Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Infrared: seeing black

This is a little teaser of the energy audit. 

I got to play with the thermal camera for a bit. I think he wanted to distract me while he prepped for the pressure test. Hey, I’m a sucker for gadgets so it was worth it. Knowing that bedroom 4 (aka the pink room) has some challenges, I decided to check it out for myself. The top plates and foot plates weren’t sealed at all. Does that surprise me? Absolutely not. It wasn’t required back then so why would they do such a thing?

I also took readings in the master bedroom which was about 70F with cold spots on the floor at 60F. The pink room is several degrees colder anyhow but all that purple and black is just not good. We can’t do anything about the corners and likely not the top plates either unless we seal the soffits. One thing that we can do is caulk the bottom plates when we rip out the carpet. It will help block the air flow but not stop it at the source.

Forgive the poor quality and lack of cropping and whatnot. I was taking photos with my phone while gunning the walls. I’m not in the mood to beautify these pictures. Don’t worry, I convinced the hubby that we really need our own thermal camera so I’ll have nicer images. They are surpringly not that expensive and it should arrive in a few days. Woot! I also have some really cool ideas for science fair projects so it’s an educational tool as well. In my book, it’s a win-win.

Spray foam insulation later this week!

Saturday, February 17, 2018

Update 2: Unplanned water feature

Do you know what else shouldn’t be wet? Ceilings. It should not rain from the ceiling, unless of course you have one of those fantastic rain showerheads in your bathroom.

January 2015 - It got cold—cold enough to freeze the water in the fire suppression sprinkler system in the unconditioned space in the attic. The pipes popped above the hall bathroom which meant it was affected as well as the adjoining areas on the second floor (bedroom 4, hallway, master closet, laundry room, sitting area in master bedroom), the first floor (kitchen, dining room, and morning room), and the basement. Some new carpet padding, bits of drywall, and some paint took care of most of the ceiling and wall damage. The noise of all of the dehumidifiers and blowers made sleeping and conversations difficult. Fortunately, the little humans’ bedrooms were not affected and they could shut their doors. Sadly, the hardwood floors in the kitchen were not salvageable; practically the entire first floor flooring had to be replaced. We ended up laying wood-look tile and it was a fantastic choice because the temperatures dipped again...

Goodbye, beautiful red oak

Hello, pretty porcelain tile

January 2018 - The temperature dropped into the single digits and POP went the pipe again. This time, it popped over the laundry room. Fortunately, this means bedroom 4, dining room, and morning room weren’t affected. No one checked the wall between the laundry room and bathroom so who knows what’s behind the washer and dryer. I suppose we’ll find out soon. There was only a little bit of water in the basement but the tile in the kitchen definitely helped keep the water on the the second floor. This time, we will need to completely replace the drywall in the laundry, closet, and kitchen ceilings and in the shared laundry and closet walls. The subfloor in the hallway also needs to be replaced as does the carpet on the second floor. Lots and lots of painting because of continuous space.

Once was more than enough. Twice severely irritates me. I’m starting to not like the month of January—boo to winter! I spent a significant amount of time trying to see what extra things we can do to exceed the insulation requirements. There aren’t set standards and that shocks me. It also shocks me that the town’s ordinance office was not aware that this RH development has had a handful of houses with water pipe bursts at the same time as both of ours. Some houses had to be gutted (per the water recovery specialists). I think wind is playing a major part based on our roof and gable as the windward side (northwest) of the house is always cold. I’ve some ideas for better soffit baffles, insulated boxes, and additional insulation barriers. Relocating the pipes into the walls versus ceiling is allowable but it’ll be out-of-pocket and expensive.

2018 - cracked fire suppression pipes

Being is ‘to code’ doesn’t necessarily mean it was done well or in the most effective manner. Let’s focus on the unconditioned space on the windward side of house.
  • Baffles are good. Having cheap baffles that lose their structural integrity so they can’t perform their function is not. Baffles are meant to redirect airflow toward the ridge (in my case) and not allow air to disturb the insulation or hit the knee wall.
  • Insulation is good. Blown in insulation settles and well, gets blown around when the baffles are crap and so, are not as good. Older building requirements for lower R values, also not good. Settling or compression reduces insulation R values. Insufficient depth also reduces R value.
  • Fire sprinkler systems are good. When contained in conditioned (i.e., warm) spaces to take advantage of ambient heat, this is also good. When placed within the height of the truss joist and adequately insulated (not wrapped but either boxed or tented), this is good. Running pipes along the top of truss joists with tented batt insulation is acceptable when temperatures "can remain above 40F; however, is horribly inefficient because those batts only insulate pipes in the spaces between the truss joists and leave the pipes completely exposed where they run across the truss joists. The 2015 breaks were at these points when temperatures dipped into the single digits. 
After the first incident, the temperature was going to dip again and I ramped the R value of the batts near the pipes, tented them, and ran more perpendicular batts across the top according to NFPA 13D recommendations. I made sure there weren’t any gaps to allow cold air in and the warm air out. So what happened in 2018? Recall that the affected pipes are on the windward side, which gets hit so hard at times that you can hear the house wrap flapping. I think our model is the only one with a finished attic in the RH side of our community and from having crawled around in the unfinished area, it’s pretty tight moving around in there.

