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posted: 9/16/2012 5:49 AM

Congregation hopes to dry out church basement

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Q. We are members of an old church. The basement is concrete block and is sunk three-fourths of the way underground. There are windows 5 feet up -- four or five on the northeast wall and one on the southwest wall.

Our problem is moisture. We have a sump pump and a small dehumidifier. A gentleman in our congregation is trying to dry out the basement. He uses the sump pump but not the dehumidifier. In one window he has installed a fan, facing out to pull out the smell. The rest of the windows are left open 24/7, rain or shine, to let in fresh air, but the problem is getting worse. Help!

A. You have left out the two most important ingredients in your explanation:

• Is the basement floor dirt? If it is, you will have a moisture problem as long as the soil is not covered.

• If the sump pump is discharging water, where is the water coming from? Is it leaking at the base of the walls or coming through the walls? Is it coming through cracks in a concrete floor?

If the floor is bare soil, you can have a concrete slab poured over 4 inches of stone covered with a plastic vapor retarder or, if the basement is not used, you can smooth the soil and lay heavy plastic. (Agricultural plastic should be available in farm supply stores.) The soil will have to be thoroughly covered to control soil moisture.

But if you already have a concrete slab, it is important to know where the water is coming from to determine the best way to deal with it. If it is coming through the walls or at their base, it may be a grade issue -- it often is. Check the grade around the foundation and correct any deficiencies that allow water to stand or run against it.

If water is coming through cracks in the concrete floor, there may be a grade issue or hydrostatic pressure coming from a nearby spring or high water table.

Please give me more details and, if possible, send a few photos so I can offer a possible solution.

Q. I am an avid reader of your column. Earlier this year, you mentioned a particular wrench that would assist with loosening the shut-offs for water supply lines for sinks and toilets. I immediately ordered the wrench and have been completely happy with it.

Unfortunately, I have lost the wrench and the cardboard it came on, and I have not been able to find it by doing a search on the Internet. Would you please send me the information again, and this time I will not lose it. I am a handyman by profession and really need another one; it was a great product.

A. The Gordon Wrench is truly a great invention by Bob Gordon, an engineer who managed properties after his retirement. He was a nice gentleman who passed away a few years ago. But his family continues to produce and sell his wrench.

Most older shut-offs for toilets, kitchen sinks and bathroom lavatories are made of a very fragile oval pot metal. Since they are not operated often, these shut-offs have a tendency to freeze. When you need to shut off the water, often in an emergency, the handle may break and you must rush to get pliers to shut off the water.

The red plastic Gordon Wrench has two oval recesses to accommodate the two standard sizes of these handles. It also has a hole so it can be hung under the kitchen sink or in a vanity cabinet.

You can buy another one at and, for those not familiar with it, see pictures of the wrench and read the many favorable comments. I have had one since Bob Gordon started the business and have used it several times. I have recommended it often because it is an invaluable tool in the home.

Q. I read your column every week, and I have a question for you.

Two years ago, we had the roof on our house replaced. When that was done, I had the roofers remove the attic fan and just install a ridge vent, which the roof never had. We have a hip roof, so the ridge vent isn't very long.

The attic gets superhot in the summer now; it didn't get that hot when we had the fan. Any suggestions for how to get the attic a little cooler, other than putting in another fan? We have proper soffit ventilation.

A. Hip roofs present a venting problem. Hip vents are available, but in your case, with a 2-year-old roof, it may not be worth it to have the roofer come back to install them.

If a hotter roof is a problem in itself, you may want to consider stapling an aluminum-faced radiant barrier to the underside of the rafters. This may help reduce the heat buildup.

But if a hotter roof is causing the rooms below to be too hot, adding more insulation in the attic, after making sure that all convective paths are sealed, may be your best solution.

As you may have read in my column, I am not a fan of attic fans because they draw conditioned air from the house since there is seldom enough air intake to satisfy the fan's CFM. But in your case, you may decide to reinstall the roof fan in spite of its pitfalls.

Q. Thanks for all the great ideas over the years. I noticed when researching gutter guards that there are about 10 or more companies. I already have tried wire mesh, plastic screen and others, but none holds up to warping and dipping, and they do not do their intended job. I believe I need an aluminum type to avoid rusting, etc. Do you have any experience with the best gutter guard to go on my aluminum gutters?

A. Over the years, I have tried a number of gutter guards and never have found one type that is completely satisfactory. The DCI Flo-Free Leaf Guard ( I installed on our gutters a couple of years ago has worked reasonably well for leaves, but it does need to be cleaned of fine tree debris, pine needles and the like. At least the gutters do not need cleaning twice a year.

When I talked to the manufacturer about the debris accumulating in the slight trough made by the hump of the guard and the drip edge of the roof, I was told that the company sells a brush that fits over the shoe of a 2-inch by 4-inch spare downspout length so the debris can be removed from the ground. The downspout is very light, which makes it easy to handle. I haven't tried that yet, and it sounds rather cumbersome.

Q. I have a walk-in attic that I would like to finish. My question is about the best way to insulate the cathedral ceiling and knee walls. The roof framing is 2-by-6, 24 inches on center, and the walls are two-by-four, 24 inches on center. I had planned to use 3-inch faced fiberglass insulation for the walls and for the sloped ceiling, to leave a 2-inch airspace under the sheathing for ventilation. Are foam baffles still needed, and should they be continuous or gapped end to end? Since the fiberglass has only an R-13 or 15 value, could I attach 2-inch insulation board to the underside (interior) edge of all the framing? If so, what type is best? Should seams be taped, or would that cause two vapor barriers? I assume a spray foam contractor would be best but expensive, so I want to tackle this myself. The interior will be finished with half-inch drywall, or will that sag when attached 24 inches on center?

A. Although spraying closed-cell foam would be best, it will be quite expensive. So your plan is sound.

I suggest you use continuous baffles from the joint of the knee walls to the top, assuming you have soffit and ridge vents. Ventilation will not be provided unless you have both. If you do not, closed-cell foam is the safest option because it will not allow moisture to be trapped in the rafter cavities, which could eventually create a structural problem.

Baffles are recommended because there is no assurance that the fiberglass insulation will not puff up and fill the remaining space between the sheathing and the top of the insulation. Moreover, the baffles will protect the fiberglass from loss of effectiveness caused by the airflow washing over it.

Your plan to apply 2-inch-thick rigid insulation to the inner face of the knee wall studs and rafters to increase the R-factor of the framing is excellent. The type of rigid insulation you use is immaterial under the setup you propose; the problem may be to bring the sheets upstairs.

Tape the joints to prevent convection of moisture into the rafter cavities; it will be a far better vapor retarder than the kraft paper of the fiberglass and will not cause a problem. You can also choose to use unfaced fiberglass.

Half-inch drywall will not sag between studs and rafters 24 inches on center.

I assume you have considered the effectiveness of the insulation on the floor of the crawl spaces behind the knee walls.

• Henri de Marne was a remodeling contractor in Washington, D.C., for many years, and is now a consultant. Write to him in care of the Daily Herald, P.O. Box 280, Arlington Heights, IL 60006, or via email at

2012, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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