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Home Inspection topics in the Twin Cities area

By Reuben Saltzman | Home Inspector in Minneapolis, MN
  • My search for an out-of-state home inspector, part two: comparing inspection reports

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Minneapolis  |  January 3, 2012 3:21 AM  |  1,200 views  |  No comments

    In searching for a home inspector for out-of-state family members buying a home, I ended up comparing dozens of home inspector web sites, trying to separate the great home inspectors from the hacks.  It wasn't difficult to find qualified home inspectors, but finding someone who I thought was a great home inspector was much more difficult.   As I mentioned at the end of my blog about finding an out-of-state home inspector, it all came down to comparing sample home inspection reports.

    Reading sample home inspection reports is the best way to compare home inspectors, short of actually attending the home inspection.

    In my humble opinion, the best home inspection reports have several things in common, and these were the things that I looked for in a sample home inspection report while searching for an out-of-state inspector:

    Photos - this is a no-brainer and doesn't need much explanation.  Good home inspection reports have photos.  This is a basic requirement for a good home inspection report that most home inspectors include today.  In a recent survey of ASHI home inspectors with 4,500 responses, over 84% of ASHI home inspectors include photos in their reports.

    Easy to read - I don't want to have to look at a legend to figure out what the inspector is trying to say, and I especially wouldn't want my family members trying to figure that stuff out.  Home inspection reports should be easy to understand and shouldn't need someone with industry knowledge to interpret what the inspector is trying to say.

    Customized - home inspection reports should contain three basic components when addressing an issue: what the issue is, why it's an issue (if not obvious), and what should be done.

    For example, if a water heater had a pressure relief valve that was plugged off on the end, a great home inspection report might say

    "The pressure relief valve discharge tube has a cap attached to the end, which will prevent the valve from functioning; this could cause the water heater to explode or turn in to a missile if the water heater malfunctioned.  Have the cap removed."

    A weak inspection report might say

    "Capped relief pipe needs repair"

    Both of these descriptions address the defect, but the first description is obviously a far superior description, and lets the client know why this item needs repair.

    Disclaimers kept to a minimum - I looked for inspection reports that were focused on helping my family members; not explaining away why they couldn't.  Many home inspection reports are filled with CYA verbiage that is focused on explaining away why the home inspector couldn't see this or why they couldn't inspect that.  This isn't helpful to the home buyer, and when there's too much of it, it starts to sound 'weaselly'.  I don't want to read through a huge list of stuff that wasn't  inspected.  That list belongs in the contract or the standards of practice.  If the roof was covered with snow, say it was covered with snow and not inspected.  The end.

    Realistic recommendations - This one is huge.  Many home inspection reports are filled with recommendations for further testing and inspections to the point where it gets absurd.  Mold testing?  Asbestos testing?  Lead testing?  Sewer scans?  Plumbing inspections?  Electrical inspections?  When I see recommendations for all these other inspections, I get the feeling that the home inspector is only concerned about not getting sued; they're not nearly as concerned about providing a good service to my family members.

    Confident reports - this point is a little harder to define, but it's really what sets asides the rookies from the experienced home inspectors.  Anyone with the most basic understanding of a house can observe an abnormality, call attention to it, and recommend repair or a second opinion.  With knowledge and experience comes the confidence to say that something isn't a problem.

    Ownership  - This might be something that many home inspectors don't even consider when they write reports, but I got turned off reading inspection reports where the inspector clearly didn't take ownership of the comments and recommendations he or she was making.  For example, "It is recommended..." takes no ownership.  "I recommend" does.

    That makes up most of the stuff that I looked for in a sample home inspection report when choosing a home inspector for out-of-state family members.  In the end, I found a home inspector who had all of these qualities in a sample report, and I weeded out a ridiculous amount of qualified home inspectors who didn't.

    If you're shopping for a home inspector, be sure to read a sample report.


