Don’t forget the human being factor

Renovations are rarely done to 100 per cent completion.

Often referred to as the “half-assed syndrome”, basic repairs falling somewhat short of their logical conclusion, unfortunately happen when a human being, usually male in gender, and without proper supervision, is given the task.

Why does this standard shortcoming exist? Because it’s human nature to be satisfied by how things look, as opposed to checking out what’s under the hood.

The renovation biz is no different. Limited funds, or limited knowledge on the part of the installer, often result in the replacement of the fixture, while kind of forgetting, or dismissing, the guts of the issue.

Case in point; new homeowner has two questions concerning the ventilation in the attic of his recently purchased 40-year-old home.

First inquiry. My 1,600 sq. ft. bungalow has one Maxi-vent on the roof, along with a 16-in. octagon vent on both gable ends, so is this providing enough attic ventilation?

And, there are two lengths of 4 in. insulated pipe attached to a bucket just under the Maxi-vent, one leading to a vent in the hallway, with the other directed into the bathroom.

So, do I just leave the vents as is? Or, can I simply close the vents, detach the insulated pipe, and let the ductwork rest on the attic insulation?

Unless otherwise specified, most homes (whether they’re new or older) are being roof vented with the Maxi-301, square (chimney like) unit.

The Maxi-301 is an exhaust vent that’ll handle 1,200 square feet of attic floor space. Therefore, in this gentleman’s case, his existing unit is going to be a little overwhelmed.

What about the two octagon gable vents, don’t they help out a bit? Not really. Gable vents work relatively well to let air into an attic, but because they’re placed on a wall, do little to effectively extricate attic air.

As a result, and in this fellow’s case, he’s got sufficient soffit and gable venting allowing fresh air into the attic, with an undersized amount of roof venting. Solution, add a second Maxi-vent.

Now, Maxi-vents come in a number of sizes, including the aforementioned #301 model, handling 1,200 sq. ft. of attic space, the #302 model (500 sq. ft.), and the #303 Maxi (800 sq. ft.). In this case, and needing only another 400 sq. ft. of air drawing capacity, the fellow could add a #302 Maxi to satisfy the attic’s needs.

However, Maxi’s differ in height between models. Therefore, since it would no doubt look a little odd to have two different size of Maxi units on a roof, even if they were separated by a reasonable spacing along the ridge, I suggested he either add a second #301 model, or forfeit his existing unit for two #303 models.

Can an attic have too much ventilation? No, only too little.

Next, what are those two lengths of insulated ductwork doing there? They were part of what would now be considered an antiquated, and inefficient air withdrawal system, known in those days (and we’re going back 20 years or so, as a Venmar).

Basically, a turbine (located where the Maxi vent is now) would (based on wind velocity) draw air out of the home.

Flaws to the Venmar strategy? The system had no brain, drawing air out at an arbitrary rate, with no fresh air intake.

Plan of action, and what should have been done in the first place? Eliminate the bucket and two lengths of ductwork. Next, remove the two Venmar ceiling vents (blocking or closing them is not good enough), repair the drywall, then on the attic side, cover the repair with a clear 6 mil. poly, adding insulation overtop.

Sealing the attic’s air space from any type of warm air infiltration is key to avoiding condensation and mold. Next, invest in a HRV (heat recovery ventilation) unit.

In this case, the gentleman already had a forced air furnace, making the investment in a humidity controlling, air quality unit such as a HRV, an easy partnership.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Make good venting decisions

Always make sure to vent to the outdoors.
Always make sure to vent to the outdoors.

A friend and neighbor organizes a boot hockey tournament every year, played on his outdoor rink, to which I kindly decline the invitation to play. Nothing personal, it’s just that I believe participating in a sport on ice, while wearing what’s probably the least effective form of footwear, is a bad idea. And, since he refused my request to pre-salt the ice, at least in my defensive zone, or let me wear my bear claw boot enhancers, or pay for a manned ambulance on standby, this event was beyond my level of comfort.

As anyone who’s ever run on ice knows, once you pick up a little speed, veering off track becomes impossible. In the case of boot hockey, once you’re in motion, your immediate future will either be flopping onto your back, crashing into the end boards, or colliding into the 250-pound fellow with the sly grin on his face.

So, in the spirit of bad ideas, and specifically relating to ventilation, let’s look at some poor renovation decisions. Bad idea Number One, not having an outside vent to feed fresh air to your wood stove or fireplace. The touching scene of Grandpa asleep in his favorite chair by a roaring fire is somewhat less heartwarming when you understand that he is not sleeping off a good meal, but has been rendered unconscious due to a lack of oxygen and possible carbon poisoning, and, may indeed, like they say in the morgue biz, be ‘resting peacefully’.

Bad idea Number Two, corrugated plastic or metal dryer ducts. Corrugated (accordion type) ductwork is a popular choice for venting a dryer because it’s so easy to manipulate. However, the ripples in the duct will cause air turbulence, resulting in a lint buildup at some point in the line. I remember looking into our dryer vent once and thinking a rabbit had somehow crawled into the duct and died. Scared the crap out of me. Actually, it was a collection of lint the size of a nerf football. So, out with the corrugated ductwork (the plastic stuff is particularly bad) and in with the solid elbows and lengths of galvanized tubing.

