Posts Tagged ‘ice dams’

Where do you grow your mold, the bathroom or the attic?

February 11, 2013

Sometimes it’s the simple things that can be done to make your home a healthier and safer one.   Bath fans help move a great deal of moisture out of the room and are a really good idea.  But where the moisture goes next is just as important.

IMG_5819

Not quite far enough

 

A ten minute shower can use 16 gallons of water or more, and generate a great deal of steam.    It’s not good to leave all that moisture to accumulate on the walls and ceiling in a small room since it can lead to odors as well as mold growth.

So we fire up the fan and it hums away pulling moisture out of the room to…..the attic?  It seems pretty simple, but  it needs to go to the outside.  Often vents end up in the attic or even worse, buried in insulation or a wall and stop there.   Every exhaust fan in a home needs to vent to the outside.

Maybe your mirror won’t fog up if it vents to the attic, but moisture will build up elsewhere.  Rotting out the roof or growing mold in the attic isn’t any better!    Ice dams and roof damage should not be part of your ventilation strategy!

Bath fans can help the whole house too, and I’ve written about it in the past in taking control of the airways.  Ventilation is important in our homes, make sure excess moisture gets outside!

Thanks,

Jason

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2nd Annual Biggest, Baddest Icicles Contest Winner Announced!

March 11, 2011

The cold and snowy winter in Central New York was a dream for fans of icicles, but a nightmare for many homeowners. However pretty, those giant icicles can form devastating ice dams on the edges of your roof, backing up water under your roofing and into the walls. Leaks and structural damage are the symptoms of a bad ice-damming problem, but are only part of a much worse, underlying problem. Ice dams are largely due to inadequate insulation and air sealing in your attic and roof. The precious heat you pump into your home escapes through the roof, melting the snow that rests on top. When the snow reaches the cold edges and eves of the roof, it refreezes into blocks of ice, sometimes weighing hundreds of pounds!

Our 2nd Annual Biggest, Baddest Icicles Contest brought in an impressive display of ice from across Central New York (Facebook album). From giant ice curtains to compact-car-sized heaps, the entries were as varied as they were scary. But we could only pick one home to receive a free comprehensive home energy assessment and $1,000 worth of attic insulation and air sealing to help prevent future instances of ice damming and keep one family warmer, safer and more comfortable, plus put some money back into their pockets!

The Winner of GreenHomes America's 2011 Biggest, Baddest Icicles Contest

And the winner is… Priscilla Thibault’s Victorian home! Like Priscilla says, “this 1858 Victorian house may have charm, but the icicles can be destructive and potentially deadly.” Not only do the icicles present a major safety hazard, but are also tell-tale signs that Pricillas’ valuable heating dollars aren’t all contributing to her family’s comfort – many of them are feeding the monster on her roof! Our crew from Syracuse will be heading out to Priscilla’s home to begin reclaiming her roof, her home’s comfort and her energy bills. Stay tuned for updates!

Thanks to everyone who entered our 2nd Annual Biggest, Baddest Icicles Contest!

DIY—Do it yourself attic insulation and air-sealing

February 18, 2010

With winter still hammering parts of the country, the mid-Atlantic states being plagued by ice dams, and people being interested in good home economics in today’s tough national economy, a lot of people are insulating their attics now.  This is a great step, if done correctly.  We think there are big advantages to using a well-trained professional to do the job properly. But some handy folks are inclined to handle it all their own—and that’s a reasonable approach. If you’re doing it yourself, however, it’s important to use the right details not just to save energy but also to stay safe!

DIY Done Right–The Short Version

  • Do NOT just roll out batts of insulation in the attic.  You need to air-seal first. The best resource guide for homeowners that I’ve come across is ENERGY STAR’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to ENERGY STAR Home Sealing.  And do this safely.  You don’t want to fall through ceiling.  And improper installation causes problems, like moisture issues and fire risk.
  • Be prepared to stay the course—this isn’t a fun job. It’s generally dirty, cramped, and uncomfortable—but you need to do it right if you want to see results. With some guidance from the ENERGY STAR guide, a friend and neighbor recently completed an insulation and air-sealing project. He’s very glad he did because he’s saving energy and his house is more comfortable. But he did say he’d never do it himself again. The hassle isn’t worth it and he’d rather hire someone. Check out his fun video on his DIY attic insulation project below.
  • After you’re done, make sure a professional checks the safety of all combustion equipment—furnaces, boilers, water heaters, etc.—in your home.

