Recognizing and Controlling Moisture Buildup in the Home

Recognizing and Controlling Moisture Buildup in the Home

When warm air from the tropics encounters a cold front, the results are often thunderstorms. When warm moist air from indoors makes its way into cooler walls and attic spaces, the result is condensation which leads to mold, rot and rust. And there is no time when this is more prevalent than early spring.

While everyone talks about the weather and can do nothing about it, moisture in homes can be controlled. The way to deal with it is to determine if there is a problem, understand where it comes from and then learn to control it.

Where Moisture in Homes Originates

Typically, moisture in the form of excess humidity is produced in homes just by the act of living in them. Taking a shower, cooking a meal, even breathing all add moisture to indoor air. You don’t necessarily need a leaky roof or seepage from masonry surfaces to create excess humidity, although they will certainly contribute to the problem.

When moist inside air contacts cold exterior surfaces the moisture in the air condenses to form water. Once this water is released from the air it can do its damage. For example, if a bathroom fan exhausts warm moist into the attic (instead of outside as it should) the air will mix with the cold air in the attic. When this happens the moisture in the air will either condense on attic surfaces or worse, create its own mini weather system complete with a small rain shower in your attic.

To a lesser degree this same effect can happen in exterior walls, around single pane windows, on the side of a refrigerator or anywhere inside air meets the cold outside air.

Symptoms of Moisture Problems

If you suspect moisture problems look for the following signs:

  • mold, fungus or mildew on interior surfaces
  • efflorescence (salt deposits) on both interior and exterior surfaces
  • flaking paint and peeling wallpaper
  • corrosion on metal surfaces including metal surfaces in basements and attics
  • condensation on windows and walls
  • warped, cracked, or rotted wood
  • chipped or cracked masonry surfaces
  • ice dams in gutters and on roofs
  • dank and musty smells

Controlling Moisture

The best way to control excess humidity is to stop it at its source.

  • Fix all leaks, roofs, pipes and radiators.
  • Control seepage through masonry by applying waterproofing treatments.
  • Keep moist air away from cold surfaces by plugging holes in walls and sealing fixtures and outlets.
  • Seal leaks in ventilation systems.
  • Make sure that exhaust fans, such as those in bathrooms and kitchens, vent outside.
  • Consider upgrading poorly insulated windows and doors.
  • Adjust your heating system to take in at least 10 percent of its air from outside. This will improve indoor air quality.
  • Turn on fans and open windows when showering or cooking.

Treating Moisture Damage

Finally, once excess humidity is under control, it is important to treat and repair all moisture damage promptly. Moldy areas should be scraped clean and washed with bleach. In most cases, damaged wood should be removed because rot will often continue even after the source of water has been removed.

Don’t delay repairs. Spores from mold and other fungi can be released into the air and can lead to various respiratory illnesses.

To determine whether you have solved your moisture problems, you may want to test with a moisture meter or have a professional tester check for you. Inserting the moisture meter probes into plaster, wood or other building materials lets you test in areas you cannot see. If the levels are too high, then you have a problem. If not, then you can rest easy.

10 Warning Signs of Trouble Brewing in Your House

10 Warning Signs of Trouble Brewing in Your House

Just like a car that sputters when something is amiss under the hood, houses send out warnings of their own. Protect your home investment — not to mention your security — by learning some of the warning signs and seeking help when necessary. Be sure not to ignore the red flags listed below — left untreated, these small problems can become big, expensive disasters.

1.      Water bills suddenly increase for no obvious reason: If you haven’t left the hose running for a few days by mistake, you may have a water leak someplace underground where it can’t be seen. To confirm whether this is the case, shut off all the water in the house and check the water meter reading over the period of an hour. If the flow continues, you have a leak.

2.      Toilets flush slowly and drains are sluggish: Because toilets quickly dump a lot of water down waste lines, they are usually the first to exhibit symptoms of a clog or trouble with a septic system. If other drains are also slow, you can be sure that it is the whole system that is not working properly and not just one cranky fixture. Untreated clogs can become a big, smelly mess.

3.      There are dark wall stains, musty odors and rusty nails, but no leaks: Water damage does not always come from an obvious source like a leaky pipe or roof. In many homes, poor ventilation can cause water damage that is just as bad as a leak from a burst pipe. In fact, it can be worse because it often goes undetected longer and can cause health problems from associated mold and mildew problems.

4.      Doors and windows will not close or keep opening, and there are mysterious cracks that keep getting larger: Your home could be settling unevenly. Small expansion cracks in concrete or plaster are usually nothing to worry about, but if there are more problems you should call a structural engineer.

