Home Owner Common Problems
Check these common problems & solutions first
Ice Dams or Large Icicles at Roofline
Ice dams are primarily caused by a combination of three things:
- Air leaks from the house into the attic which let the warm moist air from the living space into the attic
- Too little insulation in the attic allowing heat from the house to escape into the attic through the ceiling
- Lack of proper ventilation in the attic to allow warm air to escape from the attic and be replaced by cool dry air from outside
Other Contributing Factors
- Bath fans and kitchen range fans that vent into the attic instead of to the outdoors
- Supply ducts disconnected or leaking heated air into the attic
- Improperly insulated knee walls or framed floors
- Ventilation baffles filled with insulation from being installed incorrectly
- Ridge vent which is clogged or covered with snow
- Uninsulated and unsealed attic access hatch
IMPORTANT: Follow the below steps in this order to seal air leaks and fix ventilation issues BEFORE adding attic insulation. In some cases, it may be easiest to remove all the insulation from the attic to make the work go easier and allow you to find all the air leaks.
- Use Caulk or Foam – Seal around ALL penetrations in the ceiling including electrical boxes, wire penetrations, plumbing vent stacks, interior wall top plates, chimneys, registers, etc.
- Install Roof Vents – If your roofing system has vented soffit, then you should also have a ridge vent across the top or several pot-vents to create adequate airflow along the underside of the roof deck.
- Install ventilation baffles -The air coming in from the vented soffit is directed over the insulation by ventilation baffles. It’s important that these baffles extend high enough to allow the full depth of insulation at the outside edges of the attic. It is also important that the baffles or other material at the heel of the truss or rafters keeps the insulation from falling out into the soffits.
- Add Insulation – Do this only AFTER following the steps listed above. At Great Lakes Home Performance, we like all types of insulation as long as it is installed properly. Check to see what the current code or recommended amount of attic insulation is for your climate zone.
What NOT To Do
- Do not install heat-tape on the eaves – Do this only as a very temporary solution or as a last resort. Heat tape is simply a hot wire that zigzags along the edge of the roof to melt the ice. It uses a LOT of electricity and can be a fire hazard!
- Do not get on the roof with a sledgehammer
High Energy Bills / Sudden Increase
Something has changed
- The weather (e.g., the POLAR VORTEX)
- More people in the house
- Utility rates increased
- Rate Tiers – Most utilities (either gas or electric) have tiered rate schedules meaning the more you use, the more you pay. In most cases, the rate for the second tier is nearly double the rate from the first tier, so even though you only used 2x as much energy, your bill might be 3x as much because the second half costs twice as much.
- Equipment Failure – Depending on what equipment you have, this is often the most likely cause of suddenly receiving high energy bills
- Geothermal units using backup electric resistance heat
- Dirty, clogged air filters
- Energy Monitor – If you want to make sure you stay below the level of the second tier rate, you’ll need to monitor your energy use just like you would avoid driving if you were on “E” and gas was $4 a gallon. The easiest devices are the ones that monitor electricity by clamping two power sensors around the leads in your electric panel. The monitor can sit in an obvious place and show you exactly how much electricity you are using at the moment or per day/week/month. It can be programmed to give you watts and/or dollars and may even sound an alarm if your usage exceeds a set amount.
- Conservation – The energy monitor can help you monitor your use and trim where you can, but the bottom line is simply to USE LESS energy: Turn down the thermostat, turn off lights, and turn off unnecessary equipment. Learning to live with the temperature in the house a little higher in the summer and lower in the winter by dressing accordingly will make a huge difference. Using less energy overall is conservation.
- Energy Efficiency – Energy Efficiency is using less energy to do the same amount of work. So instead of living in the dark and cold, install LED light bulbs and upgrade the furnace which allows you to leave the lights on and keep the thermostat at a comfy temp.
What NOT To Do
- Go on the budget plan which makes your energy bills the same each month
- Sign up for an alternative energy supplier
Hot or Cold Room over the Garage
Bonus rooms typically have three points of weakness: the floor, the walls, and the ductwork
- The walls – The walls are often knee-walls with fiberglass batts stapled to the back side. In order to properly insulate a wall, insulation needs to be completely covered on all sides, especially the attic side. Sometimes the walls are not insulated at all, or are missing a top plate, allowing warm air to go right out the top of the wall. If you have this problem, you probably also have ice-dams.
- The Floor – The Floor is usually insulated incorrectly, if at all. The insulation should completely fill the floor cavity. If it is too thin or has settled, allowing an air space below the floor and above the insulation, then the insulation is not in contact with the surface it needs to insulate.
- The Ductwork – Since bonus rooms are sometimes added later in the life of the home, the ductwork is often simply an extension of some of the ducts from the existing part of the house instead of a new run from the furnace. The ducts supplying the bonus room might also run through the attic, or in the poorly insulated floor cavity, causing them to gain or lose heat before they get to the register. They may also be leaky and unsealed, causing the conditioned air to leak out before it gets to the room.
- Insulate the Floor – It may be necessary to drill 2” holes and fill the floor cavity with additional insulation such as blown cellulose. This can be installed right along with the existing insulation to completely fill the spaces between the floor joists.
- Insulate – Also install an air barrier material on the knee walls. If the walls are insulated, but exposed on the attic side, you may be able to install a rigid air-barrier material such as foam board, Reflectix, or drywall over the insulation. Be sure to also install a piece below the bottom plate to keep any attic air from getting into the floor cavity.
- Seal the Ducts – Use mastic, caulk, spray foam, or foil tape (NOT DUCT TAPE!) to seal all the joints in the ductwork. Make sure they are either completely buried under the insulation or are wrapped with at least R-8 insulation. If they are exposed and you are in a hot climate, they should also have a reflective covering.
