Attic Insulation – Do You Have Enough?

July 30, 2011

rockwool1Proper attic insulation can make a drastic impact on your utility bills. Any home over 5 years old should have the attic insulation evaluated as settling insulation and higher summer temperatures  can degrade its ability to protect your home from the summer heat.

7 reasons to be concerned about the condition of your attic insulation.

  1. High utility bills.
  2. Its been more than 5 years since the house was built.
  3. You have lived in the house for more than 10 years and never evaluated it.
  4. Some thermal insulation materials settle more than others.
  5. Increasing summer temperatures require more insulation.
  6. Recent contractor activity in the attic  (i.e. telephone, CATV, Security, HVAC). These workers can matt down the insulation while performing their job.
  7. Rodent infiltration. These buggers will easily pack down the insulation to get to various points of interest.

Acceptable attic insulation 10 years ago is not the same as it is today. In fact, in just 3 years, my region has been increased from an acceptable value of R31 to R38.

The Inspection:

  • Determine how much insulation is required. Use this Insulation Chart to determine how much is enough.
  • Enter the attic with great care. Attic entrances may be through a door or attic stair case or possibly a hatch in the closet. WARNING: You must keep your feet/body on the wood joists (beams) as stepping on the sheet rock will cause damage, and possibly cause you to fall through the ceiling.
  • With a flashlight and yard stick: Randomly check the depth of the material. Ensure the measuring device (yard stick) touches the sheet rock and measure to top edge of the insulation material. Try not to crush the insulation while performing the inspection.
  • Determine the type of insulation.  Different material have different R values.

rockwool3If you can see the ceiling joist as in this picture, you  probably do not have enough insulation.  Typical ceiling joists can range from 2 X4’s, 2X6’s to 2X10’s.  For instances, if you have 2X6 beams with loose fill rock wool, you would have a R value of 16.5 (3.0X5.5″=16.5). Newer houses typically have larger beams. Determine the material type as this will help in figuring out how much insulation to add. Use the chart below to calculate the R value of the existing insulation. TIP: If you find you have enough insulation in areas that have not been disturbed, but you find areas matted down due to activity or construction work. Use a soft plastic rake to fluff it back up.

Insulation Table

Common Types of Insulation in Residential Attics

  • batt insulationFiberglass: Comes in batts, blankets, and loose fill, either pink, white or yellow in color. Fibrous in nature and can leave you with microscopic splinters. TIP: Before working with fiberglass insulation, spread a heavy coat of baby powder over any exposed skin, this will fill your pores briefly while working with the material.
  • rockwool2Rock Wool (or Mineral Wool):Loose fill used aggressively prior to 1970. Usually brown or dark gray in color.
  • Cellulose:Loose fill made of recycled paper. Blue or gray in color. With close inspection you will find small pieces 100_0550of newspapers. The product is treated with a fire-retardant solution for safety.
  • Combination:This is not a type, but you may find a combination of two or all three types. Previous owners may have added insulation over the life of the house. This is not a problem, but you should determine how many inches of each type to calculate the value of the existing insulation.

By now, you should know, how much insulation you have vs. what you need. Assuming you need to add insulation, HomeownerBOB highly recommends hiring a professional for this task even though the home centers will provide you tools to perform the work. Once you determine what type of new insulation you prefer, you can easily bid shop the work over the phone.  The professional will need to know 1) square footage of the house, 2) type of insulation material you would like, 3) how many inches to apply.

So how do you determine what type of insulation to use? Read my article on “The Choices“.


Tile and Grout Maintenance

March 18, 2011

Most houses in my part of the county use a lot of ceramic tile products in the bathroom and kitchens. This is a very durable product and can easily last a lifetime, assuming it is applied correctly.  Though the winter months it is very normal to find drying out type cracks throughout the house. This is the perfect time to perform interior caulking and sealing.  See Caulking and Sealing for general purpose maintenance.  At first glance, it might be alarming to find grout chipping or breaking up in the bathroom or kitchen. However, this can be common, specifically at 90 degree edges. Look at where the horizontal and vertical surfaces connect, this chipped grout is due to opposing movement of these two surfaces.   This type dry out will continue to happen year to year. Even though you may find some of this with a slab foundation, most of these issues will show up with crawl space or basement type foundation. Granted tile movement with slab foundations can be common, but are usually related to foundation issues.

The house I live in has the orignal tile and grout applied some 60 years ago. For the most part it has survived without causality. Fortunately, it was not pink or some color that is totally out of favor today.  One of the most noticeable items I have recognized over the years with tile application (old and new) is that seams, edges corners or transitions become the weak link. In other words, the location that the wall tile meets the floor tile tends to have issues. This is typically associated with the fact that the sub structure (floor & walls) are moving differently. For this reason the grout at these edges usually gives way.  Additionally, during the winter we tend to see these areas gap due to low humidity.

One of the easiest ways to deal with this condition is to remove the grout and replace it with caulk. Using caulk will fill the void, and add flexibility to the joint.   As an added benefit, you may also find the surfaces creak or squeak less when walking on them.

