This is a guest blog post by Ryan Carey, of My 3 Quotes.
Having new siding installed is the one chance any homeowner has to completely change the exterior appearance of their house. It’s “Extreme Makeover: Your House Edition.” The fun part comes in the design phase as colors, accents, styles, and profiles are examined.
However, before we dive into the fun stuff, what do we want this siding to be made of? The most popular options are vinyl, steel, and composite materials. Many salespeople that come to your house for a “free in-home estimate” (translation: high pressure sales pitch), will go on to tell you that their product is the best and show you “kill pages” on all the rest.
For example, someone trying to sell you vinyl might show you pictures of all the other types of siding failing miserably: paint peeling off composite material, steel siding rusting and dented, wood-pecker holes in wood siding. Those pitching against vinyl will show pictures of faded, warped, chalky, and cracked vinyl siding.
Every type of siding can be shown as awful by the competition. Now, before you give up and start getting quotes on brick like the third little pig, let’s break this down a little further in the interest of keeping the price from going through the roof.
Not all vinyl is created equally. “Builder-grade” vinyl popped up in many of the neighborhoods being mass built during the building boom. It was lower thickness, faded horribly, cracked easily, and gave vinyl a bad name. Vinyl can still be a great option for a long-term siding solution as long as you go with a minimum .046 thickness. Those panels are considered premium, so not only are they stronger, but they also get treated with much more fade protection. I’m still leery of very dark colors on vinyl; those colors just absorb too much sunlight over time. Using dark colors as an accent in the peaks on the front of the house is OK, and very popular; even better if the front of the house faces north and gets no direct sunlight.
Foam-backed vinyl options are really catching on as they add strength to the panel (no cupping), and they add insulation value. Those panels can come in the popular 6” exposure that composite boards come in. Hollow-backed vinyl typically comes in the narrower 4” or 4.5” exposure. Form-fit foam can be added to those panels for an extra cost.
Vinyl is low maintenance and will never need to be painted. Stick with a premium thickness and you’ll be happy with the results.
Steel is vinyl’s sturdier older brother. PVC coated steel also has premium fade protection with a better result on long-term color retention for darker shades. Insulation can also be added, but typically in a flat foam product since the steel is rigid enough to stay straight on its own without the help of a form-fit foam backer.
I’m not mentioning aluminum as an option because it's almost gone from the marketplace. Steel is an obvious choice over aluminum, which will dent if you look at it wrong. Steel is another great low-maintenance choice with prices only slightly higher than premium vinyl.
Cement composite boards and wood composite boards are extremely popular right now. They have the “traditional” look that many homeowners love. They are leaps and bounds above their predecessor, hardboard (aka - Masonite®). Hardboard siding was basically pressed sawdust and glue, which swelled and fell apart over time as moisture penetrated the panel. The new boards have supreme resistance to moisture and are absolutely included in long-term siding solutions for your home.
James Hardie® is the leading manufacturer of fiber cement siding, and has done an excellent job of making their name synonymous with fiber-cement siding, just like Masonite® did with hardboard siding. The other common type of composite siding is a wood composite, LP Smartside®. These products are visually indistinguishable, and are unquestionably the siding of choice on new high-end homes being built in Minnesota today.
They must be painted, however, and you can choose to have them pre-finished in the factory or have them painted once they are installed. Again, darker colors can fade over time but these panels are made to be repainted. Unlike steel or vinyl, you could completely change your house color down the line without replacing your siding.
The pre-finishing or painting costs will make this siding more expensive than steel or vinyl, but many are willing to take the trade-off for the look they want. There is also the added benefit of putting on a fresh coat of paint years down the line when it is time to sell the house.
There are many happy homeowners with all of the above products, so don’t let any salesperson tell you otherwise. All homeowners can be matched to a product and company that uniquely fits their wants, needs, budget, and design specs. All of the contractors I work with at My 3 Quotes have the ability to superimpose new siding on a picture of your house to help with the visualization. For an unbiased viewpoint on any exterior product, I am always happy to take your calls or e-mails.
