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Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Bathroom Ventilation Fans

Many times during a home inspection we find small defects which left unchecked have resulted in much more serious problems. Probably the most common of these is poor installation of bathroom ventilation systems. Inspecting and correcting these systems now can avoid major expense in the future.

Bathroom ventilation systems are designed to exhaust odors and moist air to the home's exterior. Typical systems consist of a ceiling fan unit connected to a duct that terminates at the roof. Ventilation systems should be installed in all bathrooms. This includes bathrooms with windows, since windows will probably not be opened during the winter in cold climates.

Ducts which leak or terminate in attics can cause problems from condensation. Warm, moist air will condense on cold attic framing, insulation or other materials. This condition has the potential to cause health or decay problems from mold, or to damage materials such as wood sheathing and drywall. Moisture also reduces the effectiveness of thermal insulation

The fan housing should be checked for proper installation and dust buildup that can impede airflow. Particles of moisture-laden animal dander and lint are attracted to the fan because of its static charge.

.The following conditions indicate insufficient bathroom ventilation:
• moisture stains on walls or ceilings.
• corrosion of metal.
• visible mold on walls or ceilings.
• peeling paint or wallpaper.
• frost on windows.
• high levels of humidity.

The most common defect related to bathroom ventilation systems is improper termination of the duct. Vents must terminate at the home exterior. The most common improper terminations locations are:
• mid-level in the attic. These are easy to spot.
• beneath the insulation. You need to remember to look. The duct may terminate beneath the insulation or there may be no duct installed.
• beneath attic vents. The duct must terminate at the home exterior, not just beneath it.
• At the soffit vents.
Improperly terminated ventilation systems may appear to work fine from inside the bathroom but you have to look in the attic or on the roof to determine how the duct has been installed. Sometimes poorly-installed ducts will loosen or become disconnected at joints or connections.
Correct installation:

Ventilation ducts must be made from appropriate materials and oriented effectively in order to ensure that stale air and moisture is properly exhausted.

Ventilation ducts must:
• terminate outdoors. Ducts should never terminate within the attic.
• contain a screen or louvered (angled) slats at its termination to prevent bird, rodent and insect entry.
• be as short and straight as possible and avoid turns. Longer ducts allow more time for vapor to condense and also force the exhaust fan to work harder.
• be insulated, especially in cooler climates. Cold ducts will encourage condensation within the duct.
• protrude at least several inches from the roof.
• be equipped with a roof termination cap that protects the duct from the elements.
• be installed to manufacturer's recommendations.

Safety Note: When checking ventilation ducts in the attic they will probably be visible from the hatch opening. If you do have to enter you must walk on the ceiling joists only. Stepping between the joists will damage the ceiling below and could result in a fall to the bedroom below. The drywall ceiling will not support your weight. If you have any doubts hire a qualified professional to inspect the ventilation for you.


Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Offgassing in Your Home

We Canadians are indoors more than a lot of people because of our climate’s relatively low temperatures, so the air we breathe in our homes and places of business is a particularly important factor in our overall health.

Much has been said about the impact of ‘offgassing’ - the release of VOC’s (volatile organic compounds) through evaporation, emitted from many building materials and items in our homes - and its contribution to poor air quality in the home. Are you impacted by them?

Materials such as painted and sprayed finishes, insulation, flooring, cabinets, and countertops are popular contributors. Furniture made from particleboard or plywood is included, as is synthetic carpet. Because this offgassing evaporation process can continue for years after purchase, you are subjected to these chemicals long after that ‘new carpet’ smell goes away.

Thankfully, identifying the problem has led to many new solutions to dealing with the offending ‘offgassing’ materials and items, and options abound. So whether you are planning to redecorate or renovate, be sure you consider these tips to reduce or eliminate offgassing in your home;

Wood – use solid, untreated wood whenever possible. It costs more, but has no offgassing and adds value to your home.
Paint – choose low or no-VOC brands, available in a full range of colours and purposes.
Flooring – new or reused hardwood is a good choice, as are ceramic tile, stone, linoleum, cork and bamboo. Finish with a low or no-VOC stain and sealer.
Carpet – area rugs are preferable. Choose ones made of untreated, natural fibers.
Countertops - natural stone such as granite and marble or ceramic tile.
Furniture – covering should be natural fibers. Plus ask about the level of VOC’s in the stuffing and backing used.
If replacing offending items isn’t in the cards at the moment, you can drastically reduce offgassing from anything paintable by coating with a low-VOC sealer.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Maintaining Your Deck

Summer is upon us and it's time for us all to "hit the deck". The wonderful warm weather brings us all outside to throw some steaks on the grill or to gather for social functions with friends and family. It also might be a good time to take a look at your wood deck and perform a little maintenance

Just like any other part of your home, decks need proper maintenance. Most decks are constructed of pressure treated wood which is made to withstand the elements to some extent. Even so, the ultraviolet light of the sun, rain, snow, tree sap, bird droppings and other pollutants can still take a toll on your deck.

