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Water, Ice & Steam Everywhere

posted Mar 3, 2010, 7:54 PM by Thomas Skrodzki

Heavy wind during snowstorms or rain storms can carry snow or rain through attic vents at times. This is normal. Often, the moisture will evaporate before you notice it. However, if there are water stains on the insulation or ceilings, you should have a roofer move or modify the vent.

Placing a pan below the vent is a good option for an occasional small leak. See the the Figure at the end of this paragraph. The water in the pan will evaporate without damage to your home. Don't try to get by using a pan for a large leak, though—it could lead to a large problem.

Ice Blocking the Gutters

In winter, ice can build up in the gutters, forming a condition called an ice dam.

The process is triggered by excessive heat in the attic. The heat warms the roof deck, causing rooftop snow to melt. The slushy melted snow flows down the roof and into the gutters. Since gutters aren't warmed by the escaping heat, they remain cold, and the slush refreezes there. As the process continues, the ice gets thicker, forming a dam.

Eventually, water ponds behind the ice (the same way water pools behind a river dam), and this water can leak through an asphalt shingle roof. Roof shingles are designed to shed water but will not resist ponding water. The leaks will occur just above the ice dams, penetrating the overhangs.

Your best defense against ice dams is to keep the attic cool with good ventilation and adequate insulation. The attic should have about R-40 (about 15”) of insulation. Close all air leaks into the attic, and insulate and seal all access doors.

Check ventilation openings. There should be about one square foot of ventilation per 150 square feet of attic floor space. Half the ventilation openings should be high in the attic and half should be in the overhangs. For homes with a vapor barrier below the insulation, the ventilation ratio is 1 per 300.

If ice dams persist even when there are no obvious problems with attic insulation and ventilation, you may need the help of a professional insulation contractor. Ventilation can be tricky with complicated roof designs. Air leaks from the heated space to the attic are a common cause of attic problems, but often they are hard to find.

Moisture on the Windows

Often, moisture (“steam”) condenses on windows in the fall with the start of the winter heating season. As long as moisture condenses only occasionally and disappears after several weeks, you don't need to do anything.

Condensation requires a cool surface and moisture in the air. Inside your home, when the temperature of the glass drops below the dew point of the inside air, invisible water vapor in the air condenses on the cool glass. More condensation occurs when there is more water vapor in the air and/or when glass surfaces become colder.

Over the summer, moisture slowly accumulates in furniture, walls, woodwork, cloth and other surfaces. In the fall, as the exterior temperature drops for the first time, some of this moisture condenses on cold window glass. Most moisture leaks out of your home as your furnace runs and vent fans are used. Eventually, all the materials in your home dry out, and moisture stops condensing on the windows. This normally takes a few weeks.

If condensation continues to form on windows after several weeks, your home may have excessive moisture. Most moisture problems can be solved by limiting sources of moisture and improving ventilation.

Reducing Severe Dampness Throughout the House

Some homes have problems with excessive moisture. It's most noticeable as condensation on windows. If moisture is excessive and stays on your windows for several days…if water runs off windows and damages wood surfaces…if ice forms on windows and frames…or if storm windows remained fogged up and icy all winter, you need to reduce the humidity level inside your home.

Condensation requires a cool surface and moisture in the air. Inside your home, when the temperature of the glass drops below the dew point of the inside air, invisible water vapor in the air condenses as water on the cool glass. More condensation occurs when there is more water vapor in the air and/or when glass surfaces become colder.

Evaluate changes you have made to your home—any effort to tighten up a home and reduce air infiltration will increase humidity levels. A high-efficiency furnace vented with two plastic pipes draws combustion air from outside and reduces ventilation. Weatherstripping, better windows, caulking, and any other measures you have taken to reduce air leaks will increase the amount of moisture retained inside your home.

Try to increase ventilation by running kitchen and bath exhaust fans whenever steam is produced by cooking or bathing/showering. In the bathroom, keep the fan running until the bathroom is dry. Add timer switches to the fans if necessary.

