Monthly Archives: March 2013

Spring time in Alberta

 Today in Alberta it is beginning to look a little bit like spring might soon arrive.

Sure sign of Spring - Robin - Bird
A sure sign of springblmiers2 / Nature Photos / CC BY-NC-SA

The prairie dogs or gophers, as most of us call them, are out and playing chicken with cars on the highway. My wife saw her first robin today, and flocks of starlings are foraging bare spots. I walked out my door this morning, and the bright sun brought on a resounding sneeze. An immediate response came from a flock of Canada geese overhead who tried to out honk me. I think they were a little indignant that I spoke their language with such a bad accent.

The long gloomy winter was hard on the aged and infirm as usual. We lost a few of our friends and neighbors forever. Some of the wildlife has suffered as well, with the more than normal snowfall and few warm periods.

My wife has been leaving a few apples on our front steps, for the deer that are coming to town nightly, searching for food. They have abandoned most of their caution of human beings. Last night one ate the apples, and then deposited a pile of pellets on our front walk. I am not sure whether she was showing her disdain, or leaving the only gift she could, in return. My wife likes to think of it as a gift. We will use them to fertilize the flowers a little later.

Bald Eagle
A majestic birddigitalART2 / / CC BY-NC-ND

Yesterday, I nearly ran off the road ogling a huge majestic bald eagle flying overhead. Yes, the symbol of America was gracing Alberta skies. They are very rare in this part of the country. They are normally fish eaters, and all the water in this area has been frozen solid for the last five months.

It gave me a wonderful feeling that he (or she) had survived the winter. We had seen him early in the winter, chowing down on road killed deer. Yes, they are rare enough that I am sure it was the same one. Besides, he is extra large, even for his species.

I had originally intended to write today about mechanical and electronic systems in homes. When I sat down at my laptop I was feeling a little too frivolous to write about such a serious topic. Yes, spring can do that to a person. Even one as old as me. No I didn’t say frisky, I said frivolous. I used to feel frisky in the spring, but I got over it. Come to think of it, I used to feel that way most of the time.

Getting old can be a challenge, but I am not in a hurry to accept the alternative either. I get a lot of my exercise nowadays, getting up at night to go to the bathroom. In the morning, I check to see if anything else has grown on me. Now I spend more time  trimming nose and ear hair, than I used to spend shaving.

Kissing Prairie dog edit 3
Mila Zinkova / / CC BY-SA

Another thing that spring can do is make you want to lay down in a warm spot and have a nap. Several times a day. The old folks (well they were old to me then) used to say it was because your winter blood was too thick for the spring. Almost makes sense, in a weird sort of way. Of course getting old makes me want to have naps anyway. Those same old folk used to complain a lot about their “room-a-tiz,” when the weather was bad. What the heck is “room-a-tiz”? Could it have been a reference to rheumatoid arthritis? Beats me.

One advantage of age, is that now I can spend the time writing that I used to spend getting in trouble.  Now my idea of a good night is one beer and a book. It used to be—well let’s not get into that. Suffice it to say, I am not sure how I managed to stay alive this long.

When I was in my teens, a color television cost almost as much as a new car. Now they cost about as much as a couple cartons of cigarettes. When personal computers first appeared, I wasn’t young any more. Does anyone remember the Vic 20 or the Commodore 64? No, they weren’t battleships sunk in WW2, they were computers. They had about enough memory to save the name of your Saturday night date, if she wasn’t foreign. Now I have a telephone that has more memory than a hundred of those, and is smaller than a twenty dollar stack of one dollar bills. Oh, I forgot, we don’t have dollar bills in Canada anymore. Or two dollar bills. Or pennies.

My mother used to say, “Look after your pennies and the dollars will look after themselves.” She was usually right, but in this case they both went extinct, except for a few in captivity. Maybe it was climate change that took pennies out of our change.

Another cute lamb pic :)
Ennor / / CC BY-NC-SA

Now the desktop PC is obsolete, and it is beginning to look like the laptop might go the same way. In our house we still read books, but we also have three or four E-readers and tablets laying around . We have GPS in every car, and our phones and computers know where they are all the time. The only way to get lost now is to give your phone to somebody else, and head for the sewers. The VCR has nearly gone extinct, but I still have a couple. We have been buying the old movies for a buck a piece or less, and now have a huge collection we could never afford before. Some are good ones that we never had time to watch in the past.

Getting back to spring. It is not about getting old or going extinct. it is a time of renewal, a rebirth, a time for new grass and new lambs. It is nearly here and we made it.

Have a good Easter Weekend everyone.

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Build your house, buy an existing home or rent?

The dilemma. Should you build your house, buy existing, buy new, or rent.

This site is about building your house but I think it is time to to discuss the options.  I have already discussed other ways to acquire a home in a different vein in another article. Is building a home is the best way for you to go right now.

Renting may not be appealing to a lot of people but there can be compelling reasons to resort to just that.

build your house or rent
MarcelGermain / Travel Photos / CC BY-NC-ND

Building your own house can be much less expensive but  there is not a great deal of difference between the cost of renting and purchasing ready built. When you add in mortgage interest, taxes, insurance and maintenance then renting becomes a little more palatable. For most people owning a house is sort of an enforced savings plan. By making payments they slowly build an equity in their home.

Well maybe. The recent financial crisis in the U.S. reduced many peoples equity to nothing or worse. Many even had their credit ratings spoiled through foreclosure. It’s true that this only happened to people that had made recent purchases or had used the equity in their homes for other purposes. Still homeowners in many areas saw their large cushions in home equity reduced drastically. Certainly many other investments were no better but it serves to illustrate that home ownership is no guarantee of security.

Security or damage deposits for renting are usually much lower than the down payment required to buy a house.

Thirty days notice may be all that is required to move from a rental house. (If you didn’t sign a lease.) To sell a house may take several months and in some markets much longer.

There are inducements to renting. In Edmonton today there is practically a zero vacancy rate but I remember the time landlords were offering a trip to Hawaii if you signed a lease. Perhaps you would prefer to live close to downtown or work in an area where real estate is very expensive. If you don’t drive it might be necessary to have easy access to public transportation and single family accommodation is scarce. If your job requires that you move often, home ownership might be more hassle than it is worth. Clearly renting makes sense if you are not too certain what tomorrow may bring.

build your house or rentThere are downsides to renting. Well maintained and attractive single family homes are often very hard to find in the rental market. Apartments are often cramped and lack adequate parking. There are beautiful apartments available but they are often expensive. There is always the risk of rent increases or abusive landlords. You may not have the same sense of community that you can gain through home ownership.

If you feel like no one knows you are alive, just skip your rent payments for a couple months.