5.      Appliance pilot lights need to be continually relit: The thermocouple is probably faulty. This is the safety device that shuts off the gas to an appliance when it senses that the pilot light is no longer burning. A thermocouple is a «fail safe» device — that is, when it becomes defective, it performs its intended function regardless of need. So although your pilot may be on, a malfunctioning thermocouple will still shut the pilot light and the gas off.

6.      Clothes come out of the dryer too hot or still damp: Lint often clogs dryer vents that are too long or kinked. In some cases this will even lead to fires. To solve the problem, dryer vents should be kept as short and straight as possible and cleaned at least once a year.

7.      You have flu and allergy-like symptoms whenever you are at home: Dirty air filters and air ducts in your home heating/cooling system can fill your home with sickening mold and bacteria. Other causes may include adhesives and chemicals in furniture and rugs, and a lack of fresh air circulating into your home.

8.      Switches and plugs are hot; electric boxes sizzle; lights dim and breakers are trip: These are symptoms of a seriously overburdened electrical system. Switches and plugs that get hot when you use them; sizzles and buzzes in electric boxes; lights that dim when you turn on other appliances; and breakers and fuses that continually need to be reset or replaced are red flags saying you need to upgrade your electrical system. Unchecked, this problem could escalate into a fire hazard.

9.      You notice small holes in wood surfaces, mud tunnels along foundations and sawdust: Sounds like termites are taking over. These pests are a common problem, especially in southern states. Because termites do most of their damage where it cannot be seen — inside the wood — you should always be on the lookout for warning signs. Have your home inspected if you suspect termites are present.

10.  Small piles of sand appear around roof drains and gutters: When an asphalt composite (tar paper) roof starts to deteriorate, the little grains of sand stuck to the paper start to fall off. When enough grains have fallen off that you can see bare patches, it’s time for a new roof.

Preparing Your Home for Sale — Guide to Small Repairs and Fixes

Preparing Your Home for Sale — Guide to Small Repairs and Fixes

If you’re getting ready to move out or let prospective home buyers snoop through your home, you should check and fix, if necessary, the following common problem areas.

Indoor Repairs

  • Repair leaky faucets, sinks, dishwashers.
  • If you see any sign of wall mildew or dampness, check for broken pipes inside the walls.
  • Replace rusted, leaky garbage disposals.
  • Replace significantly cracked floor tiles.
  • Tack down loose carpeting or restretch and reattach wall-to-wall carpets.
  • Repair holes in walls (from doorknobs) and other damage.
  • Repair split door jams.
  • Test and ensure that all light fixtures and wall outlets work properly.
  • Remove or bring to code any jury-rigged garage, workshop, attic or basement wiring.
  • Remove soap scum, mildew and stains from bathrooms and kitchens.
  • Empty and clean all cabinets.


  • Check fireplace gas valves and dampers to ensure proper operation.
  • Repair cracks to fire box and outside chimney.
  • Install chimney-top spark arrester.

Exterior Repairs

  • Repair loose railings, steps and outdoor carpeting.
  • Bring exterior lighting to code or remove.
  • Replace cracked window panes and window caulking.
  • Replace torn screens.
  • Make sure all windows open and close properly and smoothly.
  • Repair wobbly fencing and replace rotting wood.
  • Repair sticky gates and broken latches.
  • Replace broken sprinkler heads and repair leaks.
  • Check that garage doors hang properly and that door openers work.
  • Install missing gutters and downspouts.
  • Clean any debris and get rid of any junk.

Pools and Spas

  • Repair pool/spa leaks and cracks, plus cracks in coping.
  • Check operation of heater, pump, filter and underwater lights.
  • Repair clogged spa jets.


  • Trim back tree limbs from house or eaves.
  • Cut back ivy and other vegetation from wood-paneled exteriors.
  • Weed and edge all beds.
  • Clean any debris.


Ten Easy Projects to Renew Your Kitchen

Ten Easy Projects to Renew Your Kitchen

Need a creative, quick save to rescue your faded kitchen but have limited time and money? Here’s how to have a “like-new” kitchen on a slim budget.

These are projects any do-it-yourselfer can accomplish on a barebones budget and still end up with a dynamite result. Some of these projects can even pull together a rented apartment kitchen without upsetting your landlord.

Get started in the morning and be finished in time for dinner guests.

1. Paint. The first and primary hint: paint works miracles on everything. If it holds still, paint it neatly, inside and out. Don’t think colors; think both shine and texture. Old wood tone cabinets spray-painted high-gloss white or hand painted with oil-base in creamy white provides yards of look for very little cash.

