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Attic Ventilation

Does lowering your utility bill, improving your home's comfort, cutting down on moisture and mildew, preventing an ice dam and-or a roof leak and extending the life of your roof sound appealing?

Suppose you could tackle all these tasks with a single improvement?

Well, you can. Attic ventilation is the answer.

A well-ventilated attic can help prevent problems associated with excessive heat and moisture buildup. This requires continuous air circulation in the attic, exchanging overheated and moisture-ridden air for fresh, cooler air from outside. Proper attic ventilation protects a home from damage and costly consequences.

For example:

  • Heat and moisture can build up, causing the roof structure, shingles and paint to deteriorate prematurely. In fact, many shingle manufacturers require proper ventilation to validate their shingle warranties.
  • Excessive heat can radiate into living areas, making rooms uncomfortable—and air conditioners work longer and harder sending utility bills into orbit.
  • Ventilation helps reduce moisture buildup that can cause mold and mildew.
  • An under-ventilated attic (in combination with a poorly insulated attic) in the winter is a major cause of destructive ice dams and, hence, roof leaks.

The incidence of moisture damage in attics has risen in recent years in today's more energy-efficient and airtight homes. A typical home produces an average of 2 to 4 gallons of water vapor per day. In winter this vapor is attracted to the cooler air in the attic, where it quickly condenses. Condensation can drip onto attic insulation, reducing its effectiveness. Excessive moisture can promote the growth of mold and mildew and cause the wood attic structure to deteriorate.

What can you do to maintain a healthful, well-ventilated attic? Begin by understanding your options. First, there are two fundamental types of ventilation systems—passive and active. A passive system uses physics to create natural air currents. In contrast, an active system employs a mechanical device to move air. An example of a passive system would be a combination of roof vents such as those located at gable ends, at eaves or soffits, on the roof up high or at the roof's ridge. An active system still requires static ventilation ports (eave or soffit vents or gable vents), but utilizes a mechanical exhaust fan (an attic fan) that draws cool air into the attic and discharges it through the roof or a gable vent (depending upon the style of the roof and the type of attic fan utilized).

To maximize the volume and influence of airflow through a ventilation system, intake and exhaust venting must be balanced. This is called high-low balance. A properly designed attic ventilation system takes this basic principle into account.

For many years passive was regarded as the poorer of the two styles of attic ventilation. If you wanted good ventilation it was a given that you would install a powered attic fan. While this may still be true where the proper high-low balance cannot be achieved (as with a hip roof, for example), a passive attic ventilation system otherwise is usually the better choice. A passive system has no moving parts, requires little or no maintenance, generates no noise, requires no energy to operate and produces substantially better results.

One of the most effective components of a passive ventilation system is a ridge vent. Ridge vents are installed along the entire ridge of the roof, maximizing net free area and, working in concert with soffit-eave vents, they provide an even flow of air across the entire underside of the roof deck. It is this phenomenon that both prevents ice dams and the premature deterioration of some roofing materials. Research proves this pattern to be the most effective. Moreover, ridge vents can be more attractive than other types of vents because they blend in with the roofline.

A ridge vent system can be installed during new construction, as part of a re-roofing project or retrofit into an existing roofing system. Retrofitting will require the existing ridge cap to be removed and a continuous section of the roof sheathing to be trimmed back to improve air flow. A ridge vent can have an integral ridge cap, thus eliminating the need for cap replacement, or it can be sandwiched between the roof cover and the ridge cap. Although there are slight differences in performance, the choice of one over the other usually is dictated by aesthetics.

Other types of ventilation (turbines, attic fans, gable vents and dormer vents) interfere with the dynamics of the ridge-soffit vent combination and must, therefore, be removed or sealed.

Since gable vents usually are architectural elements, it generally is best to seal them from the interior with a piece of plywood, thus preserving the architectural integrity of the home and eliminating the need to make a siding patch.

For many years, a typical "builder's-basic" ventilation system consisted of a combination of soffit and gable vents. These systems are marginal at best since gable vents work independently, providing limited airflow across the underside of the roof. Another traditional means of ventilating an attic is with turbine vents. Though better than some means, turbine vents provide limited air movement at all wind speeds. They often must be covered to prevent weather infiltration, too. Ironically, covering a turbine defeats its purpose and hinders ventilation. Still other styles of roof vents provide a small, confined area of air movement, which prevents airflow from moving along the entire underside of the roof deck.