Steps to Caulking:  Good preparation is important. If done correctly, this caulking method will create a nice finished surface requiring little to no maintenance for several years.

  1. Clean the surface to the best of your ability. There are tile cleaners at the home centers that will work better than what’s found at the grocery store. Try not to over-saturate the surfaces with liquids as you do not want to fill the cracks with fluids, then fill them with caulk as this could potentially set up a mold condition. 
  2. Let the surfaces dry overnight. If needed, you can use a hair dryer to pull the remaining moisture out of the cracks.
  3. Remove as much of the loose grout as possible. This can be done with a Dremel tool or a grout saw. Remove as much as possible, or score the grout enough so you have a void large enough to accept caulk. NOTE: This grout replacement method is all based on the fact that the corner surface is cracked and the grout is flaking out. If the grout is solid and in tack… leave it alone.
  4. Use a hand-held vacuum cleaner to suck out the loose grout.

Caulking: Make sure and read the “Caulking and Sealing” post mentioned in the first paragraph. It’s important to understand how to caulk correctly. At the end of the task, the finished caulk should have a smooth seamless appearance. The goal here is for the caulked surface to resemble the grout. 

  1. Use a good acrylic  latex caulk. If the grout is anything other than white, you may have difficulty finding a suitable caulk material. It is important for the new caulk material to match the grout as close as possible. For custom colors consider the Red Devil Color Caulk System. This will bring your project up to a professional level.
  2. Using a caulk gun, push the caulk gun away from you as you apply it  into the crack. This will cause the material to get deeper into the crack.
  3. Wipe clean any excess caulk as described in the caulking post.

Final Step: Re-seal the grout. When the tile and grout were originally installed, the surfaces should have been sealed. Sealing the surface will keep the grout clean. Plan to re-seal the grout on a yearly basis. Grout sealer is available at the Orange Box Store.

Besides the bathroom floors there are other places throughout the house that will have the condition mentioned above. Here is a short list.  

  • Kitchen counter tops (at the edge between the surface and the back splash
  • Tub and wall surfaces, this could be tiled or marbled surfaces
  • Tub and floor surfaces
  • Bathroom wall and floor surfaces
  • Bathroom wash basins and tiled surfaces.

Besides looking better, this maintenance project will reduce drafts, insect infestation and the potential for water to migrate into the floor substructure underneath the tile.

Good Luck,

BOB


Seasonal Reminder – Fall 2010

September 27, 2010

The Fall Season is technically here. For me it’s is just barely below 90 degree’s. If you are in the northern climates this is your opportunity to “batten down the hatches” by tightening up the house. Re-caulking, sealing, and roof inspections are in order. Checking door and window seals are also in order. For the rest of us, the lower temperatures are a relief, summer is mostly over and we can attack those projects we wouldn’t touch during the summer.

  1.  Heating/Cooling-Air Filters:If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out.  
  2. Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Remove the nests and use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  Dont forget to look at you electrical service entry as spring and summer growth, additional tree trimming may be required. 
  3. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Winters are a bad time to look for roof leaks so inspect your roof for leaks, trim away any tree limbs and clean debris off the roof. Look for raised nails and any breaches in the roof surface and all the exposed vents.
  4. Sealing the Leaks: Summertime weather can cause the home exterior to dry out. Look for cracks and voids in building materials. Seal them with a good latex caulk. Larger voids should be filled (first) with a foam spray caulk, then to make it dressed for paint, use the latex caulk to finish it off and paint as necessary. 
  5. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up.
  6. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.
  7. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and check the condition of  the battery.
  8. Chimney Flue Inspections and Cleaning: For our northern friends this is the time to ensure your stoves and fireplaces are prepared for the winter use. Inspect the stove seals, clean the chimneys and flues.
  9. Drain and cut-off sprinklers: If you are in the northern climates, its time to turn off these services to protect them through the winter. In the south, southwest and western part of the US, we can wait a few more months. For more details see Winterizing Plumbing.
  10. Smoke Detectors: As we enter the heating season, its a good time to clean the cob webbs and change the battery.
  11. Power Outages: For some of us, this time of year can bring extended power outages, check out this post to make sure you are prepared

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Seasonal Reminder – Summer 2010

