We think we love them, they have been a part of the American dream since the days of the pilgrims. The lingering quest in homeownership how do we protect them from the elements, after that how to make them warmer years after they have been built.
In the old days the log houses used the logs as insulation and a barrier from the elements, the timbers in a log house were a good insulator because no air could pass through theses timbers, just around them, as the logs dried out naturally over time they shrank leaving gaps, while the body of these timbers have released the trapped water it now traps billons of air pockets pushing up its insulating ability also over time. In the late 1800-and early1900s people were packing their balloon-framed houses with newspaper thereby creating a low R-value in the exterior wall cavities. During WW11 to save energy they required houses to be insulated the houses using insulation that was batt of fibrous material about 1 1/2” thick placed into the stud cavities.
Today we have to tighten our budget again because of the high cost of living. One place to do this is to insulate our houses from the exterior than install new siding over the insulation, but there is a catch if done wrong it will rot your walls, what would take nature 60-80 years could be done in as little as 3-8 years.  Houses built before 1950 were designed to breathe, it wasn’t until the last 10 years that we had no idea as to how much water vapor actually passed through the exterior walls of our houses. If our house has a crawl space, cement floor, basement foundation walls, that are now waterproofed on the inside (not water resistive paint) you could be absorbing anywhere from 10-150 gallons of water per 24 hour period into your homes atmosphere this water vapor wants out of your house because there is less humidity outside than there is in your home, thereby forcing its way through your exterior walls to the out side.
Now the Law states you must install a house wrap. House wraps work great in the far south, but what happens in the north is a world apart from the south. The inside temp of the house is 70° outside is 30° automatically the water vapor in the house wants out the humidity in the air outside is dryer than the air inside so it forces it’s way through the exterior walls.  If your installer installed a house wrap under your siding this is what is happening the water vapor just past through the insulating and wall sheathing, the next surface is colder so now it freezes on the back side of the house warp (you have white frost between your wall sheathing and your house wrap). When the temperature warms up the frost now turns to a liquid, with tarpaper the paper sucks up the water and spreads it to help it dry out the back side of the siding. While if you installed a name brand house wrap it now pooling up behind your siding. It a liquid not a vapor so it is not allowed to pass through, but instead it starts freezing and thawing on your wall sheathing breaking it down.

Adding more insulation on the exterior of the wall if done right will save you a boatload of money. On the exterior of a building you best results are going to be from a rigid insulation board. There are at least 2 types 1st is just an insulation board and the 2nd has aluminam foil on both sides you must choose according to the siding you want to install as to what insulation board is best. For example; horizontal cedar lap siding does not like aluminum for behind it. Before installing any type of rigid insulation on to an exterior wall surface you must make a way for the water vapor to escape to the outside air.

I recommend 1 product “mortairvent” Made by Benjamin Obdyke, it’s only 1/4” thick installed over the tarpaper, than you install you insulation board next and finally your siding. It’s made of woven plastic with enough rigidity to keep 1/4 inch air gap to allow the water vapor to escape either by going down the wall to be vented at the foundation line or vented at the soffit line of the house.

Kitchen exhaust fans

All kitchens should have exhaust fans, a lot of hood fans do not vent the bad air to the out side, but instead they push the air through a charcoal filter and than exhausted it back into the kitchen. When these hood fans are used over 50 hours of use the charcoal filters should be changed. If you don’t, are your doing is blowing the smoke and cooking smells into the rest of the house.

Using an exhaust fan below 300 Cubic feet per minute, most houses have areas that leak this much air into these houses. Newer homes leak about 150 cfm around windows and doors.
If an exhaust fan is turned on blowing out 300 cfm, your short 150 cfm and it will draw it from a bad source. One of the easiest places for the air to come into the house is by sucking the air out of the chimney either the fireplace or the furnace chimney.

We remodeled a house along with the kitchen; we installed a 1280 CFM exhaust fan. We told the homeowner that he need makeup air he refused Than came thanksgiving, the family was there the owner has a 5’ wide and 4 tall open wood fireplace the fire was going for about an hour when the wife turned on the kitchen fan. Instantly the fireplace chimney reversed bringing the smoke into the house the fire in the fireplace was still burning but the flames were blowing horizontally into the room. He wanted a quick fix so he had a 12” fresh air intake installed into the cold air return on his furnace. This did fix 1 problem the fireplace now works properly while the kitchen fan runs on full speed.

