Proper Moisture Levels for a Healthy Home

We all enjoy the added benefit of running water inside our homes, but what we don’t often realize is that the moisture it brings with it is both a blessing and a curse.  Having the proper amount of moisture will ensure your health and the health of your building.  But when you have too much, your building can fail in many ways that can not only damage the structure but affect your health and well-being.  The information that follows is a tool to help you keep moisture in your house at acceptable and healthy levels.

When moisture is at appropriate levels, we tend to ignore it. But when it gets out of control it always leaves a calling card, sometimes in the areas of rotting wood, rusting metal, moldy surfaces, window condensation, peeling paint, and spalling masonry (surface deterioration).  Depending on your sensitivity to moisture, you may experience dryness in your nose and respiratory system when moisture is insufficient, or experience allergic reactions from the molds and other allergens produced by organisms that are encouraged by too much moisture.  Sometimes moisture’s calling card is in a hidden crawlspace, in a wall cavity, under a carpet or under a cardboard box sitting on a basement or garage floor.  In these cases we have to do some serious exploring that involves turning things over and opening up places so we can get a better view.  This is sometimes referred to as a moisture audit.

One of the things you will learn from a moisture audit is that you should not always blame Mother Nature for the crazy things happening in your house.  More often than not the problems can be traced to mistakes builders, contractors, building material manufacturers, and homeowners make in the creation, maintenance and use of residential living spaces.  You have to learn how to live safely in your house.  Even with the best precautions, accidents happen.  We have to take the “accidents” that we cause or permit to happen with moisture in our homes and learn from them so we are less likely to cause them again.  This audit is an attempt to teach you how to keep moisture from hurting your house and you.

Many moisture problems can be solved yourself with just a little knowledge and understanding.  Some will require the help of a contractor, like Maintenance Made Simple, and sometimes you will need the help of a person(s) who can use diagnostic tools to help locate and solve moisture problems in your home.  Your moisture audit will hopefully help you know when each resource is appropriate and which strategy will be the most cost effective in solving your particular moisture problem(s).

So, let’s begin.  A moisture problem always triggers four questions:

  1. Where did the moisture come from – the source.
  2. How did the moisture get to where it caused the problem – the path.
  3. Was the moisture a vapor, in bulk or a condensate or combination of the three – the moisture form.
  4. Was it gravity, air pressure, capillarity, or diffusion that carried the moisture from one place to another – the driving/pulling force.

Most moisture problems fall into two types:

  1. For example, water leaking into the corner of a basement (form:bulk) is likely coming in through openings in the basement wall (path),  the water is coming from the downspout that is spilling water in this corner of the house (source) and gravity is carrying the water in (driving/pulling force).   Some can be surface water and some from a broken storm drain, but it is all associated in the same area.
  2. For example, a cathedral ceiling roof, with many recessed lighting fixtures (path) creating holes between the inside of the house and the roof surface, is rotting because of all the moisture (vapor) these little “chimneys” have sucked out of the apparently dry basement walls (source) is condensing on the underside of the roof sheathing during the cold winter months.

If you have a moisture problem, where do you start?  First, define the problem.  Describe the moisture problem as specifically as you can.  Given what you have described, try to answer as many of the following questions as possible:

  • Is the problem related to the seasons of the year?
  • Is the problem only evident when it rains or snow melts?
  • Is the problem related to any activity by a resident?
  • How many persons have been living in this residence during the course of this problem?  How many before this problem?
  • What repairs, replacements or additions were made to the house in the weeks/months prior to the problem’s appearance?

If possible, take a photo of the problem(s) and the immediate areas around it.  Unless it is readily apparent, do not attempt the repairs yourself, unless it is something you have sufficient skills to do.  The last thing you want is to complicate the issue.  Feel free to give us a call.  We would be happy to help.

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May 2009

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