Excessive Moisture Makes Homes Unhealthy & Increases Costs of Ownership

 

 

 

Bolster your home's moisture resistance with these tips.

Identify red flags

Common signs of unwanted moisture include:

  • Excessive, continuous condensation around windows
  • Musty smells
  • Standing water, especially under the home and around the foundation
  • Surface discoloration and stains
  • Mold
  • A higher-than-usual water bill from unseen plumbing leaks
  • Decaying wood and other materials throughout your home
  • Flooding events, such as bursting pipes or excessive rain, that release large volumes of water into or outside your home

Be on the lookout

Make regular home moisture inspections a priority. It's important to inspect more around walls, on the roof, under sinks, near water lines, downspouts, sump pumps, hose bibs, etc. A lot of the problems may be hidden leaks and by the time people notice them, they have a real mold problem. Smart home systems also offer automatic water detection features, such as those that will isolate the supply line in the event of a pipe or hose break.

Control humidity

Your home's relative humidity should be roughly 30-50%, and buying an inexpensive hygrometer to keep tabs on your home's humidity levels is a good idea. Some tips to combat humidity: Run a dehumidifier, decorate with moisture-absorbing houseplants and set your air conditioner's fan to automatic. 

Right-size your air conditioner

All too often, people invest in oversized units, says Nick of ICY Home Services. "And that's not good, especially in the South, because it doesn't run long enough to remove enough moisture from the inside air and can cause condensation to collect on surfaces," he adds. Also keep your unit's condensate drainage line to the outside clean and clear of debris. "Keep plants and shrubs trimmed several feet back to ensure good air flow around the HVAC units," says Nick.

Monitor drainage

Your gutters and downspouts should drain away from your house. Water should never linger near your home's foundation, and Nick recommends checking your gutters every few months for debris or installing quality leaf guards. "Don't buy those foam insert ones from the hardware store, they cause more harm than good and can actually cause backups and damage to your fascia/soffits. Invest in a quality protector that will keep the leaves out of your gutters and prevent the accumulation of ice and frozen debris in the winter," Nick says.

Ventilate hot, humid areas

Proper circulation prevents warm, moist air from condensing on cooler surfaces through evaporation. Here are some ventilation best practices:

  • Ventilate your attic and crawl spaces
  • Vent all interior exhaust fans to the outside
  • Run bathroom ventilation fans while showering and for 5 to 10 minutes after showering
  • Install louvered doors or louvered devices installed into walls to provide air circulation for small rooms and closets
  • Use ceiling fans to circulate air in occupied spaces
  • Open doors and windows when possible

Pay attention to your building's envelope and improve barriers

We recommend boosting your wall and attic insulation based on your climate and installing a vapor barrier to prevent soil gasses and moisture from seeping into the crawlspace. Weatherization measures, informed by a properly trained blower door test technician, can also help to improve energy efficiency while reducing moisture intrusion and higher than normal humidity levels. 

Is My Older Electrical Panel a Fire Hazard?

 

Most of us take our older home’s electrical system for granted. Unfortunately, the panels that route the power throughout the home could have worn out components, or they could be outdated and require a critical update to prevent a fire hazard.

Electrical panels house the connections and circuit breakers which bring power into and distribute it throughout the home. This is where all the power is being received and distributed, and this is where most of the safety features protecting the home and occupants from power surges, overloads, short circuits, or ground faults are located. There are currently three brands of electrical panels that are no longer being manufactured and should be replaced, Federal Pacific Electric (FPE), Challenger, and Zinsco (we have seen several Federal Pacific and Zinsco in our inspections in DE and MD). These panels, most of which are well over 20 years old, have breakers that appear normal but which can overheat over time and create a risk of fire. Replacement parts are hard to come by and expensive. Additionally, these problem panels are well known amongst tradesmen and home inspectors, as well as most insurers, and their mere presence will almost certainly encumber any future sale of the home.

You can check the brand of your panel by looking at front dead panel/cover or inside where the breakers are. Unfortunately, you will not be able to see if any overheating has started to occur as this happens from the back of the breakers as they char or melt. Pulling a breaker to check is beyond the scope of a home inspection and the connection in the back may crumble during removal. This is why professional evaluation and replacement is critical, you don’t know how long the breakers may have been overheating and only an experienced electrician can see how close the panel is to failing without causing damage or compromising safety.

To recap, a breaker melted to the buss bar of one of these panels can no longer adequately trip (open the circuit and stop the flow of electricity) during an overcurrent or short circuit, which periodically occurs in any residential electrical supply. Once that happens, it cannot be stopped or shut off manually inside the home. Electricity will burn until it runs out of fuel or the wires melt and/or the panel catches fire!