DIY Done Right–The Longer Version

Do NOT just roll out batts of insulation in the attic.  You’ll get very little benefit with fiberglass batts without rigorous attention to air-sealing.  Think of wearing a lose sweater or fleece on a windy winter day.  That fleece is a good insulating layer.  But when the wind blows through it, the heat gets sucked right out.  The same thing happens in your home as wind and the “stack effect” allow heat to escape through leaks in your home and blow right through the insulation.  (The stack effect:  warm air rises, and in the winter you whole house acts like a big chimney with the warm air rising out the top—unless you stop it)  This is a reason why you’ll see stained, dirty insulation in the attic.  It has essentially been filtering all of the air escaping your house–air that you paid to heat and cool and that you’re losing to outside. 


In fact, not adding insulation without air-sealing can lead to moisture and mold problems in the attic as the warm, moist air hits cold surfaces in the attic and the water condenses out just like it does on a glass of iced tea on a summer day.  Over time, this can lead to structural failure and other issues! 

Thus, it’s important to air-seal the attic.  This can be tricky as you need to use different materials and techniques depending on the type of holes and leaks.  For example, you can’t use foam against chimneys and flue because of the fire risk.  I can’t get in to all of the variations here.  The best resource guide for homeowners that I’ve come across is ENERGY STAR’s Do-It-Yourself Guide to ENERGY STAR Home Sealing.

Attics aren’t usually fun places, but you need to spend the time finding the holes and leaks.  And be careful up there!.  You don’t want to fall through the ceiling, you need to be on the lookout the electrical wiring, you need to watch out for protruding nails and screws, and you need to use the right techniques.

After insulating and air-sealing, it is very important to make sure that your combustion equipment—furnaces, boilers, water heaters, etc.—are operating safely and venting properly.  Most homeowner don’t have the equipment or skills to do this, so I won’t describe it here.  Your fuel company, a home performance specialist, or a good heating contractor should be able to do this for you.  As I’ve mentioned previously, carbon monoxide is not something to take lightly. 

All-in-all, this job may be more than most people want to handle.  If you hire someone to do this, make sure they are willing and able to do it right, with proper air-sealing and combustion safety testing.  If the contractor you’re talking to balks or doesn’t understand, walk away and find a contractor who can deliver what you need.

Fixing Ice Dams Right Now

February 9, 2010

OK, so you know the best way to address ice dams is to prevent them from forming in the first place, with proper attic insulation and air-sealing to keep the heat and warm in your house, and then attic ventilation as the backstop to remove heat that does escape into your attic.

But you live in the mid-Atlantic region, from Virginia and DC to Baltimore and Pittsburgh, and Delware up into New Jersey, you’ve been pummeled with snow, and there is more on the way.  What about the ice dam that is on your roof right now?

First, stay off the roof. Walking on an icy, snow-covered roof is dangerous. And falls even from a low roof can result in serious injury or kill you.

Chipping away at the ice with shovels, axes, hammers is also NOT a good idea. It can damage your roofing (or siding or gutters) and it too is dangerous for you.

Instead, try these temporary home remedies:

  • Use a long handled snow rake–while you stand safely on the ground and far back from where the snow will be falling—to pull off snow from around the eaves.
  • If you’ve already got an ice dam formed, with water building up behind it, fill a panty hose stocking with calcium chloride and lay it so it runs up the roof, across the ice dam. This is a last resort, and the calcium chloride may harm plants below it.  [Amazon sells a special “sock” for thick, but old nylon stockings, or even a cheap new pair from the nearest store,  should work just as well.]
  • If you’ve got water leaking in through the roof, you may be able to stop the leak by sticking a box fan in the attic and having it blast cold air on the leak, freezing the water. Of course, this is a short term fix only, and it works only if the air in the attic is sufficiently cold.

Ice dams can cause water leaks that result in thousands of dollars in damage. The best fix is good insulation and air-sealing to help avoid them in the first place. And it really works. Take action now to avoid the problems coming back in the future.

Thanks,
Mike

Snow in Northeast creates conditions for roof icicles and ice damming—signs of wasted energy

January 6, 2010

Burlington, Vermont got hit with a 33 inch snow storm (and several more inches from a couple other storms) last week. Syracuse, Fulton, and much as Central New York are getting pounded with snow much of the last ten days and more on the way. Snow on rooftops often leads to problems with icicles and ice damming, as we’ve discussed here before, but primarily for homes with air leakage into the attic and poor insulation. (Some will tout inadequate ventilation as the cause—but roof ventilation is often insufficient, it can make energy leakage worse, and it’s possible to solve this issue with no roof ventilation!). I thought I’d take a quick stroll and capture some examples of signs that we look for to help spot problems.  These pictures were taken within 30 minutes of each other on homes within a half mile radius of the first home shown.  What a difference good insulation and air-sealing makes!

