Troubled Houses - The Home Owner's Resourcesm - Townhomes
We see many interesting adverse conditions during our inspections, partly because of the unlimited number of ways people can mess up a house, but also because we do a thorough inspection to reveal these adverse conditions. We hope these stories and illustrations help home owners avoid these costly conditions by learning about causes, preventions, and remedies. A home purchase can create opportunities for the new owner to improve the home, possibly increasing its value, durability, and usefulness.
NOTICE TO BUYERS & SELLERS: This site does NOT encourage or discourage the purchase of any individual house, or style, age, location, or condition of house. Conditions shown and/or described in the following articles may have been remedied at the house where these conditions were found. These conditions typically can be remedied by qualified contractors. The presence of these conditions in any house is comparable to any other real estate consideration such as price, size, or location. Consult a qualified home inspector before purchasing any house, and consult a qualified real estate agent for more information on how to handle a real estate transaction where adverse conditions are reported in a home inspection. This site does not describe any house by address or knowingly show a readily identifiable exterior image. Further, no home actively listed for sale on the Twin Cities MLS will be described on these pages at the time the article is posted.
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"Troubled Houses - The Home Owner's Resource" is a SERVICE MARK of Hankey & Brown Inspection Service Inc. List of topics and all articles in this resource.
We conduct a variety of inspection and consultation services for townhouse and condo owners, their home owner's associations, and for property management firms. These including moisture investigations, energy conservation surveys, ice dam investigations, roofing inspections, etc. We focus on recommendations which can pay for themselves in energy savings and reduce maintenance costs.
Ice Dams - Wasted heat in the attic of modern townhomes.
Obviously something is different in unit 19. Our investigations of these attics was ordered by the townhome owner's association as a result of ice dams and water damage to these buildings in the 2010-2011 winter. Unit 19 had not been inspected when this photo was taken. Later we found many heat sources in the attic due to construction defects: including a disconnected clothes dryer vent, disconnected bath fans, and an area about 1 foot by 2 feet that lacked a ceiling. Those heat sources created a warm attic even though this owner keeps the house at 64ºF during the week and only occupies the house on weekends.
Typical conditions found in these attics include:
RECESSSED LIGHTS: A trend in the 1990's was to install many recessed lights in ceilings. Lights from this decade were typically rated IC meaning they could be covered in insulation without overheating, however as shown here the fixtures often had many holes and slots which leaked air into the insulation and then into the attic. (Fiberglass insulation does not stop air flow.) Builders using energy conservation practices install air tight insulated boxes over these lights. This practice was often overlooked in the townhome construction boom of the 1990's.
Air tight lights (Washington State label) have been available since about 1993, but were not in common use in Minnesota until years later. The air tight fixtures have been required since about 2000.
A remedy for an existing leaky fixture is to add an air tight box over the fixture and seal the box to the ceiling. Additional reductions in heat loss can be acheived by changing the bulb in the fixture to an energy efficient bulb such as an LED.
ATTIC BYPASSES: This is a view into a wall cavity from the attic. The cavity contains air ducts to the main floor of this two story unit. The ceiling over this cavity was incomplete and/or collapsed allowing warm air to rise into the attic. This hole was more than one foot wide and over two feet long.
DISCONNECTED - NOT CONNECTED BATH VENT FANS: Several units had fan ducts that came loose at the roof. This unit had two fan ducts that were not connected to the fan. The infrared image above was taken when we turned on the fan to locate the fan by the heat from the warm air being blown into the insulation. See our IR thermography page.
LOOSE DRYER VENT: Numerous units in this association had dryer vents that had come loose from their roof terminal in the attic. The waferboard roof sheathing was water damaged in several units from condensation when the duct remained close to the sheathing.
AIR DUCTS IN ATTICS: Many units in this association had air ducts in the attic. The one story units had ALL the air ducts in the attic including the large metal main supply plenums. Some of these main ducts were uninsulated as the infrared thermal image above shows. Note the temperatures of over 100ºF on the duct at the black tape X.
Many of the units had flexible plastic air ducts. The insulation value of the uncovered duct is R-4.2 which is much less than the intended R value of R-44 for the ceiling. The infrared thermal image shows warmer temperatures where these ducts uncovered or partly covered with attic insulation. In the case shown above which is typical for most of the two story units in this association, where the duct to the front entry register descends into the foyer wall chase, warm air leaks out of the duct or the chase in the wall. This warm air heats the roof near the eave. See our Infrared Thermography page.
MOUSE TRAILS & TUNNELS: The blown fiberglass attic insulation in most units was severely compromised by mouse trails and tunnels. Infrared thermal images of the insulation revealed that air warmed by the ceiling was venting into the attic at the tunnel openings. Our recommendation was to remove the existing insulation and install a layer of spray foam insulation to seal air leaks and create a mouse resistant barrier. Blown fiberglass insulation can then be installed atop the foam to complete the job.
HEAT LOSS TO ROOF THROUGH FIREWALLS: The snow melt pattern on the roof of these units clearly shows the heat loss through the fire separation walls between the adjoining units. The fire walls are two separate walls with a sound abatement gap between the walls. We are working with the owner's association to develop a method of foam insulating the sound barrier gap between the firewalls in the attics.