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Crawlspace Ventilated with Conditioned Air

We have a 28" high, 2,200 square feet crawl space with a dirt floor covered by plastic sheeting and walls of exposed concrete block and perimeter beam walls.  the walls have 12 vents each one being 4" x 10" scattered around the perimeter.  We live in East Texas where it is humid much of the year.  During the summer the relative humidity in the crawl space is often 90% day and night.  The relative humidity in the crawl space tracks the average humidity of the outside air, that is, when the humidity outside is, on the average, high  the humidity in the crawl space will also be steadily be high and vice versa.  It seems to me using an exhaust fan to pull outside air in will just make the situation worse.  I heard Tom mention on one of your radio programs that Wave Home Solutions had a product which pulled a small amount of conditioned air from the upstairs down into the crawl space and at the same time expelled an equal amount of crawl space air to the outside.  Since I heard Tom say that I have done some research and found another company that offers a similar product, EZ Breathe.  Both companies charge between $1500 to $2000 uninstalled.  I have also read reviews that are mixed some saying it works and some say it doesn't.  This is a lot of money to spend on two fans and some ducting especially if it may not perform.  Do you have an opinion on these systems and, hopefully, some experience with them?

Our Answer

I have no experience installing Wave Home Solutions or EZ Breath systems in my own home, because I never fully believed they would work as advertised.  Initially they seemed promising but I grew concerned that they might only work in limited circumstances, such where the humidity was less prevalent than in your area.  Time has shown that there are many, many unsatisfied customers so it's pretty clear they are not the end-all solution they are often portrayed to be.

In your case I'd do the following:

  1. Use a vapor barrier on the floor and walls;
  2. Use an efficient, properly size dehumidifier, like those from SantaFe.  Here's a dehumidifier video I did on when I put one in my own home that's been working great.
  3. Improve the drainage at the foundation perimeter to keep as much water away from the home as possible.
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How to Reinforce Roof to Avoid Storm Damage

I live in an area prone to hurricanes and want to strengthen my roof. My house was built in the mid 1980s before local codes were updated after Hurricane Hugo. One solution would be to screw the roof decking to the rafters, but I am still five years away from needing to re-shingle my roof. Is there something I can do from the attic side?  My roof is not insulated, the insulation is in the attic floor.  Would applying a spray-on insulation to the underside of the roof have the added advantage of strengthening the attachment between the decking and rafters?

Our Answer

Pace, in a severe storm, combined wind forces will try to lift your roof off the house.  Adding spray foam insulation, while a fantastic way to lower your energy costs, will have no effect on that.

The best option for an existing home is to reinforce the roof by adding strapping and other forms of hardware design to connect the rafters to the exterior walls of the house.  There are a wide array of options for this but many straps and ties are made by Simpson Strong-Tie.

This type of retrofit project is best left to pros.  It's difficult work requiring access to tight spaces and solid workmanship to assure the reinforcements are effective. Much of this would be easier when you replace your roof, but if you don't want to chance it -- have a pro tackle the project sooner.

Popular Mechanics also has an excellent story on how to reinforce your home for a storm that  you might find helpful.

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Countertop Gap: How to Repair without Removing Top or Tile

I have a problem with gaps between the exterior walls of my kitchen and bathroom, and countertops.  The wall seems to be expanding and contracting leaving a gap between the wall and countertop.  Is there any way to correct this countertop gap?  The counters seems to be anchored properly what can I do to fix this problem?

Our Answer

This is a common problem which can be worse if the countertop is out of square.  It happens because the walls expand and contract and cause the gap to get wide or shrink dependent on the weather.  There are two ways to address this.  If the gap is less than about 1/4 inch or so, you can simply caulk the crack.  I'd use acrylic latex caulk for that.  It is flexible and will stretch as the walls move with the weather.

Your second option is to add a small piece of molding across the top of the countertop splash edge to cover the gap.  If you do this, be sure to only attach the molding to the top so that it will "ride" back and forth as the top moves and keep the crack covered.

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dryer vent cleaning

Dryer Vent Cleaning: Best Way to Remove Lint

Your newsletter last week had a section on dryer vent cleaning using a product called "Lint Eater" (see www.linteater.com). I looked at that, but it requires you to access the vent on the outside of the house. Since my dryer is on the second floor, I think my dryer vent goes out of the roof. Is that right? If so, how can I possibly clean it?