I can only speculate that the suboptimal baffles allowed the super cold wind to enter the space and blow directly toward the pipes and blown-in insulation instead of along the roof toward the ridge line. This significantly reduced the temperature of the space and disturbed the blown-in insulation, causing a wind tunnel. We will need to call in some insulation specialists and will likely have to strip everything out and start from scratch. Perhaps additional construction is required. [insert sarcastic “Yay!” here]


  • In case you are wondering, plumbers cannot service the fire sprinkler system. You need to call a company that specializes in fire protection systems—a certified sprinkler technician. Some folks get testy if you call a sprinkler technician a plumber.
  • Your fire suppression system is connected to your main water line. Know where your shut off valve is located!
  • Wet/dry shop vacuums are fantastic. We bought one the morning of the first pipe burst.
  • You will need at least two technician visits: one to replace and glue the pipes and the second to perform a pressure test and turn on the water.
  • Insulation, once wet, is no longer effective, not even after it's been dried.
  • Water recovery specialists can only remove the wet/affected insulation and they cannot replace it for you. 
  • Unlike typical water pipes, the fire suppression/sprinkler systems should not be wrapped. They need the radiant heat from the conditioned space (in this case, need the ceiling heat from the rooms below). Tenting is recommended. See NFPA 13D (or 13R if you live in a townhouse).
  • Building codes change. You’re fine unless you are repairing/renovating. Contact your local ordinance office.
  • Insurance companies will only pay to return the house to it’s pre-existing state, unless it needs to meet new codes.
  • Have an energy audit performed.

EDIT: We had an energy audit performed and an insulation specialist come out. We also learned our neighborhood would not be up to code had the houses been built after 2012. More to come in a future post.

Saturday, January 27, 2018


I realize it has been quite some time since my last post and I finally got around to resetting that long since forgotten password. I found a couple draft posts that were never published. One in particular resurfaced some suppressed memories of the first time we walked through the doors as owners.  Let’s say that I was less than satisfied with what had transpired with the cleaning crew and was hesitant about posting a vent/rant. I decided to post it as-is because, frankly, I continue to be reminded and annoyed about the craftsmanship, or rather the lack thereof, that went into this house. I am still finding things that irritate me. Some I probably could have caught but there are so many things going on with a build that there’s bound to be some you overlook or forget to revisit. Then, there are things like building codes that you have to investigate after the fact but the local ordinance can’t do anything about it because it passed inspection in 2012 and codes/ordinances have since been revised. I get it but I don’t have to be happy about it.

I have been sifting though this blog’s past entries recently looking at the construction pictures trying to gain insight and compiling some renovation ideas. You read that correctly. I did type renovation. The house isn’t even six years old.

Let me start you off with some minor things that didn’t quite go as expected:

The cleaning crew, the drafty bedroom, the painter, the leak in the attic furnace room. Sigh... You can read that here. That drafty bedroom was never addressed and we relocated M to another room. EnergyStar certified? Hardly.

Master Bath
There should be an arch in the bathroom. I missed it on the walkthrough; perhaps I was distracted by the nonstandard ORB shower surround that the PM was able to have installed. Shame on me but I scowl every time I see the tall uncased opening. If it’s not arched, it should be encased like the rest of the house for consistency’s sake (and my sanity).

Houses settle, especially new ones. I just don’t like having to weatherstrip the front door and the door to the garage because I can see daylight and feel a breeze when they’re closed. I am tired of looking at nail pops and seam cracks. (This is me just complaining because I can. If I’m going to be negative, I’m not holding back.) The tile grout is cracking in the shower and the tub surround. The caulking around the door casings and the steps are pulling off as everything shifts and creates gaps. Again, to be expected but highly annoying.

Not having functional light switches and listening to the clicking as the light goes on and promptly goes off is annoying. This happened in the second floor hallway, first floor hallway, and the basement. Having an electrician tell you it was shoddy workmanship is a bit disturbing  when you consider what else could possibly go wrong. The master bedroom light randomly turns on when we’re using the ceiling fan. If I am in the dining room, I need to walk the length of the kitchen to turn on the kitchen lights. Poor design.