June 20, 2010

Summer is Here!!!   This seasonal reminder is more about making sure everything continues to work well through the stress and strain of the summer months more than anything. If you live near me, getting these things done before 10 AM in the morning is the best time of the day, otherwise you may wait till after 6 PM or so (stay hydrated; regardless).  If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: If you live in a dusty area and/or have been using your air conditioner a lot, inspect you filter and change it if it has noticeable build up from your spring change out. 
  2. 100_0233HVAC Outdoor Unit: We did this in the spring and it’s good to do it again as vegetation has been growing through the spring months. Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 feet of clearance around the unit. Airborne particles generated by the blooming of trees and flowers can easily show up around the air conditioning condenser. Take your water hose and wash down the outside coils. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  3. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  4. Water Heaters: Make a visual inspection of the water heater. Look for dripping water and rust stains. Look at the exhaust flue to ensure it is still sealed. If its time to drain the tank or replace the anode, check the link for more details.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers:  Even though we performed this maintenance during the spring, yard work and vegetation growth can cause some additional sprinkler maintenance. Exercise the system (again). Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by, odd spray patterns, missing heads, pooling water and brown spots.  Replace or repair the heads. Chasing Lawn Sprinkler Leaks is the first of the series and covers the inspection, leak detection, repairs and tips in more detail.
  6. 100_0503Exterior Inspection:  Walk round the house, look for bird and wasp nests, as well as locations that rodents might be using to get in the house. Use caulk to re-seal  any breaches in structure that may be an entry point for rodents or bugs.  They are all looking for cool locations and possible water. If you are not opposed to using perimeter bug spray, this is a good time.
  7. Interior Inspection: Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes to clear out any build up. “Water Leaks”, cover this item too.
  8. Appliances: Use a hand-held vacuum cleaner to clear the dust bunnies from around all appliances such as washers, dryers and  dish washers. Pull you refrigerator out from the wall and do the same. If it’s within your skill set, turn off the unit, pull the back cover off,  and vacuum out the condenser coils and all the dirt around the fan.
  9. 100_0206Surface Water Drainage: Gutters, culverts, waterways and landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that has occurred.
  10. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. With tree limbs heavy with leaves, seed pods, fruits and nuts, you may have some limbs that are drooping on your electrical service lines. 
  11. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  12. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly. 

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Crawl Spaces; Basements Without Benefits

June 12, 2010

I never saw a residential basement until I was about 12. I always wanted one as a kid, young adult as well as an old guy. The true man cave!! Dark dank musty, cob webs…. the whole thing.  Unfortunately for me, basements are a phenomena found mostly in the colder regions of the US and I don’t see me moving there anytime soon.   This article is  for all of us that have crawl spaces (not basement) under our houses, as the DIY mainstream media rarely addresses the subject adequately.

A Crawlspace is a Basement Without Benefits: Crawlspaces provide the negatives of a basement without providing the benefit of usable space for water heaters, HVAC’s shop space and storage. If you live in the South, Southeast, some parts of the Southwest and your house was built before 1975, there is a reasonable probability your house may have a crawl space. Even though crawl space construction continues today, slab type foundations are less expensive to construct and are used more often in these same regions.

Similar to a basement, crawlspace construction allows access to the vital organs of the home including plumbing and some electrical services. The code has changed over the years requiring a minimum height, but older structures can have crawl spaces with limited working room. NOTE: Some tradesmen may charge extra fees for working in the crawl spaces. If you are having major work in your house that includes re-working the floor, consider allowing them to open the floor for better access. This may save you some money.

Vented Crawl Spaces: Since about 1950 ventilating crawl spaces have been mandated by most building codes. For the most part we were told to open our vented crawl spaces in the summer and close them in the winter. In their inception of early construction,  these houses were built with little to no insulation and in many cases (prior to 1965) were built without air conditioning. Letting the house breath or move air was a good way to keep the overall temperature of the interior space to a tolerable level (during the summer) as well as a way to remove the moisture from the crawl space floor. All this was fine until we started insulating the floors, caulking every crack, adding air conditioning and pretty much sealing the house to the point that little if any air flow is occurring.   By trapping this air/humidity under the house we have caused problems including  rodent/insect infiltration, mold and wood rot. Vented crawl spaces work well in dry climates with low humidity.

Even though most building codes continue to support  “vented” crawl spaces,  there is some compelling data that may cause you to consider sealing your crawl space. But be warned, if you choose to (properly) seal your crawl space when you go to sell the property, a home inspector may dispute the decision. NOTE: If you have any appliance (floor furnaces, gas heater, etc) installed in the crawl space; they require input air, so sealing the crawl space is not recommended in those applications.

Here are just a few of the reports and white papers that have been written on the subject:

Non-Vented Crawl Spaces: If your crawl space is not vented and was properly sealed during construction and you have no moisture, drainage or mold/mildew problems you are in good shape. However, based on the numerous studies; the South, Southeastern and some parts of the Southwestern regions of the United States appear to be good candidates for non-vented crawl spaces. These areas typically have high humidity most of the year, combined with high heat in the summer. Here are some reasons to consider sealing the crawl space:

  1. Reduce humidity and moisture  in the crawl space
  2. Control mold and mildew
  3. Reduce exposure to rodents and other 4 legged creatures
  4. Reduce drafts
  5. Impact the floor temperature in the winter by 3-5 degrees
  6. Reduce heating and cooling demands

Candidates for sealed Crawl Spaces: As a general rule, if it’s above 75F outside, there is more moisture in the outside air than in the 70 to 75F crawlspace air; so, if you ventilate the crawlspace, you’re bringing more moisture into the crawlspace than you’re removing. If you drop the air temperature by 20 degrees, the relative humidity (RH) approximately doubles. When it gets to 95F outside and that air is brought into the 75F crawlspace, the RH doubles. If it’s 60% RH outside, the relative humidity in the crawlspace is at the dew point. At dew point conditions, water vapor turns back to liquid. Kevin O’Neill of HVAC at Carolina Cooling & Plumbing, Inc.

