Back in the 1980's a local radio station broadcast the Roger Kjonaas Tip Of The Day; we thought it would be beneficial to provide tips with local practices in consideration.
Roger has always referred to a home as being a very sophisticated living environment with the dynamics of several systems that either work in harmony or in a manner that causes problems. Unfortunately, almost every builder has slightly different methods of construction; not all of which are implemented with the consideration of the building science that is going to control them.
We will provide tips for homeowners on problems to look for and things they can do with their home and homebuyers, on what to look for when buying or building a home.
Considering a home improvement?
There are many reputable home improvement companies in the area and a pleasant experience at a fair price is attainable.
However, there is a type of home improvement company that generates tons of leads and uses telemarketers to set up appointments for the large sales staff to call on you. Now that all sounds innocent enough, but it isn't; these companies are copying a company that went out of business called Pacesetter.
The Pacesetter company was a high pressure sales company that used home improvement products as a vehicle to generate sales. Their goal was to sell jobs at the highest price it could using a high pressure ten step sales program with little concern about the best interest of the customer.
These are not companies that are going to leave a bid with you so that you have an opportunity to sleep on it or get a competitive bid; they will tell you that this is your only chance to save!
The salespersons commission is normally 50% of sales price that the salesperson sells the product over a certain amount. Unfortunately this amount is much higher than a reputable company would sell a comparable product.
Pure and simple; if they can't leave a bid and get an answer in a couple days they do not have your best interests in mind!!!
Will infrared heaters really lower your heating bills?
I have received at least two brochures in the mail promoting infrared radiant "Sun" heaters that promise a tremendous reduction in my heating bills.
Although the concept of radiant heat is great, the cost of a BTU provided by infrared electric heat at standard rates is much higher than that same BTU provided by natural gas.
Radiant heat will make you feel more comfortable at lower air temperatures, the same way as when you feel warm on the beach until a cloud blocks the sun's infrared radiation, so remember, to have the comfort provided by infrared heat you must be in contact with the infrared rays.
I am aware of several newer homes that have underground ductwork that are experiencing (ground) water intrusion into the ductwork. This is a major concern for several reasons including mold and air quality issues.
I was informed that to solve the water problem they are going to abandon the underground ductwork and install a new duct system in the floor joist cavities, which is common.
This is wrong!!! Never do you solve a problem by fixing one of the symptoms of the problem. The problem is the water directly under the floor and the ductwork is just one of the visible symptoms; what about the other problems that the water can cause?
Depending on the direction the water is flowing, the frost footings used in walkout basements can create a dam, restricting the natural subgrade flow of water. By not addressing the water problem, mold and wood decay could be the next problem.
Ground water; a hidden danger that can suddenly appear and cause major problems!
Ground water can be anywhere!
It really doesn't matter if you are high on a hillside or on the river bottoms, ground water can be a problem. Often times people build or buy a property in the winter or during a time of less rain, unfortunately, ground water conditions can change overnight come spring or a major rainfall event.
The best way to prevent such an unexpected problem is to have a soil test boring performed on the property. Such a test will reveal any past or present existence of ground water.
Never, ever build a home without a soils test; not only are there potential ground water issues, but the stability and competence of the soils to support a structure are also critical to your long term investment.
I have had soils tests performed by the river in the south side of Bismarck and the results were two blow counts; the amount of strikes it takes to drive the rod down a foot; water is zero, my site was two and competent soil is ten.
I hauled in an average of $22,000 worth of engineered fill for each of four foundations I set, while other builders built directly on the mush!
Air sealing is now code!
It's that time of the year; closing and sealing up our homes to stop the brutal cold winter air from robbing our bank account and making our homes uncomfortable.
In addition to sealing for comfort, we battle the humidity drain. When cold dry air comes into your home, warm moist air is forced to leave your home; to maintain the humidity, a humidifier is often installed to add water vapor by the gallons into your home.
Where does all of the water vapor go? Some of the vapor escapes out the doors and windows, but unfortunately, most of the water vapor is forced, by the dynamics of vapor and air pressure, into the walls and ceiling of your home.
The sciences involved, in the movement of water vapor and the potential problem of condensation forming on the cold side of open cell insulated cavities, dictates how you should seal the thermal envelope of your home.
Builders have become experts at sealing homes on the outside surfaces; that is because it is inexpensive and easy. The most critical areas to seal are holes and cracks to prevent humid air from traveling from inside your home into the wall and ceiling cavities.
Moisture movement via diffusion through a couple coats of paint and the sheetrock, although does occur, is not the problem. The volume of moisture that is carried by air into the cavities is many times greater than the diffusion of water vapor through painted drywall.
With this in mind, when you go to seal your home, do it from the inside! Seal all of the electrical and plumbing openings on the exterior walls and ceiling. It is also a good idea to seal the openings on interior walls as well, often a light switch wire travels up the wall and through the plates.
If, on a windy day, you can feel air infiltration, you need to seal!
Slab on grade; really?
I was on a new construction consultation last week and among several problems the owners have is a cold house. It was a slab on grade construction with the foundation insulated on the inside, which is common and often seen in commercial applications.
The problem with this method of insulating the foundation is that when they pour the interior concrete floor slab, they cut off the top four inches of the foam insulation so that the slab can be continuous to the foundation wall.
An eight inch concrete wall has a r-value of R-.8, which is less than a single pane of glass, therefore it is highly conductive. With the concrete floor touching the foundation, the floor becomes a major contributor to the conductive heat loss. In addition, heat runs follow the perimeter of the structure, which looses a large amount of heat to the freezing cold slab that lies directly above.
I have found many homes, with slab on grade floors that have had temperatures of less than 30 degrees F., with humidification frost will form and through freeze thaw cycles, condensation and ultimately mold.
Always insulate a foundation on the exterior and keep the thermal mass within your thermal envelope!