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mold remediation in a really old house  RSS feed

 
Annie Gibbons
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Hi - I'm new here, so taking a stab & hoping this is a good place to post the following - feel free to redirect me!

My family & I live in a wood frame home built in the 1830s. We've been here 5 years, and have always had some problems with mold/mildew. It's getting much worse, to the point where I'm concerned about the health ramifications. My husband and I are in the middle of discussions about where we're headed in terms of dreams/goals and where we are living is of course a big part of that picture. We both love the house and there are a lot of reasons to stay put. But - that said, the mold is a huge issue that we need to look into before we could decide to stay here long term or not. So, my initial question is first how to go about getting an understanding of the extent of the problem (i.e. is it really as big & insidious an issue as I suspect, or am I blowing it out of proportion. I could look around for a mold remediation specialist, but I'd be concerned the answers we'd get would be biased, especially if I go into an evaluation without knowing the important questions to ask, etc. The other concern then is what might we be facing in terms of the actual remediation & possibility of it lasting. We've got a "river runs through it" type basement built on the bedrock, which is no doubt the main source of the problem.

So - I would love to hear from anyone with experience dealing with mold (old house or not), or any ideas for steps to take, questions to ask, resources to check out, etc.

Thanks!
Annie
 
Kate Muller
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My husband I went through this when we got married. I moved into his old New England house and my mold allergies resulted in bronchitis with a few months. Our moisture problems were minor but I am allergic to 2 types of mold so we couldn't ignore it. We ripped out all the carpets. They grow mold and dust mites so they had to go. The basement was partial dirt floor and the foundation was mostly stone boulders. This gave us some seasonal water in the basement. We also found some minor leaks in the plumbing and had those fixed. The house has forced hot air ducts for heating so we had a UV light to reduce the mold installed on the heating system when we had it replaced. We also installed a dehumidifier in the basement and that solved our issues.

 
alex Keenan
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When you say mold and mildew problem the first thing I think of is humidity level. You see many times you do not have a mold and mildew issue you have a moisture issue!
First if you have power get a dehumidifier and a humidity gauge. You goal is to keep indoor humidity below 60 percent (ideally between 30 and 50 percent) relative humidity.
What is likely happening is that area like shower, dryer vent, etc. are hitting 60% or higher relative humidity. One or more dehumidifiers should take care of the humidity if you have power.
As for the existing mold I tend to use a bleach solution you can find many for sale that kill bleach. Test a small area if you think it will damage anything and spray it on, let it sit, wash it off along with the mold.

It you do not have power than you will have to get creative with things like silicon crystal, calcium chloride, and other compounds that absorb water and can be recharged.

Once you can keep the humidity between 30 and 50 you should be OK.

Good luck.
 
Annie Gibbons
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Thanks for the replies.

Kate - I'm curious about the UV light - I've never heard of that - can you tell me more about it, or point me to where I could learn more?

Yes, we absolutely have a moisture problem. Our basement is constantly wet - not just seasonally. It's got stone walls, built on the bedrock/dirt and it's a matter of if it's just muddy or if there's a little stream running through it. It's obviously too wet. We have two large unused (but still filling with water) cisterns against the house on one wall, and our understanding is that these are likely a big source of the water, so we've got it on our list to have someone out to give us ideas about how we can deal with that.

But - the other thing is that the basement moisture is not confined to the basement, especially because there are cracks in some places between floorboard (original flooring in several rooms) where you can see down to the basement. So there are all kinds of places where the moist air is coming up. The bathroom is an issue, but I really think the main issue is the basement. So that's what we would need to look at for fixing the source of the problem.

In terms of the mold/mildew in the living space though, that is my big concern, is that it is everywhere. It is on books, furniture, cloth, walls, etc. etc. Not an easy clean-it-with-bleach fix. And what I do clean is moldy again shortly afterward. There are certain places where if I sit for too long, my throat starts to burn because of breathing in the musty/moldy air. So what I don't know is where to start, to find out just how pervasive a problem it is in the living space - and then what would be involved in dealing with the existing mold once we dealt with the source (which is a whole other issue).
 
alex Keenan
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UV will help kill the mold spores in the air. A good dehumidifier will also help remove spores as it removes moisture.
From what you are describing you have no vapor barriers in place. So moisture can just enter from the ground and cistern into your building.
As for the bathroom, do you at least have a working fan that you can turn on when running a shower or hot water that will cause steamy conditions?

You may need to put in some drainage in the basement if you are getting muddy conditions. Be careful working with a stone wall foundation. You can damage it if you dig around it the wrong way.
First you need to get the water out. You may be able to do that inside the basement or you may need some type of french drain outside the basement.
Once you get the flowing water under control than you have to look at where moisture is entering from. You will likely want to put in some vapor barriers.
Once you get someone who knows how to properly install some vapor barriers you should be fine. You will likely still need a dehumidifier or two still, at least one in the basement.
You may wish to google vapor barriers and basement drainage systems.
 
Matu Collins
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I would move if I were you.
 
Annie Gibbons
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Right, no vapor barriers at this point, so that's one thing we need to look into - both in the cisterns (&/or filling them) and on the basement ceiling.

We do have a fan in the bathroom to help with the moisture. I'm sure we could find a more efficient one.

Getting a humidity gauge would help too, or at least be interesting to see how high the level is...

Does anyone have experience working with any professionals for either an evaluation of existing mold problems &/or remediation? Anything I should look for in finding/working with someone?

Matu - obviously moving is an option (though not sure what the interest level would be fore potential buyers if the reason we're leaving is a mold problem...) and it's one we're considering. But it seems to make sense to get a professional opinion of what we're looking at.