 In laymen terms; the high humidity found in the ambient air outside the structure will naturally seek places of lower or less humidity to normalize or equalize the humidity. When this occurs underneath a house,  the crawl space acts like a wick and brings more humidity in the space. To make maters worse, if you have added insulation to create a barrier between the crawl space and living area, you are creating a stagnant nest for humid air to reside.

 After much studying and consideration, I have decided to seal my crawl space. Look for my future article on creating a moisture barrier and sealing up the space.


Seasonal Reminder – Spring 2010

March 20, 2010

Today is the first day of spring and I believe we may see snow tonight… In Texas!!  So this post may be a bit early to start working on that Spring To-Do List, but give it a look so you can take care of things in the next couple of weeks.  It’s time to fix all those items that broke during the winter months, repair the items that have deteriorated over the last few months and perform a little preventative maintenance around the house. This seasonal reminder  provides a list of items you need to review before the summer months set in. If you need details on what to look for or what to do, click on the link (if there is one) and it will take you to the post that was written on the subject and provide more detail.

  1. Heating/Cooling-Air Filters: Assuming you have a forced air system, change the filter prior to the heavy air conditioning months.
  2. Roofing-Looking For Leaks:  Spring rains are approaching so inspect your roof for leaks, trim away any tree limbs and clean debris off the roof. Look for raised nails and any breaches in the roof surface.
  3. HVAC Outdoor Unit: Get your garden trimmers out and trim away any vines or growth away from the  outside condenser. You should have 18″ to 2 100_0233feet clearance around the unit. Also take your water hose and wash down the outside coils  that may have accumulated dirt. Check the condensation drain that comes from the air handler in the house. Ensure that it is clear of obstacles or debris by pouring water through it.
  4. Water Leaks: Check all water fixtures and toilets for leaks. Inspect fixture drains for water puddles or loose joints in the traps.
  5. Lawn Sprinklers: Exercise the system. Look for excessive water traveling down the driveway or sidewalks. Inspect the sprinkler heads, look for blow-by and odd spray patterns. Replace or repair the heads. If you need more help on this item, click the “lawn sprinklers” tab to see multiple subjects on locating lost heads, valves as well as tune-up recommendations.
  6. Exterior Inspection:  Walk around the house, look for rotted wood, peeling paint and other exposed surfaces. Use caulk to re-seal cracks and touch up paint to reseal the surfaces. Replace rotten wood as necessary.
  7. Interior Inspection: Winter dry-out will have caused some surface cracks around doorways and windows. Also  re-caulk/grout any cracks that may have surfaced in the bathroom and kitchen, especially around the tub and shower. These two areas experience the most use and require the most maintenance.  Replace or clean water filters, faucet strainers and vent-a-hood filters in the kitchen. Flush kitchen and bathroom sinks with scalding hot water for approximately 3-5 minutes.
  8. Water Heaters: Tank type water heaters should have their pressure release valve tested (opened and closed). This will also validate the drain pipe is clear and open.
  9. Gutters and Downspouts: Clean you gutters of leaves and debris. Flush them with water to ensure they flow freely.
  10. Surface Water Drainage: Culverts, waterways, landscape drainage systems should be cleared of debris and overgrowth that may have occurred.100_0206
  11. Windows and doors: Look at the edges where the windows and doors connect to the house. Ensure the caulk is in good shape and add caulk as necessary, indoors and outdoors.
  12. Electrical Service: Inspect the Entrance, Mast and Weather-head. Look for any damage that may have occurred over the winter. Look for tree limbs that may be contacting the entrance cable.
  13. Electrical Service-Smoke Detectors: Clean your smoke detectors of cob webs and change the battery.
  14. Test your security system: Work with monitoring service to validate all the door, window, glass break, and motion sensors operate properly. 

If you are needing some additional information on one of the topics that I have not written about, let me know and I will put it higher on the list of articles to write. Email to HomeownerBOB@gmail.com


Re Insulating HVAC Ducts

December 1, 2009

The US EPA reports leaking ducts reduce overall HVAC efficiency by 20% accounting for a loss of over $140 per year due to these leaks.

 As mentioned in earlier articles, HVAC ductwork has not received the attention it deserves. Take a look at  my HVAC Duct article to evaluate and inspect your existing duct work. If you have determined that it is in need of attention you have three choices, 1) do nothing, 2) have them replaced or 3) re-insulate them.

  Duct Replacement: Be prepared, HVAC contractors typically want to sell new systems.  Here is the SW part of the US, their big season is the summer, having this done during the cooler months may be a better choice. Duct replacement is not as profitable as system replacements, but keeping their technicians busy can be better than not working them at all.

