- Crawlspaces vs Basements
- Auxiliary air circulation
- Skylights in cold
- Thought for the Day
- Subscription Information
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Three factors help determine whether your new home
will have a crawl space or basement or a combination:
your need, feasibility/practicality, and common practice
in your area.
Basements are great if you need the storage space or feel that down the
road you may want to expand your living space, or if you live in an area,
which is very cold in winter. Basements are weatherproof and insect resistant;
they tend to be cooler all year round and provide a good heat sink in
the summer; but it is sometimes difficult to get the dampness out of
a basement. Basements impact the type and size of heating system that
you have and where you put the furnace, water heater, water treatment
equipment, etc. Workshops often get relegated to the basement or to a
back area of the garage. If you need a big workshop, a basement may be
Basement excavation is more complex, footings are needed on "undisturbed
earth" usually well below the frost line (depth to which the ground
freezes). Basements may have poured concrete walls, concrete block walls,
or possibly treated wood walls, and normally have a poured concrete floor.
A home with a 2,500 square foot basement requires about 100 cubic yards
of concrete. The outside walls of a basement require waterproofing and
careful backfilling. Drainage and water removal from around the basement
walls and floor, becomes very important, especially in areas where the
ground water level may occasionally rise above the level of the basement
floor. Basements can be built almost anywhere, but surrounding rock and
the ground water level may present some specific difficulties and could
mean that a basement just isn't practical.
Crawl spaces are the corollary of basements. If you do not have a basement,
you pretty well have to have a crawl space to provide access to services.
Crawl spaces must be left open with circulating air (see local building
codes), and so they tend to provide easier access into your home for
pests, and unwanted animals like rodents and reptiles. Crawl spaces are
most common in warmer climes, and northern cottage areas. In far north
areas of perma-frost, basements are very rare.
What have others done in your area? If most homes in your area have a
basement, your home will be tougher to sell if it does not have one.
If almost all homes have a crawl space but you decide to have a basement,
your home may be worth more or may sell more easily, if you have a basement.
A basement adds 10% to 20% (or even more) to the cost of your new home,
but this usually translates to at least some added value at sale time.
If you choose to have a basement, ask
your builder to install a vapour barrier below
the concrete of the basement floor, and consider
a good quality material covering the outside
concrete or block wall which lets the wall drain
and breath. The classic tar coating which has
been used for the last hundred years, usually
deteriorates within 18 months of construction.
Be sure that good drainage is installed around the footings, all the
way around the building, and that the drainage ties into the city sewer
or some other area, which is lower than the drained area.
If you use a crawl space, be sure to research some of the excellent techniques
for sealing your home against pests and unwanted creatures.
As homes get larger and become better sealed against the environment, air circulation
becomes an increasing problem. Air circulation helps to maintain constant temperature
and humidity throughout your home. And it also helps to minimize the potential
for mould, rot, and mildew. In winter, air circulation helps prevent condensation
If you live in an area where serious heating is a necessity, air circulating
systems as well as air conditioning (cooling) are often directly associated
with the furnace. In these homes, the furnace fan may run continuously. In
addition, most homes will benefit from ceiling fans, which are inexpensive,
attractive, and very effective at moving the air in your home.
Fully sealed homes, which in the past were sometimes referred to as R2000 homes,
also have a continuously running air exchanger. To be effective, most air exchangers
require monthly service. Be sure to include this in your list of house maintenance
duties. When your air exchanger is first set up, ensure that the technician
sets the system for a slightly positive house pressure. This minimizes dust
being drawn into your house and will also minimize back drawing smoke or creosote
odours into your home, if you have a fireplace.
If the heating/cooling ducts in your home are excessively long runs, be sure
that the blower system is adequate. While auxiliary blowers in some of the
ducts in your home may be beneficial, these introduce maintenance issues and
additional noise and it is preferable to avoid them, if at all possible. However,
if you must have these installed in your home, make sure that they are easily
accessible and high quality systems.