What NOT To Do
- Buy electric space heaters or install an electric baseboard except as a last resort
- Damper down all the other registers in the house to get more airflow at the ends
Damp Basement or Crawlspace
- Downspouts – Even if you only have dampness in the basement or crawlspace and not standing water, it’s likely that the water causing the moisture actually originated on the roof and has seeped into the ground around the foundation walls, footings, and floor, causing them to wick the moisture into the concrete and dry to the interior.
- High Water Table – If you don’t have a working sump pump to keep the space around the footing and below the floor dry, it is possible that the foundation is sitting in saturated earth even if your gutter and downspouts are correct. This is common with houses built downhill from other areas or in a berm, such as with a walkout basement.
- Crawlspace Vents – Crawlspace vents have a purpose, but it is NOT to dry the crawlspace out as commonly thought. The purpose of crawlspace vents is actually to vent soil gasses like radon and methane to the outside instead of percolating into the house air. Unfortunately, with the vents open, you are allowing warm humid air from outside (in the summer or in warm humid climates) to enter the crawlspace where the walls and ground can be much cooler, causing condensation on everything in the crawlspace.
- Gutters and Downspouts – These should be installed on all roofs and be clear of debris. The end of the downspout should dump the water at least 6 feet away from the foundation of the house
- Install Sump Pump – This may be a lot of work because it typically works best to install a drainage tile around the exterior and/or interior perimeter of the footing. The sump pump crock should have a sealed lid and the discharge pipe should get the water as far away from the foundation as possible. In most areas it is illegal to tie a footing drain into the sewer system.
- Encapsulate the Crawlspace – If you can completely cover the floor of the crawlspace (and the walls too, if they are rubble or dirt), then you typically do not need the vents. Crawlspace encapsulation is often best left to the professionals who have the right material and experience to get the job done right.
What NOT To Do
- Buy another dehumidifier and keep it running year round
- Paint the walls or install any drainage system without first dealing with the source of the water
Condensation on Windows
- Low Quality Windows – Windows typically have a much lower R-value than the rest of the wall and, in some cases, are so bad that the surface of the window on the inside of the house is the same as the outside temperature. Any surface that cold, like a cold can of your favorite beverage, is going to get condensation on it. Single pane windows have no insulation value at all, double pane windows offer some, but even double pane windows without coatings or other high performance features can keep the windows closer to outdoor temperatures.
- High Humidity – You should always be monitoring the humidity level in your home. Typically 30-40% RH offers the best comfort level in the winter. If your humidity level gets lower than 30% you might feel itchy, get static shocks, or even nose bleeds from the dry air. Above 40% and you’ll start to see condensation on cold surfaces.
- Moisture in the Crawlspace or Basement – It may be necessary to monitor the humidity level in the basement or crawlspace separate from the upstairs to see where the humidity originates. Read the section above about moisture in the basement or crawlspace to see if that might be the cause.
- Airtight House – This might actually be a good sign that your house is airtight. If there are no air leaks and no automatic mechanical ventilation, your house can’t get rid of the moisture caused by living in the house. This is quite common with some new construction homes that were never tested by a HERS Rater.
- Replace or Repair Windows – Replacing windows can be a very expensive ordeal with a long payback period so we typically repair instead of replace. However, if it’s the glass that is causing the problem, it may be necessary to replace the windows. Just make sure that you’ve covered all the other suggested solutions to ensure that’s the right solution.
- Bath and Kitchen – Verify that fans work properly and use them regularly. Run the bath fan for at least 30 minutes after taking a bath or shower to exhaust most of the moisture from the tub/shower and damp towels. If you have a gas oven and range, remember that burning gas produces a LOT of water vapor, so be sure to run the kitchen exhaust fan when using the range or oven.
- Monitor and Control Humidity – Adjust the humidifier, if you have one. You should also have a hygrometer (which measures relative humidity) sitting in your bedroom or living room which accurately tells you the humidity level in the house.
What NOT To Do
- Replace the windows at the first sign of condensation; the windows may not be the problem
- Install shrink wrap window covering except as a temporary fix
Frozen Water Pipes
- Water Lines on Exterior Walls – The water pipes which supply water to any of your faucets should not run along exterior walls. The hose faucets outside can run THROUGH the wall at a 90° angle but should never run along the wall or inside a wall cavity on an exterior wall.
- Air Leaks Near Water Pipes – Even a small air leak blowing cold air on a water line can cause it to freeze. Remember that if you see spider webs, there is likely an air leak at that spot because a spider will build a web where they feel a little airflow.
- Water Lines in the Crawlspace – If the crawlspace is insulated and unvented, this should not be an issue because such a crawl seldom reaches freezing temperatures. If the water line runs along or close to an exterior wall or near an air leak or vent opening, it will freeze.
- Move the Plumbing – First you need to move the water supply pipes (or Pex tubing) off the exterior walls. You might also want to insulate the water pipes with a pipe wrap.
- Insulate and Air Seal – Now that the area on the exterior wall doesn’t have any plumbing on it, you’re free to insulate! Air seal any air leaks that may also be blowing cold air on the pipes. If you have trouble finding the air leaks, try to put the house under negative pressure by turning on the bath fans, running the dryer or any other exhaust fans.
- Insulate and Seal Crawlspace – If your crawlspace has vents and you live in a cold winter climate, you need to close them. Most vents have louvers that can be closed, but most people also build little insulated covers they can fit in place during the winter. The best practice is actually to encapsulate the crawlspace, insulate the walls, and cover all the vents.
What NOT To Do
- Install heat-tape on the pipe except as a very temporary solution or as a last resort. Heat tape is simply a hot wire that wraps around the pipe. It uses a LOT of electricity and can be a fire hazard!
- Repair the plumbing without fixing the problem correctly