Considerations when discussing this issue with a HVAC professional:

  1. Flex ducting is a widely used proven product but does not have the long-term performance rating found with a typical sheet metal product. But is widely used in the residential market and most professionals like to use it because it is easy to install and not as labor intensive as rigid duct work. This product  can easily be mis-installed by creating kinks and  sharp bends that can reduce the product performance. Read this flexible duct inspection method before you meet with the contractor to better understand the product and how it is applied.
  2. After an evaluation, most HVAC specialists will want to replace the ducting in lieu of  repairing or re-insulating. Why? It’s quicker, cheaper and it becomes a known value. This is not a bad thing, these folks are trying to make a living and attacking the problem by replacing everything may be an economical solution for both of you.
  3. If you allow a professional to replace the ducts, make sure to ask some of these questions. Will all the joints and edges be sealed with (paint on) mastic? What is the R value of the new duct? What is the life expectancy of the duct product? What is the product warranty? What preventative measures are followed to avoid kinking (of the ducts). Will the system be tested for leaks after completion?
  4. If the professional didnt mention it,  also consider having all the output and return registers (this is the box in the wall/ceiling where the vent cover is attached) replaced or re-insulated. Most new registers are sealed and insulated to insure a tight fit. Also, ask them to use spray foam insulation between the register protrusion and the sheet rock, this will further seal the interior  from the attic space. Most HVAC professionals do not address register penetration into the interior space.
  5. If you have any rooms that never seem to adequately heat or cool, make sure and mention this to the professional too as he may have to resize or reroute the new duct work to better balance the system.

Duct Re-insulation (for rigid ductwork): This is a great DIY project if you consider yourself cheap labor and you dont mind working in the attic. Consider this a mult-weekend project. Before you start, ask yourself these questions. 

  1. Does your system work reasonably well? If you have any rooms or areas in the house that never properly heat or cool, consider adding an additional output duct as this would be the time to address it. Consider using a professional to perform this work as you may need to rebuild some of the system to retain the system balance.
  2. Is your attic adequately insulated? If not, plan to do it, but after all you other attic work is complete.

 The process if fairly straight forward and here is an outline of the necessary work.

  1. Strip the existing insulation material
  2. Ensure all joints are secure and snapped and screwed together
  3. Use duct mastic to seal ALL seams and joints
  4. Use HVAC tape to complete any seals not treatable with mastic
  5. Use expanding foam insulation to fill any cracks between the duct registers and the sheet rock
  6. Use duct wrap to re-cover all the exposed duct, seal with duct tape and mastic

Material Required for the Job

  1. Duct wrap rated at an R value based on your region (see table below)
  2. 1/4,1/2, and 3/4 self tapping sheet metal screws
  3. HVAC Duct Mastic
  4.  Take adequate precautions while working in the attic. Avoid stepping directly on the sheet rock ceiling and wear protective clothing and dust masks.
  5. If a professional indicates the duct are under/oversized, you may ask them to provide  the Man L or Man J duct analysis supporting their position. (This is an engineering schedule that is used to properly size ducting.)


Attic Insulation – The Choices

September 20, 2009

batt insulationAccording to the US Department of Energy, as much as 45% of a home’s energy loss is through the attic. Furthermore, 80% of homes built before 1980 suffer from inadequate insulation

A friend of mine was looking to buy a house recently, he asked me to come by and check it out. It was apparent the owners of the house were fairly interested in reducing their electric bill. Most all of the light fixtures were using CFL’s, they were using a set back thermostat and they had recently replaced an exterior door with one that was Energy Star rated. But what really shocked me was my trip to the attic.  Three  things, 1) they had sprayed radiant barrier paint on the roof decking but 2)  there was less  than 3 inches of insulation in the attic and 3) the air conditioning ducts lacked adequate insulation requiring the HVAC unit to work extra hard to provide the conditioned air throughout the house. I’m not knocking the radiant barrier (I’m a believer), but even most of the radiant barrier folks will tell you to increase you attic insulation first. There are good reasons why HVAC  installers sometimes throw in insulation or RB as part of their package… it works and it also reduces the strain on the HVAC. Blown in insulation is cheap and it can be added in a mater of hours.

Attic Insulation is best applied as blown in loose fill when you need to add  more to an existing home. The product will reach into every nook and cranny, is easy to apply (with the proper equipment), and has instant results. The best way to determine the amount of insulation needed is to refer to this US. DOE  site as it will provide the recommended R-Value down to the zip code.

Making the choice

What is the difference between the attic insulation products and why is one better than the other? If you spend any time looking at the comparisons of the products you will find advantages and disadvantages in all the of them. Its very easy to get caught up in the data, in fact some make a point in overpowering the consumer with too much data. The following chart reflects the most popular products and comparable characteristics that most consumers can understand and recognize value in them. This comparison is for blown-in type insulation only, and these products are typically the most popular. 