    My search for an out-of-state home inspector

    How to decide on a home inspector

    Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email - Minnesota Home Inspector


  • Top 20 Home Inspection Photos from 2011

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Minneapolis, Home Selling in Minneapolis  |  December 27, 2011 3:02 AM  |  1,695 views  |  No comments

    I post a new home inspection photo on the Structure Tech Facebook page six days a week, and this year I decided to put together a blog post showing my favorite photos from 2011.   I hope you enjoy these half as much as I do.  As with all of my blog posts, click on any of these photos for a larger version.

    Ice Dams - Remember ice dams?  They were nasty last winter.  I'm enjoying winter in Minnesota much more this year; what have we received so far, two inches of snow?

    Ice filled soffit

    Ice Dam-age Control - This is the only photo we didn't take (thanks DKW3).  This was someone's solution to chronic water intrusion from ice dam leakage.

    Ice Dam-age control

    Hack Ice Dam Removal - We've said many times that pressure washers should never be used to remove ice dams, because they tear up shingles.

    Hack Ice Dam Removal from pressure washer

    Hot Roof?  Cold Roof?  Not Sure.  - Attics are supposed to be treated as warm spaces or cold spaces.  Someone obviously didn't understand the point.

    Home Made Hot Roof

    Hockey Puck Fascia Repair - Hole in your fascia?  No problem!  Just use a bunch of caulk and a hockey puck to fix it.

    Hockey puck fascia repair

    Rotted Roof Decking - The roof decking was in horrible condition at this house, but that didn't stop the roofers; they installed a new roof covering right over the top.  That black stuff is the ice & water shield.

    Rotted roof decking

    Bad Shingle Repair - No explanation needed.

    Bad Shingle Repair

    Bad Chimney Crown - We could tell this chimney crown needed repair just by looking at it from the ground, but we had no idea it would be this bad.  This chimney crown obviously needs to be completely replaced.

    Bad Chimney

    Chimney with Facade Falling Apart - Three sides of this chimney looked just fine from a distance.

    Chimney with facade falling apart

    One Angry Bird Away... - As I was typing up the insection report for this house, my wife saw this photo on the computer screen and said "Wow, that chimney looks like it's about one angry bird away from collapse."  Good call.

    damaged chimney

    Downspout Combustion Air Intake - That downspout connecting to the return air duct fed to the exterior of the home and was being used as the combustion air intake.  It's not conventional and it's probably a little small, but hey, it works.

    Downspout in to return air

    Central Air-ish - This was someone's attempt at cooling a room where the AC unit wasn't installed.

    Central air-ish

    Creative Heat Register - Interesting solution.

    No heat register

    Heat Register in Cabinet - While most people would have had to decide between a heat register and a cabinet here, this homeowner decided to have their cake and eat it too.  Can you guess what city this house was in?

    Register inside cabinet

    Garbage Can Sump Basket - Sump baskets are reinforced on the sides to prevent them from collapsing.  Plastic refuse containers are not.

    Garbage can sump basket

    Mouse in Panel - Any unused openings in electric panels are supposed to be covered over, not only to contain any potential fire or sparking that could occur inside the panel, but also to prevent unwanted visitors from coming in.

    Mouse in panel

    Covered Outlet - No explanation needed.

    Covered outlet

    Missing Fuses - Apparently someone was tired of replacing those pesky fuses, so they replaced the fuses with a couple short lengths of copper tubing.  Can you say fire hazard?

    Missing Fuses

    Mirror Tile on Kitchen Floor - This might be the most interesting tiled floor we've come across.

    Mirror Tile on kitchen floor

    Useless Shower Fan - Someone went to a lot of effort to install this bath fan above the shower, but without a duct... what's the point?  I can only scratch my head.

    Useless Shower Fan

    Water Behind Escutcheon - My personal favorite.  I noticed water leaking out from behind the escutcheon, which is that decorative metal trim ring around the pipe sticking out of wall.  I turned the water off, pulled the escutcheon away, got my camera ready, turned the water back on... click.