Limit the number of plants in your home. Look for plumbing leaks or damp areas in the basement. If basement crawl spaces have bare soil, cover the soil with a vapor barrier.

There are many other sources of moisture and ways to eliminate excess moisture. Often your local natural gas utility company can provide information on moisture problems. University extensions often have good booklets on solving moisture problems.

Excessive Winter Dryness Indoors

Humidification of air inside the home has been the subject of many articles and investigations. Manufactures of humidifiers have claimed that humidified air would protect us from health hazards, but there are no firm facts that humidified air is better for us. In fact, humidifiers can cause problems with excessive moisture and even mold or bacteria.

To decide on the need for a humidifier, evaluate the comfort of your home during the dead of winter. Many of today's tighter, energy-efficient homes don't need additional moisture. Condensation on windows indicates excessive humidity; in that case, you don't need a humidifier. However, if your nose and skin are dry, and static electricity is a problem, you may need a humidifier.

The best type is a central humidifier that mounts on a forced-air furnace. Look for one that flushes water over a panel and drains away excess water as it operates. It should be mounted on the return duct to prevent water leaks into the furnace, and it should have a humidistat control that automatically turns the unit on as needed.

Aprilaire is a quality brand of furnace-mounted humidifier. See Figure on right. Its newer models have a removable plastic cover that makes the unit easy to maintain. This type flushes water over a panel and doesn't require a water reservoir.

Portable humidifiers can operate with a reservoir and evaporative panel. To create mist, some use ultrasound, others use a spinning wheel (for a cool mist), and others use heat (making steam). I consider all of these types hard to maintain and difficult to control. Any unit with a water reservoir is a potential source of mold or bacteria and must be meticulously cleaned and disinfected on a routine basis.

Changing Social Media?????

posted Mar 2, 2010, 10:42 AM by Thomas Skrodzki

Hello, I know you are like me and use Facebook, Myspace, Twitter and so on to market yourself and your business and to stay in touch with family, clients and friends

There is something I want to show you that is literally going to change social networking.

I know you probably have multiple social accounts all over the web, but imagine if you could condense everything into one platform and never have to go anywhere else?

Wouldn't that take away some of the confusion of knowing where to go?

I don't know about you, but I don't know if I should be on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, FriendFinder, Okurt, Ning or what? It is a bit overwhelming...

Well, this new platform called moneza is taking care of that for us. They are working on a platform that will change social networking, and they are currently taking beta testers.

They are only keeping this open until March 13th, at 11:59 PM.

This means you do not have much time to register, so get to my link, which is:


Relax also because there is no cost. This is just a beta pre-enrollment, but the word is they will have special gifts for ALL beta testers, so go to the link and get registered.

You will also get your own special link to share with your contacts, and by using that link they will be tied to you when they register.

So, again just get to my link at:


OK, that is all I have for now. Don't waste any time because once the beta closes it will be too late to get the beta tester gift.

See you there!
Thomas Skrodzki

Animal-Proofing Your House

posted Feb 18, 2010, 6:10 PM by Thomas Skrodzki

Some animals that come into the backyard are fun and relaxing to watch, some aren't. How many times have you had to clean up after the raccoons, or been woken up by their drum solos. Rats and mice are annoying, dirty, unwanted guests. Bats can make a lot of racket with their nocturnal parties. Skunks can, well, skunks are just smelly. All these animals come looking for food and shelter. The best way to keep them from coming is to animal-proof your house so they won't find what they're looking for and have to move down the road. There are three major steps to animal-proof you house: eliminate source of food, eliminate shelter and access to your house and getting rid of an animal that gets in your house.

Eliminate Source of Food: To eliminate one food source, pick up any fruits or nuts that drop from your trees. The dropped food is an easy buffet for raccoons and other prowling creatures. Another source of food is garbage. Keep your garbage in the garage, until garbage day; when this isn't possible it is important to get air-tight garbage cans with lids. If you have some particularly clever raccoons, this might not stop them. Then get a rack in which to place the garbage cans so that they can't be turned over.

