Some frosty window art

Ah, the good ol’ days of frosty window art are practically upon us.

Certainly a cherished pastime by many a youngster, and those young at heart, pressing your nose, or lips, against a chilly window pane, then viewing the reaction of warm flesh meeting ice, has always been good entertainment. Or, when it’s early morning, after a painfully frigid night, and the frost on the glass is particularly heavy, who can resist pressing the side of a clenched fist against the pane, then topping the imprint off with the tips of their fingers, creating the all-time classic, little footprint?

Born from generations of high humidity producers, otherwise known as those who enjoy cooking pasta, taking long, hot showers, or who engage in regular conversation involving large gatherings, frosty window art becomes possible when a thin layer of ice forms on the inside glass pane of various windows in the home. Windows of preference often include those in, or close to the kitchen, and especially bathroom windows, since they’re located in prime, high humidity territory.

As much as frosty window art is an exercise in imagery and artistic expression, at least until the sun hits the pane, it’s unfortunately a sign of an unhealthy home environment. Frost on the inside pane of a window occurs when warm, high humidity air, touches the cold surface of the glass, exploding onto the pane, revealing itself as condensation. If the pane of glass is really cold, this condensation will freeze, creating the not so beloved, frosty glass extravaganza.

Condensation and the ensuing frost on your window panes is not a good thing because this moisture eventually melts, running down the glass pane, inevitably settling on the sill. Or, the water could seep through a crack in the sill, or seem in the casing, making its way into the wall cavity. Either way, condensating windows lead to rot or mold.

So, what’s the game plan? Well, you’ve got to lower the amount of humidity in the home. The simplest way is to open a window. Although hardly scientific, winter air is very dry, or low in humidity, so when it mixes with your high humidity indoor air, it somewhat creates a balance. The weakness in this strategy is of course knowing when to open or close the window, and properly circulating this new air (perhaps by having the children and whatever pets can follow a pattern, run a circuit around the furniture). Or, you could modify your living habits, perhaps by cutting your shower time down to five minutes, and using only lukewarm water. Plus, maybe lay off the pasta, or anything boiled, fried, or foods essentially requiring heat, since these cooking processes all create moisture. Unfortunately, you’ll have to rely more on garden salads and other similar rabbit foods.

Now, if these solutions seems unlikely, then you’re going to have to get mechanical help. First, make sure all the bathrooms have an exhaust fan that directs air to the exterior, either through the roof, or a side wall. Never vent moist bathroom air into the attic, or into the soffit panels. Next, put these bathroom fans on a timer, having them run while you shower, and a full 15 minutes afterwards. Kitchen fans, similar to bathroom fans, should vent to the exterior. Some kitchen fans have a charcoal filter/interior venting option. Avoid this strategy. Sure, the fan will make for an easy install, eliminating grease and various cooking smells, but the filter cannot absorb steam, the main culprit in our battle against moisture.

If things haven’t cleared up yet, you could invest in a dehumidifier. Although it means having a slightly noisy piece of furniture in the room, and having to manually empty it, or minimally provide a drain source, dehumidifiers are proven effective.

Best bet, invest in a HRV (heat recovery ventilation) unit. HRV’s have become the standard in new homes, and work in conjunction with your furnaces ductwork.

Next week, more on dehumidifying your home. Good building.

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

Recovering the potential in your cold storage

There are two strategies to dealing with a cold storage.

Either you close it off from the rest of your finished basement with a steel insulated door, or you embrace it as an area of great potential.

Now, you may question the great potential designation given to a room that was – up to this point – the go-to storage area for beets and potatoes. I understand the skepticism.

However, if you own a fridge and don’t have to hitch up the team of horses and wagon in preparation for your weekly ride into Dodge for supplies, then it’s probably safe to decommission this former storage site.

Where’s the potential? Well, the room most likely has four concrete walls and a concrete ceiling, creating the perfect soundproof environment for an office. Or, if space will permit, this could be a terrific theater, or fitness area.

Now, how do we make this room livable?

First, we’ve got to solve the outdoor issue. Cold storage areas are usually located under a poured concrete slab, which serves as a porch or landing, leading to the main entrance. To prevent moisture from seeping into our future living space, the porch surface will need to be sealed, or better yet, covered with a roof extended over it. Then, before we insulate, you’ll need to call your heating and cooling contractor, an electrician – and a plumber, if the room is to be served by a sink, shower, or some type of water supply.

The room will minimally need a little lighting and a few plug outlets. If the room is large enough, it will most likely need its own warm/cool air supply and cold-air return.

So, with this impending ductwork and electrical wiring to come, you’ll need a mechanical plan so that the ceiling joist can be framed in a manner that will least effect the floor-to-ceiling height. With a mechanical plan completed, we can insulate the exterior walls and ceiling.