.In order to keep your deck looking good and weather resistant you’ll need to know how to properly care of it. Sealing the wood on your deck is highly recommended to extend it’s lifespan. When water enters the wood and then dries out it can cause the wood to expand and contract which leads to splitting and cracking. Sealing your deck can prevent this from happening.
A simple test can show when sealing is needed. Pour some water on the wood surface. If the moisture beads up it is not time to reseal the wood. However, if the area becomes a large dark mark on the surface it is time to head to the hardware store. Before you can apply a wood sealer and protectant you’ll need to clean it thoroughly. Clear off loose debris by using a leaf blower and don’t forget to clean in between the boards. Cleaning products are available from your local hardware store. Read and follow the manufacturer’s directions of the cleaner that you purchase. If you use a pressure cleaner, set it to low pressure. Higher pressures can damage the wood surface. Rinse thoroughly.
After cleaning, allow a couple of days to let the wood dry out before sealing. The best time to seal is in early spring when temperatures are consistent and not too hot or too cold.
Various types of sealers and stains are available. Oil based, penetrating stains usually provide the best protection. Solid Stains and Paints can provide a pleasing look to the deck but do not penetrate far into the wood and can crack quickly due to expansion and contraction. No matter which product you use, decks will require treatment every two to three years to keep them looking their best.
While you’re cleaning and sealing your deck also check its safety. Check that railings, steps and posts are secure and repair as necessary.
Once you are finished, relax and enjoy the summer on your sparkling new deck.

Friday, March 20, 2009

Home Renovation Tax Credits

The Federal Government revealed the Home Renovation Tax Credit in its budget on Jan. 27, 2009. If you are thinking that maybe you might be able to manage a couple of small jobs, now may be the time. After all, if you keep the renovation budget to $10,000, you'll get $1,350 back — a saving of 13.5 per cent.

What is covered?

The tax credit kicks in on expenditures over $1,000, and you won't get any tax relief for what you spend over $10,000. So your tax savings on a $20,000 job will still be $1,350 — or a saving of 6.75 per cent.

The variety of expenditures that qualify for the tax credit is wide. Among them:
• Renovating your kitchen, bathroom or basement.
• Painting your house.
• Installing new carpeting or flooring.
• Replacing your heating/air conditioning system.
• Upgrading the insulation in your home, resurfacing your driveway or replacing you lawn with new sod.
Just about any job that improves your home or cottage — or any combination of jobs that improves either or both — qualifies for the credit.

Buying furniture, a big-screen TV, cleaning your carpets, buying tools or performing regular maintenance on your home won't get you the tax credit.

The Home Renovation Tax Credit can be coupled with other government programs that put money back into your pocket when you renovate your home. For instance, making your home more energy-efficient can qualify you for grants of up to $5,000 under the ecoENERGY Retrofit Program. You will still be able to claim the Home Renovation Tax Credit so essentially you can "double dip"
The same applies for eligible expenditures that are claimed under the Medical Expense Tax Credit.

While doing the work yourself will give you the most bang for your buck, jobs that you pay a contractor to do also qualify. Expenses such as labour, building permits, equipment rentals, professional services and incidentals are also eligible.
Municipalities regulate building permits, so you should check with your local officials before you begin your job. If your renovation involves structural changes to your home, pumbing or electrical work, you will most likely need a permit.

One of the major goals of the program, which is expected to cost the government $3 billion, is to stimulate local economies. Most of the material you buy to fix up your home is likely made in Canada and sold at your local hardware store (although it's as likely to be a U.S.-owned big-box store as a Canadian-owned big-box outlet).

One tax credit per family Unlike the Home Buyers' Plan, where each spouse can withdraw up to $25,000 from their RRSP to put toward a down payment on a first house, the Home Renovation Tax Credit is limited to one credit per family. While you can make claims for work done at more than one residence you own, the maximum any family can get back is $1,350. But a family can share the credit.
You'll be able to claim the credit on your return for the 2009 tax year. All material has to be purchased and work has to be finished no later than Feb. 1, 2010.

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Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Dryer vents


What is the proper way to vent a clothes dryer?


Here are some facts from the United States Fire Administration.

Dryer exhaust should vent directly outside the home. In some new homes, washers and dryers are placed in non traditional areas of the house, including upstairs bedrooms, hallways and closets. These new sites generally require longer dryer vents in order to reach an ouside wall and may contain sharp turns and bends that snake through the home.


Dryer vents should not be longer than the equivalent of 25 feet ( five feet is added to the actual vent length for each 90 degree bend in the vent).

When lint has to pass through an exhaust that is under a floor or through walls and is more than 6 feet long, it is almost impossible for all the lint to be propelled out of the vent.

