Archive for January, 2012|Monthly archive page

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In Q&A on January 30, 2012 at 3:21 pm


I have recently moved into a two-story house with a basement.  Whenever I light a fire in the natural wood fireplace located on the first floor, I can smell the smoke in the basement. There is also a similar fireplace in the basement too. I am not sure if the two chimneys are connected. Could you help me solve this problem?


There is negative air pressure in the house. The least expensive thing to try first would be prior to lighting a fire in the fireplace on the first floor, open a basement window and leave it open for 15 to 20 minutes. Then light the fire in the fireplace on the first floor and check to see if you get are getting the smoke/smell in the basement.

If you are not getting the smoke smell you will need to call an HVAC company and have them install a “make up air unit” (although there are many brands on the market a good one is called the Skuttle). Another one is Equaliz-Air 734-462-1033. Ray Gilreath from High Hat Chimney Sweep states that make up air units must be sized to the house and recommends Keeth Heating and Cooling in Plymouth, who are experts in properly sizing the unit for your needs.

If this does not take care of your problem then the problem could be originating at the top of the chimney on the outside. The liners may be too close together, damaged (least likely cause), need something like a plinth installed to separate the liners above the wash or possibly just a metal hood installed on one or more of the liners. The smoke appears to be exiting the first liner and blowing down the basement chimney flue.   I can think of two other possible causes:  the liner for the 1st floor fireplace may need to be raised so it is not the same height as the basement liner. The final factor could be inadequate cold air returns on the 1st floor.

Always do the least expensive things first. That may be just installing a chimney top damper, which will seal the top of the basement flue when that fireplace is not in use.  I also recommend my favorite chimney guy Ray Gilreath and he can be reached at 734-466-9590.


I live in a condo complex with ridge, soffit and gable vents. Every winter, depending on the wind direction, snow blows in through the ridge vent, accumulates in the attic, melts and causes damage to the ceilings. Do you think the gable vents could be the problem?


All the condo’s gable vents absolutely must be sealed. It could be the problem or part of the problem. When installing any ridge vent, all other vent openings, except the soffit vents must be removed or closed. That includes gable vents, can, power, and turbine vents.

Some types of ridge vents do not have wind baffles on the exterior. I have seen video and studies where that type actually allows rain and snow to get into the attic on windy days. If that is your type, replace them but still seal the gable vents.

Finally, you should have an equal or slightly greater amount of soffit ventilation with ridge vents.


In my front room closet I have noticed some mildew and moisture where the walls meet the ceiling. I am not sure if it is a leak or possible humidity.


If the plaster or drywall is soft, damaged or deteriorating and the paint is bubbling and/or peeling, it is a leak. Check with a roofer. It may be a leak or ice dam problem.

Otherwise if it is surface moisture and mold then it is because you have no insulation in that area and moisture in your house is collecting on the colder surface. It is the same principle as condensation sticking to a cold glass on a hot, humid day.

Wash the area off with bleach and a mild detergent, then rinse.

Add more insulation in that area and provide more air circulation in the closet.


To all my followers: Please pass along my blog address to all your friends and family. I’d appreciate it!

In Q&A on January 23, 2012 at 7:20 pm

I want to install an exhaust fan in my bathroom. What brand do you suggest?

The brand is not as important as size. There are several criteria you should follow. You need to know about the amount of cubic feet in the area so you know how much volume of air to move around.

To determine, measure height times the length times the width of the bathroom and it will equal cubic feet. You’ll want a fan that has a capacity to change the air a minimum of 8 times per hour. Multiply the cubic feet by 8, which gives you the cubic feet per hour. Divide that by 60 minutes to get your cubic feet per minute (CFM). All fans are stamped with that number.

Also, get a fan with the lowest “sone”. The lower the sone number, the quieter the fan. Finally, vent the exhaust fan to the exterior and not into the attic.