I have never cleaned the vent because we had a real hard time lining up the back of the dryer with the vent in the wall. If I pull it out, I'm not sure I'd be able to get it back in. Should I just not worry about it? I do clean the dryer lint filter out all the time, but I know that isn't really enough.

Photo credit:  www.linteater.com

Our Answer

No, cleaning your lint filter is definitely not enough! You'd be wise to get a friend to help you pull that dryer away from the wall and use the Lint Eater brush to scrub the insides of the duct. You will be quite surprised by the volume of lint that gets trapped in the ducts of those with even the most admirable lint-trap cleaning habits! You got the dryer back once before, so you will be able to do this again.

The only other way to attack the duct is from the roof where it terminates, but since gravity won't be in your favor there, we recommend you access it from the dryer area first and clean the dryer vent from there.

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bathroom,

Bathroom Makeover with Wainscoting: Moisture-Resistant Panels Add Style and Interest

We have a very small bathroom that has no character at all. How do we give the room the decorative makeover it needs?

Our Answer

Try an easy bathroom makeover with wainscoting. Bathrooms can be challenging spaces to work in but by adding wainscoting, you can really make the room stand out no matter how big or small the space is. Traditionally, wainscoting is about three feet tall and mounted along the bottom of the wall. The easiest way to add wainscoting is to buy bead board. Bead board gives the illusion of having been made with many different small pieces of lumber, but is in reality a sheet that can be cut to fit any size space.
Glossy white bead board looks great in a bathroom and will stand up to the moisture that space can dole out. AZEK, a manufacturer of cellular PVC trim products, also makes bead board that won't rot and never needs painting. To create a finished edge along the top portion of the bead board, use a decorative trim molding or combine two or more moldings to create a narrow ledge. For the base of the wall, use a baseboard with a quarter-round molding for a finished look.
You can also enhance a bathtub with a combination of urethane window panels and molding. Because urethane does not absorb water, the panels and trim are ideal for upgrading a master bath. A huge selection of urethane moldings is available from Fypon, and the combinations offered create clever variations on a bathroom makeover with wainscoting.

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bathroom, faucet, sink

Replace or Refinish a Rusty Cast Iron Sink – and How?

My kitchen countertop is tile, and my old cast-iron sink has begun to rust.  Can the sink be replaced without removing the tile around it?  Or is there some product that I can use to sand down the sink and recoat it?

Our Answer

You should be able to get that sink out without taking your countertop apart. First, use a tile saw to grind or saw out grout to create - or increase - the gap between the sink and the tile.  Remove plumbing carefully and work that sink loose.  There's a chance you'll damage some tile the process, but if you save the pieces you can reglue and regrout that tile.
In terms of whether resurfacing or relining the sink is an option, there's unfortunately not a product that I'd recommend.  Cast-iron sink finishes are baked on by the manufacturer, and there's no over-the-counter product that comes lose to replicating that level of durability.
Good luck!  Post before and after pics to The Money Pit's Facebook page.

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ridge vent

Rotating Roof Vent vs. Ridge Vent: Which is Best?

I am looking for some feedback on (1) the use of rotating vents versus standard flat low lying vents (2)the placement of these if used together -- things to avoid, (3) best locations for placement on roof of a normal roof on a bungalow

Our Answer

The most effective attic ventilation happens with continuous soffit and ridge vents. Air will enter the attic at the ridge, run up under the roof sheathing where it carts heat away in summer and moisture away in winter, and exit at the ridge. This 24/7 attic ventilation solution is far more effective than any other type of mechanical or passive ventilation solution.

Make sure that both the ridge and soffit vents are wide open and not blocked. For soffits, perforated soffit material is best. Just make sure no insulation is blocking the air flow from the insiode. For ridge vents, look at those sold by Air Vent, Inc. See:http://www.airvent.com/. They have a baffle design that speeds up depressurization.

Important: once this system is installed, block all other vents including gable vents as that will prevent turbulence that interferes with the air flow pattern you will have created.

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Pinhole Leaks in Copper Pipes: Repair or Replace?

I recently bought a home and am experiencing a problem with the copper waterlines/pipes corroding from the inside out.  So far the corrosion appears to be limited to just the hot water lines, but I'm afraid to take a look inside the cold water lines.