Alex - thanks for the ideas re: fixing the source of the problem.
 
allen lumley
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Anne Demko : I am completely with Alex on this one, you have to be prepared to be great detectives and local historians to uncover the source(s) of your problems !

Usually in very old houses with cisterns in the basement, the water was delivered to the cisterns from off of the roof, This was soft water and valued by the early Wife,
boys and girls were often expected during long dry spells to carry water from a well in the neighborhood to keep the cistern full for Saturday night baths, and Sundays
laundry needs ! That and keeping Moms cookstove wood box full were some of the earliest kids chores !

So, Are we sure that you don't have an old repurposed cast iron drain waste and vent pipe that is still hooked unto a section of roof gutter down spout?! After you have
eliminated this as a cause, by careful research both in the basement and outside looking at roof eaves and gutters, we can talk about the gutters and down spouts jobs !

On days of heavy rainfall do you end up with standing puddles on your lawn, If you sometimes can not mow the grass on one side of the house this is a problem.

Looking at the perimeter of your house has a driveway along side of your house received several inches or more of fill, or was it blacktop'd this could have been a very
recent change or sometime before you got your home ! This could not only trap water off of your roof due to the tight compaction of your soil creating a dam and the run
off from the blacktop could be adding to the problem !

Because you are having wet basement problems you want to make very sure that water from off of your roof is not funneling in through your foundation walls, all eaves
should have gutters, all gutters should have downspouts, all downspouts should empty several feet away from the foundations !

Is there an existing place around the perimeter of your building where a large porch or covered entrance has been removed from the house as a poor place to spend
maintenance moneys ?! What happened then to the way the water was carried away from the foundations

Your next step can be an exercise in frustration, does ALL of the perimeter of your house have full landscaping that slopes away from the foundation carrying all standing
water away from your foundations

This is where you will create some sweat equity in your home, with the understanding that you may have to dig everything up later to deal with the need for drainage tile!

By now you should know about how high the local water table is during most months of the year !

It is quite likely that if your house is sitting over a high water table that you can excavate a section of the old dirt floor and install a sump pump hole with sump pump !
You will need to excavate some miner trenches say 3 '' deep to be back filled with clean stone the size of I was going to say robins eggs or a little bigger! Think of an
incandescent lightbulbs Edison base, the metal part, slightly smaller.

With a good sump pump located in your basement you should now have a basement that is dry much of the year, Now you can pay attention to removing part of the walls
of your cisterns so you can get in there and clean out several inches of stuff from off of a much younger version of your roof and has lain there for decades

While you are doing this you should also investigate dehumidifiers , Uv lamps, fix all leaks, water AND drain pipes run exhaust fans while showering, and always cook with
pot lids on pots !

This is a pretty basic list of areas to cover, a little research on molds which need `~60-70%~ moisture for molds and 90% for wood rot, will also teach you what problem
areas to inspect ! good luck ! For the good of the Crafts ! big AL
 
Bill Bradbury
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I am a certified mold inspector; I agree with everything Al said, but I would hold off on the sump pump and focus on stopping the water from coming in. I would also invest in a portable UV air filter to keep in the room with you for now. This is no fun, but I have successfully remediated many mold problems like you have with the steps outlined above.
 
Brian Knight
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Great advice so far. I agree with starting outside and your surface drainage. Iam skeptical of the UV and would save it for a last step if at all.

Rather than a mold remediation expert, I would contact home performance contractors in your area. This sounds like a great candidate for a thorough energy audit.

With full basement (walkout?) I wonder if fixing the grade will be enough. I think you need to be prepared to install new drainage, possible sump and vapor barriers down there. A radon test and possible remediation will be in order and could be more harmful than your moisture problems at this point.

Part of the home performance contractors duties will be to thoroughly evaluate your ceiling air barrier and insulation levels. Youre right that the basement air is the same as your house air and its probably being sucked through your house into the attic by all the airleaks that older homes tend to have in the ceiling plane.
 
Annie Gibbons
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Brian - interesting idea about a home performance contractor instead - I've no doubt the home could benefit from an energy audit - but right now the mold/moisture is a much bigger issue, I think - not sure that a home performance contractor would be the best to help us figure that out?

Is it possible to do our own radon test, or does that require a contractor/inspector?

Bill - as a certified mold inspector - can you give me an idea of what it would look like to have a certified mold inspector out? What would that person look at, what would they be able to tell me in terms of 1. the extent of the problem and 2. what specifically we would need to do to a) fix the source of the problem and b) clean up the existing mold?

Allan - thanks so much for such a thoughtful and detailed response! We do have gutters on both eaves, and just replaced the downspout on the back with a larger one, found where it drains (into a creek maybe 100+ ft from the house) and cleaned that out so it is able to drain more fully. We also extended the drainage for the front downspout.

We have a sump pump in the basement already. We're looking at opening up some windows that were sealed in order to add some ventilation.

The basement is not a walk out, though it has outside cellar doors.

The house itself sits up on a hill. It's possible that some regrading would need to be done, but there's no obvious slopes toward the house - something to check out though, as I'm sure even slight grades would be an issue.

There are no areas of standing water in the yard, even after heavy rains & spring snow melt. The closest we come would be in the NW corner, maybe 50 or so feet from the house, the ground stays muddier longer.

We replaced the roof a year after we moved in - complete tear off of the cedar shakes (i.e. "topsoil") and replaced with standing seam metal roof. So I think it's safe to say there are no pipes going down into the cisterns. Our best guess is groundwater seeping in through cracks?

Driveway is gravel, not immediately next to house (20/25'?) and it the sides rise up higher on both sides - we get a little bit of a river running down it, to the road, but nothing obviously pouring off the sides.

No porches/etc. have been removed from the house.