Remember that hump in the attic floor at the top of the steps and the structural engineer that was going to check it out? I was so disgusted with the attempt to remedy it that I just didn’t want anyone associated with RH back in the house. You can’t dump leveling compound ON the hump itself and expect it to become less pronounced. Maybe it was supposed to have magical reduction properties but, no, they just made it worse. I have a little hill at the top of the steps.

Those half columns that were horribly assembled and redone still make me want to take a sledgehammer to them.  Square is something that is hard to do in this house. It’s a recurring theme.

I don’t know if I mentioned the issue with the master bedroom subfloors or not. Recall that it rained a lot during the build. I worried about bowing. Guess what. They bowed. I wanted them replaced. Were they? Of course not. The edges were sanded. I have dips and ridges and gaps and nail pops.  No, really, they used nails on the subfloor and my feet find them.

So I’ve heard from folks that used to work for/with RH and the subs are allotted a specific budget and of course to keep costs down, some subs get creative—like using nails instead of screws (or not replacing subflooring). Let’s continue with the subfloor. My floors squeak and move because of those ineffective nails or from the lack of any sufficient method of securing them. I’m currently staring at the hallway subfloor (more on that later) and I can’t wait for it to removed from the premesis. Not only is the integrity compromised from being waterlogged twice (three times if you count the construction phase) but it epitomizes everything I despise about how this house was constructed. There’s one gap that’s wide enough to insert my thumb. Some of this floor trench was left empty but most of it was filled with sawdust, nails, scrap wood, and possibly some grout or glue. It’s brown. The edges of the boards aren’t secured, hence the movement and the squeaking. One board which is currently only halfway covered by padding and carpet has ONE screw and ONE nail and looks as though someone used a circular saw to create a quarter-inch deep groove through the center. I’m afraid to rip up the rest of the carpet. Seriously, what else am I going to uncover?

I also now know why the marble threshold to the bathroom is cracked. It’s not resting on a solid layer of mortar. Gaps equals cracks. Nice. I discovered this while inspecting the trench.

Do you recall the gap between the foundation and the frame of the basement slider. I have no idea if they ever caulked it or filled it but I’m going to need a new door frame. I’ve never seen so many ladybugs enter from a door ... or water. I’m glad we didn’t finish the basement because I’d be having some major water issues. Not just there, but my floor and walls.  Grading and tarring weren’t exactly on my side.  The dirt is not supposed to be higher than the tar. My walls shouldn’t be wet either.  Looks like we will be investing in tarring, painting, sealing, and insulating the foundation. I am so looking forward to doing this prematurely. (Bitter? Me?) At least we haven’t finished the basement yet.

It doesn’t take much more than logic to understand that a gutter needs to be appropriately sized for the volume of water it must manage. I posted about this previously but the same image is below. Heavy rains caused overflows that displaced mulch until we placed a flat rock to diffuse the impact. We treated the symptom, not the cause. We have ice dams. I’m constantly checking the garage for signs of water damage.  

displaced mulch

I love water. Really, I do. I just don’t want it where it doesn’t belong. Wait until you read the upcoming post about the fire sprinklers!

Meh — The post that almost never was

Much has happened which is why I’d abandoned this blog for so long.  I will post more about some of the issues and some things to expect as the house ages and settles. I should have been the annoying client who demanded higher quality.  

Should’ve, could’ve, would’ve.

The content below had been tucked away as a draft since October 17, 2012. I was obviously hesitant to post it shortly after closing but given some recent events, it deserves a little daylight. It remains unedited.

Disclaimer:  The post is filled with negativity.  Building a house with anyone is bound to result in some disappointments of varying degrees.  Of all the things to complain about, I'm glad it's not structural and only cosmetic.  

I truly wish people (in general) would take more pride in their work.  I can tell you that our finishing team was not detail-oriented and they definitely were not perfectionists by any stretch of the imagination.  I'm trying hard to look past the imperfections but now that I've actually documented them, it's hard to overlook this lengthy list.  Perhaps it's just not me being overly critical.  Perhaps they were just that lackluster.  I honestly think that they just didn't care at all:  another house, another job, get in, get out as fast as possible.  If I had one word to summarize my current overall feelings it would be "craptacular".

This post had many potential titles.  I'll omit the ones with expletives seeing how this is supposed to a family-friendly blog.

"Things I can't stand about the house" 
"What happened to craftsmanship and pride in one's work?"