    Water Behind Escutcheon

    Ok, that was twenty-one photos.  Close enough.  If you enjoy these kinds of photos, please click "Like" on our Facebook page.  Thanks!

    Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email - Minnesota Home Inspector


  • How would you search for a home inspector?

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Minneapolis  |  December 20, 2011 3:17 AM  |  1,326 views  |  2 comments

    I have out-of-state family who are in the process of buying a new home.  I told them I'd find a good home inspector in their area, assuming I would already know someone in their area from an online discussion group or from ActiveRain.  No such luck.  Oh well... the search begins.

    Home Inspector Search

    At first, my search for a home inspector started out kind of fun, a little like searching for a house.  It was easy for me to weed out home inspectors, but I actually ended up weeding out way too many.  I was left with no one, for one reason or another.


    I found several themes on home inspector web  sites.  The 'basic' web sites were all extremely similar - it was "Hire me because:"

    • A home is probably the largest investment you will ever make.  Blah blah blah (and now, stop talking).  Why do so many home inspectors need to tell people this?  If someone is shopping for a home inspector, they're probably already sold on the idea of a home inspection.  
    • I'll give you peace of mind.  I'd rather find someone who will give me the straight story, even if the information doesn't give me peace of mind. 
    • I abide by [insert association]'s Standards of Practice.  So does everyone else.
    • I'm licensed.  Gee, lets hope so if your state requires it.
    • I'm independent.  You mean the real estate agent doesn't pay you off to ignore defects?  I suppose that's good...
    • I charge less than my competition.  I assume there is a reason for this.


    I found many web sites that turned me off right away; these sites had common themes to them.

    • Claims to be the best / most detailed / most comprehensive / most thorough / etc.  They're making a claim that's impossible to prove.  I don't trust this person.
    • As many colors and fonts jammed in to one page as possible.  This reminds me of a little girl who got in to her mom's make-up bag.
    • Claims that their home inspection association (ASHI, NACHI, NAHI, etc) is better than the other associations.  Badmouthing other associations or claiming superiority of their association doesn't make them look better; it makes them look petty.
    • Warnings about blind home inspectors.  I've never met a blind home inspector.  I feel as though I'm being talked down to when I hear warnings about unqualified home inspectors, and I'm afraid they're going to talk down to my family members during the inspection.  Just tell me about yourself.


    The better web sites give more specific information about the home inspector.

    • I have these certifications
    • I'm a member of this association
    • I walk on the roof to inspect it
    • I crawl through crawl spaces to inspect them
    • I've been in the business for a long time
    • I'm thorough, detailed, patient... and many other adjectives.

    After looking through enough web sites,  it becomes hard to compare all of that.  Also, none of this stuff tells me the person is a good home inspector; it just tells me they are qualified to be a good home inspector.

    Online presence = bonus points

    I didn't exclude any home inspectors from my search just because they didn't engage in social media, but I certainly gave them bonus points for doing so.  It helps me learn more about them.   Facebook, Twitter, Youtube... all that stuff helps me to learn more about the company.

    Of course, I also gave bonus points to home inspectors with active blogs.  How could I not?

    Online reviews were also nice to see.

    ...but it all boils down to the report.

    For me, it all comes down to the home inspection report.  This is the single most important part of deciding on a home inspector for me, because it tells me more about the home inspector than anything else possibly could.  I started writing about what I look for in a home inspection report, but it started turning in to a whole new topic.  I'll save that for another day.

    Unfortunately, many of the inspectors that I decided were the most qualified didn't even have sample inspection reports on their web site.   If I had found a home inspector with a good inspection report, I would have recommended them, but I couldn't find one.  I got a few referrals from the ASHI online discussion forums, so I contacted the inspectors that were referred, asking for sample inspection reports.  You'd think I was asking for social security numbers.