There is a certain pride to ownership and this alone can be a powerful inducement to owning your own home. This is is even more true if you build your house.

You will feel just a little better when you can check that homeowner box on a credit card application. I know I feel really good when somebody comments on how well maintained my home is or on how beautiful the yard and garden is. It is much better than a compliment on my new car. I have more of myself in my home. Owning your own home means you have the freedom to make changes and to personalize your home. Within limits of course.

Purchasing a previously owned home can give you more choice of location. There will be a wider price range which can make it easier to fit you budget. There may be more sizes and styles available than you will find in new homes choices.

You will be able to move in much earlier than you can if you  build your house. Financing will be easier for an existing home.

I went through debt consolidation–now I have just one bill I can’t pay.

Maintaining, renovating or adding to an existing home will give you valuable experience towards building your house in the future

Buying a ready built new home is similar except for the following. It will likely be lacking in anything more than rudimentary landscaping. You will have to supply your own sheds, window coverings, fencing, etc, after purchase. The area may still be under development with resulting dust and noise. Parks and playgrounds might have immature landscaping and be less pleasant to use.

The demographics of the area will not be established. You will have to live with whatever develops.

To build your house has many rewards but requires commitment, knowledge, organization and a lot of your time.

Build your house as you like it
Luxury suite|| UggBoy♥UggGirl || PHOTO || WORLD || TRAVEL || / People Photos / CC BY

There is a long time span from start to move in. Final costs are uncertain. Many skills are required and you may not be able to hire all you need. Planning and study are are essential and can be very time consuming. If you do not have some related experience you should not attempt a project of this magnitude. A good idea is to start with simpler projects such as an addition, a shed, a garage or a cabin to gain experience and some insight.

Or alternately you can just pick a plan that you like, choose the location and hire a general contractor to do all the rest. The advantage is getting what you want in an area of your choosing. Saves a lot of headache but is just as costly as buying ready built.

This blog is about building your own but I am not suggesting that you pound every nail, saw every board yourself. Pick and choose what you feel you can do competently. The more you can do yourself the less the project should cost but don’t overreach yourself. It could cost more in the end.

To find the time to do a large part of the construction youself you should probably be able to take a sabbatical from work or be retired.

On my first build for myself I had planned to wait a couple more years for retirement when pensions would provide a steady income. I was working as a small independent contractor and had just completed a new home project when my sister approached me with an idea. She proposed that she would provide interest free interim financing if I wanted to build immediately and build one for her the next year. The market was good, I had enough equity in my existing house, and I had the skills to build. I couldn’t  turn it down.

I had another stroke of luck when puchasers appeared for my existing house who were willing to a wait 90 days for possession.

I was able to pay myself a modest salary while building and to hire two experienced laborers. I knew I would end up without a mortgage at the end. The situation couldn’t have been much better. We moved in 3 months later but it took me another couple of months to completely finish.

One final caution—to build your house can cause a lot of tension and marital strife. Be sure your relationship can withstand it. Divorce is not a cost you wish to add.

Is It Better to Buy or Rent?   New York Times – U.S.

Rent or buy? Our calculators help you decide  The Globe and mail –  Canada

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Cabinets can create a centerpiece of design

There is tremendous choice in cabinets.

There should a cabinet out there for every taste and budget. There was a time when almost all cabinets were a custom build. Usually by a local craftsman. Things have changed in that there are now many shops making cabinets in standard units with many finishes and details. Although I have built many sets of cabinets in the past I rarely do so anymore. It is just too convenient and time saving to purchase them ready made.

Thermal shrink melamine cabinets

An inexpensive kitchen

Cabinets can be purchased fully assembled and fully finished with only installation required. Some companies also sell products that are fully assembled and ready to finish. If you want unique colors or special art graphics this is the way to go. Other cupboards can be purchased ready to assemble. They are usually finished and very easy to put together. This reduces freight and stocking costs considerably. Economical and available on short notice they are more common with durable finishes such as thermal wrapped vinyl. They use the European style hinges for ease of assembly.

The least expensive of the ready to assemble cabinets are a flat panel door. These will be made from a white melamine board with an edge tape. One edge on each door is finished with a wood molding which serves as a door pull. Drawers are finished similarly. The cost of drawer and door pulls is eliminated. Other colors are available at a slightly higher cost. If budget is a prime consideration these present a possibility. They are also an option for a basement suite or any rental property. I consider them inexpensive enough to tear out and use in your garage at a later date when you can afford to upgrade. They can be a choice for seldom seen spots such as a laundry or storage room.

Part of the Main Kitchen
kitchen / / CC BY-ND

Of course this style is also the easiest to build yourself. It is likely not worth it though, considering the low cost and the material waste you will likely have.

The last few installations I have done have been with thermal vinyl wrap doors. The cabinets have been both the assembled type and the cheaper ready to assemble. The major difference in the two have been in cost and time. They are quite attractive when dressed up with classy pulls. Costs without counter tops and labor has ranged from under 3000.00 for a standard sized kitchen up to 10,000.00 for a larger kitchen of the ready to install type. They have all been white but other colors are available.

If budget is not a consideration there is not much limit to what you can invest in cabinets.

I am calling it an investment because kitchens and bathrooms add the most value to a house and that’s where most of your cabinets will be. Cabinets make a statement about a home. It would be unwise to cheap out if they are to be installed in a large luxurious home. An ultra fancy kitchen in a conservative home will still raise the resale value but perhaps not as much as the cost.

Always bargain hunting we have already purchased the cabinets for the kitchen in our new build. We stumbled into a truck load sale of assembled unfinished oak cabinets. Door style is similar to shaker but more ornate. They required only light sanding. I have already stained and finished them with urethane. Brushes, sandpaper, stain and varnish cost about 150.00 extra and took a weeks work. There are 12 pieces including a pantry and a lazy susan corner. Cost before GST—1200.00. I do have a heated garage to work in and extra storage room to make this possible. I do need to buy a couple sheets of oak plywood to modify a couple of pieces for the island.

Bathroom cabinet

Oak bathroom vanity

There can be a difference in quality of the boxes used for the cabinets. Unless you expect your family to be extra rough on them the cheaper cabinets are going to be strong enough. European style hinges will be sturdier than other types. Drawer glides are often a little inferior but they can be replaced with better ones. The boxes come in two types, faced or not but the unfaced is the most common.

Base cabinets are a standard height to yield a counter top at 36 inches. You can use different bases to adjust the height a bit. Depth is usually about 23”. Widths are commonly in multiples of 3 inches. Upper cabinets and pantries come in different depths and heights for different applications. Bathroom vanity cabinets are sized for a final height of about 32 inches but there is no reason you can’t use kitchen cabinets if you prefer a taller vanity.