We have a leak in our radiant heating pipes in the concrete flooring. Is there a way to detect a water leak? How do we find it?
One previous time we contacted a plumber who jack hammered nine different holes in our floor in different sections and found a leak below a closet floor. Is there a detector available because we want to avoid this happening again? We listen to air gurgling by putting our ear on the concrete floor and that is not pinpointing a distinct spraying sound.

Thermographic imaging devices detect cold and/or hot areas in walls, ceilings, floors, etc. Companies that do thermography can be found by Googling “infra-red thermography”. They can easily pinpoint where your leak is occurring beneath the slab. That’s because the temperature of the water leak will be different from the surrounding soil.

By now, you’ve realized the code has changed and they no longer bury any plumbing or heating pipes in a slab unless they are wrapped and protected from the concrete. Concrete is acidic and slowly disintegrates copper and galvanized pipes. Additionally, the pipes expand and contract, that movement against concrete wears them out.

I have lived in my Bloomfield Township tri-level home for 12 years and noticed the humidity ranges from 65 to 75-percent. The lowest it has ever been is 55-percent in the dead of winter when the furnace runs. What would you think is the cause of the humidity?

Your humidity level is indeed too high. At that level, I would expect serious mold problems. Your humidity level should be around 35-percent.

Some questions you should investigate:
•    Do you have a crawl space and if so, is it dry and ventilated?
•    Do you have and use a kitchen and bathroom exhaust fans and are they vented to the exterior?
•    Do you have many plants or aquariums in the house? They produce tremendous amounts of moisture in the air.
•    Have you had the furnace inspected? Faulty furnace heat exchangers not only put hazardous carbon monoxide into the air but also excessive moisture.

My furnace started making loud expansion noises this past January. The noise starts when the burner ignites and continues until the blower has run for about a minute and then all is quiet until next time.

I have the furnace serviced every fall and have had three companies that cannot find the reason for the noise. They tell me I have to live with it or replace the furnace.

I’ve said this before. It’s probably not opportunity knocking but your ductwork.

This is not an uncommon problem especially with ranch homes that have long runs of ductwork. As they get warmer they expand. If there is not enough room for the movement, you will hear banging, knocking or ticking noises.

If that is the case, just locating the suspect area and screwing a piece of 1×2 at a diagonal to the outside of the ductwork usually will correct the problem. If it doesn’t work, a heating contractor can cut and install a cloth separator to eliminate the noise.

To my followers: Please pass along my blog address to all your friends and family, I’d appreciate it.

In Q&A on January 16, 2012 at 8:25 pm

Questions and Answers


You inspected a house for us six years ago and because of the thoroughness of your inspection we did not buy the house. We now are in a condo and are having a problem we thought you might be able to help us with.

Our bedroom faces the lake and the west winds. Our guest room is on the opposite side of the condo over the garage. During the winter one of these rooms are always freezing cold, sometimes only 55-degrees. The builders said they did what they could, or what they were willing to do and that was to add more insulation in the attic. This did not fix the problem and over the years we’ve had to resort to using a space heater. I’ve come to learn (over the years) that everyone who owns this same model has the same problem.

Recently I had a Family Heating, Cooling and Electrical out and they said with units like ours they put in zones, but with a finished basement, this was not possible. They did suggest installing boosters in the vents but from what I’ve been told by others, this would not solve my problem, so I am leery.

As far as the rooms that get cold, it is always one or the other that gets this way, and depends on which direction the wind is blowing. Do you think I should have blown-in insulation put into the walls before I have them install the induct blower?


When the builder added more insulation they should have also added blown-in insulation within the west wall, not just in the ceiling. Insulation should also be added (or installed if there is none) into the ceiling of the room over the garage as well as to the ceiling of the garage.

I trust Family Heating, Cooling and Electrical. They are a good company and if they feel there is no other alternative but to add an induct blower then go with their suggestion. But I would do it along with having more insulation added.


We came across an article, which stated that all cracks and other cold entry points in the attic should be closed off to reduce heat loss. That makes sense, but isn’t it the way our house and many others were originally constructed?