If the furnace is running it was not sided to handle super cold air coming into the heat exchanger. With this much cold air coming into the furnace, the furnace cannot heat the house because now it has to heat the incoming cold fresh air. The other problem is that the heat exchanger is being stressed with 400 ° on the burner side and -10° on the other side this shortens the life of the heat exchanger by years.
If the house is warm because of the fireplace the furnace won’t turn on. With the fresh air dumping in to the return air plenum, the super cold air is now coming out all the vents cooling down your floors making a draft along the floor to the fireplace and the kitchen stove.
The proper way is to bring fresh air into the house and run it through a furnace designed to temper the makeup air.

Heating your Garage

It’s a great idea, heating your garage with a Reznor unit heater it shall do a lot of good things for your garage and items stored in it. By keeping the heat above 38° it will keep the garage foundation from heaving in the cold winter months. Also if the garage is attached to the house, the house benefits by heating the garage the common wall is now warm for the house interns saving you heat on said house wall.

Having it warmer also helps your vehicles start faster as well as better engine oil viscosity, because the engine block is starting warm.

Using a compact ceiling gas heater works great. We have installed several of these units. You can bolt them to the roof framing members and or floor joist system. You can mount them up tight or drop them down to a lower height if you have a 9’- 14’ high garage ceiling. By installing the unit at the back of the garage and blow air cross the garage to the far front corner this will get the greatest way to stabilize the temperature in the garage. This will also dry your car off and the floor. By keeping your garage temperature at or above 38° you should never have the garage floor flaking or popping of concrete from the winter weather.

This furnace also can be vented both out the wall and/or through the roof of the garage. Giving is a way to really maximize your opportunity for the best installation.

Solar Heating In Minnesota

3 types of solar collectors.
The vacuum tube type works great. It can reach temperatures above 350° and becomes a good collector. The down side of it is when the snow and/or frost lands on the vacuum tube collector the sun has to warm it up to evaporate the frost, and with heavy snow you will have to clean it off the solar panels manually. If you remember to clean the panel if not this will loss you hours of solar collecting.

2 types of Solar thermo panels

2 types of Solar thermo panels

Home made solar collectors have a couple of problems: They are not sealed and filled with inert gas (argon gas) there by missing a key way of collecting solar heat. Improper way of winding the tubing inside the panel is another problem.

Flat panels commercially made are a great way to collect heat. You can set the collectors on most any type of roofing system. They also can be joined together for a greater Btu output. The maximum output will yield you any where between 50-70% of your domestic hot water. Having extra cash to go green is great but if you need this to be your main heating unit for hot water or limited location for hot water storage, this is not the system for you at this time I’ll check these systems out every couple of years for better results.

Boilers, furnaces and water heaters-1

Boilers, furnaces and water heaters – figured for a 2000 SF house
For boilers
Water – minimum operating pressure 8 LBS per floor. A 2 story with basement –requires 24 Lbs operating pressure.

Cleaning cycle for the burners at least every 2 years
Fuel – Natural Gas, Propane
When gas is burnt it’s by product is water and Carbon Dioxide add this to a steel heat exchanger this creates rust. When rust flacks off the exchanger it falls on to the burners below creating bad combustion an lose of efficiency.

Oil #2 a Oil burners are a unique creation they blow fuel oil out at 100 PSI This oil is ignited by 2 electrodes at 10,000 volts. If/or when the electrodes burn back, and /or twist it will soot up the heat exchanger and flue again loosing efficiency.

Heat exchangers over time loss there integrity from the heating 350° 72 times in one cold winter day. When the exchanger breaks, cracks- carbon monoxide is now being pushed in to the house.

When you move air for heating and cooling you must clean or change your, also check to make sure your furnace fan blades are clean. If not use a screwdriver and clean each fin. Just have more air moving through the furnace will increase your heating and cooling efficiency.

Systems check –
Proper start up of burner -does it start with a bang or take a long time to light
Make sure the high limit control shoots down properly at the right temp.
Check for proper airflow out of the blower check the fins on the blower fan for lint buildup.
Cost of a new heating and cooling system with ductwork – $ 15,000.00
Cost of a new Geo system with ductwork – $ 24,000.00 with a well system
Cost of a new Geo system with ductwork – $ 18-20,000.00 with a in ground loop system
Cost of replacement of a furnace & AC system. $8,500.00
Cost of replacement of a Geo system $6,500.00

Foundation Walls Failing

There are a lot of basement foundation walls failing. Presently a whole lot of poor quality fixes. Some of which take up a lot of square footage of your basement to hold up the foundation wall, but don’t address all the problems.