There is so much variety in counter tops that I am only going to be able to touch on the subject here.

Tile cabinet top

An inexpensive ceramic tile countertop

The least expensive will be a plastic laminate on a ¾ inch MDF base. Sturdy, attractive and durable it is cut and assembled at the job. Preformed and cut to order laminate tops are another common choice that take a little less skill to install. There are hundreds of colors and patterns.

At the other end of the scale are the solid stone counter tops which can be very costly and take considerable skill to install. I have never been brave enough to attempt one. Every one of these is unique in some way or another with multiple colors, patterns and types of stone to choose from.

In between there are many other choices including but not limited to ceramic tiles, stone tiles, butcher block, polished concrete, stainless steel, composite materials and resin products.

Some of these may be impossible to match in the future if you decide to make an addition.

If you have woodworking skill and at least a rudimentary shop you can build your own cabinets.

They are not really that complicated and you could end up with a superior product. I have built several sets of cabinets over the years. The trickiest part for me has always been the final finishing when going for a wood grain effect. Painting cabinets a solid color is easier but still takes care and skill. Tools that make things a lot easier are a thickness planer (it does not need to be an expensive one) and a good router table equipped with a router that can take bits with a ½ inch shank. A number of C clamps and pipe clamps will also be convenient. A good orbital sander is a big help as well. Belt or rotary sanders are too aggressive. This not a big outlay even for one set of cabinets and once you have them I am sure you would use them for multiple other projects. You will need some saw blades for fine work but your normal carpentry saws can do all that is necessary. I have actually built quite nice cabinets with no more than a radial arm saw and hand tools. It just limits you a bit on design.

Environmental concerns?

I don’t think the environment is a big issue here. Most cabinets are made of wood or wood products. I feel these are a good choice as carbon is locked up in the wood and the replanted trees lock up more. Perhaps you could make a case against stone because of the energy needed to cut and polish it and the weight requiring more fuel for transportation. However the life of stone is practically forever and that is to it’s advantage. Perhaps use of some of the rarer woods is reducing the diversity of forests and could be considered. Much of the wood used is of common species often grown in plantations or certainly from managed forests.

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Organize and understand your time line when building

To build your own house you need to prepare and organize carefully, well in advance, and in several different ways.

If you are planning on doing much of the construction yourself, you need to be in good physical condition. Once past the planning stages, much of house construction is hard physical labor. Prepare for it by working out, if necessary.

Organize mentally, by gaining knowledge wherever you can. Try to envision the build, and prepare yourself for as many eventualities as possible. Read books, browse the internet, visit construction sites, and get some practice if you can. Make preliminary scetches. Ask questions when something puzzles you. Perhaps you can work on a few renovations or builds to gain a little experience. Talk to other people who have built their own home, about their experiences, and what they would do differently.

If you are a tradesman that works in the home building industry, you already have a leg up. Pay attention to what everybody else is doing and ask questions. If others are planning to build their own home, you may be able to arrange to trade some work. Organize early for this.

Early in the game you need to think out your financing options, and decide your maximum final cost. Plan to build for about 20% less than this to cover the unexpected. You might need to organize your cash flow and prepare a plan.

Organize big equipment for thise spot

A little too rocky?

Acquiring the land is next if you do not already have it.

Are there any special considerations because of the location, or physical attributes of the property? One example would be municipal land use by-laws. Another might be uneven or rocky terrain. Where can you access services, and who provides them. Contact the providers and get a rough idea of costs.

Now it is time to develop a rough site plan. Determine how to best position the house for ease of building, and to take advantage of special features of the property.

By now, you should have a fair idea of what you can afford, and what will fit on the property. You can plan your house, keeping it within your budget and the site limitations. If your house does not quite conform to land use buy-laws, you may be able to get a relaxation of the rules. This is not a sure thing. It is time consuming so try to restrain yourself.

Plans all done? Now you can start on the permitting process.

This may take a lot more time than you expect so start early. Sixty days is not unusual. A development permit will be first. This is where the municipality decides if your planned house is in compliance with their land use by-laws. A building permit is next. You can, normally, not start any construction until you have these two. You may not need your other permits immediately, but it is usually convenient to get them at the same time.

Take your plan to the service providers, showing where connections will be made, and make your best estimate of when connections will be required. Pay the deposits if necessary.

Arrange appropriate construction insurance, including workers compensation, if you hire anyone.

Organize some type of temporary electrical service.

If you have not already done so, it is time to determine exactly where your property boundaries are , and to stake out your house location. Be precise. Pick a point on the property from which to determine the elevations. Make sure the drainage will work adequately.

Choose your supplier, and organize delivery of the framing package, preferably for just after the excavation is completed.

Choose a heavy equipment contractor,  and arrange to do the site prep and excavating, or prepare to do it yourself.

Arrange for water and sewer connections to be dug in. This does not necessarily need to be done at this point, but is usually more convenient.

All that preparation done. Now comes the exciting part, starting the actual construction.

Strip all the topsoil from the house location, and store it out of the way for future use. Excavate as needed for basement, crawl space or slab. Haul away any dirt not needed for back fill or land shaping. Try to place the rest where it will not be an inconvenience. Here is where you might encounter surprises such as soft spots, or other poor soil conditions. Be prepared to modify your plans, and for extra expense.

Now you can place you footings, build foundation walls, and install your floor system. If you are building on slab, you will avoid some of those steps, but you may have to incorporate some of your heating, plumbing, or other construction elements in your slab.

Organize proper excavaton

Ecavation too big?

You may be able to back fill at this point. If you are using a preserved wood basement, you will need too install the basement floor first. Use a lot of care here. Make sure concrete is sufficiently cured, nd that drainage tile is installed. Exterior waterproofing must be done.

Now you can frame and sheath the house. Some tubs and showers will not fit through interior doors, so they may have to be installed during framing.

Plumbing and electrical rough in can begin now.

Roofing should be completed, and house wrap applied at this point

Install Windows and exterior doors. try to complete the exterior finish, as quickly as possible, to prevent weather damage.

Once the plumbing and electrical rough ins are done you can insulate, install vapor barriers, and sheath the interior of the home. If drywall is used, you can tape, finish, prime ,paint and finish ceilings.

Electrical can be finished at this point. Cupboards and vanities can be installed. Most of the plumbing can be completed. Heating, air conditioning and ventilation can be installed.

Have the services connected.

Most of the dirty work should now be done, and you can install the flooring.

With the the floors in, you can install the interior doors and do the trim.

organize the final plumbing

Moved in

Just the final touch ups to do, and perhaps the toilets to install, and you can move in.