 Insulation Table2

 Concerns associated with the compared products:

Rockwool: Rockwool insulation has been classified by the US Gov. as a class 2B carcinogen with   “possible” evidence but lacked conclusive results to be considered a “probable” contributor as a cancer causing agent in lab rats. Additionally, chards of the material will cause skin irritation much like fiberglass. It was very popular prior to 1970 and with some limited concern is still used as an insulation product.

Fiberglass: Fiberglass insulation has been shown to reduce its effectiveness during both high and low temperature ranges (due to convection heat loss), potentially reducing its effectiveness by up to 50%. Even though fiberglass chards can easily irritate the skin, once installed, little risk to the homeowner has been proven. However, the US Gov. has recognized fiberglass as a carcinogen, the levels have been shown to be too low to impact the homeowner.

Cellulose: Cellulose has become recently popular due to being composed of  recycled paper products. Cellulose is heavy compared to the other two and the added weight in the attic may cause standard 1/2″ sheet rock to sag or droop when applied to ceilings with joists spaced at 24″ centers. Additionally, since Cellulose will retain water, moistened by a roof leak may cause the  sheetrock to prematurely fail. Even though the product is treated with chemical flame retardant (generally with a lifetime guarantee), additional care should be exercised by providing adequate space around recessed light fixtures, chimney flues, water heater and HVAC vents.

The blown-in insulation business is fairly competitive and you may find (as I did) that hiring a professional is about as cheap as doing it your self. HomeownerBOB recommends the professional route. The difference in the choices are fairly close, cost may be the most important factor, on the other hand it might be the environmental impact. Either way, make the decision, you will be happy with the results.


Lawn Sprinkler Nozzles, Can Changing Them Make a Difference?

July 12, 2009

sprinklers-01   

Heavy misting of the sprinkler heads can result in as much as a 25% loss in water.    

New sprinkler heads and nozzles coming on the market are claiming sizable water savings, but how much water can you really save (if any)?  Stream sprayers are normally found only in orbital or rotary heads and are typically found in larger landscaped areas and can be spaced 20′ to 30′ apart. With an open landscape, these heads can water more ground with less water. Up until now, there have been few options for smaller residential properties other than traditional pop-up heads using spray type nozzles. Spray nozzles are designed for spacing limitation from 8′ to 15′ and as with any type water sprayer, there is a correlation between distance and trajectory or arc necessary to obtain the distance. The greater the distance, the greater the height of the arc to obtain the distance. Greater distance = greater misting.    

But trajectory alone is not the only culprit to misting. High winds, high pressure, evaporation and excessive overspray all contribute to the water loss factor associated with misting. This misting can account for a loss of 10-25%. It’s this misting factor (more characteristic of spray nozzles over stream nozzles) that contributes to a lower efficiency found with the spray nozzle.  And its the low misting factor found with the stream sprayer that makes for an attractive alternative.     

In an attempt to make automatic sprinkler systems more efficient, some manufacturers have created a stream type nozzle designed as a direct replacements for the standard spray nozzle (aka pop-up sprayer). If you have read my earlier posts on lawn sprinklers you know that pop-up type spray heads can lose 10% or more of their water spray to the wind and evaporation.   Before we look at the differences between spray nozzles and stream nozzles, lets consider the ways to reduce sprinkler misting. Some of these items can be readily addressed, some are design considerations.    

Standard Spray Nozzles: Standard spray nozzles atomize the water to equally spray or spread the water out in an even flow throughout their spray pattern. They are great choice for small residential properties as they provide good water distribution in a reasonable amount of time. Additionally they have many different nozzles to fit the various application requirements.   

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  1. To much pressure: Optimally pop-up sprayers work best at 30 psi. High pressure can cause excessive misting.  TIP: To test the zone water pressure, you have to remove a head, replace it with a riser and thread on a water pressure gauge, then run the zone and check the pressure while the zone is spraying water.
  2. Don’t water during high winds:   This can be managed manually or you can add a wind anemometer to your sprinkler controller that will shut down the system at certain wind speeds. Even though we typically water in the night-time hours (to avoid excessive evaporation), windy conditions are as common during the night-time as during the day.
  3. Keep water spray output close to the ground: This can be achieved by designing a system where the heads are closer (such as 10′ apart compared to 15′ apart)  Spray nozzles with shorter patterns use lower trajectories, will atomize the water less and have less distance to fall to the ground.  This item has to be addressed during the initial design as shortening patterns in an existing system could be considered a “do over”. I designed and installed my current system prior to stream sprayers, I took this approach by using 10′ radii heads. The water stays very close to the ground when the system is running. Granted, it caused me to use a lot more heads and zones. If I were to tackle it today, the stream sprayers would not only impact my water  usage, but cut back on material and zones installed. 
  4. Deliver the water in streams not in a spray or mist: The more you atomize the water, the lighter it becomes, allowing the wind to cause the water to drift away and evaporate before it has time to absorb into the ground or plant material.
  5. Deliver water directly to the roots through drip irrigation.  Flower beds can be easily converted (assuming your sprinkler system has specific zones for flower beds). For grass and turf this is a bit more involved but plausible.  In my current system I created specific zones for the parkway and driveway. Using direct bury drip lines, I am able to keep the turf green with virtually no run off. This is another condition that would need to be addressed in the original design.
  6. Refer to the  Alliance of Water Efficiency, for additional water saving tips. 