These foundation walls were built good but they were not designed for your soil type and/or hydrostatic pressure of your lot.

In the 2nd picture it shows that wall is buckling inward, with a closer look a the picture we see 3 problems.


1. The ground is almost level with the top of block wall. This creates other problems that we will talk about on another post.

2. The yard next to the house is flat- when it rains where will the run off go?
If the soil you have is poor or unsatifactory; silty clays, organics, or peat,etc. these types of soil make great lakes, they don’t drain, they pond. Because there is no place for the rain water to go then it seeks the next available spot -loose soil. This type of soil has a lot of voids or air pockets. Every house that has frost footings and /or a basement has loose soil from 2′ and up to 8′ away from the house. The rain water runs into the soft soil and around the foundation of building. This inturn compounds the problem pushing hydrostatic pressure on the foundation walls.
3. Remember the wall has a horizontal crack it now lets water into the house


1. Remove the dirt next to the house
2. Push the block wall straight
3. Install 3/4″ Rebar in block and fill the block with concrete
4. Install a drain tile system
5. Water proof the wall with Black dog Waterproofing system
6. Put a Geo grid system to keep the dirt from mixing into the rock
7. Install any size rock from 3/8″ up 1 1/2″.

Frost footing pros verse joes

picture-76.jpgTouch on a picture to enlarge

You are looking at 2 cross sections as to how to build a frost footing.
The first picture shows how 98% of all house frost footings are installed. With this type of design there are some problems.
1. Where there is a 42” frost footing required the install 1-7 1/2” high footing 4- 8” blocks which = 40” with mud joints 41 1/4”. If they install a 1/2 high block the total height is 44 3/4” no problem except the code requires the grade height to 8” lower than wood framing and or wood siding. Making the frost footing only 41 1/4 with a high block and no wood siding. But you house has wood siding and no half high block the frost footing is now 36 1/2”. So in picture 1 the water is up to the top of the soil on the exterior. When it freezes in the winter we know water will expand and increase its mass crushing the insulation decreasing the R-value and allowing the water to freeze to the footing, which will move it, laterally inward or vertically which ever is easier.picture-78.jpg
2. As the temperate of your frost footing drops in the winter your concrete slab will also reflect how cold it is outside.
3. The Rigid foam insulation must be covered because the ultraviolet light from the sun will break down the insulation most contractors cover it with aluminum sheathing. Aluminum and does not like concrete or salt, it will corrode and eat the aluminum. Yet they pour concrete up against the aluminum shield and don’t tell the owners of the houses not to salt their sidewalks.

Gypcrete w/ Infloor heat

infloor.jpgTouch on picture to enlarge.

Gypcrete is a lite weight cement mix which uses gypsum instead of sand and a high quality Portland mix making gypcrete.
In commercial applications Gypcrete is used as a sound deadener and a fire retardant between floors.

In a residential setting it is normally used to cover over infloor water heat pipes.

The gypcrete companies can pour the gypcrete at a minimum of 1/2”. A good thickness is 1” or more, this includes pouring over all types of pipes. (know this there is no law to protect the homeowner about gypcrete). Gypcrete must have a load bearing floor under it to support it, and the finished floor and it live load (furnishings and people). If you are installing the gypcrete 1 1/2 or less – it must bond to the structural floor below. If you need insulation under the gypcrete, install the insulation than install 4’ x 16’ wire panels with 6” x 6” grids anchored to the floor below the insulation with the anchor not less than 2’ square on center. The wire mesh helps stabilize the gypcrete and keeps it from braking up in the future.

Insulation Part 3

insulation-01.jpgTouch on picture to enlarge.

I’ve installed urethane foam insulation in a 5000sf house and was very unhappy with the results of the product. Where ever there was a gap in the wall sheathing it expanded to the out side of the house where we had tarpaper covering the wall sheathing it bulged the tarpaper out about 1 1/2”. The list below will list the pros and the cons of urethane foam.

Pro- R-value is 7 for every inch of foam sprayed.

If you need stability in your structure this foam will stiffen up the wall sheathing. (Like when you use built right it’s a little spongy this will stiffen it up.)

You can get a high R-value in small spaces like on older homes where the roof framing meets the exterior walls where the max. Space is only 3” you still get and R-Value 0f 21.

Now the cons
Had to move a door bell wire home owned changed their location what should have been a 1 minute job ended up being 30 minute and this was repeated several times with different change orders.

Using urethane foam in a 3.5”(2×4) wall cavity has same R- value as Icyene Insulation.