We do have vegetation close to the house that needs to be removed.
 
Brian Knight
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Every contractor will have different skill sets but in general, I think mold remediation experts are better suited to major flooding events. It sounds like the issues in your home are more systemic and would be better served by someone thoroughly educated in building science and controlling moisture issues, not just treating the end problem but the conditions that are leading to your problems.

A home performance contractor and energy audit will not just look at your energy use. They will do things like make sure your bath fan is properly vented and is sucking enough CFM out of the home which is much more important than the efficiency of the fan's motor. Most mold remediation experts may not understand that air leaks in your ceiling plane are increasing your moisture problems. I would also suggest against opening your basement windows if you are on the East coast.

You can get your own radon test kit from most hardware stores but you have to send in the results for lab analysis. You should test before and after moisture and radon mitigation.
 
allen lumley
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Anne Demko :" Giving self a head slap !" Radon gas ! Yes it should be checked out! Where I live the bedrock is part of the Laurentian Shield some of the oldest
rock on the planet and we do not have a local problem with radon ! A few years ago, the best kits were X amount of time exposure followed by sending in the
material,about like the film strip badges X-ray Techs wear ! Whats available out there now is probably a google search away !

Brians comments on getting a "Home performance Contractor" in is a very good idea! There are all kinds of reimbursement or free ''energy audit'' programs
out there. Many common programs allow the utilities to subsidize the cost of your audit1 Many of them get a 100% tax write off for every dollar they spend on
these programs, including money spent on advertising how they are helping you.

Commonly there is a small pamphlet in the snail mail bill you get ! As our Utilities are treated as though they too were'' to big to fail'' they will always make a
profit, with nearly automatic raises, if he takes advantage of these programs, and you do not, you are subsidizing his bill ! :p

If you can't find out any other way try a phone call to your local government for 'senior services programs', 'Office of the Ageing" no one gets hammered more
by a fixed income and rising prices than our seniors ( I are one now too ) When you find the right department, they will be able to tell you how to hook up with
a good program with an excellent history, and Legs !

This goes back to my original statements on being a detective, You want to talk to the guy who will come up with a listing of home improvements you can make,
generally your list will label a problem, expected costs to fix them, and a pay back time !

Is Your Primary heating plant or water heater down there in Your dungeon ? How Much Head room do you have, if this area was bone dry would you ever go
down cellar !

You will probably be told about air to air heat exchangers as part of this conversation, And this will sound like the perfect answer to your problems, you evacuate
old stale air heavy with moisture, and it gives up most of its heat energy to an incoming stream of fresh clean outdoor air.

The price will seem high but possibly do-able, however, this very efficient unit will only work to its maximum if you have already spent the money to find and
repair all of the air leaks in your house 1st ! This means that you will have to spend all of the other money on other fixes before you can enjoy the maximum
''Cure'' for your problems !

A little home work to understand how any home breaths, Exhaling hot air out at the top of your house, and sucking in cold air at your basement !
Google Stack Effect and Whole House Stack Effect this will also make you a better detective/historian ! For The Crafts ! Big AL

Late note ; Uv lights are becoming more and more ubiquitous, While I can get local apple cider, I drive 40 miles one way to a place that uses UV Light to
sterilize the gallons of apple cider. Better taste than ether boiled like your chain groceries, or doing nothing which needs to be used up within a week If
Kept cold enuf

Because of this step in their process they can stay open until nearly X-mass and the cider I pick up then will be gone by the next year, because it still
tastes like 'just Made' to me ! -Y.M.M.V.-- Big AL
 
Kate Muller
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Annie Demko wrote:Thanks for the replies.

Kate - I'm curious about the UV light - I've never heard of that - can you tell me more about it, or point me to where I could learn more?



We switched from an oil to natural gas furnace. They installed a UV light as part of the system to kill the mold. The light is in a box that is mounted between the furnace and the duct work. We would have the bulb changed every 2 years or so. I don't have the specifics on the unit we had installed because we moved form that house at the beginning of the year. It works really well with the dehumidifier which runs all year.
 
Mike Cantrell
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Annie Demko wrote:Does anyone have experience working with any professionals for either an evaluation of existing mold problems &/or remediation? Anything I should look for in finding/working with someone?

Annie Demko wrote:Bill - as a certified mold inspector - can you give me an idea of what it would look like to have a certified mold inspector out? What would that person look at, what would they be able to tell me in terms of 1. the extent of the problem and 2. what specifically we would need to do to a) fix the source of the problem and b) clean up the existing mold?


I was such a professional for a while, and now I work with them at least weekly, depending on the weather (I'm a claims adjuster for property damage claims- homes and commercial buildings).

You don't need one right now.

You know exactly what your problem is. Wet basement. You don't yet know how to cure the wet basement, but you're getting a lot of excellent advice here. If you do it all, something will work.

What a mold inspector will do can go two routes.
He could:
1. Do a visual walkthrough and interview with you. You'll show him the wet basement. You'll show him the visible mold downstairs and upstairs. He'll tell you, "You've got a moisture problem in the basement, causing mold growth downstairs and upstairs. You should get it dry so we can remove the mold for you." This is often free, which means it's often a sales meeting.
or
2. Do the above, but also take samples to tell you what species of mold you have. He might take surface samples, or air samples, or both. He'll send them to a lab for analysis, and give you a detailed report of how many mold spores of what species he found, and where. The point of this is to you whether any of it is dangerous. If you've been living in it a while, that doesn't provide much information, does it? Either you're already very, very sick, or you're not. This generally costs at least several hundred dollars.

See what I mean? You don't need a mold guy right now. You know you have mold, you know where it's coming from, and you know it's not killing you.