Now begins the continuous maintenance that is required to keep a property in top shape. This ranges from regular grass cutting to repairing damage that occurs.

One of my reasons for writing this article is to refresh my own memory, and organize my own course of action. It is meant for some one intending to do the majority of their build, with their own hands. If you use a general contractor or a project manager, much of this will be taken care of for you.

Some of the steps can overlap a bit, and might vary slightly depending on construction types or methods. Some are not so critical that they have to be organized in this exact order.

Remember to treat everyone with the utmost respect and courtesy , even though you may feel like using your hammer on them.

It is painful to go back, hat in hand, to someone that you came unglued with. You likely need employees, tradesmen, contractors and officials more than they need you. Don’t annoy your neighbors by making noise early or late. Try to keep dust under control. Try not to obstruct traffic for long periods on adjoining roadways

Organize for inspections at the appropriate times. Give them as much notice as is feasible, and be sure to be there when they come.

When something goes wrong (and it will) don’t panic. Just stop, organize your thoughts, and consider your options. Most mistakes can be fixed fairly easily.

Make job safety your top priority.

This is what the first day of spring looked like in Alberta, and this is the Southern half. Barby anyone

Time enough to organize

The first day of spring in Alberta,Canada

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Heating systems commonly used in homes today

There are three basic concepts, for distribution of heat, in home heating systems used today.

A forced air ducted system is the most common in much of the country. 

Air conditioning and humidifiers are incorporated into these  heating systems quite easily, and it is commonly done. Filters are added to the system for some degree of air cleaning. Filters are usually the only regular maintenance required besides a seasonal check.

High efficiency heating system

High efficiency forced air furnace in crawl space

Heating for this system may be provided in several ways, but a furnace fueled by gas or fuel oil is the most common. These are available today with efficiencies of over 90 %. The highly efficient furnaces require a drain to dispose of water condensed from flue gases, and they are often called condensing furnaces. They can be vented directly out a wall with PVC pipe. All combustion air can be drawn from outside, so there is no source of ignition that is not isolated from the air in the home. If you use a direct vent or forced vent water heater as well, it means no chimney would be required.

I believe that direct vent heating equipment is safer than other types. The lack of a chimney lowers costs on new construction. It frees up space, and there is no roof penetration as a source of possible leaks.

An air handler or fan coil unit can be used, as well. With this method, heat can be sourced in different ways. A boiler or other hot water heater can be used. Solar heating can be used by itself, or as a supplement to other methods. Heat pumps can provide the heat, which can be drawn from the air, the earth or groundwater. In rural areas an outdoor furnace may be used, which can burn coal, wood, or other biomass. (An outdoor furnace may produce unacceptable levels of air pollution in some areas). Other sources of heat may be available locally.

Care must be taken to balance these heating systems for even heat distribution. If you are using a furnac,e then proper sizing is important to ensure comfort, and to prevent short cycling. Too large a furnace will run for very short periods at a time causing inefficiencies and maintenance problems. You will need to do a heat load analysis to determine the size of furnace needed. If your home is small, super insulated, sealed, and utilizing passive solar gain, it could be difficult to find a furnace small enough.

In floor heating system

Manifolds to heating coils for garage floor

Alternately, if your home is going to be large and complicated it could be difficult to balance a forced air system, resulting in uneven heating.

Be aware of the difference between input and output when sizing a furnace. A furnace of 100,000 BTUH input has an output of 60,000 at 60%, but produces 90,000 at 90%. Simple but easy to miss.

BTUH is British Thermal Units per Hour, and is still commonly used in the U.S.. The H may be dropped on rating plates. The metric equivalent of a BTU is 1055 joules. Although Canada officially uses the metric system, we often end up using a confusing mix of the two because of the influence of our large friend and neighbor, who also often uses a confusing mix of the two. I often use British units when writing because many of my readers will be American. I am familiar with both, as are many Canadians.

Radiant heating is the next most common heating system.

It uses water, or a mixture of glycol and water to distribute the heat, in most cases. Sometimes called hydronic heating as a reference to water. Electric heat is also distributed as radiant. Sometimes with a fan assist. Fireplaces are also a form of radiant heat, but are commonly fan assisted these days. As an aid to understanding radiant heat, you can think of the sun. It heats the earth and the objects on it with radiant heat. The warmth passes through the air without heating it. The air is heated in turn by contact with the earth.

This illustrates the purpose of a low E coating on windows. It slows the loss of radiant heat from the house in winter, and slows the gain of radiant heat from outside in summer. It has little effect on energy of shorter wave lengths, such as light.

Radiant heat can be very efficient. There are water heaters with efficiencies up to 97%. Check your codes, and with the manufacturers, for suitability before planning to use them. Extra efficiency is gained because the air is not heated directly, but rather objects (including yourself) are heated. You will be comfortable at lower temperature settings, and heat loss through ceilings and walls is reduced.


Possible to use a water heater in a heating system

A tankless water heater installed in crawl space

Hydronic radiant heat is distributed (who would have thought it) by radiators, or by incorporating radiant pipes or panels in walls, ceilings or floors. A common and very good method used today, is to place pex piping in concrete slabs, or directly under a framed wood floor. I have used both, and even very simple heating systems work very well. The warm floors are a real luxury.

Different rooms or portions of the home can be heated at different temperatures by using thermostats connected to zone valves. This also makes it possible to maintain an even heat if some areas of the home have different heating demands. It is even possible to use it to melt the snow on your driveway and walks if you use glycol in that portion of the system.

There as as many sources or combinations of sources that can be used to heat the water for a hydronic distribution system

You may be able to use one source to provide both domestic hot water and space heating. Plumbing codes, however, have been getting more restrictive for dual use in recent years. If your water is hard, it may also cause problems with mineral deposits. A water softener may be necessary to prevent undue maintenance issues.

One advantage of hydronic heating is the ease of adding solar as a supplemental source of heat. Another is that there may be less suspended particles in the air, since there is no fan blowing air around. This could be important if anyone in your family has respiratory problems.

Although it is not impossible to use a hydronic heating system for cooling, it is not possible to connect a conventional air conditioner to the system. An air conditioner does as the name implies. It conditions the air by cooling and removing humidity. (Once again, who would have thought it.) This uses different principles than a hydronic heating system.

A fairly recent innovation in heating and cooling is known as the Mini Split.

This system heats each room or area individually. Small units are placed in each area to provide heat or cooling, and are normally sourced from a heat pump.

That is about the limit of my knowledge about the system ,and I am not even sure how accurate that is. I will provide some links here, which I hope can explain it a little better.

