Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Ductwork Condensation and Fix

One evening in the middle of last month my wife pointed out to me that it looked like we had leak in the ceiling of our mudroom. A small but noticeable wet spot had appeared where the wall met the ceiling.

The water spot.

During the construction of the house I had extensively photographed every step of the build especially before the drywall was put up. A coworker had advised me to do in case there was ever any question of where wiring, plumbing, etc was and I'm glad I did. After looking at the pictures I realized there wasn't any plumbing in the area and it was more than likely an issue with the ductwork. In the Sienna the main air duct for downstairs runs most of the length of the center of the house. I noticed in the pictures I took during the build that the duct was insulated in the wall in the garage but was uninsulated starting where it crossed over into the house above the mudroom door. (I was told during the resolution of this incident that the duct inside the mudroom ceiling is considered to be in "conditioned space" so insulation around it isn't necessary.)

A few weeks before this happened one of my neighbors with a Florence told us that they had developed a leak in their laundry room that turned out to be condensation dripping from the duct work. Several others in our neighborhood reported similar issues and were told that at least with the Florence model it was a design flaw where hot air was leaking into the space above the ceiling, hitting the cold duct work, condensing, and creating the leak. They were also told that even though several of them had been in their houses for several years the issue hadn't occurred until now because the previous two summers had been rather mild. By contrast the last few months have been horrendously hot and humid.

Because of that and even though we've been in our house for two and a half years and beyond the warranty period I called the service line after texting back and forth with our service manager. The current SM for our neighborhood called me within an hour and agreed to come out and take a look at the issue the following week.

Upon arriving he used a moisture meter (I need to get one of these) to check the walls and ceiling around the first floor. From there he realized it was confined to the mudroom and then cut a hole in the ceiling under the duct.

Given the pattern of the moisture on the duct (it only extended out a few feet) the determination was made that hot air was leaking in through the wall above the mudroom door. Expanding foam was sprayed around the wall and the wet 2x4 was replaced. The cover of the outside vent for the half bath vent fan was also removed and foam sprayed around that duct. Just like with the issue in the Florence noted above I was told this problem didn't occur until this summer because of how awful the heat and humidity was. We more than likely had some condensation in previous summers but it was never enough to drip through the ceiling and be noticeable because we never had such extended periods of extreme heat.

The ceiling was left open for a few days and we discovered the duct was still dripping. So another contractor was dispatched to use a different spray foam in the cavity and around the duct. A laser thermometer was also used to check the temperature in various spots.

After a few more days with plastic covering the hole we had no more condensation and an appointment was set up to replace the drywall. (The contractor that came out also fixed a settlement crack that had developed near there as well.) All that's left is for us to repaint soon. 

While the house was being built I was amazed at how thorough the construction crews seemed to be with sealing any spot air could potentially leak with expanding foam. Obviously a spot was missed but I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, it happens. The most important thing is (and what the wife and I appreciate the most) is that Ryan Homes and their service manager Brian covered the resulting problem for us even though we'd been out of the warranty period for four months by the time this issue started. Of course had the previous two summers we've been in the house been as bad as this one the problem would have already occurred and been fixed. That being said, they could have denied us but they stood behind the house and took care of it. 

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Deck Stain and Painting

Over the Labor Day weekend we managed to get a few things done to our house.

Much needed and long overdue was sealing the deck we had added last summer. I bought two gallons of Cabot Sun Drenched Gold exterior stain around the end of June with plans to use it fairly quickly. But the heat and humidity this summer was oppressive and prevented me from doing much of anything. It wasn’t until Labor Day weekend that the temperature finally dropped enough with no rain in the forecast to get it done.


I started by washing the deck with a bottle of deck wash attached to a regular garden hose. We had a bad stain on the corner where grease had dripped from the grill but between the wash and a wire brush it made it barely noticeable. From there we applied the first coat on Monday afternoon using a brush to do the edges and trim and a roller brush on a stick for the rest. Within a few hours it was dry enough to walk on but still a bit sticky. When I got home Tuesday afternoon I applied the second coat to finish the job. The next day we got some completely unexpected heavy rain but thankfully the coating was dry enough at that point that it didn't seem to affect it. There are however a few spots I still need to sand down a bit where the roller applied the second coat a little too thick. Overall we were really pleased with the result.


The other project we completed was to paint the front wall where the front door is to match the accent walls in the living and morning rooms. While we generally like the color of the color Ryan Homes used on the walls the contractor grade flat paint shows every little smudge and bit of dirt. After two and a half years the front wall wasn't looking too great and needed a touch up.



Close up of the sign Jenny made for the wall. 