What you DON'T know is how to get your basement dry. That's who you need to find.

Now, I meet lots of people who have a wet basement once. They ask me about the commercials they see for basement dry systems, and mostly, I steer them away. When you get a wet basement once, it's a drainage issue, and you prevent it with sensible use of downspouts. Landscaping and french drains if necessary. But what you're describing actually sounds like you might be a proper candidate for what they're selling. Be careful when you talk to them, because lots of them only have one system to sell, and you know what they say about the man who only has a hammer- every problem looks like a nail. So be careful. Talk to AT LEAST three companies, and don't be afraid to say, "That doesn't make sense, explain that again, this time like I'm five." If it's not perfectly clear, you might be getting some smoke blown at you.

And, as has been brought up already, the problem is moisture upstairs, so remember that there are a few ways to solve this:
1. Get the water vapor out of the upstairs air as fast as it comes in
2. Keep the water vapor from getting past the floor
3. Keep the water from becoming water vapor
4. Don't even let the water into the basement in the first place.

Number four is best, but if number one or two is all that's realistic, that's good enough!

Brian Knight wrote:mold remediation experts are better suited to major flooding events

For the most part, that's exactly right.



Keep us posted, Annie! You can do this!
 
Matu Collins
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I'm sorry if I seemed flippant. I do think, if you love the house, you should look into what it will take to get the house dry. I live in a house that has similar mold problems every summer. Books and shoes grow fur, it's pretty gross. My husband and my son both have breathing problems every fall which is distressing. Yet I don't plan on moving! We're committed to this place.

My main reason for my dire statement is that it sounds like your basement has groundwater in it. My house has poor bathroom ventilation and much of the water in our basement comes from the roof so it's solvable. If your house was built over an underground stream, it sounds like there isn't much that can be done short of moving the house. Perhaps there's hope.

It's so frustrating to have special or useful items destroyed by mold. There was a very sweet Christmas ornament with a photo of my husband as a boy that was ruined a few years back, darn it. So maybe my advice is tainted by sore experience!
 
Bill Bradbury
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A few quick thoughts;
1) your nearly 200 year old house did not always have this problem, so what has changed? has anyone around you been drilling(water, fracking, etc.)?
2) you have already said that you are going to check the cisterns.
3) DO NOT INSTALL A VAPOR BARRIER ON YOUR STONE FOUNDATION!
4) I use a small digital inside/outside temp/RH meter to discern whether water vapor is pushing outward or inward then enter into here to see if you are condensing waterdewpoin calc. This will tell you if the moisture is entering in the air.
5) The last thing is to check your drains and ensure this is not the source. If you see salt crystals coming up through the floor, call a plumber to camera your drains.
From what you have said, I really think your problem is geologic in nature. I'm totally guessing here, but it seems like you've already covered most of your bases, so I'm gonna go out on a limb and say groundwater injection from nearby fracking operations have altered your local water table.
 
Michael Cox
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I agree with what is said above about finding the point of water ingress and dealing with it. However, it is also worth pointing out that many damp problems are in fact caused by lifestyle and patterns of use changing.

A friend of mine installed a large tropical fish tank in his living room; within a month his floor boards had absorbed enough moisture from the increased humidity to start warping.

In a student house I lived in we had a washing machine but no drier and no outside space. Our living spaces - communal and private - were perpetually full of damp and drying clothes. We had rivers of condensation running down windows and black mold growing on walls and ceilings. Not pleasant.

So, as well as looking at the potential sources of ingress take a critical look at how you are using the space to see if you are adding excessive moisture through your patterns of use.
 
Brian Knight
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Water movement underground is highly variable. 100 years of dryness can be followed by 100 years of wetness whether influenced by the activities of man or not. Depending on what your conditions are and what experts recommend for your individual situation, I would think that your foundation walls and slab would greatly benefit from vapor barriers and insulation. As to whether you want/can make that investment..

http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/information-sheets/groundwater-control

http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-041-rubble-foundations

http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-045-double-rubble-toil-trouble

http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/bareports/ba-0309-renovating-your-basment

http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/bareports/ba-0202-basement-insulation-systems

 
Annie Gibbons
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I just want to say, first of all, thank you so much, to everyone who has responded! The amount of information and ideas has been more than I expected, and very helpful. (A little overwhelming to take in all at once, but very helpful!)

I will have to go back and read things over a few more times probably, but a couple quick things:

1. The idea of looking into a home performance contractor makes much more sense, and I'm in the process of finding someone local. I never would have thought of that, but I think the holistic/systems approach makes a lot of sense.

2. Something my husband mentioned that I hadn't thought of in terms of changes to the structure of the house is that x number of years ago (maybe a decade?) the previous owners put in a patio that butts up to the back of the house. We've noticed some heaving of the pavers right against the outside wall (this is the side of the house over the crawl space). So that's something to look into, too.

3. As far as fracking/well drilling - could be. I don't know of any right nearby, but this is a big area for it, so could be? OH! I don't know if this could have had any effect, but just thought of it - 2 summers ago, I believe, there was a waterline put in along the road in front of our house, and our house is pretty close to the road. We talked to someone prior to the work about possible effects on the foundation, and were told there would be no negative effects. Not sure if that could be an issue, though?

4. Matu - no worries. I get it - I'm tired of this and frustrated with the ongoing issues and part of me does want to just move on and start fresh somewhere that doesn't have this issue. But - this house does have a lot of meaning to us, so for that and other reasons we want to do our research and figure out what we're dealing with and what it will take to fix it before deciding.

5. Why don't install a vapor barrier on the stone foundation? We were considering one on the basement ceiling, not the foundation - but curious why.