Other key points to effective dryer venting? Vent the dryer air outdoors. Indoor kits are available, but they’re lousy, and only fill the home with fine lint particles.

Next, keep the length from machine to exterior wall as short as possible. And finally, seal the duct lengths and elbows with an aluminum tape, not screws (screws will act as a lint catcher).

Bad idea Number Three, exhausting your bathroom ceiling fan into the attic. In order for your roofing plywood to remain rot free, and to avoid warranty issues with your roofing shingles, your attic needs to be a secure environment. Disturbing this sensitive atmosphere with warm, humidity filled bathroom air, will cause condensation. Once this condensation pools and eventually leaks through a seam in the vapor barrier, you’ll be looking up to a sunburst stained ceiling, and light fixtures that could house a couple of goldfish. Bathroom exhaust fans (and every bathroom needs one) must exit through the roof, or side wall. If you’re exiting through the roof, make sure to use insulated ductwork.

Avoid soffit vents. Like the inside dryer vent, they’re available. However, soffits work with the roof vents in order to draw outside air in. So, the logic of feeding warm air into an area where this moisture will simply be pulled back into the attic, is obviously flawed.

Plus, choose a steel exhaust vent for your exterior wall or roof. The steel units may be five times the price of the plastic jobs, but they’re practically indestructible, while their rodent screens and damper systems are far superior.

Finally, range hood vents work best when they, like bathroom vents, exhaust to the outside. Charcoal filters may capture the various cooking smells, but they’ll do little to solve the excess moisture created. So, if you’ve got a fan, vent it straight out.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

The forgotten 90 per cent

A window's design and look is very important, but so to is its efficiency. File photo
A window’s design and look is very important, but so to is its efficiency. File photo

While a window’s style, frame and parts only contribute to about 10 per cent of what you get in a window unit, these details usually receive most of the attention from potential buyers. And that’s fair. Looks, color, and means of operation, are key, to be sure.

However, when shopping for windows, don’t dismiss what can often be the make or break feature in a windows efficiency, a.k.a. the forgotten 90 per cent, with that factor being of course the glass.

It wasn’t so long ago that dual, or thermal pane glass, hit the market. Basically two single panes of glass bonded together with a half-inch air tight seal in between, dual pane glass allowed homeowners their first true glimpse of winter from the inside.

Before the thermal unit, single pane glass provided the perfect surface for condensation, where on a really cold day, this natural phenomenon would often cover the entire pane with a sheet of frost. Quite decorative, in a way, frosty glass would provide youngsters with hours of creative fun time. Pressing your nose up against the glass would of course create a spot, and if you made a fist, then pressed the side of your hand up against the glass, then dotted the top of this image with your thumb and finger tips, you could simulate little bare feet walking across the glass, hilarious stuff.

Unfortunately, dual pane glass, along with further advancements including argon gas and Low-e film, and perhaps the introduction of the in-home computer and X-Box, totally killed this once cherished pastime. A good, or necessary thing I suppose, since the frost would eventually melt and puddle on the window sill, causing the paint to peal, and if left totally uncared for, would lead to the ultimate demise of the sill due to rot.

So, where are we today? Well, the standard dual glass, argon filled, Low-e panes stay relatively clear, with there being the occasional few inches of condensation at the bottom of a thermal pane, should there be an excess of humidity in the home. However, just like the transition days of single pane glass to the dual pane thermal unit, if your plan is to renovate this spring, or build a new home, it’s time to bump things up the efficiency ladder again. Why? Because with the costs of heating and cooling a home forever on the rise, adding energy efficiency, or improving the efficiency of any particular element of the home, be it insulation levels, furnace systems, or in this case, almost doubling the R-factor of your window panes, just makes good financial sense.

Where’s the bar set for window glass now? Triple pane, double Low-e coating, with argon gas. This triple pane version delivers a thermal resistance value of R-7.51, basically crushing the R-3.8 value of today’s regular dual, Low-e/argon glass pane, and eclipsing the R-2 value of the original, but cutting-edge in its day, thermal pane glass. The triple pane glass essentially eliminates the condensation issue, and acts as an excellent sound barrier, which can be of great value to those persons whose homes are situated along the 401, or who are regularly awakened by the toot of the Via rail locomotives. The double Low-e option does what Low-e film is designed to do, only at twice the efficiency of course, and basically reflects your furnace heat back into the room. Further to the Low-e strategy is a system called ‘Sunstop’, which effectively modifies the reflective values of the Low-e film in order to keep solar heat out. Why keep solar heat out? In most cases, our homes should welcome all the solar heat we can get. However, some home or renovation plans call for a southern facing wall that is practically all glass. Neat concept, but on a typical summer day, this type of scenario will roast you quicker than the chicken you just put on the BBQ. So, in the case of massive southern facing windows, the Sunstop system certainly has its purpose.

Therefore, when window shopping, don’t forget it’s 90 per cent glass.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard