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Identifying, and Dealing, with Humidity Issues Around The Home

Identifying, and Dealing, with Humidity Issues Around The Home

Water, it's a large problem.

 I am a home Inspector in the Barrie, Orillia, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge areas and I see it all the time: humidity and moisture intrusion around the home that causes health, safety, and structural problems. More problems than all the others issues home inspectors find combined. Dealing with moisture intrusion around the home has always been a case of locate the leaks first, then repair the system leaking. Roofing, siding, windows, doors, or the foundation all follow the same repair process. Moisture intrusion has destroyed more roof framing, sill and floor joists, and wall framing than people can imagine.
 While both Done Right Home Inspectors are inspecting homes, cottages, and commercial property in the Barrie, Orillia, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge and Muskoka areas we often report on structural defects caused by moisture intrusion. Outside, fixing these issues is fairly uncomplicated though not always cheap. You might need new roof coverings, some new framing, new caulk for windows and doors, or you may have to dig up a section of foundation and apply new waterproofing etc; if it is leaking then fix the leak while repairing the damage done.  Dealing with humidity inside the home though has always been a more troublesome issue.

Sources of humidity inside a home are not always obvious.

  Some sources of humidity in the home are obvious to home inspectors and owners alike, but, there are some that are harder to detect or just not thought about. Obvious sources include clothes dryers, kitchen and bathroom sinks, laundry tubs, showers, and bathtubs. Other obvious sources of humidity in homes include unfinished concrete floors in basements or crawlspaces, seepage at perimeter edges of poured concrete floors and around footings for walls or support posts, open sump pump pits etc
.
  If you do not realize that there are other sources of humidity in a home you may be missing a problem. Have you ever noted the vent at the front of most dishwashers gives off moist warm air when it is running? How about the cloud of vapour when you open the dishwasher door, that is a fair amount of humidity getting into your home. Most are aware that kettles and pots on stoves allow humidity into the home but how about when only the range is operating say cooking the holiday turkey. That enticing aroma wafting throughout the home is floating on a cloud of warm moist air that used to reside in the turkey. It is being vented out the oven vent, yet most people do not run the range exhaust fan when using just the oven. A 20 lb bird in the store freezer becomes 10 lb after heating and cooking the excess moisture out ( yield is about 8 lbs of meat ) That holiday turkey just put nearly a gallon of water into the air of the home. 
 
 Most toilets are an open source of water in homes. Evaporation takes place any time the air in the bathroom is warmer that the water,  as in after every flush, until the water in the bowl gets up to room temperature. This is perhaps not a major amount but it does add to the humidity load in the home. Another source of moisture in the home is washing machines especially now as many homes have them located on the main floors. When the washer gets used humidity escapes the machine as vapour when the lid or door is opened. While dryers may be vented to the outside, the fan shuts off when the door is opened so you get the same cloud of vapour exiting into the home from it.

 Pipes under sinks, and anywhere else they are exposed in the home, sweat and condensation forms. Condensation doesn't add to the humidity load but it is a clear indication there is excess moisture in the air in the home. It is not gone, moisture in most cases will evaporate back into the air reforming vapour and keeping humidity in the home.
 
  While we are inspecting basements and crawlspaces In the Barrie, Orillia, Gravenhurst. Bracebridge, and Muskoka areas we find seasons affect the amount of humidity in the home as well. Air enters every time a window or door is opened bringing outside humidity in. Spring can be very dry but fall tends to be wet in this area. More condensation shows up on toilet tanks and pipes in the home  then and that is a sign there is higher humidity than what is desirable inside the home.
 
Dealing with humidity in the home has traditionally been difficult.

 Where the source of humidity is known or suspected such as a range top the common vented hood deals with this easily.  Yet we note what about when just the oven is being used? Few people do or want to run the range hood every time the stove or oven is turned on, many consider it shoving heat out the stove vent.

 Surprisingly few sump pits have proper covers available making them an open source for moisture evaporation into the home.  Some newer sump pits have fitted caps available but still we find them open as well.

 In a great many cases laundry areas are unvented. We find them often now on the main floor and still we seldom see anything other than the dryer vent for humidity control. It seems builders do not consider the humidity important. Drilling holes in walls is one of the more difficult choices to make yet that is usually what is required to mount venting fans. Whether it goes to a roof vent or through a wall to a duct, drilling holes can be expensive, difficult, and require finish work as well to install properly.