Power attic ventilators employ a factory-wired, adjustable automatic thermostat that monitors the attic for costly heat buildup. When a preset temperature is reached, the fan will turn on and will stop once the attic has reached a cooler preset temperature. A powered attic fan can be installed on the roof or at the inside of a gable vent. The size and quantity of attic fans needed is determined by the size of the attic. When considering a power attic fan, consider the following:

  • For proper attic ventilation, the Home Ventilation Institute recommends a system that provides at least 10 air exchanges per hour. To determine the fan capacity needed to provide this minimum airflow, use the following formula: attic square feet x 0.7 = CFM (cubic feet of air moved per minute).
  • Power vents are rated by CFM. Look for a power vent that provides at least the minimum CFM requirement. Remember, the higher the CFM the more air exchanges per hour.
  • Note: For roofs with a pitch of 8 in 12 or higher, you may want to add 20 percent more CFM capacity to handle the larger volume of attic space.
  • Most power attic ventilators only have a thermostat, so they only monitor the heat in the attic. Moisture buildup is also a problem in the attic. A solution is a power attic ventilator featuring a combination thermostat-humidistat.
  • Keep in mind that there are energy costs associated with operating a power attic ventilator.
  • Adequate soffit venting must be installed for best performance.
  • If using gable vents, they must be installed on the downwind end of the home.
  • One power attic fan is usually sufficient, unless it's a very large attic.
  • Attic fans are ideal for hip roofs where there is not enough ridge to install a ridge vent.
  • Attic fans feature a preset adjustable thermostat for maximum homeowner convenience.
  • Gable-mounted power vents are an excellent option for tile roof ventilation. They don't require a roof penetration.

If a powered attic fan is what you need, consider the new kid on the block—a solar-powered attic fan. As the name implies, the fan is powered by the sun and requires no electrical hookup, thus saving on your utility bill. When a powered attic ventilator is required, we believe that this revolutionary device is a better, more environmentally friendly way to ventilate an attic.

Hot Tub Misconceptions

There are some interesting misconceptions concerning spas (hot tubs). First, they aren't "most comfortable" during the summer months or other hot times of the year. We equate water-related recreation with hot days. Spas are water-related recreation devices all right—except they run at high temperatures, about 99 F to 104 F. This makes them most functional on colder days. And we love getting in ours when it's raining.

Some assume that spas and swimming pools are similar forms of water recreation, but they aren't anything alike. A swimming pool is ideal for cooling down and getting exercise. A spa, on the other hand, is for warming up the musculature and getting a massage. There is not a lot of moving around in a spa. The jet system in most high-end spas is capable of massaging deep into the tissue, reducing muscle aches and joint soreness.

Drinking wine in a spa is a dangerous proposition. Getting the blood to be slightly thinner in viscosity is a good thing for a short time—as long as the thinning process isn't exacerbated by intoxication.

A spa is a lot less expensive than a swimming pool, but don't be surprised when you end up paying somewhere between $8,000 and $13,000. That's what you'll pay for a good one. The key to a good spa is the number of different stations (seats, positions, etc.) it has and how many pumps are included with the unit. Less expensive models have only one pump. Upper-end spas have as many as three for churning water. We know of one spa company that offers a spa within a spa.

Another misconception: "A bench (bed, couch, etc.) in a spa is great for relaxing." Wrong. Some spa companies would like you to believe that you can lie down in water and not float to the top. When you lie down in water, you do, indeed, float. Problem is when you float in a spa you can't enjoy the massage as much. Floating in the water takes you away from the real action—up close and personal contact with the water jets. Look for a spa with lots of seating and no bench. Each seat position in a good spa has a different jet configuration, and, therefore, a different massage. And the one most important thing that you will be looking for once you own a spa is variety of massage. Look closely at what you are getting ready to purchase. One station may be set up for neck and full spine, whereas another might be designed for hips and legs or feet or calves. Look at where the jets are located and study how you will be massaged. Also, look for innovations in jet configuration. Some jets pulsate and others rotate.

Once you pick your spa, you will have to get it installed. You will need 220-volt power if you expect to get a unit that is worthwhile. In our opinion, the 110-volt units are woeful. They take days to heat up and the pump motors are nearly useless. Most spa companies perform their own installation, so be careful. Make them get a permit. With a spa you are dealing with electricity and water in the same container. You don't want an amateur putting it all together and leaving out an important part—like a ground wire. Getting a permit forces the spa company to be on their best behavior, and, thus, your safety is better protected.