Older panels from other manufacturers are not free from potentials risks and should be inspected if they were installed over twenty years ago. The components of the breakers that help them do their job effectively can degrade over time and cause them to malfunction. This can lead to overheating and a possible fire hazard. Scheduling a panel and smoke detector inspection is a good way to safeguard your family or employees and mitigate the risk posed by worn or obsolescent electrical distribution equipment.

Top Three Summertime HVAC Component Failures for Systems Over Five Years Old

Another long, humid summer is upon us here in the DELMARVA area, and we want to pass along the three most common no-cooling issues we'll see this season. Most HVAC equipment malfunctions around the fifth year of usage are due to electrical component failures. Although there are several things that can wear out in a hard-working HVAC system, the three most common failures include components typically found in the outside condensing unit: #1) run capacitors, #2) contactors, and #3) condensing unit fan motors.

Run capacitor failures usually result in the system running but not cooling. This is because the compressor lacks the starting “boost” the capacitor provides to get it running; therefore, the heat exchange that would provide cooling isn’t happening and the unit is recirculating air over warm evaporator coils. Run capacitors are like light bulbs, they eventually go out in much the same way (with no warning and just when they’re needed the most!)… The replacement capacitor can’t be bought just anywhere—only HVAC supply houses stock them locally (and they’re not open when the thing is going to go out), so your best bet is to get ahead of this and have a replacement on hand as a spare. You can also order them online @ Grainger, etc. The replacement is relatively easy and safe, as long as you are somewhat mechanically inclined, know how to electrically isolate the unit prior to removing anything, and remember to discharge the capacitor before handling it (it has a nasty habit of “jolting” you if you don’t). Of course, having someone else swap it out is also an option, but several YouTube videos can give you step-by-step instructions if you want to give it a try.

The contactor relays are much like the old “points” we used to swap out of distributor caps when we did tune ups on our cars back in the day. Just like those, the surfaces of the contacts can become pitted and worn such that they no longer complete the connection needed to run the unit, or, they can “weld” themselves together and the unit won’t stop running. Again, this type of part failure can occur with no warning and usually results in having a unit that won’t come on or that won’t stop running. Same advice as before regarding having a spare on hand and/or swapping it out. I’d only add that not all systems still use these, some have upgraded to control boards and that’s going to take an HVAC professional to address in most cases. If you have the older system design, you might as well swap this part out when you’re changing the capacitor (or vice versa), since they typically go out around the same time.

Condensing unit fans are on top of most units and they frequently fail due to loss of lubricant and overheating (they are sealed units and there’s no way to add lubricant once the seal around the shaft starts going). The symptom is simply that the compressor is making noise/running, but the fan on top the unit isn’t spinning. This type of failure can give you warning first, as the fan may be dying a slow death and making lots of weird noises along its final journey. If you hear it making any screeching type noises, get it addressed as soon as possible. If it stops working altogether, turn the unit completely off at the breaker panel and call for service (the compressor may burn out if you don’t and the already costly repair will turn into an even costlier system replacement). The fan swap out is more complicated and challenging than the replacement of the other two parts, and since the removal/salvage of the blades is required in most cases, it should probably be done by an HVAC technician.

Got Water? How to Keep Your Well Safe in Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia


Routine maintenance and inspection of water wells can help protect water quality, ensure your well is operating properly, prolong the life of the well system, and protect your investment. Greatest of all these is the protection of groundwater and your health, as water quality issues can have adverse health impacts without any detectable indicators. Small problems can often be identified by performing maintenance before they become costly, inconvenient situations. It’s similar to routine maintenance on your vehicle—if you have the oil changed at specified intervals, the engine will operate reliably much longer than if you don’t. At a minimum, wells should be evaluated annually by a licensed or certified water well systems professional and include a flow test; visual inspection; a water quality test for coliform and anaerobic bacteria, nitrates, and anything else of local concern; checking valves; and electrical testing. You should receive a written report following the annual checkup that describes recommendations and all laboratory and other test results. Keep this with all other well information.

System Knowledge

Well owners should have a basic understanding of their well system. Start by maintaining records of any well logs. A detailed log of your well’s construction and the pump installation record are two important tools in troubleshooting and potentially fixing issues with your well and well pump in the future. Ask your well contractor for these records. A well log can provide information regarding the depth of the well, the type of casing used, grouting practices and intervals, static water levels, what type of pump test was performed and results, if the well is screened or not, and more. You should also be aware of any filtration or treatment systems. Know if one is installed, what type of treatment method is used, and what the water is being treated for. Read the owner’s manual and keep a copy with your well records for when an issue arises.