Ductless, Mini-split Heat Pumps 

Ductless, Mini-split Systems

Ductless Mini-Split Air Conditioning (and Heating) Systems You tube


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Heating fuels past, present and future

Considerable variety is available in heating fuels, and in equipment used for residential properties.

Buffalo making fuel

Buffalo making fuel

Up until recent times, wood, coal, peat, and even buffalo or cow chips were the most likely heating fuels to be used.

They are still the mainstay for heating and cooking in some parts of the world. All these heating fuels required a quite a bit of work by the homeowner to operate. The cook had to be quite skillful in their use.

Wood had to be cut from the forests, made into usable lengths, and split to smaller sizes. It could be purchased ready to use. It had to be carried into the house and during cold weather.The stoves or fireplaces required constant attention. There were ashes to be removed at least daily. After all this, the result was often an unevenly heated house.

And there were the punishments meted out behind the woodshed. They were often for pelting the outhouse with rocks when sister and friends were using it. Yes, I am old enough to remember much of this.

Coal was an improvement in heating fuels, mostly because it provided more heat for a given volume.

If electricity was available, you might only have had to fill a hopper, and take out ashes every one or two days.There was considerable grime produced, and an always present danger from chimney fires, or from hot coals being dropped into flammable material. Asphyxiation or poisoning from gases produced from a poorly vented system, or an improperly banked fire, was a constant worry. Even though many of the houses were poorly sealed, and drafty enough to provide ventilation.

Gravity systems to distribute heat throughout the house were common, and could work fairly well if properly balanced.

Wood splitting cartoon

The way we used to do it

Today, the heating fuel used is most likely to be the one that is the most economical, to purchase and deliver, in the area in which you live.

Natural gas delivered through an infrastructure of pipelines is the least expensive, and most convenient fuel, in much of North American.

Some areas, however, may have to rely on bottled gas (propane), fuel oil, or electricity. Heat pumps can extract heat from the air, water or the soil, and although they use electricity, can be a viable option. They can usually supply cooling as well. Coal is largely out of favor for residential use because of the inconvenience, and the air pollution it causes. In some areas, solar heating systems may be economical. Passive solar heating to supplement conventional heating may reduce the dependency on fuel.

The environment is a concern, .It has an influence on the choice of heating fuel sources, and on legislation .

Natural gas is comparably clean burning, and is an abundant resource. Fuel oil is still used in some areas, but it is getting more costly, as it becomes scarcer and more expensive to produce. Environmental activism targeting oil sources and its transportation facilities is bound to increase the cost of fuel oil. Solar heating is excellent, but it may be difficult to make the economics work. Electricity produces little air pollution, or CO2 emission, if it is produced by a method that does not burn fuel. Examples are hydro, wind or geothermal. It is a very poor choice if it is produced by coal burning power plants. Non fuel sources still use land and destroy wildlife habitat. Highly efficient homes that incorporate some use of passive solar heating to reduce heating fuel use can benefit the environment greatly.

Building codes and laws are increasingly being enacted to reflect a concern for the environment and housing efficiency. There is even some legislation to restrict the the types of heating fuel, and how they are burned. An example is the 2009 International Energy Conservation Code (IECC), adopted by several American states. It restricts the inclusion of open fireplaces in a new home. It seems likely that even more legislation will be enacted in the future.

Of course, heating fuels, or some source of energy, is used in your home for more than heating the house. Significant energy is used for water heating, cooking, laundry, lighting and electronics. Each of these deserve your attention when designing your home systems, both for economy and the environment.

The future availability and cost of some heating fuel sources is uncertain, and it will be necessary to try and predict what the future holds when designing your systems. Not an easy thing to do

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Installing windows and doors

I am almost reluctant to enter into this subject because of all the information already out there that is already confusing. I will try to find a few links to, what I believe, are the most accurate instructions for installing windows and doors.

It is, perhaps, a little early to approach this subject, as we haven’t really got into the details on any other part of house building yet. It might, however, influence your choice of windows, and you may have to order them as much as 90 days ahead, and certainly 45 days, to ensure timely delivery.

Don’t attempt to install windows by yourself.

For even a small window, you should have some one inside to make certain the window is properly centered in the opening.

Make certain the rough opening allows about 1/2 inch of  free space on all sides of the window. I have  found that you can not rely on the manufacturers to give you the right rough opening size. They often try to second guess you. The best is to actually measure the window, or insist that the supplier give you the exact measurements of the frame.

Windows are constructed in so many ways, that it is not possible give instructions that are applicable in all cases.

The first consideration is building codes, and of course these must be followed when installing windows or doors. They may simply say that windows are to be installed according to manufacturers instructions. Secondly, the manufacturers instructions should be adhered to, as closely as possible.

Both windows and doors for new construction are commonly supplied with nailing flanges with which they can be attached to the framing of the building from outside.

Those supplied with a brick mold attached are usually intended as replacement windows. A brick mold is a molding of softwood or other material specifically used to case around the outside of a door or window. This does not mean they are not interchangeable, if you happen to get a deal. Those with flanges are attached with 1.5 inch roofing nails, or with screws. I prefer the nails, as they are less likely to interfere with subsequent finishing.

Wooden brick mold should be attached with 2 inch or longer finishing nails applied through the face and set. A vinyl brick mold may have a recess for screws. Again, follow the manufacturers instructions.

It is my opinion that nailing flanges alone do not secure a window quit well enough. It may allow enough flex to affect interior and exterior seals, if there are sudden changes in air pressure from outside or inside. Loud noises, or slamming doors, can cause pressure differentials which can be substantial on a large surface such as a window. On some windows, you may be able to fasten though the frame, but you probably would not want to. I think that the best solution all around is to use low expansion foam, specially formulated for windows and doors, both for insulation, and to secure the window. Carefully applied, it also provides an air and moisture barrier, although I wouldn’t rely on this alone, for that purpose. Of course, if the foam is to secure the window, it must make direct contact with both the window frame and the framing of the house. There should not be house wrap or flashing interfering with this bond. The exception is the pan flashing at the bottom of the rough opening.

Care must be taken when applying the foam, as to not warp the frame and making the window inoperable. When spray foam first became available in aerosol cans, it generally wasn’t available in low expansion formulations. A friend of mine, who owns a glass shop, experimented with it when replacing the windows in his own house. When the job was completed, he was unable to open any of his windows. To this day, he is leery of spray foam.

I have not seen much damage to framing by water infiltration from the exterior, but then we have a fairly dry climate. I have seen a lot of rot in wooden window frames that were not properly maintained with caulk, and paint, or exterior cladding. I did, in one case, have to replace an entire wall below a window. It was destroyed by rot, caused by moisture infiltration from inside. The window was placed at about head level above a bathtub that had a shower installed. Of course, there was no exhaust fan in the bathroom. Bad design first and poor sealing second.