To make the sign She took a basic 12 x 12 canvas panel from Michael's, applied a gel wood stain, and then printed out a vinyl decal with her Silhouette Cameo cutter.

Sunday, August 21, 2016

Under Cabinet Lighting

Jenny and I were in Costco this weekend when we passed by an end cap display of these remote controlled LED lights and grabbed a set of them on a bit of an impulse. (They're not showing up on the Costco website but they were about $20.) Initially it was to add a light inside the closet underneath the stairs but we also placed them under the cabinets in the kitchen and were really pleased with the results. Best of all they're remote controlled and have four levels of brightness.

I'd share a photo of the closet too but it's a bit of a mess at the moment. Suffice to say two lights in there makes a big difference. 

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Light Sensors

After our neighborhood experienced several car break-ins and vandalism last summer I started turning on all our exterior lights at night. (Along with the front pole light that automatically comes on at night via a sensor.) The problem has been remembering to turn them off in the mornings. (And sometimes turning them on at night for that matter.) With us leaving to go on vacation for a week earlier in the summer it became even more important to find a solution to turn them on and off automatically.

After I little searching I came across these screw in sensors and bought three of them about $10 each at Lowe's. I also had to get one shorter light bulb owing to the size of the fixtures outside the front door and garage. I set them for dusk to dawn mode and after using them for a few weeks I can say they work well. The light sensors don’t seem to be very sensitive, less so than our front pole light especially when it comes to shutting off in the morning but that’s more of a minor quibble than a real complaint.

Sunday, July 31, 2016

Don't Cap the Vent!

Similar to how our heat went out on the coldest night of the year in 2015 (the first winter we were in the house) our air conditioning went out on the hottest night of the year last weekend. I had heard it shut off at one point mid-evening and when I looked over at the thermostat it was completely blank. Based on what happened with the heat I knew immediately this meant that the moisture sensor in the back up drain pan underneath the HVAC unit in the attic had been tripped.

Sure enough once I climbed into the attic I discovered the pan to be full of water. I hauled my shop vacuum up there and once I had sucked up enough water to get it below the sensor the unit came on again. (We’ve had the thermostat set at 74 and thankfully it had only climbed to 76.) Between my vacuum not being very big and getting heavy with water it took me three trips up there to remove all of it.

So how did it happen? The day before this happened a local HVAC company had come out to check over the unit and make sure everything was working properly. I’m on a twice a year preventative maintenance agreement (which is cheap insurance against bigger problems) but I had been worried the last few days that something wasn’t right and with the temperature scheduled to nearly 100 degrees for several days with even higher heat indexes it was worth the $57 cost for a little extra peace of mind. (Everything ended up being fine.) When the technician came out I had asked him about how there was cold air blowing out of the condensation drip tube and if it should be capped. He agreed but said it should be left loose so it could vent and still allow the water to drain. But the cap ended up being on too tight and prevented the tube from venting. From there the water backed up to the secondary drain and out into the pan.

Arrow marking the vent where the cap was placed.

Back up drain pan underneath the HVAC unit.

So the lesson learned from this, while it might seem like it makes sense to cap the tube, don’t do it. On the flip side, I know for sure once again that the back up drain pan and moisture sensor work that keep water from overflowing and leaking through the ceiling.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Hampton Bay is Junk

A few weeks ago a bad storm system moved through the central Virginia area bringing with it a lot of rain and very high winds. (It ended up being so bad that we actually woke our kids up and moved downstairs to take shelter following a tornado warning.) My brother lives on the opposite end of town from us that got hit first and was therefore able to give me enough advanced warning to get outside and either tie down or bring in things that might blow away or cause damage.

While much of the area suffered high damage, downed trees, and power outages (it also caused the cancelation of the last day of school, sure to be a once in a career event) we made it through unscathed. Until the next morning at least when I went to put everything back out. I stuck the umbrella through the hole in the glass top and then needed to shift the table slightly so it would go into the weighted base underneath. That slight amount of pressure of the umbrella leaning against the center hole was enough to cause the whole top to shatter into thousands of pieces on the deck.

Unfortunately there's no way to replace just the table. It's only available as part of a set with the four chairs. In the process of researching the replacement however we came across a several sites with numerous reviews that all said the same thing, that Hampton Bay's glass tops shatter way too easily. I wish we'd seen those reviews prior to buying the set.

On a side note, this made a tremendous mess and cleaning it up took forever. I went out several times to vacuum up all the glass with my shop vacuum because every time I thought I had all of it I found more. I also had to take a screwdriver and pry up smaller bits that had fallen between the deck boards followed by hosing the entire deck down. It's really not something I want to deal with again. 