* Tip: If the raccoons keep getting into your garbage, try adding one cup of ammonia to the garbage bag before you close it up. The smell drives raccoons away and keeps them from spreading the garbage all over. After a while they learn to not even open the garbage.

A compost heap can be food to many animals. You need to keep the compost covered with a heavy lid and avoid putting meats into it. Pet food is another source of food for wild animals. If your pet is an outdoor animal, try not to leave its food lying about. Feed it and when it is done take the food away.

Eliminate Shelter and Access to Your House: The first thing to do is make sure that you don't have any cracks or holes that lead outside. They could be on the roof, in the house or foundation. If you find these problems, just caulk or patch them. Another access is the vents that are in your attic, which is a great way for bats to get in. Just screen these vents off with insect screen.

* Tip: Wait until dusk to patch any holes in the attic if you have bats. This way all the bats are out of your house and won't be able to get back in


Protect window wells with plastic window well covers. This keeps animals and water out. Some animals are diggers so you want to put screen under your deck or porch. You may have to embed it into the ground to keep raccoons and skunks from digging under a porch or deck. It is also important to protect your chimney. Birds and animals tend to think of this as a perfect nesting area. The best way to keep them out is to put on a chimney cap. (If only they had one in "The Birds!") These can be bought at your local hardware store and they are easy to install. Another thing to protect is your dryer vent. Your local hardware store can sell you protected dryer vents, which are very easy to install. Of course, even with your best efforts, occasionally animals do get in.

* Tip: Sometimes animals or birds get into the chimney. The best way to get them out without hurting them is to put a panful of ammonia into the fireplace. Close the fireplace doors and open the flue. The smell of the ammonia goes up the chimney and after a short while the animals clear out. When you are sure that there are no more animals up there, put on a chimney cap.

Getting Animals Out of House: The first thing to do is to leave the animal alone. Don't chase it around and don't try and pick it up yourself. Some animals carry disease and can bite through gloves. If you give it room it will probably leave the way it came in.

* Tip: If a bat is in your house, don't be afraid, bats rarely bite. The best thing to do is open a window. Then close off the room from the rest of the house. Turning out the lights helps. With the lights on, a bat seeks a dark place which is usually your furniture or curtains. The open window gives it a way out and eventually a bat leaves on its own. (Don't go chasing it with a baseball bat, it won't help.) If they are in the attic, wait until dusk and then find the hole they used to come in and patch it up. The hole might be small, a bat can squeeze through a crack that is only 1/2 inch.

Some animals enjoy your home and just won't leave. In that case you can try trapping the animal. There are a wide variety of live traps that don't kill the animal. All you have to do is bait them and wait. The bait you use depends on the animal. For a chipmunk or a squirrel, peanut butter works best. Sardines are good bait for raccoons or opossums while tuna fish works on skunks. Corn cobs work for rabbits and woodchucks.

If you catch the animal in the trap, transport it to some woods or take it to a wildlife agency. They can then release the animal. Make sure you don't do anything with the trap or animal without gloves on.

If you don't want to trap it yourself or you've trapped it but don't know what to do next, you can call animal control or a pest control agency.

Ice Dams

posted Feb 1, 2010, 9:54 AM by Thomas Skrodzki

by Timothy Larson, Lewis Hendricks, and Patrick Huelman, Revisions by Richard Stone

What is an ice dam?
An ice dam is a ridge of ice that forms at the edge of a roof and prevents melting snow (water) from draining off the roof. The water that backs up behind the dam can leak into a home and cause damage to walls, ceilings, insulation, and other areas. Figure 1 shows a cross section of a home with an ice dam.
Figure 1. Cross section of a one-and-a-half story house with an ice dam.

