Wednesday, February 1, 2012

We-Design-Day: Home Evaluation - Evaluating your home (pt 1)

Disclaimer: All the information given is based on my experience and knowledge and is provided for information only. It is provided as a starting point and is meant to be educational, not authoritative. Always consult a qualified engineer before deciding to replace any key component of your home. Additionally, I live in a “cold climate” and my building experience is within that family of construction and references to building code or methods of construction are applicable to the Province of Alberta only. Building code differs by province and country.


Once you've got an idea of what should be included in your home study, figuring out the condition of the those things is quite another. Obviously, we can't be experts at everything but I think that with a reasonable amount of information and a bit of research, we can assess the condition of a few key things and the things we can't, we can use the professionals! I always like to err on the side of caution, however, because eventually, everything will need to be replaced (and yes, I know “they” guarantee asphalt shingles for “50 years”, but is it reasonable to think the one piece of my house that is continually and always exposed to the sun, wind, snow, rain, ice and birds picking at it is really going to last that long?).

Where to start? The envelope, of course! Most homes have the same exterior components to worry about – roof, walls, foundation, windows and doors, so let's start there. The existing condition of some of these may be harder to assess than others and the items that are hidden from view can be impossible to assess accurately. I'm going to start from the top down in this case, simply because a lot of judgements we have to make, when evaluating the existing condition of our envelope, aren't always easy to see and the lower we go, the more difficult it is to see with the naked eye.

The Roof:

Damaged Shingles (source)
Depending on the type of roof and the pitch of your roof (and existing laws, bylaws and governing building, occupational health and safety codes) you likely can take a look and figure out the condition of your roof. Some of the components are visible to the eye from the ground (so if you're like me and have an aversion to ladders, you can do some of the assessment from terra firma). One of the more common roofing materials used are asphalt shingles. Inexpensive, readily available and simple to install, there isn't a house on my street without this type of shingle on it's roof. Thankfully, it's also easy to tell when the shingles start to fail. Initially, the corners of the shingles will start to curl. This is especially noticeable on southern and western exposures (as they receive the most amount of sunlight and heat).

Depending on the age of your existing roof, once you notice curling, it would be reasonable to estimate 5 to 10 years until replacement is absolutely necessary. Once they start curling, it's just a matter of time before you see cracked and bent shingles and find an excess of particulate (shingle bits) in your eaves and collecting at the point where your eaves troughs drain to the ground. This past summer, our roof began leaving more shingle bits on our patio than was left on our roof.
Loose insulation (source)

If you're not afraid of heights, climb up on your roof and take a look at the areas around the penetrations (vents, chimneys, skylights). You are looking for signs of damage, wear or failure. Also, as you walk around, use your feet to feel for sponginess. If you feel the roof “give” under you, it's likely the damage goes deeper and you've got water penetration. If you've had water spots on the ceiling inside the home, this could be the cause. 

Stick your head up in the attic space as well – new (building)codes have assessed that an attic should have an “R” value of 50 – this would include batt insulation as well as loose cellulose-type fibre. You can visually assess the structure – look for visible signs of stress – cracks or rot in trusses, broken trusses and the quality and condition of the sheathing. Another thing to look for (in winter) are signs of frost or condensation on metal parts in the attic space. This is another indicator of heat loss and potential “damage” zones as water can be infiltrating the space.

Design Tip: Before poking around with insulation, consider the year of construction, asbestos was frequently used in residential construction prior to 1980 in everything from insulation to flooring. If in doubt always engage a certified professional.

More information about roofing and what to look for:

Windows and Doors:

Parts of a Window (source)

Let's look at windows first... They show us the world and can let the world in, if we're not careful! The technology in windows has evolved dramatically in the last 100 years. From simple panes of glass set in wood frames to PVC casings with sealed gas injected panels. The basic principals of installation hasn't changed too much but the materials used have changed too. A sill plate and a header support the frame of the window (which generally is still all wood) with the window enclosed in the wood frame. It is insulted (now a days with expanding spray foam) to seal the unit from the elements.

The life cycle of a window is fairly long, although the energy loss will start to show as the technology improves and the window ages. Take a look at your windows and find out what they are made of. Wood, aluminium and PVC are the three most common types of casings and start looking at the existing performance to begin your evaluation.

To evaluate the window, try the following. Do you feel a draft (hold a lit candle and move it around the frame of the window if it flickers, a draft could be present)? Can you feel the heat or cold through the pane? Is condensation present or frost and ice build-up during cold weather? To check the frame (if it is wood) tap the wood and check for soft spots or rotted wood. Think back to the last big rain – did any water penetrate the window, the frame of the parts around the window (where it sits in the wall)? How is the movement of the window? Does it open and close well or does it stick and jam? What's going on outside? Water or sun damage, peeling paint, gaps or caulking cracks can all indicate the start of failing windows.

How about doors? Many of the same techniques (to evaluate the condition) apply to the doors as do for the windows: check for drafts, ice build-up around the hardware (lockset, handle, etc.). Again, be sure to check for signs of rot in the frame. If rot is starting, it's best to deal with it first because allowing a rotting door to remain can cause larger issues as the rot spreads to the adjoining structure.

Design Tip: To improve the insulated value of windows, a topical film can be applied for the winter months to better insulate the glass or installing a heavier drapery can also help to prevent heat loss. For doors, check weather stripping and if it’s stiff, worn or cracked, replacing it can help stop drafts and cold. Draft stops (although, the Grandma made stuffed wiener dog isn’t aesthetically pleasing) can, placed at the base of door, also help.

Drafty Dog (source)

More information about window and door replacement:

I'm going to stop there for this week - it is a lot of information to digest! If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment or send me an email! Next week, we'll continue discussing evaluation the building envelope.

No comments:

Post a Comment


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...