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posted: 8/17/2014 12:01 AM

Leave 'professional installations' to the professionals

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Q. I wanted to let you know I installed 10 Magnetite windows -- several were cut wrong and they sent me a YouTube installation video after my installation. I was looking for soundproofing and cold protection.

I installed the Magnetites on bay window frames flush with them. Then after the installation, I was told you need 3 to 4 inches away from the window frame. I did not know about caulking these Magnetite frames, and the windows frosted this winter. I have tried to call and text Magnetite, but nobody will return my phone calls.

I am not sure the person I was dealing with is still there, but her manager promised to send replacements for my bay windows. The kitchen window has already been cut twice and the Magnetite panel is still wrong!

I would be careful to recommend this company.

A. You haven't told me which company you dealt with and in which town and state you live.

Do I get this right: Did you install the Magnetite windows outside? Is this why you were told to caulk them? You measured and ordered the windows, and installed them yourself?

Magnetite windows are not to be caulked; they are installed with a magnetic tape that is adhered to the window frame. They are applied to the magnetic tape, and are removable.

I don't know where the dealer got that the Magnetite windows need to be 3 to 4 inches away from the window frames. The optimum airspace for glass insulation is ¾-inch between the panes, but even ½-inch is quite helpful.

Any large space between two panes of glass encourages a convection loop of air within the space. Cold air against the outer pane drops to the bottom and is replaced by warm air next to the inside pane, which then is cooled by coming in contact with the outer pane, etc. This reduces the efficiency of the installation.

To prevent condensation on the primary windows, the magnetic tape must be perfectly and tightly installed at the four corners to seal the joints against convection of conditioned air.

The lesson here is that it may be best to have the entire installation, including the measuring, done by the dealer unless you are so skilled as to be able to do it yourself. Then the dealer is responsible for any mistakes.

Sorry for your troubles, but the problem is not the Magnetite windows themselves. We have them on all our casements, and they were installed by the dealer in spite of the fact that I would have been capable of doing it myself.

Q. Recently, after a few days of heavy rains, my wife and I noticed our carpet was saturated with water in our basement. Part of our basement is finished. The water came in only at the front of the house, which is below ground. What measures can we take to prevent this from happening again and still be able to refinish those parts of the basement? What are your feelings on an interior French drain with a sump pump versus an exterior French drain? Would it be reasonable to have both installed? I am not 100 percent convinced that an interior French drain is worth the money, as it doesn't prevent the water from coming into the house.

A. Since the leakage happened following a period of heavy rain, it is most likely due to a grading problem. It is much better to prevent basement leakage at the source rather than building an expensive way to drain it after it has percolated down where it can cause problems.

The first thing to check out is how the land next to the foundation lies. If the grade is flat or, worse, negative (sloping toward the foundation), it needs to be corrected. Add loamy/clayey soil to obtain a gentle slope of about two inches per horizontal foot. Avoid flower beds and bushes close to the foundation. Instead, grow a healthy stand of grass.

Bushes and flower beds are best planted a few feet away from the house; this also allows you to enjoy them through the windows.

If you do not have gutters, you should add masonry units, such as patio blocks, embedded in the soil and flush with it at the drip line of the roof in order to prevent the water from creating an erosion trench.

Q. I would like to know what should be done with those common 2-square-foot access openings from the garage into the attic in the summer time? Should they be left open for better ventilation or left closed? What about in the wintertime?

A. These attic access panels located in the gables of garages with an open ceiling should be kept closed at all times and should have a metal cover or be covered with fire-code drywall, as should the entire gable.

If a fire broke out in the garage, the roof of the house would be engulfed in flames in minutes.

Q. In the winter in the Chicago area, the coldest room in our house is the family room. The house has a basement, but only a crawl space under the family room. I have wrapped the heating ducts with insulation. What kind of an R-value insulation should I use on the crawl space walls? The walls are cement. How do I fasten the insulation to the walls?