What causes ice dams?
There is a complex interaction among the amount of heat loss from a house, snow cover, and outside temperatures that leads to ice dam formation. For ice dams to form there must be snow on the roof, and, at the same time, higher portions of the roof's outside surface must be above 32° F while lower surfaces are below 32°F. For a portion of the roof to be below 32°F, outside temperatures must also be below 32°F. When we say temperatures above or below 32°F, we are talking about average temperature over sustained periods of time.
The snow on a roof surface that is above 32°F will melt. As water flows down the roof it reaches the portion of the roof that is below 32°F and freezes. Voila!—an ice dam.

The dam grows as it is fed by the melting snow above it, but it will limit itself to the portions of the roof that are on the average below 32°F. So the water above backs up behind the ice dam and remains a liquid. This water finds cracks and openings in the exterior roof covering and flows into the attic space. From the attic it could flow into exterior walls or through the ceiling insulation and stain the ceiling finish.
Non-uniform roof surface temperatures lead to ice dams.

What causes different roof surface temperatures?
Since most ice dams form at the edge of the roof, there is obviously a heat source warming the roof elsewhere. This heat is primarily coming from the house. In rare instances solar heat gain may cause these temperature differences.
Heat from the house travels to the roof surface in three ways: conduction, convection, and radiation. Conduction is heat energy traveling through a solid. A good example of this is the heating of a cast iron frying pan. The heat moves from the bottom of the pan to the handle by conduction.

If you put your hand above the frying pan, heat will reach it by the other two methods. The air right above the frying pan is heated and rises. The rising air carries heat/energy to your hand. This is heat transfer by convection. In addition, heat is transferred from the hot pan to your hand by electromagnetic waves and this is called radiation. Another example of radiation is to stand outside on a bright sunny day and feel the heat from the sun. This heat is transferred from the sun to you by radiation.

In a house, heat moves through the ceiling and insulation by conduction through the slanted portion of the ceiling (Figure 1). In many homes, there is little space in regions like this for insulation, so it is important to use insulations with high R-value per inch to reduce heat loss by conduction.

The top surface of the insulation is warmer than the other surroundings in the attic. Therefore, the air just above the insulation is heated and rises, carrying heat by convection to the roof. The higher temperatures in the insulation's top surface compared to the roof sheathing transfers heat outward by radiation. These two modes of heat transfer can be reduced by adding insulation. This will make the top surface temperature of the insulation closer to surrounding attic temperatures directly affecting convection and radiation from this surface.

There is another type of convection that transfers heat to the attic space and warms the roof. In Figure 1, the winding arrow beginning inside the house and going through the penetration in the ceiling, from the light to the attic space, illustrates heat loss by air leakage. In many homes this is the major mode of heat transfer that leads to the formation of ice dams.
Exhaust systems like those in the kitchen or bathroom that terminate just above the roof may also contribute to snow melting. These exhaust systems may have to be moved or extended in areas of high snow fall.
Other sources of heat in the attic space include chimneys. Frequent use of wood stoves and fireplaces allow heat to be transferred from the chimney into the attic space. Inadequately insulated or leaky duct work in the attic space will also be a source of heat. The same can be said about kneewall spaces.

Photograph 1 shows a single story house with an ice dam. The points of heat loss can be clearly seen as those areas with no snow. The ceiling below this area needs to be examined for air leakage, missing or inadequate insulation, leaky or poorly insulated ductwork, and the termination of a kitchen or bathroom exhaust into the attic space.
Photograph 1. A single-story house with an ice dam. The areas without snow are the points of heat loss.

Photograph 2 illustrates unusually high heat loss from the roof. There is very little snow left on the roof and at its edge is both an ice dam and a "beautiful" row of icicles.

Photograph 2. The unusually high heat loss on this roof has caused both an ice dam and icicles.

So it is primarily heat flowing from the house that is causing the nonuniform temperatures of the roof surface leading to ice dams.

Ice dams can be prevented by controlling the heat loss from the home.

