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.

General Information

1. Does the contractor have liability insurance? If something goes wrong who will cover your loss. I heard of a roofing problem in the summer of 08 they tore off the roof and installed a new roofing system. It looked good it didn’t leak, but when the roofers were tearing off the old roof they inadvertently unlocked the furnace flue pipe 8’ below the roofline. When the flue pipe was re-shingled into place the pipe was 1/2 on and 1/2 off the lower pipe venting carbon monoxide into chimney chase and ultimately into the house attic. They didn’t find the problem for 5 months, thank God no one died. When Natural gas or LP gas is burned it gives off carbon monoxide and a lot of water. The water leaves the furnace at about 350 degrees; at this temperature it’s steam being forced into a cold attic with a lot of cold surfaces. When the steam touches a cold surface it changes to water or ice. In this case about 2 inches of ice crystals on under side of the roof decking, on the trusses and on the surface of the attic insulation.  A quick calculation looks like about 200 gallons of water frozen in the attic. Looking at this job after the facts all the insulation in the attic has to be removed the roof sheathing has to be checked for soundness and may have to be replaced as well as the sheetrock ceiling. You might need new flooring also if the ice melted before you removed it, because it will follow the wall stud cavities to the main floor and under your carpets, or cupping you hardwood flooring.
This is only 1 thing that can go wrong; there are many other situation I have heard about.
2. Does the contractor have worker compensation insurance?
If person falls or get hurt in any way while on your property (grass, sidewalk, inside your house, etc.) you’re at fault, unless the contractor has workers compensation insurance.

Rules for hiring a contractor:

General Information
1. Does the contractor have a state license to do the type of work needing to be done?
2. Does the contractor have liability insurance? If something goes wrong who will cover your loss.
3.  Does the contractor have worker compensation insurance?
If a person falls or get hurt in any way while on your property (grass, sidewalk, inside your house, etc.) you’re at fault. Unless the contractor has workers comp. insurance.

4. Make Sure All Subcontractors and/or Any Person Coming Onto Your Property Has Legal Workers Compensation and Liability Insurance.
5. Does this person have the brains to pull off this type of job?  Watch out there a lot of cons out there calling them contractors only wanting to separate you from your money.
6. Can he/she prove what is being said in writing; a contract that protects you the Homeowner?
7. A lot of people have go good intentions but no knowledge or life experience to draw from.
8. There are 3 classifications of quality of work
A.  Poor and well below sub standard workmanship
B.  Just Average on workmanship
C.   Excellent work- any worker just above average ends up excelling to excellent static because of the person himself, I’ve seen this time and time again.

9. 2nd Classifications of motives.
A. Money is a good motivator
B. The lack of money is a poor motivation
C. Lack of time for said job or out of on contracts personal bills
D. The only job available this one, actually scores just above average
E. Actually caring for his work and the client.

Now is the contractor your hiring going to hire subcontractor with substandard work or money problems? Remember this your project is to be a work of art not a novel of science fiction.

Exhaust fan problems I presume?

My heating contract was called into a house that was about 8 years old. The homeowner had a unique problem. In the master bedroom was located on the 2nd floor the toilet bowl was frozen and the bathroom temperature was 70°. The contractor though at first this was a joke. The owner insisted that he wanted the problem fixed. With a little bit of looking around the contractor saw the bath fan right above the toilet bowl. But the real problem was in the attic the exhaust vent from the exhaust fan was not insulated. With the out side temperature of –20F below. What happened the air inside the exhaust pipe being cold (and cold air is heaver than warm air) dropped from the ceiling fan and fell into the toilet because the husband left the toilet lid up the night before, Allowing the cold air to collect in the toilet bowl and actually freeze the water.

Another job site the homeowner had a new roof put on 6 months earlier and had the attic reinsulated. The first cold morning about –15 below 0 with a hot shower the ceiling fan started dripping water. So he called out the roofer to fix the problem, it was not the roofing but instead the exhaust fan piping again was not insulated. While the high humidity was being blown out and the metal piping was below 0 the humidity was condensing rapidly on the piping, then run back into the ceiling fan, through the vent louvers and end up dripping to the floor.
You have to insulate the entire exhaust vent to the exhaust point.

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″.

Building contractor(s) vs handyman(s)

Building contractor(s) verses handyman(s)

What’s the difference?
The Department of Labor and Industry requires licenses for residential building contractors, remodelers, roofers and manufactured home installers. The department requires certain standards of education and professional conduct be maintained to obtain and retain a license.

Licenses are required for all residential building contractors and residential remodelers who contract with a homeowner to construct or improve dwellings by offering more than one special skill. Owners working on their own property must also be licensed if they build or remodel for the sole purpose of speculation or resale.

Liability insurance with limits of at least $300,000 per occurrence, which must include at least $10,000 property damage coverage.
Minnesota workers’ compensation insurance certificate or a written explanation of why the applicant is exempt from workers’ compensation requirements. Applicants who have no employees and have no intention of hiring employees (other than spouse, parent or child) during the next year should attach a written statement with the license application explaining the specific reason they are exempt. If applicant is uncertain whether workers’ compensation insurance is required for your business, contact the Minnesota Department of Labor and Industry at (651) 284-5005.