6.
He'll tell you, "You've got a moisture problem in the basement, causing mold growth downstairs and upstairs. You should get it dry so we can remove the mold for you."

This is the thing - while I can understand why a remediation guy would want things dried up before they remove the mold - I have cleaned and recleaned enough things to have experience there... So obviously we need to deal with the source of the problem and take care of that before any real "final" cleaning/mold removal can happen. But what about the meantime? Assuming we talk to someone, figure out a plan that will address the root issues and decide to go ahead with it. That would be months, before we'd have it "dry". I'm concerned about what we're living with/breathing in in the meantime. Hopefully things will get better, as we're getting into winter and the wood heat will dry things out. But I really want to understand just how much mold we're breathing in, and if it's something that's going to have any real negative effects on our health. None of us is obviously very sick from it, but we do have allergies, and I do notice my throat burning if I stay too long in certain areas of the house, etc... None of that can be good. Not sure if that is something that a home performance contractor would be able to do?

Again - I imagine I've missed some things - I'll have to read through it all again. But thanks!
 
allen lumley
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Annie D. : We are now down to the nitty-gritty where the better orator can carry his point so again, if you do not truly understand, tell them to tell you again like you
were a 5th grader !

1) Please re-read often, and ask questions !
2) This goes back to the porch removed from the side of the house Question earlier, This needs to be investigated !
2a) the crawlspace is much hater to insulate if the level changes underneath your floors, this definitely needs an on-site contractor you can trust !
3)Who knows ! However find out and Know if there is Marcellus or Utica Gas/oil bearing shale under your property, do this now !
3a) A poor job of backfilling with the wrong materials could create a dam, a leak would /would not have chlorine in it !? Get that tested, if it is a leak it is costing
someone money
4) Matu has a big heart and cares a lot, because she does, we do too!
5) Then foundation wall is a sieve, sealing water into the foundation will not help, probably the floor can have a drainage layer added, then a clay cap, then an
impervious layer to seal ! This may be the same as adding a foot of earth into your basement, reducing your head height as much !
5a) The humidity problem could be resolved that way-however any leaks would certainly promote mold/mold spores, no way to treat mitigate further damage,
and rot starts at 90% humidity
6) If dry the attempts at fixing the problem are not as hazardous to the worker in an enclosed space!

7) Re-read every thing, make some phone calls, and make a list of questions for the Home audit person !

For the good of the crafts ! Big AL
 
allen lumley
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Annie D. : I do not think that I have taken the time to properly Warn you about taking anything you see on U-Tube at face value! U-tube is hungry for
video content and makes no attempt to chaperone or audit the people who post to its site ! Only consider the information of sites pointed out by some-
-one you trust !

I am sending you to a u-tube site managed by the Cold Climate Housing Research Center, an outreach and teaching Arm of the University of Alaska
-Fairbanks! You and I know Cold - they Know COLD, Their techniques for tightening up a house will not leave you sweating inside a plastic bag !
I think you can determine which ones of the playlist I am sending you to will be useful. goto :::-->

www.youtube.com/user/ColdClimateHousing a right click wit your mouse should ether give you a one click option to that page or allow you to
do a Google search for that page ! Then select the top playlist of videos labeled Your Northern Homehover your mouses Icon to that word
phrases right find and click on the [ > PLAY ] Button,.

At the new page you can preview the individual videos and selector watching from the righthand side of the page !

I promice to leave you alone until you get caught up a little, but please keep us up-dated if you can ! For the Good of the Crafts ! Big AL
 
Bill Bradbury
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Hi Annie,
I know this is a lot to digest, but I would like to further clarify my position and how I got there. I am a lifetime construction guy that bought a 100 year old adobe on a rubble foundation about 20 years ago. There were major drainage issues, my basement would flood, mold grew and my newly installed(that was my job at the time) HVAC equipment was rusting. So, now you know, I feel your pain.
The flooding was also deteriorating the clay mortar in the basement walls, so immediate action was required. I rented a mini excavator; ripped up the concrete patio that sloped the wrong way, broke it into pieces and re-installed as pavers, dug 6-7' deep holes with 3' deep trenches of undisturbed soil, sloping away from the foundation leading the water into the french drains, backfilled everything with gravel to 1', covered with geo-cloth and then soil. It worked and we have not had any further issues.
This system only works for surface water, if your water is coming from below grade(I feel that this is your problem) then you will need to address that with diversionary tactics once the source is identified.
I see 3 possible sources; the stream, the pipe or groundwater.
I would not recommend this job to a home performance contractor unless he has many other qualifications as well. I know because I was one, BPI certified and all. What is taught to them does not begin to address the complexities of this type of work. Your issues may be exacerbated by air infiltration, but this is not the problem. Once you have solved your water problems and you want to lower your energy usage, then a BPI certified home performance contractor is a good choice.
I did not know about the pipeline, so I gave you a wild guess about fracking. My wife is a research geologist working on a paper about the effects of groundwater injection. Fracking generates huge amounts of waste water that is injected into the ground to get rid of it and not always at the well site this is wreaking havoc on the groundwater systems and causing an alarming number of earthquakes in geologically stable zones.
I would investigate the pipeline and stream, The interaction of the 2 could be causing the change that I suspect is the real issue. The heaving pavers you mentioned are a good starting point. Dig a hole there as deep as you are able and watch to see if it fills.
Fresh Water Accountability Project
 
Troy Rhodes
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Tons of good information here. Reduce/eliminate the moisture problems, and the mold becomes a manageable thing.

We had a terrific allergy doctor do one of our Continuing Education seminars a couple years ago. (I'm an eye doctor, and treat allergy related stuff all the time).