Inspection

Well owners should also conduct a regular visual inspection of the well to monitor its performance. On the wellhead, inspect the casing’s general condition and if it extends at least 12 inches above ground. The well cap on top of the casing should be securely attached. Verify that any electrical connections are secure. Survey the area above ground surrounding the well. Check the location relative to potential sources of contamination, flooding, and physical dangers. Maintain at least 50 feet between the well and any kennels, pastures, feeding areas, or livestock operations, and ensure a proper distance is maintained from buildings, waste systems, or chemical storage areas (including fuel tanks). Be sure the ground surrounding the wellhead is sloping away from the well to divert surface runoff. Any growth of weeds, trees, shrubs, or grasses with root systems within 10 feet of the well should be physically removed. Avoid the use of chemicals or herbicides near the wellhead. The well should not be in a roadway or driveway. If it is within close proximity to a roadway or driveway, it should be properly marked to avoid being hit by vehicles. Be conscious of any other potential threats to the wellhead—garages, ATVs, sledding hills, debris, dirt, surface water, fuels and chemicals (including fertilizers), and runoff water from kennels, pastures, or feedlots. Well owners should visually inspect any above-ground pumping equipment. Ensure motors are properly cooled and vented, check for shaft seal leaks, and rust or other signs of weakened fittings. Examine other above-ground well system wiring and parts such as pipes, connections, joint seals, gauges, pressure relief valves, and the water meter (if present). A water sample tap should be located near the pressure tank, high enough to easily collect a water sample. Note the condition and accessibility of above- and below-ground storage tanks. Evaluate the condition of the control box and connections. Maintain water softeners, conditioners, and filtration equipment.

When to Call a Water Well Professional

A qualified water well professional should be consulted for any issues discovered during a visual inspection. When in doubt, call a water well systems professional, but especially:
Anytime the well has to be opened (cap or well seal removed).
If you experience taste or odor problems.
If there is turbidity or cloudiness (the water appears “dirty” looking).
If there is a loss of capacity or pressure—the well is not producing as much water as previously produced, the pressure drops and surges, or the pump cycles on and off frequently.
If a test is positive for total coliforms, anaerobic bacteria, or any positive test results indicating a potential health concern.
If you find defects with your wellhead, the wellhead area, or the overall water system during your routine inspection.

Cleaning and disinfection should only be performed by a qualified water well systems professional—for your safety and the protection of your well system. Find out more about proper well maintenance and much more online at www.wellowner.org.  *Sourced primarily from content in www.groundwater.org | Volume 33 Number 4

Concrete Corrosion Risks for Foundation Walls & Basements in Delaware, Maryland, & Virginia



This is a NCRS WSS display showing a low PH soil profile for a local home that has a “high” risk rating for concrete and masonry corrosion.

"Risk of corrosion" pertains to potential soil-induced electrochemical or chemical action that corrodes or weakens concrete. The rate of corrosion of concrete is based mainly on the sulfate and sodium content, texture, moisture content, and acidity of the soil. Special site examination and design may be needed if the combination of factors results in a severe hazard of corrosion. The concrete in installations that intersect soil boundaries or soil layers is more susceptible to corrosion than the concrete in installations that are entirely within one kind of soil or within one soil layer. The risk of corrosion is expressed as "low," "moderate," or "high." (USDA, NCRS Soils, n.d.)

Corrosive soils contain chemical constituents that can react with construction materials, such as concrete and ferrous metals, which may damage foundations and buried pipelines. The electrochemical corrosion processes that take place on metal surfaces in soils occur in the groundwater that is in contact with the corroding structure. Both the soil and the climate influence the groundwater composition. Concrete is rarely, if ever, attacked by solid, dry chemicals. To produce significant attack on concrete, aggressive chemicals must be in solution and above some minimum concentration.
Factors that influence soil corrosion are: • Porosity (aeration) • Electrical conductivity or resistivity • Dissolved salts • Moisture levels • Low pH The corrosivity of soils can be estimated by measuring soil resistivity. Sandy soils are high on the resistivity scale and therefore considered the least corrosive. Clay soils, especially those contaminated with saline water are on the opposite end of the spectrum.

Want to know more about your dirt?

Soil scientists can be consulted to perform an in-field soil profiling and site evaluation. A surveyor may have to perform elevation/slope evaluations if the building is on an atypical (i.e. not fairly flat/level) site, such as a hillside. You can also find out about the archived soil profile information managed by the USDA’s NCRS through their Web Soil Survey (WSS) application found at (hyperlink to USDA NCRS WSS portal

Why it matters…

Basement or foundation walls in direct contact with high chlorate, low PH, or sulfate soils and water are particularly at risk of externally generated corrosion, which can be due to the penetration of chloride solutions or the acid created by the sulfate-water solution that attacks the cement binding materials and mortar joints. If left unaddressed, the concrete and masonry in the wall will begin to deteriorate to the point where it is no longer able to withstand hydrostatic pressure and other forces—eventually leading to water intrusion and/or structural weakness.

Landscape architects are good resources for determining the best storm water management designs for your building site, and this removes or diverts much of the water needed to create the acidic or saline solutions causing the corrosion of the foundation and basement walls. You can find out information on foundation and basement waterproofing on the Internet. One good source is (hyperlink to Whole Building Design Guide Organization Site

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