A handy man needs none of the above unless he and/or she does more than one of these items concrete, frame, side, sheetrock, trim, tile, hardwood flooring, carpeting, painting

If a handy man gets injured at your house he or his insurance company can sue the home owner. Always Protect Yourself.

Wet floors next to exterior walls

Comment: from a reader
I had hardy board siding installed on my house when we had it built 6 years ago and we have had a problem with moisture along the walls on the interior floors. the builder installed the hardy siding against the house wrap and the back side of the siding was not sealed or primed. do you think this might be our problem? The problem is only on the exterior walls inside the house.
The house is six years old, located in Mississippi Our location has had two rain falls in the past two months. The relative humidity for this time of year is the highest @ 70% t0 80% on the outside of the house. I am not sure what the humidity would be on the inside. We leave the heat and cool pump set on 75% when we leave and set it at 73% when we are home. The temp outside 80-90% during the day and 60-70% during the night. Paper back roll insulation in the walls and blown in insulation in the ceiling. We
noticed the problem when the house was a year old, we have re-caulked everything on the exterior, we have painted the exterior again, we have sealed the brick on the bottom portion of the house, I have set the fan motor on the heat and air to low, so it would run longer.


I’m assuming that the house has a go air conditioner with the power to drop the house temp and to maintain it at 72°F when the outside air is 110°F . This problem occurs mostly when the inside temp is at 72° to 95°, if so than what is happening is to much humidity from the outside is coming into the house though Fresh air intakes(makeup air) for the appliances and or exhaust fans as well as an air exchanger. What is happening with the Air conditioner it sounds like it is to large of a unit. When the air conditioner runs constantly(45 minutes per hour) it has the ability to remove the water from the inside air. But if the AC unit only runs 15-25 minutes per hour and make up air coming into the house, this excess hot air coming in to the house brings with it a high concentration of water in a vapor form.

Now the hot air carrying humidity is in the house it rushes to the ceiling , while the AC unit is running dumping cold air into the house. ( A quick lesson in physics; Hot air is light and rises and cold air is heavy and drops to the floor) As the hot air looses its temperature it must loss volume of water its holding to do this it has to condensate on something cold. In a house it is the A- coil inside the furnace. but if the temp inside the house is already cool and the AC unit is not running the A-coil in the furnace is warm now the air has to find a cooler surface to condensate on. In this house it is the floor next to the exterior walls because gravity is holding the coldest air at the floor line. The exterior wall location is because the heating and cooling supply ducts have already dispensed the cold air there now making condensation.

The solution
1. Run 1-3 dehumidifiers I now they are ugly and noisy
2. Down size your AC unit and install a 2nd AC unit in the Attic for 90° + days this will allow you to run your primary AC unit in your furnace longer and remove the excess humidity from the house.
3. If you have a air exchanger run the fresh air through a dehumidifier before bringing the air into the house. You can do this with any fresh air intake flex tubes.
4. Keep the house doors shut as much as possible A max. of 1 door opening per hour, 10 second open.

The siding is not the problem. the house wrap is not helping. In hot climates you must protect the house (wood structure) from excess humidity. That means you must seal wall sheathing surface with something that will not allow moisture to pass through even if the siding is nailed on. that means all nails and nail holes must be sealed. Than a layer of moisture control fabric must be installed that removes the excess humidity. tarpaper works best. The insulation with the paper on it is not good because it has the ability to hold the humidity in the stud cavity. In hot climate locations fiberglass, or mineral wool insulation is great because air can pass through the insulation allowing the stud cavity to dry out. Do not use poly on the inside walls in a hot climate because you will trap humidity in the stud cavities and will rot out your structural walls.

Why can I see big rectangles on the roof and why are shingles curling?

How humidity curls shinglesImproper sealing around heating, plumbing, and electrical penetrations allows air to flow into attic spaces.

This air carries high a volume of humidity with the air, and as it comes into the attic, if the temp is below 32° it freezes onto the underside of the roof sheathing and the trusses.

During the spring thaw, it compacts the insulation, sags the sheetrock ceiling, and stains the ceiling.

When the humidity level is high it enters the edges of the roof sheathing, swelling the edges giving the look of big rectangles on the roof. If the back side of the shingles get wet then the shingles curl.

The exterior of the house must have air, trees overhanging the house stop air movement and keeping the humidity level very high.

This will cause the roof to fail 5-15 years earlier than it should.

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.

Foundations and keeping the basements dry

The state says, “installing the drain tile on the inside of the footing is known as cosmetic.”
foundation-p3.jpgTouch on a picture to enlarge
The code also requires that the contractor installs 4 inches of rock or gravel under concrete floor. But if you have a high groundwater table on your lot 4 inch of rock is not enough. If water touches the concrete floor it will wick up to the topside of the floor and evaporate into the house air rising your humidity level. This in turn creates other problems in the house. If there is carpet on the concrete floor it now has mold growing in it. foundation-p2.jpg Moisture freezing on the windows in the winter time. By installing 1 1/2 inch rock you leave larger voids under the floor not giving the water a chance to touch the concrete floor.
Now installing draintile around the foundation on the inside is known as cosmetic it also is wise and while you are installing draintile running additional draintile lines is just prudent. The cost worth the investment of only about $ 150.00.

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.