The one fact that she warned us about was this: If you get your house professionally assessed for mold, by anybody that knows anything about mold, and you have a basement, they WILL

find mold. Once they officially find it, you have to disclose that fact when you sell the house and the "official" mold problem may affect the price.

It's kind of a game, but now you know how the rules work.



I'm not saying you shouldn't get it assessed by a mold remediation company, and for sure you should fix the moisture problem.

But right now you, a lay person, suspect that you -might- have a mold problem. That's different...


 
Jim Dunkel
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Thanks everyone for your replies. I'm posting to clarify a few points since I co-own the house with Annie. She has done a great job describing our issues and getting this started, and thank you so much to all for your varied and informed opinions. We are new to permies, but feel like we belong here.

1. "your nearly 200 year old house did not always have this problem, so what has changed? has anyone around you been drilling(water, fracking, etc.)?" - well, we don't know that it has not always had this problem. Specifically our basement floor is sandstone bedrock with dry stacked rubble foundation, topped with barnstone and huge sill timbers upon which the house is framed. I see water coming in when it is wet outside. it comes in along the North wall between the sandstone bedrock and the first course of stones. We don't often see water actively entering the basement space during times of low precipitation or during periods where precipitation is frozen and stay on the surface. There is a shallow channel "dug" into the sandstone to guide this water diagonally to a corner of the basement which is lowest and serves as a mini catch-basin, equipped with a sump pump. The water is intentionally directed to this area, and has been for >18 years. We know the previous owners did not design it that way, and have no idea how long it has been that way. Could be since the advent of sump pumps, and before that someone may have used a bucket. That said, it does appear that our ability to control the mold is not as good as previous owners. This could be attributed to their willingness to use harsher chemicals (we mostly use vinegar and homemade non-toxic cleaners), their use of A/C during the summer which dries air out, etc. Last year was an uncharacteristically wet year in our area, and that may have led to an increase.

2. "if your water is coming from below grade (I feel that this is your problem) then you will need to address that with diversionary tactics once the source is identified. I see 3 possible sources; the stream, the pipe or groundwater." - Annie's earlier reference to a stream running under our house was in reference to the above-described water diversion to a sump pump area. We do also have a stream on the property (more like a ditch that dries in the summer and is wet otherwise) to the north of the house, maybe 150', and most of the surface water drains that way. However, the bedrock is shallow, about 5-6' below grade. I tried to pound a ground rod in for the electric fence and had to pound it diagonally to only leave 18" above grade. The bedrock appears to lean down hill from N to S under the house, as explained above. Though everything is worth considering, the water main installed at the street 2 years ago is not a likely source of this water IMHO since the water ingress has been this way for years. The cisterns are a possible source. I pumped them out and have not seen an appreciable increase in water returning to them. I know by inspection that there are no active connections to gutters or other pipes filling them. I also know by inspection the walls are cracked and water from moist soil could possibly enter. They are not completely sealed on top, but only have tiny 2" diameter openings so not much is entering during rains. We have well water, and the well is not at all far from our house, about 3' out from our back porch wall. The well is 70' deep into a sandstone aquifer. I know that not all contaminants can be seen, smelled, or tasted, but our water is pure, clean and delicious and we have noticed no changes in it over 5 years. While we are in an area of the country that is known for possible fracking, there do not appear to be symptoms of fracking groundwater problems and we know of no active fracking sites near us. We have not had earthquakes.

3. "probably the floor can have a drainage layer added, then a clay cap, then an impervious layer to seal ! This may be the same as adding a foot of earth into your basement, reducing your head height as much ! " - This is an interesting proposition. We are hoping to find the right people to come and see our unique, though not unprecedented, situation and provide a menu of solutions and costs that we can pick from. I can deal with losing one foot of headspace in the basement to solve dampness problems. We are starting with a home performance consultant as mentioned here, understanding the moisture may have multiple causes and certainly multiple ways to address it.

4. "So, as well as looking at the potential sources of ingress take a critical look at how you are using the space to see if you are adding excessive moisture through your patterns of use." This is a great point. I'm not aware of any changes which would lead to increased moisture. We did not start drying clothes or large quantities of food indoors. We will refrain from doing so.

5. "I meet lots of people who have a wet basement once. They ask me about the commercials they see for basement dry systems, and mostly, I steer them away. When you get a wet basement once, it's a drainage issue, and you prevent it with sensible use of downspouts. Landscaping and french drains if necessary. But what you're describing actually sounds like you might be a proper candidate for what they're selling. " - Do these systems require drains/gravel below the level of the foundation? If so, we might have the complication of our foundation being solid sandstone and extending greatly beyond the perimeter of our house, probably for miles in all directions! If water is entering between the sandstone bedrock and the rubble wall, how does one direct it away? Seal the wall to the bedrock? This does not seem feasible, but this is my first experience with a very wet basement. Alternatively a channel could be dug through the standstone bedrock and a french drain installed below the level of where the bedrock meets the wall, but that level of site disturbance close to the basement wall would make me nervous that the sandstone supporting the basement walls could crack and create some future structural problem.

Thanks again to all for your sense of adventure and encouragement.
 
Brian Knight
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Jim, sounds like you and Annie are on the right track. Your old home situation is similar to all those with old homes on basements. Having a home specialist that can see the big picture is important to involve in the beginning of major home improvement projects.

Home performance contractors are sort of like general practitioners of existing homes. Getting a basement waterproofing contractor first, could result in poor insulation placement, more risk to the timber/mudsill connection and but most likely, higher radon readings. Similarly, a home performance contractor or energy auditor might recommend an entirely different heating system strategy, where an HVAC contractor will just replace your existing unit with little concern of air-sealing, insulation or even combustion gases. They are also great sources for the other contractors that might be necessary who are familiar with best practices. Just as with other contractors however, not all are created equal so choose wisely of course.