It was common practice to put a couple of round, four-inch vents in the cold-storage wall. Because the air temperature and quality in this former cold storage area will now be serviced by your furnace, you won’t be needing this outside air source anymore. So, block them up with a pre-mixed sand/concrete product.

Next, and like any other concrete basement wall, we install a Johns Manville polyiso, ridged foam board, directly onto the concrete. With the reflective side of the foam board facing the interior, the Johns Manville polyiso can be fastened to the concrete with PL premium glue. Choose at least the one-inch thick foam sheathing, which offers R-6 of thermal value. A 1.5-inch thick foam sheathing is better, with a two-inch polyiso, offering R-12 of thermal resistance, being the best option. Seal the concrete ceiling of the cold storage with this same polyiso product.

Normally you wouldn’t need to insulate the ceiling area of a basement, because usually there’s a heated home over top. In the case of a cold storage, all you’ve got overtop is about eight inches of concrete. As a result, this cold storage ceiling is basically an extension of the foundation wall, and should be treated as such.

With the polyiso sheathing glued to the walls and ceiling – Tapcon screws with washers will help with the gravity issue – frame a 2×4 stud wall directly over the foam board. The existing cold storage height will determine whether 2×4 framing will be possible on the ceiling.

Added insulation, light fixtures, and ductwork, will all be easier to install if the ceiling can accommodate 2×4 or 2×6 framing. Otherwise, the ceiling will need at least to be strapped with 1×3 spruce.

Once the wiring is complete, fill the 2×4 cavity of both wall and ceiling with R-14 fiberglass pink insulation. Next, install a six-mm clear plastic over the insulation, then cover the wall and ceiling with a 0.5-inch, mold tough type drywall.

Enjoy your new found space.

Good building.

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

JM in and out

In an effort to make our newly purchased, older home, a little cozier, we’re going to be adding ridged John Mansville polyiso insulation board (made right here in Cornwall, by the way) to both sides of our exterior walls.

Why insulate both sides? Because our dated walls have too many holes, or weaknesses in its construction. Weaknesses that may not have been a concern 50 years ago, when gas was cheap and chopping wood was still in vogue. However, with the price of energy today, this barn is really going to be a heating money pit.

Holes do as poor a job keeping the cold out, as they do keeping the heat in. So, we address the comfort issue by insulating both sides of the wall. Basically, if we could replace the exterior walls, we would. But assuming our budget doesn’t include removing the roof with the same crane that was commissioned to lift and lower the lengths of International Bridge one section at a time, the next best solution is to bolster the insulation value of the exterior frame.

Further bonuses to choosing the John Mansville board solution. One, it won’t disturb an often delicate wall structure that may contain anything from lead paint to asbestos filled insulation. And two, wrapping both sides of the exterior wall will make things absolutely air tight. So, that cool draft you feel up the wazoo every time you step out of the shower will soon be a forgotten morning ritual.

Step one, remove the existing wood, vinyl, or composite siding. Brick homes can be covered directly with John Mansville board, while covering a stone house (for aesthetic reasons) should be avoided. Step two, install the John Mansville polyiso board to the wall studs, with the reflective side facing the interior. Next, cover the John Mansville board with a house wrap. If the John Mansville polyiso board serves as a heavy sweater, the house wrap is its light windbreaker jacket over top. Although the ridged insulation board will basically seal the home, house wrap is a good idea because it effectively protects the John Mansville product from the elements during the construction phase, and against any moisture that infiltrates the siding in the future.

Next, install 1×3 spruce strapping vertically over the house wrap, fastening it through the John Mansville board and into the exterior wall studs. The 1×3 strapping provides a can’t-miss target for installing your siding. Plus, it provides a key, ¾ inch air space for wood and composite sidings, which require this type of drying zone behind the product in order to avoid rot or paint peeling issues. Now, with 1-1/2 inches of JM insulation board, along with the ¾ inch strapping, and considering the thickness of the siding, won’t all these exterior coverings cause a challenge to finishing around the windows? Very likely, but nothing a roll of aluminum flashing in the hands of a qualified installer can’t correct.

Is it a good strategy to install an insulation board and siding before replacing the windows? Or, shouldn’t the windows be replaced before replacing the siding? There’s no doubt that in a perfect renovation world, and with the budget to do so, replacing the windows along with the siding is as good a 1-2 punch as you can get when it comes to turning around a home’s curb appeal and value. However, if budget constraints will allow you one renovation per year, insulation and siding, in most cases, is cheaper than window replacement, and the better value.

New windows are terrific, but you’re still replacing glass with glass. So, start with the furnace, then the siding, and put the money saved on heating towards new windows the following year.

Inside the home’s exterior walls and ceilings? Basically the same procedure as we did outside. John Mansville board (3/4 inch) glued directly to the existing drywall or plaster, 1×3 strapping overtop, followed by a 6 mil. vapour barrier, then regular drywall to finish. As is common practice, be sure to start with the ceiling insulation panels and drywall first, then the walls.

Good building.

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