This first home is an example of what we’d like to see.  An even snow pattern with no signs of excessive melt or ice build-up.  The attic is well-sealed and insulated to R-60+.  This particular home is more than 80 years old–so existing homes can indeed be made more energy-efficient.

This example shows that “New” isn’t always better.  After an extensive remodel completed within the last two years, this home should perform like a newly constructed home.  And in many ways, it does–unfortunately that means not as well as one would expect.  Too often new construction detailing isn’t done well and homeowners don’t really get the performance they should.

Cape Cod style homes are notorious for the poor air-sealing and insulation installation.  The changes in the roof plane and top and side attics require special attention.  More often than not, the details are missed, and the homeowner is left with deficiencies that create an inefficient home.

It’s hard to see in this photo, but there are some interesting melt patterns which probably mean some big air leaks and/or missing insulation.

Again, more recent remodeling means a big missed opportunity to improve efficiency.  I suppose this much ice, though, does make it harder for the neighbors to sign in the first floor windows!

Notice the melting along the ridge, and heat loss at the rafters telegraphing through the snow.

This looks like a semi-cathedralized ceiling, with a fair amout of air moving through the insulated rafter bays–and the ridge vent at the top may be accelerating the heat loss.

Something to think seriously about.  Excessive melting and ice damming is a good way to wreck your roof.  Now, I don’t know if that’s what happened here, but winter is not the best time to replace a roof–it’s generally done only in an emergency.

A fair amount of this home’s heating bill goes toward melting snow!

Now here’s an example of what we’d like to see those Cape Cod roofs to look like (even if this isn’t technically a Cape Cod style house)!

Whoops–looks like someone missed insulation in a couple of bays…

And several more examples follow.  Any ideas what’s going on with these?

Another example of energy problems around recessed lights

December 22, 2009

Syracuse-based Senior Advisor John Scipione forwards this all-too-common photo from the field illustrating efficiency problems with recessed “can” lighting.  You can see light leaking through and around the fixture–air from inside the house is doing the same.  And because this fixture isn’t rated for insulation contact, the insulation has to be kept away.  Learn more about how to address this.

Energy weak points around recessed light fixture--air leaks and poor insulation.

Energy weak points around recessed light fixture.

[Side note–it you can see the tops of 6″ joists in your adequate above the insulation–you probably don’t have enough insulation.]

Thanks,
Mike

Air leakage–even the small cracks add up

December 14, 2009

We continue to get a lot of inquiries about ice dams–especially now that snow has started hitting our Northeast locations.

And this brings me back to air-sealing.  The little leaks do add up to big utility bills and even moisture problems in your attic.

This recent photo from Marvin, one of our Syracuse Advisors, is a good illustration.

Air Leaking through small cracks leave stains on fiberglass

Tell tale signs of air leakage--air leaking through small, barely visible, cracks directs air through fiberglass. And the fiberglass filters dirt from the air before it leaves your house. Isn't that nice? You clean the warm air before you leak in leave your house in the winter!

Although the gaps shown here are really too small to be seen easily, we can see the impact they’re having.  Notice the dark staining that lines up exactly with the small cracks.  Air is leaking through here.  The fiberglass insulation is dirty because as the air moves through it–robbing your home of heat in the winter–the fiberglass actually grabs dirt and other particulate in the air.  Hundreds of these small cracks along with other holes and penetrations are a big energy waster, the decrease the effectiveness of your insulation, and they can lead to moisture problems in your attic or icicles and ice damming if you live in snow country.

Seal those leaks.  Or call someone who knows how!

Thanks,
Mike

Roof killers—icicles and ice damming

November 18, 2009

I touched on insulation and air-sealing in a few recent posts. And as happens in the winter, we’ve noticed a big increase in the last few weeks on people asking about icicles and ice damming. It’s probably time for a quick refresh and retread of an earlier post.

What is Ice Damming?
Big icicles and ice dams are typically caused by poor or missing insulation and air leakage from your house into your attic.  In the winter, this warms the roof and causes the snow to melt. The melting snow then moves down the roof slope until it reaches the cold overhang, where it refreezes.

The process forms icicles and can actually create a dam that eventually forces the water to back up under the shingles and sometimes into the ceiling or wall inside the home. In addition to roof and water damage, ice dams can cause structural decay and mold and mildew to form in attics and on wall surfaces. 

Big icicles are a good sign of too much heat loss through your attic.