There are two schools of thought. One says keep the heat you’re paying for in the house, below the ceiling. It also suggests that the attic should be ventilated using roof and soffit vents. What causes a problem is that most people do not seal all openings to the attic (areas around the chimney, scuttles, recessed lights, fans, chases, etc.)

With enough insulation and ventilation, as well as sealing all energy leaks, this is an excellent design for our area (summer and winter).

Totally sealing and enclosing the entire attic using a product such as an Icynene Insulation System® is another process. They close/seal all attic vents and spray on an expanding insulation. This product is an excellent insulation, as well as an air barrier. While I like the product, I personally would only use it for cathedral ceilings or attics with HVAC. You can do your own research on it by going to www.icynene.com or calling 800-758-7325.


I have read a number of articles regarding the need to test for radon, but I have never read what steps need to be taken if the test indicates a reading above the “safe” limit. If radon levels are high, what’s next?


If it is a Real Estate transaction and the level is 4 pCi/L or higher, mitigate it. Expect to pay $800. – $1000. If not part of a purchase and the result is greater than 4 pCi/L but less than 10, perform a follow-up measurement. If a long-term follow-up is performed and the result is less than 4 pCi/L you should be ok. If greater that 10 pCi/L, remediate. Always average the results of the initial and follow-up measurements. If the result is less than 4 pCi/L, consider testing again in the future, if the average results are greater than 4 pCi/L mitigate. To check your house, call a home inspector or environmental company.


To my followers: Please pass along my blog address to all your friends and family, I’d appreciate it.

In Winter Tips For Your Home on January 12, 2012 at 9:49 pm

Thawing & Preventing Frozen Pipes

I don’t care if you do have a cold heart, but if your pipes freeze there is a way to thaw them to reduce damage, that I do care about.

If one of your plumbing pipes freeze this winter, it’s important to thaw it out before the ice expands and splits the pipe. But, it’s possible that doing it, with lets say a propane torch, could actually make matters worse. First, obviously if you’re not careful you could burn your house down using a torch. On a lot lesser scale, if you are working on a section of frozen pipe not near a faucet that can be opened, thawing the pipe out too quickly can produce steam. The steam will, of course, expand, exploding the pipe. Wasn’t that what you were trying to avoid? If you can open a faucet close to where you’re thawing the pipe, you’ll have a release for the steam and you only have to worry about not burning the house down.

A few successful ways to thaw frozen pipes are: Using a hair dryer, heat lamp, or an electric space heater. But you should be concerned about using any electrical device around plumbing. Especially if it’s frozen and split, what if water shoots out? You could get electrocuted. So if you use either of those, plug them into an outlet with a ground fault circuit interrupter (GFCI). If you don’t have one, buy a portable one, and it’ll protect you from electrocution.

My least favorite recommendation is to wrap the pipes with heating tape and plug them in. You’ll find heating tape at hardware stores. It is a solution, but heat tapes should be inspected annually to make sure they are not cracked or brittle. If not installed properly, they could cause a fire and finally if they stop working, you won’t know until the pipes freeze.

If you have a kerosene heater put it in that room with the frozen pipes to slowly thaw them out. But, don’t put it too close to the wall where it could start a fire. How about just wrapping the pipes with rags and pouring boiling water on them being careful not to scald yourself. No steam is created and no chance for electrocuting yourself.

Now don’t go getting all hot under the collar, but if you don’t provide heat to that area, it will just freeze again.

Oftentimes, kitchen sinks are on an outside wall. The pipes run up and along that wall and in older houses the insulation is either non-existent or at best, inadequate.

Regardless, if it is plumbing to a kitchen sink or a bathroom, having insulation blown into the wall cavity should correct the problem or at least reduce the possibility of the pipes freezing.

If you can, have a plumber relocate the pipes from within the wall to the interior of the cabinet.

Another solution is to cut an opening in the cabinet or vanity doors and install decorative louvers to allow warm air in to keep the pipes from freezing.

If you have a crawlspace and the plumbing runs in the crawl, make sure the area is properly insulated. I would also insulate all pipes with pipe-wrap that run in a crawlspace or attic.