Then repaint the walls with latex satin enamel in soft sheen or no sheen. Use a color to contrast with your » new cabinets.» Feeling adventurous? Paint pulls and hinges, too. If you have poor cabinetry, this technique can really pull it together.

2. Pulls. When renovating cabinetry, new pulls add punch. In a small kitchen, put money into pulls and hardware. Expensive pulls can make the worst cabinets sing. Consider vintage pulls.

3. Exposed shelves. Less is more. Look at the cabinets and consider which doors could be removed to expose the shelving. Open shelving helps a kitchen look bigger. Display your favorite dishes, baskets, etc., for a new, updated look. Paint the inside of the cabinets the same as the outside or contrasting or bright color for snap.

4. Glass doors. Replace solid cupboard doors with glass fronts. The glass can be clear or frosted or you can get vintage doors and master them to fit. Showcase dishes, glassware, silver — anything displayable. You can also line the inside glass with sheer fabric. And if you’ve removed some doors to create open shelves, the glass fronts add beautifully to the look.

5. Lighting. Track lights brighten up any kitchen. Wire suspension lights can make the space look contemporary and new. Paper lanterns add life and freshness. All three types of lighting put light where you need it, create space or raise the ceiling. If you have a very small kitchen, make a box or rectangle of lights with extra small halogen bulbs.

6. Tile. Have new countertops in a day. Here’s when it pays to have a small kitchen. If the counter space is not too large, go ahead and splurge on expensive tile. It will make the entire kitchen look luxurious. Or, for small counters, consider buying vintage tile. Tiling a small countertop is simple. Don’t be afraid of irregularities.

7. Floors. Today there are countless self-stick tiles that can be added for a quick floor revamp. Floating wood floors and wood tiles can be done in an afternoon. Or, paint the floor a dark color such as black, then tie in the wall or cabinet color by using that paint to rag or faux finish over the darker floor color.

8. Faucets. Here’s another feature to invest in. Flashy new faucets can make an old sink fade back. Faucets in white or chrome with pull-out sprays look great and, for the money, say » new kitchen.»

9. Mirrors. One of the best ways to add space without permanent alterations is to attach a glossy white-framed mirror to the wall at the end of a galley kitchen. It will add dimension and space. Place one above the refrigerator, or hang one on a cabinet for drama.

10. Window coverings. A new window covering makes the window and the wall look fresh. A matchstick blind cut to size or a metal-tone miniblind adds texture and controls light. Small shutters loosely fitted into a window frame can be installed in an afternoon and are readily available in white or natural. Paint them, faux finish them, stain them or leave them alone.


Control Clutter with a Mud Room

Control Clutter with a Mudroom

«All right! Who tracked mud all over my nice, clean house?!!» Sounds like someone’s in trouble now… A mudroom could solve this problem, and many others, too. Before you assume that this does not apply to you, consider what a mudroom is and how some version of it may be helpful to you.

What is a Mudroom?

Originally, a mudroom was a room or area near the most commonly used entrance, and served as a place to remove snow-covered, wet or muddy clothing and footwear. In a broader sense, it could be any well-designed utility space near the entrance of a home and that is used to organize frequently used gear.

For a family, this gear might be umbrellas, boots, gloves and other wet or muddy clothing. It could also be sports equipment, roller blades, helmets, backpacks, or anything family members need to deposit on the way into the house or grab on the way out of the house, even leashes, mail and keys. And any gardener can track as much mud into the house as any self-respecting 8-year-old.

Initial Considerations

Location: What is the most frequently used entrance? If it is the front, formal entrance, the design will be something quite different than a rear or side door. If the entrance is from the garage into the house, an area inside the garage and near the door can be used.

Size: An entryway or utility room inside the door is a wonderful place to create a mudroom. However, even a well organized corner can be tremendously useful.

Uses: While the primary benefit may come in rainy and snowy seasons, think year-round. This space can be useful 12 months a year.

Key Elements of a Mudroom

The floor: The floor should be durable, provide traction when wet and be easy to clean. Concrete and vinyl are durable but tend to be slippery if they are not textured. Wood has obvious problems with constant moisture. Look into what is available in textured rubber, ceramic or unpolished tile. Whatever the decision, get two doormats: a heavy-duty mat outside made of bristle or rubber to scrape off mud and snow and another light-duty mat inside to absorb moisture.

A place to sit: It’s important to have a comfortable and convenient bench to sit on while removing or putting on footwear. The bench can fit with the decor of a formal entryway or informal back door. A seat with a hinged top and storage inside can also help reduce clutter.

All-important storage: Some serious planning for what is needed will make the mudroom especially useful. Consider the following items.

