Crawl space protects house

By taking good care of your crawl space, it will take care of your whole house.

The true purpose of a crawl space is to have easy access to the mechanical and sub-surface structural components of your home.

When your home was constructed, it was likely well-lit and storage free to provide easy access for working in. It should remain the same way for the duration of the home.

Unfortunately, some home owners see their crawl spaces as great storage space for infrequently used belongings.

However, the out of sight, out of mind approach may cause immense problems down the road. It stands to reason that crawl spaces with excessive storage make it difficult to look for developing problems.

Crawl spaces are prone to sub-surface activity that range from moisture problems to pest infestations, and if you can’t easily inspect for them, they’ll develop until they become a known problem.

Good home inspectors will tell you upfront that water is the No. 1 enemy of all homes. Once we have a water or moisture problem, they can be hard and expensive to fix.

In some cases, moisture related problems can lead to health problems.

Interestingly, most moisture problems in houses are a result of the actions of the home owner and not a result of natural occurrences. I

nstalling irrigation systems against the home is a common source of water intrusion in crawl spaces. Faulty and unmaintained gutter and downspouts systems can direct water where it can do harm.

Pest infestations can be a great concern for homeowners. Mice and rats can harbour in your crawl space unnoticed for ages without being detected, and their activity can be destructive.

The same can be said about subterranean termites. Yes, the Okanagan is home to termites. If you’ve had an infestation you’ll know what I’m talking about.

It can be difficult for homeowners to see clues of wood destroying insects (WDOs), because, for the most part, these pests live underground, but they do pop up into houses to investigate for new habitat and food sources.

That can be bad news. If your crawl space is full of storage, termites can be at work destroying the structural components of a home completely unnoticed.

Top four reasons why your home may be at risk of termites:

  • Access — In homes with concrete foundations and concrete floors, termites can enter a home through openings as narrow as two pieces of paper put together – think cracks. Once they get in and establish themselves, these WDOs have a never ending appetite.
  • Temperature – Much the same as humans, termites like to be comfortable. Any home that is climate controlled year round helps create optimal conditions for termites.
  • Moisture – We talked about moistures sources like faulty gutters and downspouts, and irrigation systems, but we need to add leaking plumbing components and sub-surface water activity to the list.
  • Food source – Termites eat wood. All wood products are at risk of infestation by termites. Firewood, decaying landscape structures, soil grading too high at the structure and concealed framing components are at risk.

Taking care and inspecting your crawl space can seem like a pain in the butt. Problems that develop in crawl spaces can fester for years and can affect the whole house and its occupants.

Regular inspections of your crawl space can help you identify moisture, rodent and nasty termite infestations.

Remember, take care of your crawl space and you’ll take care of the whole house.

Using space heaters

When things get cold, the cold turn up the heat

As the cold winds of winter approach, it's time to turn up the heat.

For most of us, turning up the heat means setting the temperature on the central heating system thermostat to warm.

However, some of us need only to heat a small area of our home for a short period of time, that’s where space heaters come in handy.

Some people use space heaters for comfort heat in addition to the heat produced by their central heating system.

While effective for warmth, this approach can inflate heating bills and doing so doesn’t fix heating system inadequacies that can otherwise be solved in cost effective ways.

Studies show that the cost of heating with central heating systems is less than half of what electric space heaters cost to heat the same space.

Electric space heaters warm rooms in a couple of ways: radiant heat or convection heat. Radiant heat is much like the warmth that you feel when you are in the sunshine.

The closer you are to a radiant space heater the more warmth you’ll feel. Convection heaters warm the air around the heater. The warm air rises from the heater to the ceiling while pulling the cooler air towards the heater to create a convection loop.

Some electric heaters have built-in fans to spread heat further than relying on convection alone.

There are several benefits to electric space heaters. First, they don’t have the costs and regulations associated with combusting fuel and they can be installed in pretty much every room.

Electric heat is 100 per cent efficient and since electric heaters have a limited amount of working parts they are very reliable and have long life spans.

Of course, electric space heaters capitalize on the green energy factor. Besides being 100 per cent efficient they don’t produce carbon dioxide while generating zero local emissions.

Today’s portable space heaters include a variety of safety features. Models with Tip-Over protection automatically shut off when they are tipped over for any reason. Models with overheat protection automatically shut off when the upper limit is reached.

When buying a space heater look for CSA (Canadian Standards Association) or UL (Underwriters Laboratories) certifications so that you can be confident it's safe to use at home. Look for heating element guards and read and follow all of the manufacturer’s instructions for operation and care.

To make the most of your space heater, use it in a small or enclosed space, and try placing it in the corner of the room. Keep doors shut to keep the heat in the room that you're using.

When winter gets cold, and it’s time to turn up the heat, it’s almost impossible to find another heating appliance that delivers the same amount of comfort for such a small investment as a space heater does.