What's happening is we keep getting pinhole leaks springing up throughout the hot water lines, and when I recently repaired two holes/leaks I looked at the inside of the lines and saw a lot of corrosion which I have never seen or experienced before.

I had a home inspection completed by a professional before I bought and closed on the house, and the inspector identified a leak that the previous owner had to fix prior to the closing.  Is there anything else I can do other than replace the entire waterline system?  Also, is there anything I can do because I feel this was an existing problem that the previous owner knew about?

 

Our Answer

Copper has been used for domestic water piping for over 50 years.  Copper pinhole leaks are a condition that is somewhat newer.  Pinhole leaks in copper pipes form on the inside of copper piping and erode the wall of copper resulting in holes that leak.  Opinions vary on the cause, but many experts believe the corrosion is due to a chemical reaction between the water and the copper.

ToolBase Services, the housing industry's resource for technical information on building products, materials, and new technologies, has found that pitting corrosion can be classified into three types:

  • Type I -Pitting is associated with hard or moderately hard waters with a pH between 7 and 7.8, and it is most likely to occur in cold   water. The pitting is deep and narrow, and results in pipe failure.
  • Type II -Pitting occurs only in certain soft waters, with a pH below 7.2 and occurs rarely in temperatures below 140° F. The pitting that occurs is narrower than in Type I, but still results in pipe failure.
  • Type III -Pitting occurs in cold soft waters having a pH above 8.0. It is a more generalized form of pitting, which tends to be wide and shallow and results in blue water, byproduct releases, or pipe blockage.

For more information, read the complete Toolbase Case Study on pinhole leaks.

Repairing pinhole leaks in copper pipes is done by applying external solder to the holes, by replacing small sections of pipe, or in the worst case scenario, by re-plumbing the entire home. If your problem is severe, I'd recommend you approach this in much the same way as you would if you were suffering from rusted steel plumbing common in homes built from the 1920's on. Repair leaks as they develop. Plan and budget for a major upgrade of the accessible parts of the plumbing system in the near future.  By accessible, I mean those that are visible and accessible from a crawlspace or basement. Replace all the inaccessible pipes only if leaks develop.

That being said, if you ever need to open a wall or ceiling and find copper pipes, never replace the drywall without first replacing the pipes. As for what you should replace the plumbing with, I'd recommend PEX.  PEX is cross-linked Polyethylene and a relatively new type of plumbing pipe that is showing great promise due to it's ease of installation, lower cost and energy saving benefits.  To learn more about repairing pinhole leaks in copper pipes with PEX, visit the Plastic Pipe and Fittings Association (PPFA) website for Pex information.

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Crawlspace Moisture Problem Solution: Vapor Barriers, Proper Drainage and Foundation Vent Fan Can Help

I have a major moisture problem with a home that is one block from Lake Michigan in South Haven, MI. I have a working sump pump below ground level and am still having rotting problems with the floor joists. A local contractor wants to staple plastic to the joists or lay it on the ground. Would you recommend either of these as a solution?

Our Answer

Moisture management typically involves several solutions working together. Adding plastic sheathing over the soil as a crawl space vapor barrier is a good start. Also check your outside drainage conditions. Gutters must be clean, free-flowing and discharging four to six feet from the foundation. Grading also has to slope away. (See our article on wet basement and crawl space tips.) If the crawlspace moisture problem is severe, another step might be to install a crawl space foundation vent fan, wired into a humidistat. The fan can be set to kick on whenever humidity gets high enough and pull drier outside air through the space to minimize condensation on the floor joists and the potential rot, mold and insect problems that could ensue.

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Help! House Flooded Right Before Closing

I am buying a 3 story, built in 2012 detached house in California. Just got a phone call from my agent today (4 days before closing) that the house was flooded!  The seller’s mover uninstalled the washer and accidentally turned on the water so the whole second floor is flooded and into the garage on the first floor. My agent said that seller’s insurance company will take care all that and will repair everything.  He assured me that the flooring and drywall will be repaired and everything will be dry.

Would you say think after the repair, everything can be 100% back to normal? Or are there things that just will not be repaired completely? Or could this is all be a good thing and I will be better off after  the repair?