Water Use and Abuse   

There is a fine line between efficient water delivery and adequate water coverage. Many irrigators will “over cover” an installation to ensure all the grounds receive adequate water. The Irrigator wants to over-saturate the turf to avoid brown spots or low coverage areas, as making a re-trip to install additional heads can be costly. Creating a system that uses excessive water will cause them less problems in the long run. But in doing so, there may be a high degree of waste associated with the design. Don’t get me wrong, the lawn sprinkler business is very competitive and most people won’t spend the money to get a system with high-efficiency. Since water is still cheap and fairly plentiful this methodology will be with us for a while. However, the purpose of this article is to attempt to make your existing system more efficient and if you have a decent design, you can make some reasonable changes that will not terribly affect the performance of the system.   

Lawn%20edge%20pop%20up%201Stream Sprayers: Stream spray nozzles provides multiple streams from the nozzle in the defined pattern (90, 180, 360 degree pattern). To provide adequate coverage, the streams spray in a rotation throughout the pattern.  The beauty of the stream type nozzle over the spray nozzle is it will project water similar distances without high levels of misting. However, based on their delivery you may actually have to run the systems longer to get similar watering results, but since they are more efficient, it will not negatively impact the system performance.  With the move toward greater efficiency, the stream principle has been introduced to traditional pop-up sprayer. Some manufacturers provide them as replacement nozzles, where others require you to change out the complete head. TIP: Look at one of your spray heads to determine the brand, go online to see if the manufacturer makes a replacement nozzle, don’t be surprised if your local orange box store does not carry them. I have used Sprinkler Warehouse for many of my sprinkler parts and speciality items.   

The Test Case: I created a model zone with 4 heads, 2-180 degree heads and 2-360 degree heads.  I used the Toro 570 model body as it can be equipped with either the spray nozzle  or retrofitted with the stream nozzle. Optimally, the comparison is based on a 30 psi rating at the head.    

In converting the system from spray to stream we need to match the pattern as close as possible. Since spray heads are a mature product, many patterns and styles are available, but with the stream nozzles, the available styles are still limited. With the Toro brand, the new stream nozzles are not a direct comparison in spray distances and the stream nozzles may have to be tuned to reduce the pattern to avoid excessive over-spray onto the sidewalk. But they were pretty close.   

Stream Spray Matrix

Spray Nozzles De-rated by 10%

   

Sprinkler Table2

Spray Nozzles De-rated by 25%%

   

 From a cost comparison, it is beneficial to be able to re-use your existing spray heads if at all possible,  as having to buy new heads as well as the nozzles will add up quickly. When you look at the water saved vs. the cost of the change, it did not prove out (for me) since water is still very cheap. However many municipalities tack on additional charges based on water usage, so it could make a difference for you. If you are interested in seeing how much difference it makes, take the water saved (listed in the table and calculate it against your dollar per gallon charges found on your water bill.   

Based on the results of the chart, here is my observations using the 10% de-ration chart.   

  1. It requires 86.72 minutes using the stream spray nozzles to provide the same precipitation value as the spray nozzle provides in 60 minutes.
  2. Even though it requires 26.72 minutes more, the stream sprayers use 393 less gallons
  3. Factoring in a 10% misting factor, the stream sprayers use 5.77% less water or 471.63 gallons of water per month.

At a 25% deration the numbers are a bit more dramatic as you could save over 1700 gallons of water per month.   

Conclusion:    

  • Consider using the stream sprayers in a new design as you can use less heads, less zones, less pipe, less fittings as well as less water. 
  • Convert existing sprinkler zones to stream sprays where high wind is normal or misting is excessive.

Recommendation: If you choose to replace your existing nozzles/heads, change one zone at a time. Let it run through part of the season, compare the results by looking at your turf . For proper watering don’t mix spray nozzles with the stream nozzles in the same zone. To obtain an adequate amount of water similar to the spray nozzles zones, the watering time may have to be increased on the stream nozzle section.   

To see the entire series of lawn sprinkler articles go to Lawn Sprinkler tab on the HomeownerBOB web page.   

Good Luck   


Roofing-Looking for Leaks

March 4, 2009

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Contrary to common belief, roof leaks can be found when it is not raining.

While installing a chimney cap last week, I figured it was time to perform the annual roof inspection. My roof is less than 3 years old so you wouldn’t expect to find much of anything. Unfortunately that is never the case. Your roof takes a lot of abuse and you need to keep an eye on it.

Catching roof leaks before you actually notice them can save lots of dollars as roof leaks easily damage walls and ceiling finishes, besides the structure behind the walls. Even though a manufacturer may rate a shingle for up to 30 years of life, different climate conditions may impact the realistic life expectations to more like 17 years. Additionally breaches created by vents, chimneys  and other protrusions typically are the source of the failures.