If you have a damp basement, you may try using one or more auxiliary dehumidifiers.
These units have a fan, a condensation coil, and either a drain hose or a water
Attic air circulation is very important to avoid excessive heating in the summer
and minimal moisture build-up. Several simple roof vents or possibly power
vents are something that you should explore with your builder.
Keep your air exchanger unit operational and in good repair. Lubricate all
motors and keep all filters clean. Sometimes this servicing is included with
the furnace maintenance contract.
If your home is equipped with central heating and central air conditioning,
you may consider keeping your furnace blower fan operational at all times (mine
never stops). You can ask the contractor to wire the motor so that it runs
continuously but speeds up for cooling.
Consider using a premium air filtration system as part of your furnace air
circulation. Be sure to clean or replace the filter media at recommended intervals.
Be sure to have a furnace maintenance contract.
If you have auxiliary blowers in some ducts, be sure to include them in your
maintenance contract, or service them yourself regularly.
Some useful links to check out
Department of Environmental Protection
Air Circulators...The Cure For Homes With Sluggish Circulation
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Skylights in cold climates (beware)
Skylights can be a very attractive addition to your home. They come in all
shapes and sizes and have been installed in homes in all types of climates.
This article will primarily discuss skylights in cold climates, however first
we will briefly review some of the advantages of skylights.
Skylights add light and brighten up otherwise dark and dreary rooms, or hallways
and can make your house very cheery and bright. If you are considering a skylight,
there are a number of factors to take into account. Location is important especially
if you are trying maximize the amount of light that comes in, heating or cooling
effects in winter, aesthetic impacts, construction changes to your roof and
the and overall light improvement in the home.
This article will focus on skylights in cold climates and two of the difficulties
a homeowner can have with skylights. Skylights will leak or cause water damage
from at least two main sources and both can be avoided with proper maintenance
and care. We are assuming that the skylight has been properly installed.
Many skylights appear to be leaking when the actual cause is condensation on
the inside of the glass or plastic window. During the winter on very cold days,
frost may form on the inside of the glass. This can be caused by high humidity
in the home and cold weather. As the sun warms the roof during the day and
in particular the frost on the skylight window, the frost will thaw and run
down the sides of the walls inside the well of the skylight. Over time this
can cause discolouration and even damage to the walls and even the floor below
if there is very high humidity in the home. A simple solution is to control
the humidity level In the home, remembering that you need to ensure that there
is a minimum level in the home to prevent dry skin, furniture drying out and
general discomfort from dry air. By doing this you can reduce the amount of
condensation on the glass.
A more serious concern is the build up of ice on the roof or better known as “ice
dams”. An ice dams can be formed on a roof below a skylight when snow
builds up, on or around the skylight. Since the skylight has a lower insulation
factor that the surrounding roof, snow on the skylight can be melted from the
heat transfer through the glass and/or the sun. As the snow melts, the water
will begin to flow down the skylight onto the colder roof, at which point it
freezes due to the colder temperature of the roof. If sufficient ice builds
up, and ice dam has formed and prevents the dissipation of the water causing
it to seek other paths as it follows gravity. Water can back up under shingles
and into the attic causing a great deal of unseen damage in the attic before
it is finally exposed in the lived in portion of the home. If a spring thaw
occurs, the homeowner can experience significant leakage into the home caused
by the ice dam and the subsequent damage.
The solution can be relatively simple. Constant vigilance and removal of any
snow build up on or just below the skylight will usually prevent ice dams and
the subsequent leakage. Homeowners who do not want to get up on a slippery
roof can purchase a “roof rake” attached to a long flexible pole
and rake the snow off the roof while remaining at ground level. A few minutes
work may eliminate significant damage and inconvenience from a serious roof
Some useful links to check out
Install Skylights or Light Pipes
How To Repair a Leaking Skylight
4. Thought For The Day
Men do less than they ought, unless
they do all that they can. – Thomas Carlyle.
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