Big icicles themselves, like those shown here, are obvious signs that you’re at risk.

But snow melt patterns can also indicate a problem of too much heat loss. In this photo below, you can see snow melting off the roof at different rates, driven by heat loss from the house. 

roof snow melt patterns

Uneven snow melt also is a sign that something is awry

And in the townhouse complex below you can see the building that GreenHomes treated with even snow still on the roof—a sign the building isn’t losing energy rapidly. Conversely, you see the untreated building with the snow melted–a sign that it’s losing a lot of energy. No big icicles this time—but had it been a bit colder, the melting snow would have refrozen at the eaves and created big problems.
treated townhouse retains heat
The townhome treated by GreenHomes loses heat more slowly through the attic and thus snow melts slowly and doesn’t accumulate as ice out at the eaves.
 

  

a leaky and poorly insulation town home attic melts snow quicly

This town home has not been treated and the wasted heat melts snow quickly. In the right temperatures, the melted snow would refreeze and create ice problems--bad news. And in any event, this folks in this building are spending a lot more on energy than they should.

The Fix
Fortunately, you can dramatically reduce damage from ice damming by sealing the holes connecting your heated living space and the attic, as well as properly insulating your attic. There are different techniques to stop air leaking through recessed lights, leaky heating ducts, attic access doors, and plumbing and electrical penetrations. Sealing these leaks keeps warm air in your house were it belongs. Together, with adequate levels of insulation, this greatly reduces the chance of ice damming and large icicles.  You do NOT just want to add more insulation before sealing the air leaks—this can actually create additional problems that can also damage your roof. 

It’s important to not that you can’t eliminate icicles completely.  Small icicles are normal.  And some roof architecture–especially big valleys draining to a small corner–are especially challenging.  But if you have long icicles or thick heavy ice you should act quickly to prevent damage.  (And this means preventing the ice from forming in the first place, not risk life, limb, and your roof trying to chip off ice that’s there.)
 
 Do it right.  Find the important leakage points and seal them up.  Then add a lot of insulation.  And afterwards, as with any time you change the way your house works, have your combustion appliances tested to make sure they’re operating safely and efficiently.

An added benefit to this, of course, is you’ll save energy, save money, and be more comfortable in your home, too!

Save the ice for your holiday cocktails!

[Update, see more roof melt and icicle photos.]

Thanks,
Mike

P.S.  The added insulation can qualify for the $1,500 federal credit.  Save money while you save you roof!

DAMNED TOUGH DAMS TO FIX.

February 24, 2009

Jay Romano wrote a great column in his New York Times home improvement series, “The Fix” last week addressing ice dam solutions. I think it only goes half way, though, since the article offers roof shoveling and heat tape as partial solutions. The truth is, only with a well-sealed and well-insulated attic can you reliably and permanently control the expensive damage wrought by ice dams and avoid unnecessarily high utility bills.

Here’s the thing about raking snow—it’s only potentially effective if you decide that you have an ice-damming problem the day of a big snowstorm.  You can do it yourself by buying a snow rake, or hire someone to do it for you each time you get a snowfall. But do you really want to add shoveling the roof to your existing shoveling chores, or add to your current snow removal bills? And just shoveling the snow off the first two or three feet of the roof isn’t going to do it: the show further up the roof can melt down and create dams.

Ditto with heat tape, which not only costs $300-600 according to Mr. Romano, but must then be installed and can be very expensive to run.  (Set an electric heater outside and then tell me about your electric bill!)  Electric heat tape requires fasteners, which penetrate the shingles to hold it in place, and can damage shingles.  And unfortunately, many people let heat tape run even when not needed – when there is no snow on the roof (or, yikes, all summer long!), for example – causing even higher bills.

The rigid foam method Tom Silva recommends, in which the attic is insulated all the way up to the peak, between the rafters, can work—but air sealing along with it is critical, and probably beyond what most homeowners can tackle solo. For twice the price of the materials, which are expensive in and of themselves, a homeowner could have closed cell polyurethane insulation installed (that is, with all labor included) to an equivalent depth, which will do the trick. But many homeowners don’t use the attic as living space. If you rarely venture up there, you can insulate just as well, if not better, for a fraction of the cost.  A well-sealed and well-insulated flat attic, with good attic ventilation—of the kind we do every day—will outperform Mr. Silva’s approach. (Again—it depends on whether and how you’re using the attic—mine is conditioned living space so the flat attic treatment was out.)

Now, go outside, and take that heat tape off!  (And then call someone to insulate and air-seal your attic!)
 
Stay warm,
Mike


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