    One inspector made me promise not to share the report, even after he removed all of the identifying information, and another refused to let me view a sample report.   No joke.   The one who sent me a report with no questions asked actually had a very good report, and she's the one I'll end up recommending to my family.

    Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email - Minnesota Home Inspector



  • Insulating your basement? Start with the rim space.

    Posted Under: Remodel & Renovate in Minneapolis, Going Green in Minneapolis  |  December 13, 2011 3:05 AM  |  1,725 views  |  2 comments

    Have you ever noticed how snow will melt around the foundation on older houses?  This will happen at any house with unheated foundation walls, and it's a great visual indication of how the house is losing heat.   When there's no melted snow up against the house, we can rely on thermal imaging to figure out where the heat loss is occurring.  In the image below it's right at the rim space; that's the part that shows up as the brightest orange / yellow.

    Heat loss at rim joist

    While houses usually act like chimneys, sucking air in at the bottom and exhausting air through leaks at the top, the photo below is a perfect example showing how it doesn't always work that way.  The frost that has accumulated against the siding is all coming from air that's leaking out of the un-insulated, un-sealed rim space.   It was about -15 degrees outside when I took the photo below.

    Frost on house

    To cut down on basement heat loss, an obvious place to start at is the rim space.  I mentioned this a couple weeks ago when I wrote my post about how I had my entire basement re-insulated, but today I'm going to focus on the rim space alone and discuss the different options for insulating and air sealing this space.

    Rim joist

    The old way of insulating rim joists was to use fiberglass batts.  As I've mentioned many times in previous blogs, fiberglass batts are a poor choice of insulation for any project... but they should never be used at the rim space because it's nearly  impossible to install a proper vapor barrier here, and fiberglass batts will allow for a lot of air leakage.   Without a vapor barrier at the rim space, you'll have relatively warm, moist air passing through the fiberglass insulation and then condensing at the rim joist.  This can create mold or rotting.

    There are only two ways that I ever recommend to insulate the rim space: rigid foam or spray foam.

    Using spray foam at the rim space is just about the only thing that is ever done on new construction houses in Minnesota today; while it's expensive, it's worth it because it can be applied quickly and does a perfect job of both insulating and air sealing the rim space.  Wires, faucets, pipes... they're no match for spray foam.  All of the penetrations get sealed.

    Spray Foam at Rim Space

    While spray foam is supposed to be covered by an approved material to prevent the possible spread of a fire, the rim space is one exception to this rule; this exception can be found in the Minnesota Amendments to the IRC, sectionR314.5.11.  Here in Minnesota, up to 5 1/2" of foam insulation can be sprayed at the rim space and left exposed.  The only downside to using foam insulation is that it's relatively expensive.  You can buy do-it-yourself insulation kits for fairly small jobs, such as a rim space, but I would personally just hire a professional to do this.  It wouldn't cost much more than a spray foam insulation kit.

    The alternative to having spray foam applied at the rim space is to install rigid foam insulation.  Installing foam insulation at the rim space takes a long time, but it's not a very difficult project.  Basically, pieces of rigid foam boards get cut to size, placed at the rim space, and caulked or foamed in place to help prevent air leakage.

    Rigid Foam at Rim Space

    While writing this post, I came across a great blog written by a handy homeowner, showing how he insulated his own rim space with rigid foam.  You can view it here - rigid foam at rim space.

    The one thing to remember when making a house tighter is that you'll have less air leaking in to and out of your house, which can create other problems, such as a backdrafting water heater or excessive moisture in the home.  The Minnesota Department of Commerce Energy Information Center has a great handout that specifically addresses this topic, which you can download here - Combustion & Makeup Air.

    If you don't have any insulation at your rim space, add this project to your list of 'to-do' projects.  It's not as critical as attic insulation and it takes more time, but it's a good thing to do.  Just don't use fiberglass.

    Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email - Minnesota Home Inspector


  • Buying a vacant property in Coon Rapids? Familiarize yourself with their "Water Restoration Permit" first.

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Coon Rapids, Foreclosure in Coon Rapids, Property Q&A in Coon Rapids  |  December 6, 2011 3:13 AM  |  1,757 views  |  No comments

    I recently had a friend go through a huge hassle to get his water turned on after buying a vacant property in Coon Rapids.  His plan was to buy the house, get the water turned back on, and live in the house while he remodeled it going room by room.

    Shortly after buying the home, he contacted the city of Coon Rapids to have the water turned back on, and they told him they would need to inspect the house first.  The city ended up having a huge list of repairs that he would need to completebefore moving in to the house, and he ended up moving in about two months later than his planned move-in date.

    I called the building inspections department in Coon Rapid to ask about this, and as it turns out, these inspections have been required in Coon Rapids for about the last three years.  Apparently, the city of Coon Rapids will turn off the water supply to any property that is known to be vacant; they do this to reduce the risk of property damage from burst or frozen water pipes.  That's pretty standard procedure for just about any bank owned property, but the huge difference with Coon Rapids is the water restoration permit.

    Before the city of Coon Rapids will turn the water back on to a property, they need to have a Water Restoration Permit application filed, along with a $75 inspection fee.  After this permit gets filed, they'll inspect the property for safety.  If the house passes the inspection, they'll turn the water on.  If the house doesn't pass the inspection, repairs will need to be completed before the water can be turned back on.  Below is a list of the items that would prevent the water from being turned on - I copied this text exactly from their Water Restoration Permit form:

    • Furnace – Furnace must be operable & providing heat to dwelling.
    • Water heater – Must be correctly installed & operable.
    • Furnace or Water heater installed without a permit or inspection – *All plumbing & mechanical work must be permitted.
    • You may be required to hire a licensed contractor to inspect and pull permits for previously installed equipment per requirements of the Minnesota State Building Code.
    • Gas or Electric service – Service must be ‘turned on’ to property.
    • Wiring/exposed wiring – *Dwelling must not have any exposed wiring.
    • Plumbing – Dwelling must meet the ‘Minimum standards of habitation’& may not have any broken or damaged water pipes.
    • ‘Minimum standard’ is defined as a functioning kitchen sink, lavatory sink, water closet, shower or bathtub & proper back flow prevention.
    • Severe mold issues- A ‘Mold Remediation’ report may be required. (Please discuss plans for mold cleanup with Bldg Dept. staff)
    • Building must be weather tight - Dwelling must not have any door or window openings that are not covered.
    • Severe structural problems – As deemed by City of Coon Rapids Building Official.
    • Other items that could be deemed as a life safety concern.
    • Dwelling ‘Not habitable’ – Any circumstances deemed by the Building Official that property is unsuitable for habitation.
    I asked the Coon Rapids building inspections department if there was any type of form that needs to be provided to or signed by a potential home buyer to alert them to these requirements.  They said that the water restoration permit has nothing to do with the sale of a property, so no - there are no methods in place to inform a potential home buyer of this requirement.  They leave it up to the real estate agent or home buyer to contact the city to ask about this stuff before buying a home in Coon Rapids.
    The bottom line is that if you're buying a home in Coon Rapids, this is something you need to be aware of.  I always recommend having the water turned on to a property before the home inspection, but this is especially important in Coon Rapids.  For more information about this requirement, click here - Coon Rapids water restoration information.

    Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email - Minnesota Home Inspections


  • Problems with stapled shingles

    Posted Under: Home Buying in Minneapolis  |  November 29, 2011 3:11 AM  |  1,556 views  |  3 comments

    Wind damaged shingleWhile it used to be common practice to use staples to attach asphalt shingles to a roof, this has been a prohibited method of attachment in Minnesota since 2003.  Today, staples are considered an inferior method of attaching shingles to a roof, but it's easy to understand why roofers like staples.