So go ahead, use space heaters as a secondary heat source for a small room or a way to add a little heat to a chilly space.


A house to love

There is a certain irresistible charm about a century-old home and, in many cases, ends up as love at first sight.

There is certain timeliness about heritage homes, as if they have always been there and always will be. The interiors of heritage homes offer an aura of history that translates into a sense of belonging and calm.

Old homes offer unique styles and classic designs using building techniques from an era gone by.

I’ve heard their owners say they love living in an older house over a new one, because they have the satisfaction of saving a piece of history.

Their stone foundations are made from materials as old as nature. Their walls are made from old-growth lumber and fastened together with brute strength workmanship and sweat.

Sometimes, it seems as though they are a portal to the past and they tend to offer a sense of trust having stood in place for decades and decades.

When this home was built, horses and buggies were the easiest way to get into and out of town. Soon, over the next few years, Ford Model Ts would start rolling off the assembly line in Highland Park, Mich., some 2,300 miles away.

They just don't build them like they used to, but that’s because people lived differently 100 years ago than we do today.

  • The floor plans had purpose.
  • Everyone went upstairs to rest.
  • The kitchen was a place to prepare meals.
  • The dining room was where people sat down to enjoy them.
  • The living room was the social area where guests gathered to converse.

Earlier generations understood it best: Less is more.

The construction techniques and tools were basic. I don’t think “perfectly level” was really a big thing back then, but “good enough” was.

In most heritage builds, the foundation began as a hand-dug hole in the ground. Next, rocks, stones and boulders were hand placed to form a foundation wall.

Of course, over time, almost every home settles to some extent. In a heritage home, sloping and rolling floors are the norm. The roof ridge and roof deck are expected to sag over the years. You just have to go with it.

All homes need maintenance and upkeep. Keeping an older home in top condition requires commitment, but here’s the thing: heritage homeowners that I have spoken with have an unequivocal love for their homes that translates into a long-lasting sense of pride of ownership.

They know that with character and age comes expected and some unexpected updates and repairs, it’s a labour of love as they say. Some say we should learn from other countries the value of keeping older homes and fixing them up.

You may not get crushes on older houses, but some people do, and they completely fall in love with them.

They adore the character that comes from a charming house built at the turn of the last century, before cars, telephones and the Internet.

What’s not to love about that?

Beat the heat

The best thing you can do to keep your air-conditioning system running properly is to perform preventative maintenance on the system at the outset of the summer.

Good news. It’s not too late to service your air conditioner and doing so may pave the way to a comfortable rest of the summer.

After you have had a technician service your air-conditioner system, you can take over with routine maintenance tasks.

The single most important maintenance task that will ensure the efficiency of your air conditioner is to routinely replace its filter.

A clogged, dirty filter significantly obstructs airflow and your equipment will work harder to meet demand. When the filter is sufficiently clogged, the furnace blower may not be able to send conditioned air to where it’s needed.

My friends in the air-conditioning service business tell me that the No. 1 solution to their most popular call, “my air conditioner isn’t working,” is to replace the dirty filter.

For central air conditioners, air filters are generally located where the air-return duct meets the furnace. Sometimes the filter is located in the furnace blower cavity.

Room air conditioners have a filter mounted in the grill that faces into the room.

Some types of cartridge filters are disposable, others are reusable after washing. From what I see in the field, the washable filters are not very popular.

With good intentions, homeowners buy the washable filters only to find that cleaning the debris that is sucked into them is unpleasant and not worth the work to clean them.

The plastic mesh filters, are usually ineffective. The mesh is not good at filtering out dust. Left unchanged, the power of the furnace blower usually sucks the dust out of mesh filters and blows it back into your home.

In my book, mesh filters are best used to catch rocks.

It’s the paper-pleated furnace filters that I like. The pleated pattern makes for a larger surface area. The range is from good to best.

A good, paper-pleated filter catches most debris and is suitable for most families and equipment needs. The best ones are more expensive and filter out allergens.

Once you reach the level of the highest-priced filters, it’s time to think about an air-purification system to meet your health needs.

Summer is the peak months for problems with air-conditioning equipment. Although there are several contributing factors to these problems, starting the cooling season with a service, and plenty of clean filters will give the best chance to beat the heat.

More About the House articles

About the Author

When you need advice or guidance with DIY home improvement and repairs, Hugh Cairns can help you with the answers.

Home improvements can be rewarding, turn your home into a nicer more comfortable place to live, and increase its value.

Whether you are renovating your kitchen, converting a loft, giving a room a lick of paint or making improvements to your home’s energy efficiency, this column is here to guide you with useful information and key things to remember.

Do you have a renovation question or concern? Please feel free to send Hugh your questions. Contact him through www.subject2homeinspections.com

The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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