Before we get to the (attempted) finishing, let's roll back to cleaning crew.  They came not once but twice.  The first was before the demonstration (a Tuesday) and the second was the day of closing (a Friday).  We had asked for the second cleaning because, well, the house just was not cleaned very well.  Little did I know at the time that the cloudiness that we saw on the cabinets was not a lack of cleaning but actually a smearing of paint.  (More on that later.)

Immediately after closing, we headed to the house and saw a pile of boots and shoes on our stoop so we decided to do some shopping to give the cleaning crew time to wrap up.  When we returned, I was on the verge of tears.  No, these eyes did not water from of happiness or joy or elation for entering what was officially "our" house but of disappointment.  Perhaps the overreaction was from funky hormones but my heart did sink.  I just signed away hundreds of thousands of dollars for something "meh"?

The cleaning crew went to town with the Old English.  It was dripping down the sides of the kitchen cabinets.  The haze on the island just would not go away (even with my own elbow grease).  Our socks were ruined from the Old English on the floor.  There were blobs of putty randomly scattered all over the hardwood and the putty that was intentionally placed there to fill the cracks didn't even match the stain so they stuck out like a sore thumb.  Between Tuesday and Friday, someone had managed to scratch, crack,and gouge the planks.

The staircase was bathed in Old English -- the steps were glistening like it had just rained polish.  I placed my hand on the railing.  Yup. it was completely brown from Old English.  The white risers and balusters had a wonderful brown sheen to them as did the wall.  (recall that these walls are super absorbent).  I have this love-hate relationship with the staircase.  I so want to love it but the "finishing" has left me sorely disappointed.  The painters had slapped on what appears to be a single super thick coat.  I can still see bare wood in places, I can see drips and streaks -- definitely not professionally done.  Heck, even I know multiple thin coats are needed for a nice finish and I bet your tushie that I could have done a better job.  In fact, I had asked the back-up PM for pint of paint to do some touch ups.  We were completely surprised to find a painter IN our house -- unannounced.  (Um, hello, this is a residence now, please knock... and he was so very lucky the dogs were at my parents' house)  I felt a little at ease with the thought that some touch-ups would be done while I was busily slapping on some Very Berry pink paint elsewhere.  Yeah, no.  The only thing he did was paint over the Old English on the balusters and risers.  We ended up getting a gallon each of wall and trim paint so I can do it myself.  While I appreciate that RH gave us extra paint, the point is that we should not be in this position in the first place.  

Poor drainage
The basement furnace doesn't drain properly.  The pipes are parallel to the floor so there's no gravity-assisted movement of water from the furnace to the drain pipe.  Standing water = not so good. 

Water issues with HVAC
The attic furnace needs some attention:  Either there's a crapload (technical term) of condensation on the line or there's a water leak in the exhaust pipe/roof.  We had a puddle of water sitting on the furnace.  Thankfully, the now-ruined manual soaked up most of the water but there was water dripping on the electrical wires within the unit itself.  Somehow in all of this too, two nylon (?) straps where shreaded and stripped from the walls.  The last time we saw something like this was when we had a water-logged HVAC line.

Cold bedroom
BR#4 (M's room) is dramatically colder than any other room on the second floor.  We're not sure if it's because of something with the HVAC line or if those windows are super drafty.  I compared the rear windows with the ones in the dining room (immediately below) and there was a significant difference in the draft.  Not sure if anything will/can be done about this. 

Unwanted Paint
The cabinets in the master bath are speckled from the spraying.
Vanity counter in master bathroom is scratched/splotches of paint
Kitchen island cabinets have a cloudy haze from smeared paint
Paint on the step trimwork

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

"Redi" or not

It's a strange feeling not being at work because of the move and settling in and I find that I need to take more time off more often.  This is nice!  Next week I head back to the office and then it's likely late evening posts for me again.  However, since I'm home this week and my art/craft area is 50% complete and begging me to use it, I thought I'd give toss in a simple crafty idea but first, some background:

Privacy won out over waiting until we get the nice blinds for the 72-inch windows so at roughly $8 a piece, we purchased the white 36x72 light-filtering, temporary Redi Shades and cut them down to the correct width (I opted for 34.25 inches).  Before you go running off to buy these, please note that the tape WILL pull off bits of your drywall when you are ready to take them down.  If you don't want to spackle and repaint later, this is not recommended.  I'm pretty familiar with the putty knife and paint brush so I don't mind.  If you decide to go forth and spend the big $8, make sure you have a brand new blade in your utility knife so as to get the smoothest cuts.  Also ensure you keep the pleat facing you so the shade hides the taped piece and gives a nicer appearance.  (I put one in backwards and this is where I learned it will damage your drywall.)