    • Staple guns are smaller and better balanced.  Coil nail guns are literally fed with a coil of nails, and the holder for the nails makes the gun much bulkier.
    • Staples are far less prone to jamming up in a gun than nails.
    • Staples cost less money.
    • Staples are much more compact; a roofer can hold a bunch of sticks of staples in their pocket and reload their gun very quickly.  Nail coils take up a lot more space, they take more time to reload, and they need to be treated carefully; if a coil of nails gets dropped or stepped on, it deforms the coil and makes it much more prone to jamming in the gun.
    Staples vs nails

    Staples are used because they make the roofer's job easier; they don't equate to a better installation.

    The problem with stapled shingles is that they have a much greater chance of coming loose or blowing off the roof because staples are so easy to install improperly.  When a roofer holds a staple gun and fastens a shingle, the staples will have a tendency to be driven at an improper angle.

    Staples are often improperly installed because it's somewhat awkward to hold a staple gun completely perpendicular to the shingle.  For someone who is right handed, it's much easier to shoot the staples on the left side of their body at an angle similar to a forward slash, and the staples on the right side at an angle similar to a backward slash.  The two super-crude diagrams below should help to illustrate what I'm talking about.

    Crude Staple Diagram

    When staples are installed properly, they work fine, but they're just too easy to install wrong.  This issue doesn't happen with nails, because they have a round head; as long as a nail is driven in to a shingle straight, it doesn't matter which way the nail gun is turned.  To know if a roof has been installed with staples, you can sometimes see the outline of the staples pushing through the shingle above.

    Roof staples covered   Roof staples exposed

    Also notice, these staples aren't perpendicular to the shingle.  This is the installation problem that typically happens with staples.

    If you have a roof that's been installed with staples, is it a defective installation?  If it was installed after 2003, technically yes, because staples aren't allowed any more.  If every staple was perfectly installed, the installation would work just as well as perfectly installed nails, but I've found improperly installed staples at every stapled roof I've inspected.   If you have a roof with stapled shingles, you don't need to replace the shingles as a rule of thumb, but you're taking on some risk.  If shingles start blowing off on a regular basis, you'll probably want to have the roof covering replaced.  This will be less costly and less of a hassle in the long run than having to deal with constant roof repairs.

    When I inspect a house with shingles that have been improperly installed, I tell the same thing to my buyers; the shingles don't need to be replaced, but they might cause some headaches.  If shingles have already started coming loose and obvious repairs have been made, I typically recommend replacement of the roof covering.

    P.S. - Special thanks to roof guru and fellow home inspector Mike Moser for always knowing the answer to any technical roofing question right off the top of his head.

    Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email- Minnesota Home Inspections


  • I'm thankful for closed-cell foam insulation. Yeah, that's right.

    Posted Under: Remodel & Renovate in Maple Grove, Going Green in Maple Grove, Property Q&A in Maple Grove  |  November 22, 2011 3:07 AM  |  2,546 views  |  2 comments

    Yes, you read that right.  I'm thankful for closed cell foam insulation.  Of course, I'm thankful for my family, health, and all that other jazz, but this is a blog about home inspections and home related topics, so I'm going to stay focused on that.  To fully explain why I'm so thankful for closed cell foam insulation, I first need to complain about my house a little bit.

    My thirteen-year-old Maple Grove house has an unfinished basement with a walkout; this means about half of the basement walls have a poured concrete foundation, and the other half, the part that's above grade, has conventional 2x6 wood framing.  The foundation walls are insulated at the exterior with rigid foam; this is a great way to insulate a foundation, because it means that the concrete walls will be relatively warm, and the potential for condensation problems will be minimized.  If you want to read more about foundation insulation methods, click this link - foundation insulation.