Be sure to get a very good cover when you purchase a spa. Better covers will create an air-tight seal and save you on your energy bill. Also, the top should have a lock on all four corners—you can't endanger little ones in your neighborhood. Also, look into a high-quality cover lift. Good-quality covers are heavy and, thus, getting them off of the spa is hard work, even for a burly guy. If you aren't powerful, a cover lift is essential. Be sure that your spa is placed on a level surface. We poured a concrete slab for ours. When it comes to construction there is nothing like a good, solid base.

Remodel overspending: 'While you're at it ...'

The end of yet another summer is in sight. It's a time when vacations become mere memories, kids head back to school and home once again becomes the object of much attention.

In fact, after spring, fall is the second most popular season to remodel, as folks scurry to complete a much-needed kitchen or bath remodel in time for holiday entertaining.

Every homeowner who ventures into the world of home remodeling or repair must come to respect -- and, when possible, avoid -- four little words: "While you're at it."

Uttering these potentially explosive words can wreak havoc, bust budgets, and turn once straightforward remodeling projects into monstrous catastrophes.

The context in which these words are spoken is what makes them dangerous. Typically, homeowners say these words to their contractor when requesting more work --"While you're at it, why don't you add a skylight?" In the construction industry, this request is known as a change order -- two more words you must come to respect -- a written addendum to the contract that specifies a change or group of changes that the owner and the contractor mutually agree upon.

A change here or there is certainly to be expected with most any remodel, no matter how well planned. Unfortunately, one while-you're-at-it too many can trigger big delays and major overspending. You may end up scrambling for cash to pay for the job and wondering if your home will ever be back to normal. Worse yet, you may spend too much money, making your investment nearly impossible to recoup.

Look at change orders -- and the "while you're at it" phrase -- as remodeling credit cards. In fact, you can best understand the potential danger for any project-in-progress if you simply exchange the word change (in change order) to charge order.

Change orders cause delays, overspending, communication difficulties, and a host of other problems that can make an already difficult experience virtually unbearable.

Life would be a whole lot simpler for all parties if change orders didn't enter the scheme of things; most reputable contractors that we know would be very happy if they never had to do a change order. They are the contractors who suggest the three Ps of remodeling: planning, planning, and planning.

Many people mistakenly believe that planning begins with a floor plan and ends when the ink is dry on the contract. Actually, it is the period from the creation of the floor plan to the final preparation of the contract that is the most crucial time in the planning process. It is during this time that any questions, generalizations or confusion must be honed and resolved to ensure a successful remodeling adventure.

For instance, the contract for your new kitchen remodel may include labor to install a new ceramic tile floor along with an allowance for tile. Budget allowances are frequently used for items that have yet to be chosen such as appliances, tile, plumbing fixtures, and flooring. Remember that an allowance should never be arbitrary and should always be accompanied by a sample of what can be purchased within the value being allowed.

Unprofessional contractors often include unrealistically low allowances. Their philosophy is that their pricing is then lower, which gives them an edge in getting the job. Sadly, after they have the job, they typically bury the consumer with change orders for upgrades.

Allowance items can count for a good chunk of a project, so make absolutely sure that you are satisfied with the appearance and quality of the products being used to establish the allowance. If you don't, you have broken one of the fundamental rules of good planning and are headed down a dangerous path.

The contractor who suggests making decisions after the job has begun is committing one of remodeling's greatest crimes. Often, in order to generate quick cash, he suggests that the job be started right away. When queried about finish selections, he invariably responds by suggesting that they can be "made along the way." Avoid this contractor like the plague.

Whenever possible, make all selections before your remodeling project begins. This way, the contractor has a head start on ordering material and supplies, which contributes to an orderly, on time, and in-budget project. Finding out -- before your job begins -- that the kitchen tile you want takes eight weeks to get is far easier than scrambling around looking for an alternative or, worse yet, stopping the project for eight weeks.

Having the information in advance gives you ample time to make choices without being under tremendous pressure. And, if necessary, you can wait to begin the project until all of the finishes that you want are available for prompt installation. After all, you don't often remodel a bathroom or your kitchen, so you may as well have what you want.