Thank you very much in advance for your response. I got hooked on listening to your show and hoped you could help!

Our Answer

Wow, that's one heck of a story!  And, its not the first time I've heard of this same scenario.  I spent years as a profesional home inspector and was asked once to recheck a house before closing. Well, it was winter, and the water was left ON and the heat was left OFF so you can guess what happened next. This was a bi-level home that had 6 feet of water in the lower level, and the high humidity had also caused doors, floors and walls to swell all the way up to the 2nd floor.

As a first step, I'd immediately consult an attorney and put the closing on-hold, because you will need a lot more than the assurances of your commission-hungry real estate agent to move this deal forward.  This much water in a house is a huge issue. At the least, the lower level will need to be completely gutted, dried out, treated with mildewcides and then rebuilt including insulation, wiring, heating or other mechanical systems and appliances, doors, maybe even windows.   Mold is a serious possibility as well, especially if there is any delay in getting those walls torn open so the drying process can begin.

You'll also need to have a licensed structural engineer examine the home and its foundation. All that flooding can disturb the soil under the home and cause shifts in the foundation that can potentially lead to cracks and instability.

Realistically, you are looking at month's worth of work here, which means you can't enjoy the home in peace and quiet.  Issues could also show up months or even years later that are not apparent now but could be the result of this damage.

If you do go forward, I'd recommend you hire your own licensed structural engineer to supervise the repair and remodeling every step of the way.  I'd make the seller reimburse you for that cost, and make it super clear that the engineer works for you, and NOT the seller. He or she will be your trained eyes and ears to make sure this home is put back together better than what it was when you found it.

 

 

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hanging picture

How to Hang Heavy Pictures on Drywall

What's a safe way to hang heavier art pieces on drywall? I've done a bit of unintentional damage before, and don't want to repeat the performance.

Our Answer

There is a wide array of hardware available to help hang a heavy picture on drywall. One gadget I really like is The Monkey Hook, an easy-to-install wall hanger that supports art weighing up to 50 pounds and can be doubled up for even heavier pieces. It was created with both residential and commercial drywall in mind, and designed to work in wall locations where there is no wall stud to latch into.

The Monkey Hook looks is a hook shaped piece of strong wire. One end is sharpened and can be easily driven into the drywall with a few twists. It then is locked in place and this heavy-duty helper is ready to display your favorite framed art and photos.

The other nice feature is that when you change your mind and decide to move your art around (and you KNOW that will happen!), The Monkey Hook leaves only a very small hole in the wall that's easily covered with just a dab of spackling compound.

 

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Remove Wallpaper

How to Prioritize Home Repairs

First of all - I adore you guys!  I've been listening to the podcast and find it incredibly helpful; you both are so generous with your talents.

I purchased a "starter home" type house when I was single, but got married and moved in with my husband. We rented the house out, keeping in mind we wanted to move back after retiring.  Now we're retired and back in my original "Money Pit", and we want to get serious about improvements!

Our house isn't in complete shambles, but we know there's probably a LONG list of things that need to be done. We're overwhelmed and frozen in place. What is the best way to prioritize home repairs? Should we hire a professional who could evaluate the house and give us a game plan?

Our Answer

Dorothea,

Thank you for the kind words! Great question, and we totally understand what you're feeling. Lots of people suffer from "analysis paralysis" when faced with so many things to do because they do not know what to do first! There is a great option, however, which you actually brought up in your question. What I would do is hire a professional home inspector to evaluate your home first. Home inspectors are terrific because they are not in the business of selling you repairs. If you were to ask a contractor to do such an inspection, you are guaranteed to be presented with quotes for all the things they would love to fix on your house.

On the other hand, with a home inspector, you'll just be getting a report that gives you the facts. He will tell you what needs to be fixed and in what order. Generally speaking, safety items need to be fixed first. For example, wiring problems that could cause a fire or uneven steps that could cause a fall. Next, you will want to tackle the structural issues that could cause the building to deteriorate. Finally, you will work toward the cosmetics - updating a kitchen, painting a room, or installing new faucets or fixtures. If you would like, you can take a look at this blog where we list out the most popular home improvement projects we're asked about on the national radio show. This may come in handy when you are completing your projects!