I dont know why people recommend against vapor barriers in below grade situations and usually it seems they dont know why either. All of buildingscience.coms details include them for good reason. I tend to agree with Dr. Joe that closed cell spray foam seems to be a perfect fit for your rubble foundation wall as outlined in that 2nd link I left. It gives you insulation, a vapor barrier and a drainage plane that can be channeled to your sump.
 
Bill Bradbury
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Hi Jim,
It sounds like you know where the source of moisture is and now you just need to divert it. The sandstone layer that your home is on will direct all subsoil runoff in the horizontal, so you will have to re-direct the flow around your house. This can be done with 3 or 4" pipe installed with geo-cloth around it in a gravel trench and run to daylight. I like the little elbows with a pop-up valve for termination.
I hope when you got your energy audit, you got the 1 in 100 Building Analyst that actually knows about buildings like yours and you no longer have any issues.
Vapor barriers on stone foundations: we have already had some discussions about this on this site, so I will refrain from a rant about what works on paper and what actually works.
If you have a wet foundation wall and no vapor barrier between it and your framing timbers, then you had better take a look at that. This is an actual issue with stone foundations that is remedied by lifting the house and installing copper flashings between the foundation and sill plate.
 
Jim Dunkel
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Thanks Bill and Brian.

We did have a home performance professional out to our place for an initial consultation/interview. He lives in an 1835 house himself, came to building science from the insulation trade and is familiar with leading thinkers in building science. He knew about all the building science.com links provided by Brian earlier. We're currently monitoring indoor air quality in a number of locations for about a week to determine humidity, particulate, CO2, VOC and other levels throughout the house. He will be performing a full audit and developing solution packages for high, middle, and low price points explaining the benefits/value of each option and addressing the house as a system. I would not be surprised if something like the below link is on the list. The capillary break makes a lot of sense to me, just afraid of how much it might cost to lift the house to install it! I know each situation is unique, but does anyone here have ballpark estimate for this kind of project? I'm not confident I can do this myself like the gentleman at this link:

http://www.buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-041-rubble-foundations

We had a blower door test and have the distinction of being the "leakiest house per square foot" that this particular professional has ever tested (over 1000 homes). The only house that beat us was 10,000 sqft. Congratulations to us? At least is should be easy to get better... Obviously we would not want to seal up the house without addressing the moisture issue.
 
allen lumley
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Jim D. : Sounds like you found a keeper !

I understand the high medium low bit just fine, no problem there !

However- A piece of air handling equipment can sound much cheaper and very do-able but have hidden costs . Especially when you are told that other steps have to be
taken in order, step A, step B, and Step C, before you get to a energy saving step D! Be sure that you understand clearly about the costs to get to and install step D.

Step D can be totally dependent on A + B+ C = $ + step D = $$ , I am not suggesting anything bad here, just have your eyes open walking in There will be Sticker shock!
For the Good of The Crafts ! Big AL
 
Dale Hodgins
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I generally agree with Brian on these matters.

I have had several people contact me about minor mold problems that are discovered during renovations. I use my tree sprayer to coat it in bleach. Most attend to the underlying problem. Some do not.
 
Bill Bradbury
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I love happy endings!
 
allen lumley
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We can hope. actually to quote Winny Churchill " This is not the End, or the beginning of the End, It is however the End of the Beginning !'' Big AL
 
Brian Knight
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I agree with Al and want to harp on a few more details. By "sealing things up" you are in many ways addressing the moisture issues. Air coming in and going out of a home can transport an enormous amount of moisture and deposit it in some very unfortunate places. All the hype of vapor barrier/retarders should take a back seat to getting serious about stopping uncontrolled air-movement.

While its easy to lose focus by whats going on in the basement, its the ceiling plane, usually the floor of a vented attic in most homes, that offers the most affordable and effective opportunities for improvement. Better air-sealing the attic floor is sure to be some very low hanging fruit and an excellent investment in such a leaky home. Fluffy insulation is not an air-barrier! Its easy to move to gain access to the myriads of air leaks in the ceiling plane/attic floor and its cheap to thickly pile up more fluffy insulation, after air-barrier improvements.

Fixing the rim joist or wood to masonry transition is likely to be the toughest part in a project like this. The only ballpark range I can offer is that it could be between a few hundred $, to tens of thousands to deal with it in the best ways. Get multiple quotes from house lifters, carpenters, and/or GCs. Renovators with experience in this area would probably be the best bet but I wouldnt rule out a contractor specializing in house lifts either. Even a handyman with carpentry experience could tackle a very large project by handling it in small sections.

Its very important to get a good air seal at this location and offers an important opportunity to replace rotten framing. While it might be seen as an energy improvement its also an opportunity to extend the durability and life of the home. Often times, these kind of projects are handled in phases. It might not make sense to tackle the rim joist until the siding needs to be painted or replaced. Please keep us informed of your decisions, progress and results as this could serve as a great example for the many folks with similar situations.

 
Jim Dunkel
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Big Al,
We understand that most recommendattions will be interrelated, and we understand each step is to gain control of the system. That if one component is omitted, the system may still be out of control. It is not quite all-or-nothing, but fixing one thing without fixing the others could actually lead to new problems. Unfortunately, we don't expect to see a lot of $ savings since we heat with wood. I'm sure I'd not need to split as much wood, which would save time, but I do enjoy heating with wood and the whole process of supplying this fuel for ourselves. I can only see our hot water electricity bill dropping if the air leaks keep the basement warmer, but anything we do would be for health and comfort. If we are going to stay put, we can later invest in solar and with an up-front layout escape the electric bill and attending coal electric plant emissions. But we need to know what the whole solution looks like and costs before we can make that decision.