 Addressing the general humidity inside the home has long been an expensive measure. Installing whole home ventilation after the fact or a heat recovery system that deals with humidity can be very costly running well into several thousands of dollars..  Installing a whole home system is worth considering if the home is to be a very long term investment but be advised these systems have a long term payback when installation cost are figured in as well.

Yes, you can deal with humidity in the home inexpensively.

 You can deal with several of the humidity causing issues in the home in other ways. For instance, making, or getting the local handyman to make, an inexpensive fitted cover of plywood over the sump pit. Glue 3 to 4 inches of high density foam to it for insulation and that resolves the  problem there. There is also another simple solution that we as inspectors are going to suggest here that can deal with many of the other issues that cause humidity in homes.

Controlling humidity inexpensively in some areas is possible.

 As a home inspector I have long been an advocate of installing humidistat controlled fans in bathrooms.  Years ago I came about this the hard way after learning my teen age sons were unable to understand the concept of turning on and off the venting fan in the bathroom when showering. To make matters worse they would sometimes do one and not the other, either leaving it running all day, or, turning it off when they got out thus defeating the purpose of the fan rather than letting the moisture clear the bathroom. One bad case of mould later, I researched and installed humidistat controlled fans in both bathrooms. Even then as a DIY project it ran to about $700. They are a larger box than the older smaller fans common in pre 80s homes but I did not have to enlarge the fan opening because I had newer model fans which are a little larger box than the older bath fans and the units fit right in. The older smaller models would have required me breaking open the ceiling and the costs of finishing that out as well. The benefits far outweigh the costs though. A humidistat controlled fan will come on as the humidity rises and shut off as the fan clears excess humidity from the area it is installed in. That means no more wasted electricity from fans running all day, no more excess humidity lingering to create conditions ideal for mould growth, and no worrying about or harping at the kids to turn or off the fans. I am still not sure if that counts a a benefit for me or one for them.

Other areas can benefit besides bathrooms

 When I began inspecting homes and cottages in the Barrie, Orillia, Gravenhurst, Bracebridge, and Muskoka areas I quickly discovered there were other applications for a humidistat controlled fan to be used that would benefit the property owners.  During inspections we find more cottages are being used year round and so more crawl spaces under cottages are closed in. They get closed in to conserve heat and protect water lines from freezing. This is a great idea but there is also a drawback. In most all cases floors are either bare rock/dirt, or vapour barrier is laid over the rock/dirt. Seldom is the vapour barrier sealed correctly so it is almost as bad as having a bare earth floor. The earth area under a 1000 square foot home can allow as much as 25 gallons of moisture into the crawl area a day. That is an awful lot of water that has no way to get out when the crawl vents are closed if there are crawl vents at all. In these areas my moisture meter will often read 80 to 100%  surface moisture. With all that moisture and just a little heat added these are ideal conditions for breeding mould and mildew, not to mention wood rot and unfortunately we will often find these issues during the inspection. But, and this is important, a simple humidistat controlled fan can alleviate these problems.

 A humidistat controlled fan will automatically come on and exhaust the humid air to the outside and relieve the crawl space of excess humidity for about $350. When you include the short ducting and hood for the outside, add about $ 200 dollars to that for the minor electrical and the project will end up around $550. It is a fairly simple install if you can pick a place for the duct to exit the crawlspace that goes through wood or vinyl siding.  You should also remember that with crawls with block or other vents to the outside will in winter, when vents are closed, require some way for the fan to draw air from the structure above. A standard floor heating grate will work fine. In spring, summer, and fall a vent opening in the sidewall or crawl door would be fine. Fans are available from big box retailers and from hardware stores. Humidstat controlled fans will have the H designation in the model identification. Most will run about $280 with tax.  Nuetone and Broan are makers I am familiar with. These humidistat controlled fans can resolve issues in another area of some older homes and cottages as well.

Not just for use in crawl spaces though

Absolutely ideal for main floor laundry rooms as well, especially if they are open to the rest of the home, humidistat controlled fans can help keep the home free of excess humidity generated within the living space of the dwelling.