All in all, if you use a home inspector you will get that impartial expert advice. The best way to find a home inspector is to find one here, at the American Society of Home Inspectors. Thank you for reaching out, and please let us know if we can help with anything else!

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Mouse Proof Your Home: Tips for Avoiding the Rat Race

 

Mice and rats are coming into my home via the street sewer system. I thought I had fixed the problem eight years ago by cementing a certain area, but there seems to be another opening somewhere. Do you have any suggestions?

Our Answer

If you've ever thought you could mouse-proof or rat-proof  your house by sealing up small gaps around the outside, forget it. Mice can squeeze through spaces as small as a nickel, and rats need a space only twice that size to find their way into your home. Mice and rats are great climbers and jumpers, too: mice can leap 12 inches into the air and hop down from the same height without injury, and rats can leap 36 inches vertically and jump off of a 50-foot-tall building without a scratch.

Fortunately, there are a number of ways you can make your house a much less welcoming place for mice and rats:

  • Avoid nesting sites: Stacks of newspapers, cardboard boxes, firewood, lumber and other storage encourages nesting. Keep all storage off the ground or floor at the inside and outside foundation perimeters of your home, and make sure all bushes, hedges and other plantings are trimmed back and well away from the foundation.
  • Secure storage: Mice can squeeze through spaces as small as a finger, so seal up potential entrances with sheet metal, steel wool or cement. Pay particular attention to the spaces around pipes, vents and ducts when rodent-proofing your home.
  • Keep a clean house: Wash dishes and cooking utensils immediately after use. Keep counters and floors free of soiled food, and clean the insides of cabinets and pantries frequently to avoid feeding furry creatures.
  • Use rodenticides: Poisons designed to eliminate mice and rat infestations are safe and highly effective if used in accordance with label instructions, and can help to mouse-proof your home. If exposure to children or pets is a concern, use lockable bait stations; with these, the poison is secured inside a container that has holes small enough for only a mouse or rat to enter.
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accessible design

Accessible Design Patio Doors Needed for Wheelchair Access

Do you know of any options in accessible design patio doors? My daughter is in a wheelchair and I need to replace the sliding glass door from the house to the patio/deck. I've looked around and all the patio doors I've found have a 1-inch area at the bottom with rail slots. I need an accessible patio door that is relatively smooth at the bottom so that my daughter can use it without all the trauma of rolling over the sill area.

Our Answer

Accessible patio doors and overall Accessible Design are very important not only for those who are handicapped but for everyone who appreciates ease of access. Whether it is a low door threshold, a cabinet with sliding shelves or even a light switch with a paddle verses a toggle switch, simple changes in design make access easier, safer and more comfortable for all.

AARP has done a great job of identifying many of these areas via a special section of their website devoted to Livable Communities. As to your specific situation, yes, there are low-threshold, accessible patio door designs for just this purpose. Instead of the traditional sliding patio door, they are available in the more accessible hinged patio door format.

For example, door manufacturer Therma-Tru makes something called a public access sill option for a hinged patio door. Instead of the standard 1-9/16-inch-high sill, the public access sill has a height of only half an inch. Moreover, the sill is sloped, making it easier to roll over with a wheelchair or baby carriage. You can check out a profile of the sill in Therma-Tru's product guide; see page 11 for more details on this feature for accessible patio doors.

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humidifier, deumidifier, humidity

HVAC Ducts Sweat in Summer

Hey, I live in southern Kentucky. During the summer months I have condensation dripping off the HVAC in the crawl space. What can I do about that? The crawl space is concrete block with vents on all sides of house and has black plastic on the ground.

Our Answer

The condensation is the result of warm moist air in the crawlspace striking the cold air conditioning duct.  As the air is chilled, it releases moisture resulting in the dripping you are reporting.  It's like what happens when you bring an ice cold glass outside in the summer, the outside gets wet because the warm moist summer air is being chilled, releasing that moisture.

Two things can help:

 It sound's like you already have a crawl space vapor barrier, which is good. You can further reduce the amount of moisture in the crawlspace by improving the grading and drainage at the foundation perimeter, as explained in this article about preventing a wet basement.  The approach is exactly the same when you need to reduce the moisture levels in a crawl space.  

Second, you can insulate the ducts.  Once insulated, the warm air will no longer be able to contact the cold duct surface.  No contact, no sweating!