 50 percent to 60 percent efficient today. Modern gas furnaces, on the other hand, achieve efficiency ratings as high as 97 percent. Replacing an old heating system can cut your natural gas use nearly in half!
  3. Use your set-back thermostat if you have one. If you don’t have one, get one. A set-back thermostat allows you to automatically turn down the heat when you’re away at work or when you’re sleeping. you can then boost the temperature to a comfortable level when you need it. It takes less energy to warm a cool home than to maintain a warm temperature all day. Using a set-back thermostat can cut heating costs from 20% to 75%.Reverse the switch on your ceiling fans so they blow upward. This is especially valuable in high ceiling rooms, where heat that naturally rises is forced back down into the room.
  4. Make sure all hearing vents are opened and unblocked by furniture or other items. This will ensure that the air is evenly distributed through the home.

 

A Typical Inspection

It’s beautiful, close to work, great schools; it’s the neighborhood you wanted…You’ve found “IT”… Your dream home!  With the open kitchen and that beautiful tile in the bathroom, and the price…well, it is what it is and you’re okay with that.  A few decorating touches and its perfect. 

You’re excited about this one.  You’re completely captivated with your new abode.  Most houses sell on looks. The open kitchen and fresh new paint do wonders for sales appeal and you’re already placing furniture in your mind. You know you should get a home inspection just in case, so you talk to your friends about who they used, search the web, check qualifications, affiliations, testimonials, and fees for the various inspectors, call up a few and go with the one you feel most comfortable with.

It’s the day of the inspection.  You’ve met the inspector, signed the contract and they’re ready to go.  The inspector starts his procedure and you’re following him around the house step by step with a nervous and joyous anxiety.  Then it happens, that first comment…”The roof appears to be at the end of its life and you should anticipate replacing it in the near future.” You think, hmmm… I didn’t notice that but I can deal with it. He checks some areas around the window trim with a screwdriver and finds that some moisture damaged wood had been painted over and several sills will need eventual replacing.  It’s only been a few minutes. You start to wonder what else he’ll find. 

He’s making notes on his laptop as he checks various items on the outside of the house.  Curiosity is getting the better of you and you realize this is not going to be a day at the beach, this is serious business and everything he is saying is translating into dollars and cents. He explains that there are no perfect houses, they all have problems, and that you should try to take things in one step at a time.  You’re grateful you choose this inspector and calm down, even if just a tiny bit. 

You were wondering if there was something structurally wrong with the house. The inspector says you have some typical cracks in the foundation and they are not a structural concern, but they should be sealed up to prevent moisture entry and termite entry and recommends getting it addressed by a professional.  You feel a little better though because you remember seeing those cracks and you had a major concern about them. The cracks were the reason you thought you should have an inspection in the first place.

 

The inspector points out a few other concerns on the exterior, namely a set of stairs with no railing and some offsets in the concrete walkway that he calls a trip hazard. He says both conditions are unsafe and should be corrected and you’re thinking this guy is too much of a perfectionist. He goes on to talk about  trips and falls being the number one health and safety hazard in a home. You realize again that he appears to really know what he’s talking about and you’re happy about that.

You’re now moving on to the garage, then the basement.  You noticed as he tests an exterior outlet. He does this again at the garage outlet and states that the GFCI receptacle is inoperative, a safety hazard, and needs repair by an electrician. He explains that a GFCI is a safety device that can actually save your life in certain instances, and should be present at all areas where electricity and water are in close contact, such as exteriors, garage outlets, kitchen counters, bathrooms, and unfinished basements. Since you have an older house, he is expecting that you have some in a few places. He says he may also recommend additional GFCI outlets be added as a safety upgrade. He also tests the garage door and states that the auto-reverse mechanism is inoperative and needs to be adjusted or repaired.

On to the basement. He checks the framing at the perimeter of the house with a three foot long probe and states everything seems OK, looks at the rest of the basement framing, makes a few checks, and its on to plumbing. He checks the main line, the supply lines, the gas lines, the drain lines. Everything is going much better now. At the new water heater he pauses, checks the label and states the water heater may be at the end of its service life. You’re thinking, “but it looks brand new…” He explains that the tank appears to be about 10 years old as indicated by the serial number on the nameplate, which is beyond the normal life expectancy of a water heater and you should plan on replacing it before it becomes a problem. Okay – deep breath, that’s just a trip to Home Depot.

On to electrical. The inspector unscrews the service panel door, looks inside for a while and states that there are a few double tapped circuits that should be separated by using “skinny” breakers and that labeling could be improved. Not so bad. He also notes a few uncovered junction boxes that need covers and an open splice, where two wires are connected with tape, important fire safety hazards that need correction.  It all sounds like Greek at first, but he does a fantastic job of explaining what is there and what needs to be done and why.

He checks the gas heater and gives it a clean bill of health. It’s a ten year old cast iron boiler that he says should last a long time.  Whew…

He says the worst is over now and you follow him upstairs. The upstairs inspection seems to move much faster. The inspector checks the kitchen, no real problems except some dings in the vinyl floor. The toilet in the bathroom needs a new wax seal, a sink needs a new faucet, small stuff in comparison. He moves through the dining room, living room, and bedrooms, checking electrical outlets and windows, looking at the ceiling, walls, and what he can see of the floor. He also checks the heat in each room with a cool little laser thermometer as he cruises from room to room. A few things come up, nothing major. He has been shutting all the windows in the house as he goes for the radon test.

Last place he goes is the attic. He gets up in the scuttle hole and disappears from view, but you hear him walking around above you. He says that the framing is okay but you could use more insulation for energy savings and you will also need some extra attic ventilation as well. The bathroom ventilator terminates in the attic and can cause condensation problems, he says. He recommends rerouting it to the outside. You’re nearly done!

He places radon canisters in the basement and you discuss the protocol of the test and when to pick up the test canisters.

He completes his final notes and asks if you have any questions.  Reminding you that you’ll get your fainl report via email, he notes a few remaining things on this laptop.  He reminds you to read it carefully and to call if you have any concerns or questions.  You pay the man and he’s on his way. 

And that’s it.  You’re adding up estimates in your head of the items he’s mentioned during the inspection.  Quick math and then considering the current price of the house – Its up to you to decide if it’s worth the current price or if you’d like to negotiate.  You’re impressed with the inspector’s Non-Alarming approach and his way explaining that this is not a Pass or Fail scenario.  This is an education of what condition your dream home is and what you need to anticipate in the immediate and not so immediate future.  The point is that almost all homes need repairs and some of these may be major. You must decide whether the house is worth it, whether you’d like to negotiate a lower price, or whether you’ll walk away due to unanticipated major repairs.

Your not exactly overjoyed, there is a lot to consider and you have a little more homework than you bargained for, but you’re glad you hired that home inspector!