 We also find while inspecting older homes and cottage attics that many have poor or limited venting of the attic. Older structures were often built with closed soffits in the belief that that kept the cold from getting in. However, as building and insulating science evolved, people added some insulation, a few installed minimal soffit vents in strips or small round vent holes and they may have added hood vents to older buildings. All in an effort to keep in the heat they were paying for. As late as the 70's plywood soffits with steel strip venting was commonly being installed. We know today that that is just not sufficient venting to properly control humidity and moisture in the attic.
 
  Many of the older buildings were so leaky the attics still got some venting but as more insulation gets added, proper venting becomes more critical to the whole. Installing new perforated aluminum soffit all too often is done as a cover up, without removing the solid wood or plywood soffit underneath and so totally useless for venting.  In a great many cases insulation added in the attic covers the air path from soffit into the attic area creating blocked venting.

 You could tear apart the soffits and fascia and strip out the outside three feet of insulation to create the air path necessary in these structures to resolve this but it is expensive to do so. If you are also dealing with an icing issue you may have no choice but to go that route to resolve it. Materials and labour probably in the $30 per perimeter foot range.  For an average home of 1100 sq ft about $4000 dollars. But, if you are just adding better venting, installing one new vent space at one end, new wiring, a humidistat controlled fan at the other end with a new roof vent, for about $600.00 you can take all the worry out of having conditions for mould growth in the attic.
  
Now for some really good news on humidity control around the home.

Over the last year where we are finding humidity issues during our home inspections we have been recommending our home cottage and commercial clients install the Dew Stop Switch to control humidity. This is fairly new switch on the market and it takes a great deal of the cost and inconvenience out of installing humidity control. If the fan on/off switch is in the same room as the fan you simply replace the current fan on /off switch with the Dew Stop switch.  You no longer have to remove the bathroom fan in older structures because the new one takes a larger box. If the fan is in good condition it can be left in, if not buy an inexpensive replacement works for about $25 dollars or a complete new standard bath fan for about $35 and install the Dew Stop switch, about $49 dollars and you have solved bathroom humidity issues entirely, for less than $75 dollars and it is an easy DIY project.

 As long as the switch is in the same space/room as the fan it will come on as necessary then shut down when the humidity drops. The switch can be turned on manually if desired but unlike teenagers does not have to be told to turn it off again. Even if you have to get in an electrician to move a switch box from a hall location into the bathroom so the Dew Stop switch can be installed, it should be still a bit less than installing a new humidistat controlled fan especially if the fan you have is the smaller one.

The bathroom is not the only place for the Dew Stop switch.

 In the last year we have inspected many homes, cottages, garages, boathouses, and commercial buildings throughout our service area from Barrie to Huntsville and in several dozen for differing reasons we have recommended the Dew Stop switch for humidity control in locations other than bathrooms. Attics have had their share of recommendations as have crawlspaces, perhaps the lion's share, but insulated living areas in boathouses, garages, bunkie buildings, of which there are many in Muskoka and even closed sheds used for storage of summer items over the winter are prime places to use a humidistat controlled fan.

 In boats being stored they work very well to control humidity and thus that mildew that always seems to get into the upholstery and carpeting when boats are stored under cover. Imagine, mildew odours on beds in bunkies, furniture in boathouses, patio furniture cushions, life jackets and boat sails etc can be dramatically reduced or eliminated entirely. Stored items will be protected from excess humidity as long as the fan has an intake for fresh air and power. With fresh air things will dry out rather than staying damp and having mould and mildew growth. When combined with an inexpensive standard bath fan the Dew Stop switch can be an inexpensive solution to difficult humidity control problems around homes and cottages. 
 
Dealing with humidity issues around the home, cottage, or commercial building can be difficult. It is important to do so to prevent mould and mildew growth as both can be a serious cause of health or structure concerns. Whole home ventilation and the heat recovery ventilation systems may be the best approach for new construction and long term benefits, however, in older construction it may not be cost effective or even practical. There are other methods like the purpose built humidistat controlled fan that can be used to deal with humidity inexpensively in some instances and they work exceptionally well. The new Dew Stop humidistat control switch can be used either in combination with an older fan ( simply replace the switch ) or with a new standard and inexpensive bath fan. Best of all, when hooked to a  standard bath vent fan and ducted outside the Dew Stop switch can be installed inexpensively and used effectively in many areas where excess humidity is an issue. It's a win all round for the home, cottage, or commercial property owner.

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