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

Yard Stuff (Mostly)

-The last week of April marked two years in our house. It also marked the end of the major system warranties. We'll see how that goes from this point forward.

-At the end of March I picked up a new string trimmer/weedwacker. In the past nine years I've gone through cheaper Craftsman and Cub Cadet models that ended up being junk. The former had repeated issues with the carburetor and the latter's button that held the top and bottom pieces together broke multiple times. (I ended making it through last year with it duct taped and clamped together.) This year I finally did what I should have done years ago and spent a little more money to get something higher quality ultimately deciding on the Stihl FS 56 RC-E. I picked it up from a local dealer so in the event it does break I can get it serviced easily. It's lightweight, starts far easier, and powerful. I've been using the pre-mix ethanol free fuel (comes in 32 ounce cans) with it and also picked up a refill package of .105 inch Husqvarna Titanium trimmer line. The latter seems to be a lot better than the stock line that came with it. (If there was one complaint I had about it that was it.) 

-Also in March I put down fertilizer on the yard along with a weed preventative. The fertilizer definitely helped but I think I might have waited a little too late to put the other down. I've been doing battle with dandelions, buttercups, and crab grass especially in the backyard. I've been limited on what I can do because of having trees and gardens back there. (So the ease of spraying a concentrated liquid was out.) I've been spot treating with a weed killer mostly as I find them and that seems to have finally eradicated everything except the crabgrass.

-If I might take a moment to pat myself on the back my yard continues to be one of the best looking in the neighborhood and I'm doing it at a fraction of the cost of some of my neighbors. I've had solicitations from several of the lawn care companies that have ignored the No Solicitation sign by my front door. (TruGreen in particular has been a multi-time offender.) It works for some folks I'm sure but I'm getting just as good if not better results and it just requires a little extra work outside.

-For the second year in a row we haven't turned our irrigation back on yet and at the rate we're going we probably won't be this year. We've had a huge amount of rain in the central Virginia area (up something like eight inches over the yearly average to this point) and there just hasn't been a need for it. On the flip side I'm outside mowing the grass about once a week because it's growing so fast. I'm certainly getting my exercise in from that.

-Coming up in the next few weeks I'll be finally sealing the deck we added last summer. And even though I applied a sealant last summer on the fence I plan to reseal that as well. I used a clear sealant on it and it was hard to tell how thoroughly I coated it so I plan to get a tinted color this time around. 

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Garage Lighting Upgrade

Last summer I replaced the basic CFL bulb in the garage with a 100w daylight LED bulb. It helped but it was still lacking compared to what I had in the garage at my old house. A few months ago my neighbor picked up a four foot LED shoplight from Sam's Club to mount above his workbench. I'd seen them before in the store before but seeing the light output in his garage sold me on it. This weekend I finally got around to buying and installing a few. The difference is absolutely amazing.

Supply list:
-Two four foot long LED shoplights (At least at my local store they're now selling a Honeywell model with a slightly higher (4500 lumens) light output.)

In the picture above I also bought longer hooks just in the case the ones that were included weren't long enough to go through drywall and "bite" enough into the stud but I didn't need them.

Installation was easy. I used a stud finder to find the studs in the ceiling, drilled pilot holes for the hooks, screwed them in and mounted the lights. I mounted one in the front and one in the rear centering them as best I could. Using the light socket adapter greatly simplified installation as instead of having to hardwire them in I just needed to plug them in. They also work with the existing light switch this way. The plugs on the lights are grounded so I needed the three prong to two prong adapters in order to plug them in. The cords aren't very long so I used one extension cord as well. 

Before. (Excuse the mess. Putting up a shed to get a lot of this stuff out of the garage is next on my list for the spring.)

After. As usual, the pictures don't totally do it justice but even Jenny was impressed with the difference.

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Crawlspace Vent Insulation

A couple weeks ago I went under the house with my father-in-law to do a periodic inspection. While I was under there I noticed that while the crawlspace vents were closed there was a significant amount of light bleeding through them. It was bad enough that when we emerged from the crawlspace I had to double check to make sure they were actually closed. With the recent below freezing temperatures and a major snowstorm in the forecast (that ended up dumping over a foot of snow on us) I was concerned about the possibility of freezing pipes.

On my way home the following afternoon I stopped by Lowe’s and picked up a 4’x8’ piece of foam insulation board for about $12. (The link doesn’t show it was available but my local store at least had it in stock.) From there I cut 7”x16” pieces to fit each vent and wedged them in there.

It’s worth noting that while we’d had similar cold temperatures before without an issue I didn’t want to take any chances. It’s cheap insurance against a potential bigger problem.