  • Coat hooks or wooden pegs (at kid-friendly height, if applicable) are a great start. Space them so wet clothes can dry evenly and quickly.
  • Bins or cubbies can be a good place for books or backpacks, keeping them clean and dry. Add one for dry towels.
  • Bins for sports equipment can keep clutter confined and organized.
  • A mesh shelf is a good place for wet gloves and hats.
  • Add an out-of-the-way shelf for purses, briefcases, cell phones or sunglasses.
  • Use a boot tray to dry muddy shoes and boots.
  • A key rack keeps keys organized and accessible.
  • Add a hook for the dog’s leash.

A well-planned mudroom can be a valuable asset to your home. Designed with decor appropriate to its location in your home and equipped to be functional, it can help you organize, control clutter and keep mud out of your home. And, a mudroom can keep you out of trouble.


Ten Ways to Save Ten Percent or More on your Next Home Improvement

10 Ways to Save 10 Percent or More on Your Next Home Improvement

Home improvement is the new national pastime. But no one wants to spend more money than they need to fix up their home.

Here are 10 ideas you can use to save 10 percent – or perhaps much more – on your next home improvement.

1.      Consider less expensive alternatives. For example, if you want to add a fireplace, consider a prefabricated gas fireplace instead of a traditional masonry fireplace. The cost of the prefabricated fireplace will likely be much less than just the cost of the masonry chimney (without the masonry fireplace). New gas fireplaces complete with glowing embers look quite realistic. And once you start a fireplace with the flick of a switch, you’ll never want to deal with the mess of a real fire again.

2.      When searching for a contractor make sure you get at least three bids. Estimates will likely vary widely from one contractor to another. But at the same time, if you get one price that is 50 percent less expensive than the other two, that should be a cause for alarm. There may be a good reason why one contractor is cheaper than another: one might have lower overhead; another might be willing to work for a lower hourly rate; still another might not be very busy or may have just lost another job. But a price lower by 50 percent may mean that the low-priced contractor may not be including everything – and the same quality of materials or workmanship – in his bid. Find the contractor you would like to work with and try to work out a better price. Tell the contractor you would like to work with about the lower estimates. Then tell him you would like to work with him but you need a better price. Chances are you will get it.

3.      Hire contractors during their slow time. If you live in the north and need trees removed in your yard, call contractors in February. Prices will be much better, and given that your yard will be frozen, the heavy equipment will do less damage. Other contractors get very slow around the holidays at the end of the year. If you don’t mind the disruption, you might get a better price, and a job that gets done more quickly.

4.      Spend at least twice as much time planning the job as it will take to complete. Change orders on jobs once they begin are expensive – oftentimes very expensive. Do your best to limit the amount of changes after you sign the contract – it will save you time and money.

5.      Offer good terms. One of the most challenging parts of being a contractor is dealing with cash flow. Some clients pay very slowly – others have to be reminded over and over. Offering to pay cash can get contractors to sharpen their pencils, provide better pricing, and better service.

6.      Do the job yourself. If you have the talent, time and energy, becoming a weekend warrior can be rewarding. For the office worker who spends his or her workweek becoming mentally exhausted, getting the opportunity to do some physical work is often a welcome outlet. But remember, you will need to complete the job to professional standards, or you aren’t saving much money at all. Sloppy painting, careless carpentry, improper electrical work, or leaky plumbing can cost you more money to get the job fixed. You won’t get a good price from a contractor if you invite them to come fix the job you have made a mess of. As the song goes, get it right the first time.

7.      An alternative to doing the entire job yourself is to pick the portion of a larger job that you can save the most doing. Some contractors shy away from demolition. If the thought of knocking out a wall in your house doesn’t make you cringe, this is an area in which you might be able to save a lot of money. Some homeowners also choose to do the final work – the painting on an addition, the tile in a bathroom, the wallpaper in the kitchen. But you might also find that your job has other parts that are priced inordinately high – for example insulating a single room might cost nearly as much as an entire house.

8.      If you have the expertise, but not the time, consider being the general contractor. Here you have the ability to save 15 to 20 percent of the total cost of the project. However, those savings will come at a cost – your time. You’ll need to organize the job, schedule the subcontractors, and mediate any issues between the subcontractors – sometimes in the middle of your work day. It will be up to you to insure that the job goes smoothly – making sure the job continues without delay, but at the same time ensuring you don’t have too many subcontractors tripping over one another on the job site.

9.      Don’t always buy household named materials. Just because a product has a household name doesn’t mean it is the best, nor is it automatically worth 25 percent more than a similar product. There are good reasons why some products are priced higher than others. But at the same time, there are many products on the market that offer quality workmanship for 10-25 percent less than the best-known product in that category.