A. There are two ways to insulate crawl space walls.

Whichever method you choose, first insulate the band joists. The easiest way is to cut R-19 or higher fiberglass batts of the right width (16 or 24 inches) one inch bigger than the depth of the floor joists to ensure a tight fit. If you choose unfaced fiberglass, carefully staple 6-mil plastic over the insulation on all four sides.

One method is to insulate with rigid foam insulation, but make sure that the concrete walls are clean by brushing them off with a large stiff bristle brush.

Apply walnut-sized dabs of polyurethane caulking compound or Styrobond every foot or so to the concrete walls and adhere 2-inch thick XPS rigid insulation panels of whatever size you can get into the crawl space to the walls by pushing hard on them.

The other method is to staple R-19 fiberglass batts to the mud sill (member onto which the joists are set) and drape them down to the soil, which needs to be thoroughly covered with 6-mil plastic in any case. It is best to cut the batts about 1 foot longer than the distance to the soil, bend the batts over the plastic floor cover and hold them in place with bricks or whatever is heavy enough to do so.

Crawl spaces whose soil is covered with plastic do not need vents. Vents allow cold air in the winter and unwelcome moisture in the summer. They should be closed and insulated.

If you leave the basement access to the crawl space open, some of the basement's heat can also help.

Q. In looking at installing ceiling exhaust fans in our bathrooms, my contractor recommended Panasonic models. I see that it markets an Energy Recovery Ventilators, model FV-04VE1, and I would like to know if you have an opinion on them. My intention would be to use them in conjunction with a condensation sensor, such as their model FV-WCCS1-W -- and, of course, the extra ductwork.

At 0.8 sones, it's going to be very quiet, but it circulates only 40 cubic feet per minute and quite pricey -- more than twice the cost of its 80 cfm ceiling fan with built-in humidistat.

The bathrooms are on the second floor of a two-story house in Massachusetts. Each bathroom is just under 70 square feet, with typical ceiling heights.

Is there a compelling reason to go with an ERV, and if so, can you recommend a more economical solution?

A. ERVs are very helpful and desirable for whole-house ventilation. They condition the air being brought into the house while exhausting conditioned air in both summer and winter. They do save energy.

However, they are not worthwhile for small bathrooms. You would never recover the initial capital investment in energy savings.

The use of bathroom fans is to remove excessive humidity, and that can be done more economically with a simple, quiet fan ducted to the outside through a gable wall. If the fan is controlled by a timer, it will shut off automatically in the time chosen.

A bathroom fan with a humidistat requires seasonal changes to account for the changes in RH (relative humidity). Otherwise, it would run constantly in the other season from which it was set. It is not worth the expense.

Q. We have been snowbirds for the last four years and really worry about our 1857 Cape Cod for the four months we are away. We've had friends look in on it occasionally, but we still worry. What is the best way to winterize a home? We have an oil furnace, which runs year-round. It is serviced every year, but is probably 15 years old.

A. Since you run the furnace year-round, set the thermostat to 45 degrees Fahrenheit and install a warning system that will telephone several people who have agreed to be in charge of notifying your HVAC contractor and have a key to your house.

You can find such alarm systems on the following websites: www.absoluteautomation.com; www.homesecuritystore.com; www.protectedhome.com; www.diycontrols.com.

Another way is to have a licensed HVAC contractor winterize your home. He or she will make sure the clothes washer, dishwasher and all fixtures are properly winterized.

If your heating system is warm air, there is no need to do anything else, but if it is a boiler and you have a hydronic heating system, antifreeze can be added to it, but its efficiency will be somewhat reduced.

But I would be hesitant at shutting off the heat completely, as some of your furniture and other possessions may be damaged by the cold. Although there are many vacation houses that are winterized and left without heat for the entire winter, such homes may not have possessions that are susceptible to harm.

• 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 henridemarne@gmavt.net.

© 2014, United Feature Syndicate Inc.

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