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MCL March/April 2014 - Solutions for Spring
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Solutions for Spring: Fixing Leaks, Stains, and More

by Bob Guenin, Golden Rule Remodeling

Water stains on ceilings, ice dams, and possible wintertime roof leaks. Not one “polar vortex” but two in less than six weeks. The coldest temps in 20 years, alternating with above-freezing thermometer readings. In this scenario, many homeowners understandably feel like Chicken Little anxiously wondering if the sky is falling.

The story goes like this:  To keep warm during the winter we turn up the heat. We also use the stove/oven to cook food, we take hot showers and we often use warm mist humidifiers. Why do we experience water issues in winter but not other times of the year? Answer: a lack of proper insulation, ventilation or both.

Let’s look at a recent client example to identify factors that can contribute to reducing trapped heat and eliminating the cause of ceiling stains.

This particular home experienced heat loss from the kitchen above the stove/range into the attic that caused frosting/freezing in the attic. When above freezing temps returned, the melting of that frost/ice caused seasonal water stains and leaking around a kitchen light.  Old stains on the kitchen ceiling indicated a longstanding issue. Again, this situation only occurred in the winter during above freezing weather, which affirmed it was not a roof leak but a problem from within the structure. 

Inspections into the attic revealed: 1) No frost or ice build-up found during above freezing temps and frost/ice build-up found in a very specific area above the kitchen range on the roof decking in the attic during below freezing temps. It appeared to be very limited to only that area directly above the stove.  The stove did not have a properly vented range hood.

The older home had insulation in the attic but over time it gradually degraded in its ability to keep heat from escaping into the attic.  At this particular problem area there was old, matted down insulation that had been exposed to water over a chronic but indeterminate amount of time.  All of those factors decreased the performance of insulation.  So the ability of the home to keep heat where it’s supposed to be (inside the living space) and keep heat from escaping into the uncontrolled space (the attic) is reduced.

In the winter, normal activities like turning up the heat, cooking and taking baths/showers can — with the right contributing factors — make water stains appear.

Once heat escapes into the attic, vents in the roof, soffit and sometimes siding negate the heat that would otherwise stay and cause problems. If there is not enough ventilation, heat loss can cause frost/ice build-up in an attic during below freezing temperatures and melt when it gets warmer.

Proposed solutions for this client:

  1. Removal/replacement of existing insulation at frost/ice build-up point above the kitchen in attic with new 4 mil poly vapor barrier. Of note: Building codes may have changed since a home was originally built and so there may be no vapor barrier in the ceiling spaces of your home or walls.  
  2. Install gable vent in attic siding above oven/stove. This provides additional cold air into the space where too much heat is escaping into the attic space.  
  3. Install a properly vented range hood fan above oven/stove that vents the heat directly to the outside.  
  4. Install additional roof venting.

Upgrading insulation or clearing/adjusting/adding ventilation can resolve the trapped heat that can cause problems in winter weather. A timely inspection by a qualified contractor will identify the causes of such issues and assure a homeowner in this situation that the sky isn’t falling after all.

Bob Guenin is Craftsman & Owner of Shakopee-based Golden Rule Remodeling, Inc. He can be reached at bob@goldenremodel.com or 952.445.6390.

Published by Community Associations Institute — Minnesota Chapter, copyright 2013. All articles and paid advertising represent the opinions of authors and advertisers and not necessarily the opinion of either Minnesota Community Living or CAI–Minnesota Chapter. The information contained within should not be construed as a recommendation for any course of action regarding financial, legal, accounting, or other professional services by the CAI–Minnesota Chapter, or by Minnesota Community Living, or its authors. Articles, letters to the editor, and advertising may be sent to Monte Abeler at montea@cai-mn.com, or at CAI–Minnesota Chapter, 1000 Westgate Dr., Suite 252, St. Paul, MN 55114.

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