10.  The lowest price is not the lowest cost. You need to balance cost and quality. For example, buying the bargain-basement ceiling fan that needs replacing six months later didn’t save you money – it actually cost you more money when you had to replace it. Some building materials that are 40 percent lower than others might not be of the same quality (for example, faucets sold at national home improvement chains are often not the same quality as those found in plumbing supply houses). Decide on the quality of workmanship and materials you need and then find contractors or materials that provide what you desire.

Take your time planning your next home improvement – you may be living with it for the rest of your life.


Five Home Improvements that Don’t Always add Value

Five Home Improvements That Don’t Always Add Value to Your Home

Not-So-Sure-Fire Improvements

  • Adding a pool
  • Adding high-end accessories
  • Adding wall-to-wall carpeting
  • Adding elaborate landscaping
  • Adding new windows

Everywhere you look these days, folks are sprucing up their homes. Although interest rates are rising, consumers are still enamored with the home improvement craze and with good reason. They have a lot invested. Balances on home-equity lines of credit have soared 71 percent to $543.2 billion over the last two years, according to an analysis by Equifax Inc. and Moody’s Although some of this money was spent on consolidating high-interest credit card debt, vacations, and college tuitions, a large portion was earmarked by homeowners for improvements to increase the value of their homes. The problem, however, is that many of their investments may fail to recoup even half of their original spend.

You can’t contemplate home improvement in a vacuum. While a media room is one of today’s hottest remodeling projects, if your house is in dire need of an additional bathroom, then theater-style seating and soundproof walls will most likely be a wash at resale. If watching the latest blockbuster with your family in the comfort of your own home is worth more to you than whether you will recoup 60 to 80 percent of the project’s cost at resale, then go for it. But don’t expect potential buyers to get lathered up about the built-in surround sound system when the insect-damaged front deck is in need of serious attention. Below are five home improvements that don’t always increase the value of your home.

Swimming Pools

You may envision hours of summer leisure and family fun. Potential homebuyers see maintenance, expense, and LAWSUITS. If you want to spend $75,000 on an in-ground pool and are prepared to get nothing in return for that investment î º except the pleasure of cooling off every night after work î º then go right ahead. Pools are actually one investment that can actually lower the value of your home. It is not uncommon today that a contingency of sale is that the current home seller must dismantle the above-ground pool or fill in an in-ground pool before the buyers will sign on the dotted line.

High-end Accessories

Unless your home is of similar quality throughout, don’t over-improve one or two rooms with high-end accessories to the exclusion of everything else. You won’t recoup even half the money you spend on a restaurant-quality cook top, a whisper-quiet dishwasher, and imported Italian floor tiles if you only have one bathroom with pitted vinyl flooring, a leaky faucet, and bedrooms that haven’t had a change of paint since the 1960s. A rule of thumb is to keep everything in your home of similar style and quality and keep your home within the top 25 percent of other homes in your neighborhood.

Wall-to-wall carpeting

Beat-up wall-to-wall carpeting may detract from the value of your home, but ripping it all out and replacing it with new carpeting isn’t necessarily the solution. First of all, good-quality carpet is getting more expensive, upwards of $15 to $25 a square yard, and that doesn’t include installation. The other problem is that your choice of carpeting color and style may not match the decorative vision of any potential homebuyers. It might be better to remove the carpeting and take the money you would have spent on replacing it and spend it on refinishing your hardwood floors instead. Then you can add small area or hallway rugs where they make the most fashion and comfort sense. These can be either kept in place or removed during home showings when it comes time to sell.

Elaborate Landscaping

Other than a pleasing-looking lawn and plantings that complement rather than over-power your home, landscaping doesn’t necessarily add a whole lot of value to your home. It is mainly for own enjoyment. Elaborate gardens that will need extensive care, possibly of a gardener, may not recoup even a quarter of your investment at resale. Hardscape, such as stone walls and fences, is attractive, but most buyers won’t even consider them in the value equation.

New Windows

With energy prices on the rise, installing replacement windows is an improvement many homeowners are considering. However, double-hung windows can cost anywhere between $200 and $300 and, unless you’re a DIY wizard, you will have to pay someone to install them. With energy savings and an estimated resale value that hovers around 85 percent, according to Remodeling Magazine, standard replacement windows make sense in some cases. If your windows are in poor shape, with cracked and/or loose panes, sashes that are difficult or impossible to operate, and glass that just won’t come clean no matter how much you scrub, replacing windows can provide you with a good return on your investment. However, if your windows are in good shape, your return will be much lower.