Brian,
I'd bet that 90% of the moisture enters the house through the basement, so sealing things up may not help moisture, but trap it in. I expect we'll learn more as the process continues. We can keep this post updated, but we haven't decided if we'll stay and fix.

Dale, I think it is either the middle of the beginning, or the beginning of the end.

Jim
 
Susan Doyon
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I am very interested to hear how you deal with this we inherited an 1840 farmhouse with major mold and moisture and I am allergic .
Basement has an open drain that runs underground to drain the water but still there is much condensation
we are still in clean out mode but I can not go near the place with out allergy meds and then have to keep it to short amounts of time . so I will be very interested to hear what works .
 
allen lumley
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- I got this from a highly thought of Doctor connected with Albany Allergy and Asthma (clinic).
If you are suffering more at night than during the day-so that you can not sleep, or your sleep is interrupted -

Wash your entire head paying close attention to your hair every night, change and put two pillow cases on your sleeping pillow every day !

Almost everyone who complained of congestion, sinus headaches or feeling to jumpy to sleep got some relief, many like myself got complete relief most nights !

Hope this helps everyone that finds themselves with reactions to living conditions like these ! For the Good of the Crafts ! Big AL
 
Susan Doyon
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Thank you Allen
 
Brian Knight
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I have to beat the air sealing drum a bit more here and offer another possible solution. Iam sure Jim is probably correct in that 90% of moisture problems are originating in the basement. What's unclear is how much of that is bulk water (leaks of bulk water through basement walls). As Jim mentions, this happens after heavy rains but not all the time.

The other 2 mechanisms of moisture entry are happening close to 24/7. Water vapor and air-infiltration might be bigger problems than the bulk water. Basement walls carry more water vapor risk than above grade walls but with such a leaky house, its possible that the air leaks are introducing more moisture problems than the water vapor from the ground.

Air can carry a lot of moisture and basements without insulation will tend to have surfaces below the due point. Cold surfaces + humidity = condensing surface. Those surfaces will soak up, wick and transport the moisture throughout the house. The biggest drivers of moisture dense air to other areas of the house tends to be HVAC and the stack effect. By sealing ductwork and the ceiling plane, we can slow down the air movement and moisture transport.

Usually its easier in old homes, especially when not addressing the rim joist problems, to seal the attic floor/upper level ceiling which will reduce the amount of air coming into the basement and causing the moisture problems in the first place. If its coming in, its going out. Stop where its going out and you can reduce whats coming in.

Yes this could compound the vapor problems down there if the basement is not water/damproofed or insulated, but most of the time blocking air movement makes it easier to control the vapor problem because their is less moisture overall to deal with. Unfortunately, because of lax building practices (enter please build to minimum code comment here) most east coast basements are going to need some amount of dehumidification.

Fortunately, heat pump water heaters are beginning to come down in price and are the perfect fit for this situation because they naturally de-humidify the air and are the most efficient water heaters for common fossil fuels but can also be run on renewables . I strongly urge people with humid basement issues to explore replacing their current water heater with a heat pump water heater especially if you are due for replacement or have an atmospherically vented gas water heater. Heat pump water heaters may not entirely handle the moisture load of a basement but they can make a huge difference and should bring down water heating costs as well. They dont have the Indoor Air Quality concerns of combustion water heaters and readily accept renewable pre-heat inputs like RMH, compost and solar.

 
allen lumley
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Brian I am paying attention Heat pump water heaters ! I need to do some homework ! Big AL
 
Jim Dunkel
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Brian and all,

I do understand air sealing as a source of water vapor in the house (though likely a minority source), and that foundation walls may be cool enough to be below dew point, offering a surface to condense on. And certainly water vapor is escaping the walls into the basement air (as evidenced by mineral encrusted surfaces of the interior rubble walls, suggesting again this has been happening for about 180 years). I'm sure I'll have this conversation with the Home Performance professional (HPP?) we've hired, but want to ask for other opinions as well. What would be the result of vapor barrier and insulation of basement walls with minimal air sealing and insulation of the upstairs walls and ceiling? I mention this not because, if we stay and tackle this project, we would not eventually do those things. But since this would require phased implementation, we'd want to do the thing that would most help the apparent mold issue first, and soon. In my mind, this would be the basement, and after taking this single step we should see a huge improvement. But I'm a rookie, here.

As I see it, providing a drainage plane below a moisture barrier and installing a capillary break under the sills, then insulating, would raise the temp of all basement interior surfaces. Maybe not to the point of the upstairs temperature, but at least raise it, decreasing likelihood of moist outside air condensing to later evaporate and keep indoor humidity high. This would also effectively air-seal the basement, but not the first or second levels. However, due to whole house stack effect, moist air that leaks in at the first or second floor is much more likely to go up, not down into the slightly cooler basement to condense. (Well, I guess this would depend on the temp of the outside air. In the winter it would sink down, but would contain far less water vapor.) Since the flooring on the first floor is single layer and much of it original, there are a lot of gaps and we expect basement air to go up into the house, especially because there are a lot of places in the basement which require air sealing. But I don't expect a lot of this to go down. This is in part because we heat primarily with wood using a first-floor wood stove. We have some convective air circulation, but we are not circulating air via a forced-air furnace unless the outside temps are below 10 degrees F or so, and that usually only happens a few times a year here.

Our HPP has already mentioned replacing our oil furnace with a heat pump that we can eventually power via solar as our back-up source of heat. We have an electric water heater now, but not a heat pump electric water heater. I'll have to look into that before ours fails and we are looking to replace. I'm learning a lot which will be useful no matter where we end up living in the end. Just thinking of the possibilities is an adventure.
 
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