Dealing with ice dams
Immediate action: Remove snow from the roof. This eliminates one of the ingredients necessary for the formation of an ice dam. A "roof rake" and push broom can be used to remove snow, but may damage the roofing materials. In an emergency situation where water is flowing into the house structure, making channels through the ice dam allows the water behind the dam to drain off the roof. Hosing with tap water on a warm day will do this job. Work upward from the lower edge of the dam. The channel will become ineffective within days and is only a temporary solution to ice dam damage.

Long-term action:
 First, make the ceiling air tight so no warm, moist air can flow from the house into the attic space.
After sealing air leakage paths between the house and attic space, consider increasing the ceiling/roof insulation to cut down on heat loss by conduction.

Both of these actions will increase the snow load that your roof has to carry because it will no longer melt. Can your roof carry the additional load? If it is built to current codes, there should not be a structural problem. Roofs, like the rest of the home, should have been designed to withstand expected snow loads. In Minnesota, plans showing design details to meet expected snow loads are usually required to receive a building permit. The plans for your home may be on file at your local building inspection office. To help you understand the plans, or if you cannot find plans for your home, you may want to contact an architectural engineering firm. A professional engineer should be able to evaluate the structure of your home and answer your questions about the strength of your roof. Natural roof ventilation can help maintain uniform roof temperatures, but if the long-term actions described here are done effectively, then only small amounts of roof ventilation are needed to maintain uniform roof surface temperatures. If heat transfer has been reduced substantially, then snow will build up on the roof and cover natural roof ventilation systems, reducing attic ventilation rates. Natural attic ventilation systems are needed to dry the attic space and remove heat buildup during the summer.

Mechanical attic ventilation IS NOT a recommended solution to ice dams. It can create other attic moisture problems and may cause undesirable negative pressure in the home.

WARNING! Any person on the roof during the winter or performing work on the roof from below is risking injury and risking damage to the roof and house. It is important to contact professionals to carry out this job. Whenever a house is tightened up, ventilation systems, exhausting devices, and combustion devices must have enough air to operate safely and effectively!

Weatherization contractors, who may be listed under Energy Management and Conservation Consultants or Insulation Contractors in the Yellow Pages, are professionals who can deal with the heat transfer problem that creates ice dams. A blower door test should be used by the contractor you hire to evaluate the airtightness of your ceiling. In addition, they may have an infrared camera that can be used to find places in the ceiling where there is excessive heat loss.

Interior damage should not be repaired until ceilings and walls are dry. In addition, interior repair should be done together with correcting the heat loss problem that created the ice dam(s) or the damage will occur again.
Preventing ice dams in new homes The proper new construction practices to prevent ice dams begin with following or exceeding the state code requirements for ceiling/roof insulation levels.

The second absolutely necessary practice is to construct a continuous, 100% effective air barrier through the ceiling. There should not be any air leakage from the house into the attic space!
Recessed lights, skylights, complicated roof designs, and heating ducts in the attic will all increase the risk of ice dam formation.

Mold, mildew, and air quality Moisture entering the home from ice dams can lead to the growth of mold and mildew. These biologicals can cause respiratory problems. It is important that the growth of mold and mildew be prevented. This can be done by immediately drying out portions of the house that are wet or damp. See immediate action steps listed earlier to get rid of the water source. Action needs to be taken to clean the home environment and maintain its air quality.

Additional sources of information that address these issues are listed below. The Minnesota Office of Energy Security - Energy Information Center has publications available online at or can be contacted by phone at (651) 696-5175 or (800) 657-3710. INFO-U Consumer Line scripts are available at (search for topics such as mildew).
WW-01068 Revised 2009

Timothy Larson, former Assistant Professor, Department of Wood and Paper Science Lewis Hendricks, Former Extension Educator, Forest Products Patrick Huelman, Extension Specialist, Building and Energy Systems Richard Stone, Extension Educator in Housing Technology

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