A better job of applying house wrap will result, if it is applied before installing windows and doors. Cut the openings in an X diagonally from corner to corner, and fold into the opening on both sides and the bottom. Fasten near the outside edge, and cut off all but about 1.5 inches. This will leave bare wood for spray foam adhesion. Fold back a flap at the top to fold down once the window and the flashing is installed

Make and install a pan flashing, or purchase and install a ready made one.

You can make corners, purchase them, or the material you use may be flexible enough that they are not required. Extend this flashing a foot on either side of the opening. Caulk the top and side edges of the opening with a butyl type caulk before installing the window. Try to center the window in the opening with a ½ inch space all around. Use bottom shims on larger windows that have more than one panel. Make certain the window is plumb and square, and determine that it will operate before fastening permanently.

Some may say that a flashing is not necessary when installing windows with nailing fins, but I prefer to see the extra layer of protection. You could even add yet another layer of metal flashing for added insurance, but fasteners may cause some unwanted penetrations. As I said before, follow the manufacturers recommendations.

I like the idea of self adhesive and self sealing rubberized flashing strip, but it does not seem to be available in all areas. You can use strips cut from the material used for roofing, but the manufacturers of it may not condone it for this purpose, for liability reasons. You can also use asphalt impregnated building paper for flashing material. Use strips about one foot wide. Apply flashing down the sides covering the nailing strip and extending a few inches above the window and covering the pan flashing. If the top of the window is more than a foot below an eave, add a rain cap along the top at this point. Place the upper flashing so it covers the nailer and the ends of both side flashings. Pull the flap of house wrap down, and caulk and tape it in place. If you are using brick mold, at this point caulk the edges. If you are applying J trim for vinyl siding, caulk this as well. Seal from the interior with spray foam, using two or three passes, a few minutes apart. Make certain the window is well sealed against moisture penetration from the interior when insulating and applying vapor barrier.

Follow nearly the same procedure when installing prehung exterior doors, as for installing windows. Caulk the bottoms well. Consider placing a strip of sill gasket underneath.

To square a door, first make sure the base is level or slightly higher on the hinge side. If not, shim the bottom. Shim the hinge side of the door at the hinges to center the door, and to make it plumb. Make certain both sides are plumb in both directions, before they are fastened. Fasten with  #10 screws, long enough to penetrate into the framing, through one hole in each of the hinges. Do not over tighten.

Use the door as a square by ensuring equal clearances on the top and lock side. Shim and fasten with 2 inch finishing nails placed at the shims. place them so they will be hidden by the closed door or the seal. Three or four should be sufficient. Screws may be used if you drill first to prevent possible splitting. In fact, I prefer to drill first for large size finishing nails as well. Install the lock set and dead bolt. Flash, and foam in place, in the same manner as a window.

For security, it is a good idea to use screws long enough to reach into the framing when attaching striker plates, at least for the deadbolt. It may be worthwhile to purchase a heavier plate which could be attached with more screws. I will mention again, if there is a window within reach use a deadbolt that is keyed from both sides. Shim the frame behind them to prevent distortion.

I once owned a  mobile home that had a dead bolt surface mounted on the interior. I came home one day, and not realizing the door was bolted, simply opened it and walked in. It had been so poorly installed that I did not even notice the resistance. I think we should look for better security than that.

If any of the above conflicts with building codes or manufacturers instructions then go with the codes or instructions to avoid possible warranty problems.

If that is clear as mud it might get worse as you study further. Every builder uses slightly different methods, and has different opinions. Even the manufacturers rarely agree on best practices. Some methods may be unnecessarily complicated, and some may be not quite adequate. From all this you have to sort out what seems to be the best approach with the available materials.

The thing to remember; the main purpose of flashing when installing windows or doors is to stop air infiltration, and to keep moisture away from the framing and insulation. Work from the bottom up, as water runs down, and you want to overlap the layers.

I am not including any pictures with this post, but I believe the links provide enough visuals.

Installing a Window with Building Paper on OSB over Wood Frame Wall How to install a window  This Old House                                                                                                     How to install windows in a new house   Ask Rob                                                                           Basic window installation  Sawdac                                                                                       Installing and flashing windows correctly  FineHomebuilding



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Windows and exterior doors

Windows and doors are not only necessary for the proper functioning and livability of your home. They can add a great deal to the beauty and architectural interest of any building.

The variety available in window design, functioning and construction is huge, and largely limited only by your imagination. In some cases, you may even want to design a portion of your house around a window or group of windows.

The front entry door can make a statement about you and your house, and suggest what a visitor may find inside. An entry can be large and ornate, suggesting a palatial interior, or it can be warm and inviting, suggesting a cozy space inside.

Doors are often of glass, or partially so, and often have windows surrounding them as an integral part of the entry.

The purposes of doors and windows need to be considered ,when designing your house, and before purchase. Doors are usually chosen and placed with utility in mind, with appearance as the secondary consideration. There may be several motives for choosing and placing a window.

Interior and exterior appearance is always a factor for windows. Ventilation should be considered. Is a window placed to take advantage of a pleasing view, or do you want to watch your children in the yard? Is light a part of the equation? What about security, or safe egress, from bedrooms in an emergency?


Lots of windows

Windows can open or be a non opening “picture” window or a combination. There are also bay windows, bow windows, skylights and garden windows. Picture windows may be used in garages, outbuildings, in places where they are hard to reach, or if the shape of the window is unusual. Windows that open can save some of the energy used for cooling, if placed to provide cross ventilation. A Window that opens widely enough to provide an escape route from bedrooms are required by most building codes. Removable screens should be provided to prevent insects, birds and animals from entering.

Windows that open are normally rectangular, but there are different types. A common and inexpensive type is the slider, which can be horizontal or vertical. They can be double hung, as in a vertical slider that opens from either the top or the bottom, or single hung in which only one half opens.

They can be a casement window which opens similarly to a door, awning which swings open from the bottom, or hopper which opens from the top. These three may have a crank mechanism for opening and closing, and locks which tighten them. They provide a better air seal than sliders which need to be a little loose to operate. An awning type window can afford a little better protection against the elements if inadvertently left open.

Casement window

A casement window

Material used in making the window frames is varied.

Vinyl has become quite popular in recent years. Economy, low maintenance, and low thermal conductivity are some of the reasons. Vinyl is not damaged by moisture which is an important consideration in cold climates where frost may form on the inside of the glass and later melt. Voids can be incorporated to provide thermal breaks. Expansion and contraction is minimal which can mean a window will remain easy to open in different conditions. Paint does not adhere well, so choose your original color carefully.