Assuming your roof was installed correctly, most of your problems will be associated with just normal wear. Contrary to common belief, it does not have to be leaking to find it. Most roof problems can be identified on a nice day, it doesn’t have to be raining or leaking to find the problem. In fact, it’s easier to find a leak on a nice day and the repair process will go more smoothly. If you have a roof leak and call a roof repairman in a panic, don’t be surprised he won’t show up until after it quits raining. Standing on the roof when it is wet or during a storm is not recommended and should be avoided. Most of my discussion on the subject will relate to asphalt/fiberglass type shingles which is about  95% of the market. However, most issues are generic and can apply to other roof products as well.

Some of these items can be viewed from the ground, but if you plan to do any of the minor repair, you will need to get on the roof anyway. Most people don’t call a roofer until they have a leak. For a minimal charge, a roofer can perform an inspection and  correct most problems in a single visit. Here are the most common roof problems to look for. 

  1. Tree Limbs on the Roof. If you find tree limbs hanging within about 5 feet of your roof, you may consider cutting them back. When the tree adds leaves in the spring or ice over in the winter, they can cause damage. If you find a limb that has been rubbing the shingles you may need to apply some roofing caulk to seal any potential leaks. Shingle replacement or using an asphalt based roof caulk can solve the problem.
  2. Debris on the Roof. Leaves and limbs can accumulate around the chimney, roof valleys and corners.  Leaving this material in-place can breakdown, cause bugs to accumulate and accelerate deterioration of the roof material.
  3. 100_0124Bathroom and Kitchen Drain Pipes. (a.k.a.)  Vent stacks. Look around the top edge where the lead sleeve is molded into the top of the pipe coming from the vent. Looking at this picture, you can see that squirrels have really abused this vent stack. They can easily chew holes in the stack causing rain water to drip down the side of the pipe inside the house. Most roofers will just replace the lead vent stack.  If they are as damaged as this one, that may be your best choice, however, you can add acrylic caulk (grey or clear) around the edges to fill this holes.  Also look for exposed nails that are used to secure the flange of the lead vent stack. Add a dab of the same caulk over these nails.
  4. Water Heater and HVAC Vents. These vents are typically aluminum, tin or stainless steel and will not have the squirrel problem but look for the nail holes and if there is a vent cap, ensure there is a good seal. Use foil tape (HVAC type tape used on ducting) to seal the two if necessary. TIP: Exercise caution around these vents as they can be hot due to exhaust heat from devices they are venting.
  5. Nails: Normally, most nails are intended to be concealed by other shingles. However there are some places where it is just unavoidable for them to be exposed. Where you find them, make sure there is a good dab of caulk covering them.
  6. Chimney’s. The chimney should have some form of cap or top to reduce the opportunity for water to drain down the inside of the chimney leaving water on the floor (like my house). Inspect the cap for a proper seal to the top of the chimney. If you don’t have one at all, contact a roofer or sheet metal shop. TIP: If you just need the cap, and plan to install it yourself, take the measurements and   find a sheet metal shop.  If you contact a roofer, they will typically use a sheet metal shop to construct the cap, charge you 10-20% mark up, plus installation.
  7. Skylights. Skylights can be a big source for water leaks. Having them installed at the same time as the roof seems to reduce the opportunity for leaks. Roofs are installed as a system, adding protrusions (skylights, vent’s, etc), after the fact creates a breach in the system and becomes a potential location for water to find its way into the house.
  8. Wall/Roof Joints: Look for good flashing (metal edge) where these two opposing surfaces meet. This would typically be where the roof edge butts against a second story wall.
  9. Wall/Chimney Locations. Much like #7, these two opposing surfaces provide an opportunity for water to force itself into the house. Look for a good seal here. TIP: Do not remove or pull back the shingles for inspection unless it is the location of a known leak. Roof systems can be fragile especially as they age. It’s not hard to cause additional damage.
  10. Roof Valleys: Another location where opposing surfaces meet, allowing water to converge. Much like #8, if you do not see anything obvious and you have no known leaks.. let it be.

If you do not know how old your roof is, here are a few additional items to look for that are signs of age and the roof may be near the end of life. If it’s not leaking, just keep a good eye on the items you can address.

  1. Loss of Asphalt Granules. By nature asphalt shingles will lose some of their exterior surface. The granules provide color and protection. You may see a  loss of granules in the valleys and near the edges or areas where there is regular water flow.
  2. Curling of the Shingle Tabs.This is an indication of age due to the roofing material drying out and losing its pliability.
  3. Chipped, Broken and Missing Shingles.  This is wear and tear that has occurred over 20 plus years. As the material becomes brittle, it is easy for it to chip and break.
  4. Raised Nails.  If you find nails surfacing, or popping up through the face of the shingle from underneath, this is a sign your roof  may be approaching its life expectancy.

Overall, avoid spending too much time walking around. Make your inspections and repairs and get off. Excessive activity can  cause problems as well.