Lint can also accumulate in pockets along the vent where it is harder to reach and clean.

As a result, it is crucial for homeowners to regularly inspect and clean out the dryer vent. In fact, all manufacturers now state in their manuals not to use plastic flexible dryer ducts between the vent and the clothes dryer. However, many existing homes as well as some new construction, continue to use plastic flexible ducts. The plastic itself can provide additional fuel for a fire. Even flexible foil vents are not the best choice for venting clothes dryers. Flexible vents can sag, allowing lint to build up and catch fire if it comes in contact with a sufficient amount of heat. If a fire starts beneath the dryer when the motor overheats, then the drafts from the dryer can pull that fire up into the duct and venting, allowing a house fire to develop.

To avoid problems, make sure you disconnect, clean and inspect the dryer and venting at least once a year, or hire a professional company to clean the dryer components.

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Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Urea Formaldehyde Insulation- New Controversy

Urea formaldehyde foam insulation (UFFI) is again in the news. An Ontario Company has been ordered by the Federal Government to stop selling a formaldehyde based insulation that has already been installed in about 700 homes.

Justice Minister Rob Nicholson announced a “cease and desist “order against the company RetroFoam. Canada Border Services has also been alerted to stop further importation of the product.

The Company claims that its formulation is safe and is not the same as the Urea Formaldehyde Foam Insulation (UFFI) banned in 1980 due to potential health concerns related to elevated levels of formaldehyde following installation.

UFFI was extensively used in Canada between 1975 and 1978 and it is estimated that over 100,000 homes were insulated with UFFI during that time. Its use was eventually banned in December 1980.
The fear of health problems caused the federal government to set guidelines for reducing formaldehyde levels in houses. The initial threshold level set for formaldehyde gas was 1.0 part per million (ppm). As testing methods improved the level was reduced to 0.1 ppm. Interestingly subsequent testing found that formaldehyde gas levels in houses insulated with UFFI were well below the 0.1 ppm level and it became apparent that levels of formaldehyde decrease rapidly after the foam has been installed, typically returning to ambient house levels within several days.

Statistics showed in fact that of the homes tested, on average formaldehyde levels were slightly below that of homes of similar age without UFFI. The problems with UFFI were not substantiated and extensive testing has shown that health concerns appear to have been overstated. In my opinion home owners with the UFFI insulation that was installed in the 70’s need not be concerned and should continue to enjoy their homes.

It should be noted that formaldehyde is found in other building materials such as particle board, plywood, carpets and many other common items. If you have a concern about your indoor air quality, consult with a qualified Environmental Consultant or Air Quality Specialist.

Friday, January 16, 2009

Preventing Ice dams

The cold weather is upon us and brings with it some home problems that are specific to Northern cold climates. Ice dams can be seen in both old and new homes and if left unchecked can lead to severe structural damage.

What is an Ice Dam?
Generally deeper snow and colder temperatures increase the formation of ice dams.
An ice dam is an accumulation of ice that builds up along the edge of a roof. The eavestrough may be overflowing with ice and there may be icicles hanging from the edge.

What causes an ice dam?
Snow build up effectively acts as an insulator on the roof. Heat from the attic warms the underside of the snow and melts the bottom layer. This water then runs under the snow cover and down the roof until it hits a cold surface like the overhang, where it refreezes.
As the cold spell continues the ice becomes thicker.

Why is this a problem?
The ice build up acts as a dam for the water running off beneath the snow. This can cause a back up and the water has to run somewhere. In severe cases that means under the roof shingles soaking the roof sheathing, insulation, wood framing and possibly your interior ceiling. Uncorrected the water can cause serious structural damage.

Ice dams can be prevented by eliminating heat build up in the attic. The following steps combine to help keep the temperature inside the attic nearly the same as the outside temperature:

1. Seal openings that allow heated inside air to rise into the attic. The attic hatch is of particular importance. This should be insulated and weather-stripped. All penetrations of wiring, plumbing pipes and wood framing into the attic should be sealed with caulk or expandable foam insulation. The spaces around chimneys should be sealed with sheet metal and high temperature caulk.

2. Make sure that bathroom exhaust fans do not discharge directly to the attic. The exhaust duct should be insulated and the area between the frame of the fan and the ceiling sealed.

3. Improve insulation to slow heat transfer into the attic. Current recommendations are for approximately 12 inches of Fiberglass bat insulation (R38+) or equivalent blown in type.

4. Improve ventilation to cool the attic space and remove unwanted moisture. (Note: Make sure that you do not block soffit vents when adding insulation.) Passive type ventilation such as soffit vents, ridge vents and/or high level exhaust vents are best. Powered exhaust vents are not generally recommended as they can cause negative pressure in the attic drawing more warm air from the heated space.