Wood is another popular choice, which gives more interior decorating options. The exterior should be clad with metal or vinyl to reduce maintenance. Painting or staining is possible with wood. Moisture is the bane of wood, and causes rot and mold problems. Wood will swell when damp, and may make it difficult to open windows.

Metal is seldom used anymore, except for structural reasons. The main disadvantage is its conductivity, which can create thermal bridging.

The thermal qualities of windows will vary by a wide percentage, but no matter how good, their insulating value is still pretty dismal.

It is quite expensive to achieve an R rating of over 4, and more common is a rating of less than 3.5. A double glass window sealed with an inert gas inside and with a low E coating is probably the best you will get at a reasonable payback. The low E coating is inexpensive and very worthwhile. This will give a rating of about 3.2. Compare this to a normal 2 x 6 wall, which has a rating of about 22 when properly insulated. This is a compelling argument for keeping window space to a minimum. Building codes may require that 10% of the wall space be devoted to window. Most people would want more than this. I don,t believe in spending large sums on extra window efficiency. The percentage gain on the window may be quite large, but the overall energy savings are quite small. Better options may be lined window treatments, or wide eaves to block the sun. Your motives , however, could be quite different from simply looking at the best value.

Note: R values can be confusing and are expressed differently in much of the world. Please use this link for an explanation which I hope doesn’t confuse you more.

Doors can be purchased in many styles and materials, and at costs ranging from a couple of hundred dollars up to several thousand. Most people would spend the most attention and money on a front door, and use more utilitarian doors in other locations.

A door may be mostly of glass, and as such, is similar to a window. It can have various sized and shaped openings with glass, often called lites, which may be decorative. Stained glass can give interesting effects. There can be one or more side lites, and there may be a transom window over the door, which may or may not open.

Double doors are a possible choice, and are commonly used for a patio entry, as well as for a front entrance. There are several different styles.

Sliding glass doors are popular for the patio or deck, and can open from either side, or both sides. It is possible to have blinds built in between the glass panels on sealed double glass doors. Maintaining a sliding door free from air leaks is more difficult than with other types.

When ordering doors, you must specify left or right swing and in or out opening. An in swing is not as easy to make secure, and their use is uncommon in exterior doors. All exterior doors should have a deadbolt lock, and if there is glass within reach, it should be keyed from both sides.

Material besides glass for exterior doors include, wood, metal and fiberglass.

An unusual front door

An unusual front door

Wood can be one of several species, and can be finished in different ways. There are craftsmen who make hand carved wooden doors to order, which can be beautiful and distinctive. One way your front entry can really make a statement.

Metal doors for residential use usually have a wooden frame, and are composed of a sandwich of wood and an insulating material between two sheets of steel. They require painting for protection against moisture. These are likely the most economical door.

Fiberglass doors may be superior for energy efficiency and maintenance, but are more costly in most cases.

A door like a window, is not great as far as insulating values are concerned. Keeping them well sealed requires regular maintenance. Storm doors may be a help, but the jury is still out on their insulating value. I think they have value beyond simple energy efficiency, such as reducing freeze ups and as a screen door if so equipped.

Careful window and door selections can greatly add to the appeal of your home and its eventual evaluation.

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Insulation, air barriers and moisture barriers

Insulation in your house is like your winter coat.

Insulation against winter

Bundled warmly

Insulation is a blanket around the house that slows the loss of heat to the outdoors. Alternately, it slows the penetration of heat from the outdoors to your living space. It is easy to see how insulation adds to your indoor comfort, and reduces the energy cost to heat or cool your home.

Your winter coat is not very effective if the wind blows through it. It needs a layer of wind resistant material to be effective. The insulation in your house is similar. It is not very effective if air is allowed to freely circulate in and out of the house. The importance of sealing your home against air infiltration can not be over emphasized, if you are concerned with comfort and energy costs.

A coat or any clothing is not very effective against the cold if it becomes wet. The same is true for insulation. As well as reducing the effectiveness of the insulation, moisture encourages the growth of mold and rot within wall and attic cavities. Once moisture has entered the wall cavity it is reluctant to leave, so it is important that even tiny holes in the moisture barrier be sealed.

Do you remember your science from school? In my case I can barely remember school, it was so long ago. Anyway, we know that heat always moves towards cold (or the absence of heat), and that there will be a greater (faster) transfer of energy when the temperature differential is higher. If there is a science teacher out there, please correct me, if I have not explained this properly. The other pertinent fact is that warmer air rises. This means that the warmest air in your house is at the ceiling, and that this is where the greatest heat transfer can occur. In cooling season, the attic space of your house is going to be warmer than the outside ambient temperatures, no matter how effective the ventilation.

It follows that, added insulation in your attic will effect the largest energy savings.

Insulation for cooling

Poor insulation makes a
hot house in summer

It is also the easiest and least expensive area to increase insulation. There are no doors, and usually no windows, to reduce the overall effectiveness of the insulation. There is a lot of space to add insulation, with the possible exception of the area near the eaves of a gable roof. The use of rafter trusses with heels can alleviate this problem.

It is difficult to get an overall high insulation value in the walls because of windows and doors. No matter how much you spend on windows, you are not going to get an R value much above 4 with 3 being about the norm. Doors are not much better, and need constant maintenance to prevent air leaks. Windows and doors will probably make up from 10% to 20% of your wall area, and in some designs much more. Windows can be an attractive design feature, but can be costly in more ways than one.

There are several types of insulation available.

Fiberglass or mineral wool insulation is commonly available as batts. They are used in wall cavities for ease of installation, and because they are not subject to settling. Each type has about the same insulating value at just over R3 per inch. In other words, A 2 x 4 wall can be insulated to about R12 using this method. A 2 x 6 wall will be about R20. Batts are also often used in ceilings as well, but in my opinion loose fill insulation is the more effective for this application, with less likelihood of gaps. If it is still available in your area, do not use the type that has a kraft paper facing. It only serves to reduce fire resistance and hide gaps that may occur.

Loose fill insulation is either of fiberglass, rock wool or cellulose. Vermiculite was once widely used, but is not popular today, because of possible asbestos contamination. Loose fill insulation is easily installed in open attics by blowing it in. Insulation suppliers will usually supply the equipment for this at a low rental fee, or possibly even for free. Contractors specializing in this type of insulation, and with truck mounted blowers can be hired, if you do  not want to get itchy. Truss members can add difficulty, but are not a serious complication. Application may not be possible in some types of roof. Fiberglass has an an R value of about 2.2 per inch, while rock wool and cellulose are at about 3.1. Cellulose may have the advantage of providing some air barrier qualities. Cellulose insulation is a environmentally friendly product in that it is usually made from recycled newspaper that has been treated with a fire retardant and rodent and insect repellents.