Finally, learn where the main water shut-off is and make sure all family members know how to turn off the water to reduce any damage.

~ I hope you’ve been finding my “Home Repair & New Products Blog” helpful~

In Letter from the Author on January 10, 2012 at 3:25 pm

I hope you have been enjoying my weekly Blog and find it informative. I really enjoy passing along interesting tips and hints for homeowners and “do-it-yourselfers”. You’ll also have access to reviews of new products I have tested.

It only takes a moment to sign up and it costs you nothing. Your email address is kept private and you can opt out at any time. To my current followers, feel free to pass along my blog address to everyone on your email list (https://drdiy.wordpress.com).

My goal is to make you aware of helpful tools and products, to educate, and to help you save money in the process. Feel free to write me with your comments or questions anytime at drdiy@comcast.net.

Hope to “see you” soon.


Preparing Your Home From Heat Loss

In Winter Tips For Your Home on January 3, 2012 at 3:48 pm

If your chimney flue has not been cleaned recently and you use the fireplace weekly, have it cleaned to prevent a chimney fire. Also, examine the firebox for loose or crumbling bricks. Make any necessary repairs using fire clay, which is a heat resistant mortar. Take a look at your chimney from the outside. If ivy or tree limbs are near the top, cut them back. If you have loose or missing bricks, have them repaired or replaced before you use your fireplace.

Most fireplaces built since 1990 have dampers just above the firebox that close off the flue to limit heat loss when it’s not in use. Make sure the damper is not damaged by age or stuck open (or shut) because of fallen debris. Call in a chimney sweep for major problems. They should be able to make a “clean sweep” of anything wrong.

If your house has a crawlspace make sure you’ve closed all the vents. Also, if you have little or no insulation in the crawl, add R30 insulation to the perimeter walls, a vapor barrier (generally 4-6 mil plastic) should be covering the dirt ground of the crawlspace. And finally, insulate all plumbing pipes with insulation or pipe wrap.

Does your house have a whole-house fan in the hall ceiling? Install a plastic vapor barrier on top of it and then cover it with insulation to prevent heat loss. The heat loss through those louvers is considerable. One problem I find when inspecting houses is some families don’t seal the whole-house fan, which causes rotting and mold in the attic to the roof sub-structure. That is not good.

If you total up all the areas around the average house that need caulking and weatherstripping, you’re looking at an equivalent of a three-foot gaping hole in the wall. Weatherstripping consists of those slim strips of rubber, plastic, metal and foam that seal the moving edges of doors, windows and other areas. To stop air leaks, weather stripping has to make a good seal between the door or window and its frame.

Storm windows not only protect the main window from water, winter, rain and snow, they slow heat loss by creating a dead-air space, however, only if they are tight enough to limit air movement. Make sure storms fit snugly all around the window frame, leaving only small weep holes along the bottom edge to allow condensation, rain and moisture vapor to escape. Loose storms are not only ineffective, they promote frost on the indoor window surface.

Pipes, vents, hatches, recessed lights, and cracks that penetrate the upper floor ceilings are easy avenues for heat loss. Even more important, they allow moisture vapor to migrate to the attic, where cooler temperatures cause it to condense into water that saturates insulation and freezes into frost. Close off large penetrations with plywood or wallboard, then seal all joints and cracks with caulk.

If you think you have “bats in the belfry” what do you have up there? You’d better make sure you have good attic ventilation. In an insulated attic, the rafters and roof boards are cold. Any warm, moist air reaching them through the insulation immediately condenses into moisture. The moisture gets trapped and eventually rots the wood. So whenever you add attic insulation, make sure you have good attic ventilation. To see how much insulation and ventilation you need, go to my website at www.technihouse.com and click on “Insulation: Packing It In”.

If a winter storm strikes, close off those rooms that are not absolutely essential. Listen to TV and radio for weather developments. Letting faucets drip a little may prevent freezing damage. If a power failure occurs, turn off most light switches, your furnace switch, and unplug the freezer and refrigerator. The surge of returning electrical power can damage the motors of appliances.


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