Q&A Spotlight

Foundation Plan for a Snowy Climate

Posted on January 18, 2016 by Scott Gibson

Nathan Scaglione's central New York State building site gets plenty of snow and cold weather during the winter, and that's proving to be a sticking point in his plans for a new house.

He'd prefer a slab-on-grade foundation rather than a basement, even though a full basement would be a more typical choice in this part of the country. The foundation would consist of concrete-block stem walls extending to a footing below frost line. Exterior walls would be framed on top of the block walls, roughly 24 inches above grade. Inside the block walls, Scaglione will pour a concrete slab floor.

Solar Panels or Exterior Foam?

Posted on January 4, 2016 by Scott Gibson

Apollo S has been making steady energy upgrades to his pre-war Cape Cod style house in Massachusetts. He's replaced a steam heating system with a heat pumpHeating and cooling system in which specialized refrigerant fluid in a sealed system is alternately evaporated and condensed, changing its state from liquid to vapor by altering its pressure; this phase change allows heat to be transferred into or out of the house. See air-source heat pump and ground-source heat pump., and with help from the state's energy efficiency program, he air-sealed and insulated his attic with cellulose.

As a result, his $250-a-month energy bills are one-quarter what they used to be, and Apollo now has his eye on the next round of upgrades.

Choosing the Right Water-Resistive Barrier

Posted on December 21, 2015 by Scott Gibson

Yes, James Timmerberg's new house will have a water-resistive barrierSometimes also called the weather-resistive barrier, this layer of any wall assembly is the material interior to the wall cladding that forms a secondary drainage plane for liquid water that makes it past the cladding. This layer can be building paper, housewrap, or even a fluid-applied material. (WRB) on the exterior walls.

What To Do With All That Recessed Lighting?

Posted on December 7, 2015 by Scott Gibson

Justin Brown has moved into a house with lots of recessed lighting fixtures, including 10 six-inch Prescolite non-airtight fixtures on the second floor ceiling, and another 11 mounted in cathedral ceilings. He may have plenty of light in those rooms, but he's more concerned about all the air that's leaking into the attic and rafter bays and the heat loss that goes along with it.

Radon Mitigation in a Leaky House

Posted on November 23, 2015 by Scott Gibson

RadonColorless, odorless, short-lived radioactive gas that can seep into homes and result in lung cancer risk. Radon and its decay products emit cancer-causing alpha, beta, and gamma particles. mitigation in new construction is now routine when testing finds that concentrations of this odorless, cancer-causing gas exceed government-recommended levels. Writing from southeastern Wisconsin, Andrew S. has a slightly different problem: How to control radon levels when you live in a leaky log home built in the 19th century.

Designing a Low-Slope Roof That Works

Posted on November 9, 2015 by Scott Gibson

If only Kevin Hoene's choices for a new roof boiled down to a choice between an EPDM membrane and metal, his life would probably seem a whole lot simpler.

But Hoene, building a new home in Illinois and on the boundary between Climate Zones 4 and 5, will soon be weighing the pros and cons not only of different roof coverings, but also of what type of insulation to use, whether it should go above or below the roof sheathingMaterial, usually plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), but sometimes wooden boards, installed on the exterior of wall studs, rafters, or roof trusses; siding or roofing installed on the sheathing—sometimes over strapping to create a rainscreen. , and whether the roof should be vented or unvented. In other words, nothing seems off the table.

The Best Way to Insulate a Foundation

Posted on October 26, 2015 by Scott Gibson

Nethaniel Ealy, a builder in Idaho who's about to pour a concrete basement foundation, is trying to come up with insulation and waterproofing details that will be effective and within the budget.

The current plan is to place 2 inches of extruded polystyrene (XPSExtruded polystyrene. Highly insulating, water-resistant rigid foam insulation that is widely used above and below grade, such as on exterior walls and underneath concrete floor slabs. In North America, XPS is made with ozone-depleting HCFC-142b. XPS has higher density and R-value and lower vapor permeability than EPS rigid insulation.) on the outside of the foundation walls. At some point in the future, the homeowners would place another 2 inches of foam on the inside of the foundation walls between 2x2 studs, and then apply drywall over the studs.

Detailing Exterior Walls in Minnesota

Posted on October 12, 2015 by Scott Gibson

In Minnesota, Jeff Fredrickson is planning a new house, and his research has included lots of reading on the design and construction of exterior walls. His goals are twofold: a wall that will stay mold-free for decades, and one that is "somewhat energy efficient."

Starting at the inside, the wall would go like this: drywall, a polyethylene vapor barrier, JM Spider insulation in 2x6 stud walls, 1/2-inch plywood sheathingMaterial, usually plywood or oriented strand board (OSB), but sometimes wooden boards, installed on the exterior of wall studs, rafters, or roof trusses; siding or roofing installed on the sheathing—sometimes over strapping to create a rainscreen. , a water-resistive barrierSometimes also called the weather-resistive barrier, this layer of any wall assembly is the material interior to the wall cladding that forms a secondary drainage plane for liquid water that makes it past the cladding. This layer can be building paper, housewrap, or even a fluid-applied material. (Benjamin Obdyke HydroGap), fiber cement and stone veneer claddingMaterials used on the roof and walls to enclose a house, providing protection against weather. .

Battling Condensation on Attic Ducts

Posted on September 28, 2015 by Scott Gibson

Jimmy Miller is trying to solve a condensation mystery in a Florida ranch-style home that is being renovated. Even though the air conditioning equipment appears to be operating normally, humidity inside the house is between 60% and 65%, and return ducts located in the attic show significant condensation.

Should I Skip the Radiant Floor Heat?

Posted on September 14, 2015 by Scott Gibson

With an R-90 roof and R-60 walls, Jenz Yoder's new off-grid house will be well insulated. Yoder's quandary, outlined at Green Building Advisor's Q&A forum, is whether radiant-floor heat is a good idea.

"I had two consultants tell me that I will not need radiant floor heat, [that] it will be too much," Yoder writes. "We will have a whole-house air circulation system and a gas fireplace. I am worried about not putting in the pipes in the floor and then being wrong."

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