Foamed in place, or spray applied insulation comes in three types, wet spray cellulose, open cell polyurethane, and closed cell polyurethane. R values per inch are respectively 3 to 3.7, 3.6 and 5.5 to 6. The polyurethanes can act as air barriers, and the closed cell type is also a moisture retarder. These are not a do it yourself application, and can be more costly. Polyurethane foam insulation is excellent for providing extra insulation in narrow cavities. They are effective for difficult to insulate areas such rim joists. Available in aerosol cans and formulated for specific uses, foam insulation is excellent for sealing around windows, doors, and other wall perforations.

The more common type of rigid board insulation is polystyrene (often called Styrofoam which is actually a brand name). Other less common types are rigid fiberglass, or rigid mineral fiber insulation. Polyisocyanurate (WHEW, say you can pronounce that and be honest) is a foil faced board. Expanded polystyrene has an R rating of 3.6 to 4.4 per inch while the higher density extruded type is 4.5 to 5. The polyiso sheet is R10.8 for a 1.5 inch thick sheet or R7.2 for 1 inch.

Board insulation can be used as sheathing, and under siding on walls. It is effective at breaking thermal bridges, occurring in house framing with cavity insulation. Self adhesive aerogel insulation strips can be applied to the framing under the drywall to reduce thermal bridging, as well. I am not sure how easy this is to find, as it is a relatively new product. A 2 x 6 stud has an R value of about 7 which is not too terrible. Framing will have to be braced, if using rigid insulation for sheathing. It does not provide the same protection against racking, as plywood or OSB. All insulation must be carefully installed to prevent gaps or compression.

For an air barrier on the exterior walls, a house wrap is applied under the siding. This is material that will allow moisture to escape outward, but prevent air and moisture from penetrating inward. It has replaced tar paper for this application, and is required by code in many jurisdictions. I cannot attest to it’s effectiveness, but demonstrations I have seen are pretty convincing. It must be meticulously sealed with special tape, and caulking at all joints and penetrations. My thinking is that the fasteners used should be somehow sealed over, as well, with tape or caulking, but how would you do that when you apply siding. I would appreciate some input on this. Always lap an upper application over the lower one.

To protect the insulation, a moisture barrier must be applied on the interior side,and also sealed well at joints, openings and penetrations.

It also acts as a barrier against air infiltration. A 6 mil poly sheet is required by most codes. A mil is a unit of length equal to one thousandth (10-3) of an inch (0.0254 millimeter).

Pay special attention to sealing electrical outlet boxes and plumbing penetrations. Electrical penetrations are a serious source of air infiltration. Don’t forget to caulk where wires go through wall plates. Plumbing penetrations occur in areas where humidity is higher, and as a result can be a serious source of moisture penetration. Keep all plumbing to interior walls if possible. Even then sealing is important to prevent condensation from forming on cold water pipes, and creating a pleasant environment for mold growth. Don’t forget the ceiling penetrations for plumbing vents.

I am not very concerned with fastener penetration in the interior. Primer sealer and paint over drywall, provide an extra layer of protection against moisture.

Careful consideration to insulation, air barriers and moisture barrier will pay excellent dividends in comfort and energy savings.

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Attic ventilation a critical design factor

 Attic ventilation and insulation is critical to reduce cooling costs, to prevent shingle damage, to minimize ice damming, and to prevent moisture buildup. Installation is not complicated.

An unvented attic is like a politician or me—–full of hot air.

If the area directly under your roof does not have adequate air movement for cooling, the sun can raise temperatures to levels damaging to asphalt shingles. Heat is also transferred to the living space below, and increases cooling costs. In the winter, heat rising through the ceiling to a poorly vented attic space can melt snow on the roof. The resulting water can run downward, and refreeze on colder areas of the roof to form ice dams. The water pooling behind the ice dams can overwhelm the roofing and leak through. This will cause severe damage to insulation, ceilings, and interior decorating. Excess humidity needs to be removed from the attic space to prevent damage to the roof and insulation from mold and rot.

Attic ventilation

Types of attic vent

In one severe case, I saw where asphalt shingles badly curled in 5 years. They normally would not have been as bad after 20 years. This was a shed type roof on an addition to the south side of a two story house. The shingles were black. The wall above was painted white, reflecting heat onto the roof, and a wall opposite was also white, reflecting heat back again. The original cedar shingle roof had been removed, and insulation had been stuffed in from the top. No attic ventilation of any kind had been provided.

Admittedly, this is an extreme example, but it serves to demonstrate the importance of attic ventilation.

Complicated roofs can complicate the equation considerably, but adequate ventilation on a simple gable roof is not difficult to achieve.

A continuous ridge vent combined with vented soffits is a low maintenance passive system that works well. Ridge vents should not be combined with other types of vents in snow areas, as snow may blow into the attic. There is much less chance of serious leaks with ridge vents.

In older houses, the 3” x 10” screened vents about every 4 feet in the soffits combined with one or two square vents near the ridge, is not really adequate.

I believe that passive attic ventilation is a better option for attic ventilation than powered fans, or systems with moving parts. It is dangerous to be on the roof to affect repairs when there is snow. Working on the roof in hot weather can damage asphalt shingles. There can be noise problems. Power outages render fans useless. Electricity consumption is a cost, and an environmental concern.

A complicated roof may require more complicated solutions. Vaulted ceilings make insulating and venting difficult, as do attic living or storage space. Of course, this is another argument for simpler roof designs.

There are minimum requirements in building codes for attic ventilation, but once again I advocate going a step further, and providing somewhat more.

Care must be taken to not block the attic ventilation at the eaves when insulating. Insulation stops will be needed in many cases.

There are a great many attic ventilation devices on the market.

Most require a hole through the roof which means they may leak, if not properly installed, or if they become damaged from wind or hail. Made of metal or plastic, they are usually obvious, and not necessarily attractive. Most will work fairly well, if there is enough of them, and they are well placed.

Gable vents seen on older houses are not that effective, due to poor air distribution.

Turbine vents are popular, but I really don’t think they are much more effective than static vents. They can be noisy, and more so if they are damaged by wind or hail.

Power vents can move a lot of air, but care must be taken to provide extra inlet vents, if they are to be any more effective. Distribution of air movement may not be that even. Their true effectiveness is arguable. Solar powered models are available to reduce energy cost and eliminate wiring.

For cost and effectiveness, I believe that ridge venting with vented soffits is the better option for attic ventilation. It works the best on a gable type roof. If you choose the type that you shingle over, it is virtually invisible from the ground. Some other roof designs will require different solutions.

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