In basement energy walls using urethane foam in a 3.5”(2×4) wall cavity has a total lower R- value that of Icyene Insulation. Using urethane the max. spray depth is 3” with a max. R-21 while the basement energy walls are held away from the foundation wall 1/2-2”giving move room for insulation, making Icyene the winner in this location.

Using urethane the max. spray depth is 3” with a max. R-21 while Icyene Insulation has an R-Value of 6.0 and Icyene can be sprayed full depth of the stud cavity. A 6” stud has and R-Value of 5.5 x 6 = 33 R-Valve.

Urethane insulation is a closed cell insulation which means as the foam is being sprayed it creates bubbles. Inside the bubbles are an oil-based gas locked in these billions of bubbles. If or when the walls of the bubbles break down the gasses will migrate out of the stud cavity.

Foundation-insulation inside or out

The question has been asked is it better insulating the inside or the outside of a concrete wall?
First we’ll look at insulation on the inside wall only. The inside wall has studs 16″ on center with insulation keeping the cold out and the warm air in.

1. You have brought the cool weather into the foundation;
Let me explain; If you have a block, or clay tile wall system air inside block is chilled the cold air drops to the footing no big deal if you live in Nevada to Virginia.

But if you live in New York – Idaho and North we have problems. The cold out side is so cold that it can freeze the footings of the house.

With a poured foundation it takes longer but can still happen.

Freezing the footing is not a problem, the problem comes in when the ground around the footing freezes, now we have a making of a disaster. 90% of the time there is groundwater next to the outside edge of the footing in some cases I’ve seen footings and basement floors sitting in water.

When adding a cold winter to this mix and the ground water freezes around the footing, the water has to expand 10% when it turns to ice, on the inside of the structure is forces the water in to the cement slab and sometimes through the slab on to the floor above.

But the water under the footing has no place to go, so it lifts the house (heaving it) and not evenly breaking the concrete wall cracking sheetrock, plaster, and stucco right up to the roofline.

I’ve seen a shift in trusses like a bulge on a roof, magnifying the problem as it lifts the structure up.

2. Water – IE moisture loves to migrate into concrete. We have seen a commercial building that is a warehouse. When it was built they excavated a sump and filled it with sand compacted it and than built on it.

Now 5-10 years later the concrete walls are flaking paint, and chips of concrete pop off up to 24′ of the wall. What’s happening? The high water table is back in the ground, water can migrate through concrete vertically 28′ from the source of the water.

Remember nature’s rule-water must be allowed to expand, and if it cannot, it will move what ever is in its way to expand 10%.

Know this if you don’t remove the moisture (water) from the footings it will remove paint off of concrete and have popping chips of concrete.

If there is water against your foundation wall when it freezes it will blow the face off the concrete and in a few years there will be major holes in your foundation not only letting more water in but also exotic organisms and creating a mold problem in the structure.

  • Same house and same problems water is present around the footing. This time lets insulate the outside of the wall. What has changed the temperature of the footing it now has no way of freezing therefore it cannot heave.

    I’ve seen numbers of basements with white wavy lines looking like salt on the concrete walls people ask what is it? When this occurs it means 2 things;

    The ground around and under your house is a PH level of (base vs. acid) which is good for some types of vegetation.

    The PH level must be checked for example 1. Battery acid, 2 Lemon juice, 3 Vinegar, 1-5 range acid rain, 6 Milk, 7 -neutral, 6-8 range stream water, 8 Baking soda & sea water, 10 Milk of Magnesia, common name for the chemical compound magnesium hydroxide, Mg(OH ) . The viscous, white, mildly alkaline mixture that is used medicinally as an antacid and laxative is a suspension of approximately 8% magnesium hydroxide in water. 12 Ammonia, Where does ammonia come from? Ponds lakes any type of organic matter (including live animals and live rock), ammonia will result. 13 Lye Where does Lye come from? 1 natural source of lye is ashes of burnt wood.

    This also shows that you have water on the other side of the wall and it is using the inside surface of your basement to evaporate itself into your house with the gases and or other types of chemicals. An average basement of 1000SF can evaporate 50 Gallons of water per day then add water behind the concrete walls of 868 SF. another 43 Gallons of water is trying to migrate into your house making your humidity level in the basement extremely high. This is why your basement smells bad; it’s not your or any to do with your cleaning efforts.

    This water is helping with the growth of mold in your house as well as frost on your windows in the wintertime and to high of humidity in your house, making smell musty.

    This water is helping with the growth of mold in your house as well as frost on your windows in the wintertime and to high of humidity in your house, making smell musty.