    Fiberglass insulationThe stud walls, on the other hand, were insulated the same way as 99.9% of the houses in Minnesota - with fiberglass batts.  Yuck.  While this is the standard way to insulate a wall, it's also probably the worst acceptable way to insulate a wall.  The photo at right gives a great example of how fiberglass batts are installed incorrectly all the time; just look at those gaps around the junction box.  I've already dedicated a blog to complaining about fiberglass batts, so enough on that topic.

    In addition to having fiberglass batts for insulation, the vapor barrier in my basement was basically useless.  Here's how a vapor barrier is supposed to work: to prevent air from passing through the fiberglass insulation and creating moisture problems in the wall, a vapor barrier gets installed.  This consists of 6 mil polyethylene sheeting (aka 'poly', aka 'Visqueen') that has been made airtight; that means caulked, overlapped, sealed, taped, etc.  On a home built today, this will be done quite well.  On a house that's thirteen years old... no way.  The vapor barrier will probably be just about useless.

    Unsealed vapor barriers create heat loss.  Just thirteen years ago, vapor barrier were never sealed. It was standard practice to just use a stapler to throw the poly on the walls and leave everything completely unsealed.  This practice allows for air to constantly circulate within the fiberglass insulation, creating a convective loop, which means a lot of heat gets lost through the walls.

    I have my 'office' set up in my unfinished basement, so I spend a lot of time in the basement.  During the winter it gets very cold in my basement, despite the fact that I have 2x6 walls filled with fiberglass insulation.  Last winter I kept an electric space heater under my desk to keep my toes from turning in to icicles.

    rim joist insulationFiberglass should never be used at rim spaces.  The rim space is the area between the floors of a house; this is an area where it's nearly impossible to install a proper vapor barrier.  Without a vapor barrier, condensation can occur at the rim space, creating mold growth or eventually rotting out the rim space.  This is why fiberglass insulation should never be used here.  On new homes, it never is.  The only type of insulation that gets used on new construction homes in Minnesota is closed cell spray foam insulation; we'll come back to that in a minute.

    Unsealed vapor barriers can lead to mold growth.  When a vapor barrier isn't sealed and air is allowed to freely pass through the wall, what happens when warm, moist air hits a cold surface?  It condenses.  My basement stays relatively cool and dry throughout the year, so the vapor drive is really happening from the exterior during the summer.  The walkout part of my basement faces south, so this part of the house is where I have the greatest temperature differential between the exterior and interior of the walls.

    During the summer, as humid outdoor air passes through my walls and hits the relatively cool vapor barrier, the moisture condenses.  This summer there was never enough moisture to actually drip down to the floor, but it was enough to leave drip marks in the insulation and allow mold to start growing between the insulation and the vapor barrier.  This wasn't major and I don't have mold allergies, so I wasn't too whipped up about this... but I couldn't allow this to continue.

    Mold in fiberglass batts Mold in fiberglass batts 2

    Enter closed-cell spray foam insulation.  To address all of the insulation, mold, and vapor barrier issues at the same time, I had the wood framed walls in my basement completely re-insulated about three weeks ago.  I had the vapor barriers removed, all of the fiberglass insulation removed, and closed cell foam sprayed in to the walls and rim spaces.

    Foamed walls

    I love it.  Closed cell foam acts as a perfect vapor barrier after 2", it doesn't allow for convection, and it has a much higher insulating value than fiberglass.  Now when I walk down to my basement, I don't feel a drastic change in temperature; my basement is only about two degrees cooler than the rest of my house.  I can sit here at the computer without a space heater, and I no longer freeze my toes off.  Life is good.

    Having foam insulation sprayed in to the walls was expensive, but it was worth every penny.  Will I ever get a payback in energy savings?  I'm not sure.  I didn't even bother to check the numbers, because my main motivation for this project was comfort.  Saving energy and not having mold growing inside the wall cavities is just a bonus.

    Happy Thanksgiving.

    Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections - Email- Maple Grove Home Inspector


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