Ryan Carey has 15 years of experience in exterior remodeling for Twin Cities Homeowners and Property Management Companies. He is the owner of “My 3 Quotes,” a company that provides the free service of collecting 3 competitive home improvement bids for customers. For more information, visit www.getmy3quotes.com for free home improvement estimates.
In a recent blog post I mentioned several problems that can occur when a furnace is over-sized; the home can be less comfortable, the furnace will operate less efficiently, the furnace may short-cycle, and the life of the furnace will be reduced. While the focus of that blog post was on over-sized furnaces, all of these same conditions can occur when a furnace has insufficient air flow.
If a furnace can't pull enough air through the ductwork to dissipate the heat that's created, it will run too hot. Simple. While an over-sized furnace will typically have insufficient air flow, a few more things that affect air flow are undersized / insufficient ductwork, a dirty furnace filter, a clogged secondary heat exchanger, a clogged evaporator coil, or too many supply registers blocked off.
If you're curious about how your own system is operating, here's an easy inspection procedure that homeowners can conduct to help determine if there's a problem. With the thermostat set to 'heat', turn up the temperature at the thermostat about five degrees warmer than the current temperature. This should get the furnace to kick on. Now wait about fifteen minutes.
During this time, the furnace should run continuously without shutting off. If the furnace shuts off during this time, go check the thermostat. If the thermostat has already been satisfied, you may have an oversized system, or the thermostat might be located in a poor location, like right in front of a heat register. It's not normal for a furnace to raise the indoor temperature five degrees in less than fifteen minutes. If the furnace shuts off without satisfying the thermostat, it's short-cycling, which is a problem.
After the furnace has been running for about fifteen minutes, put your hand on the ductwork above the furnace. If everything is operating normally, the ductwork will be hot, but not uncomfortably hot. You should be able to leave your hand on the ductwork without feeling any pain.
If you're not satisfied with this basic test, get a meat thermometer and stick it into the ductwork above the furnace to check the temperature of the supply air, and then check the temperature of the return air as well.
he difference between these two numbers is what HVAC contractors and geeky home inspectors call "Delta T" (written "ΔT"), as in "temperature difference". This is also called the "temperature rise". To determine if your furnace has an acceptable temperature rise, just take a look at the specs on the furnace. Every furnace should have a label with some basic info about the unit, such as the model number, serial number, BTUs, and temperature rise.
The temperature rise will give a range; for example, the label pictured below says the temperature rise should be between 30 and 60 degrees. If the temperature rise is above 60 degrees, there's a problem.
If there's an excessive temperature rise, the first thing to check is the filter; a dirty furnace filter will obviously restrict air flow, making the temperature rise higher. If the filter is clean, go around the house and make sure the supply and return registers are open; closed registers = less air flow = higher temperature rise.
If it's neither of those things, you probably have a problem with your system. That's when it's time to call a good HVAC contractor out for the annual furnace inspection you've been putting off for the past several years. While the focus of this post has been on airflow problems with a furnace, an excessive temperature rise could also indicate a combustion problem.
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
At my house, we say "Go Big or Go Home." Bigger is better when it comes to a lot of stuff: snow forts, leaf piles, power tools, computer monitors, towers made out of Duplos... but not furnaces. When it comes to sizing a furnace, there are a lot of reasons to not go bigger.
Earlier this year in a blog post warning consumers about cheap AC tune-ups, I mentioned how a hack service tech / salesman tried to convince me that a bigger furnace would be good for my house because it would "heat my house better". Now that we've officially reached the 'heating season' in Minnesota, it's time to take a closer look at over-sized furnaces.
A perfectly sized furnace will probably run almost all day long on the coldest day of the year, and it might not get the house up to 70 degrees about 1% of the time during the winter. No joke. That would be a perfect system. For 1% of the time during winter, you might need to put on an extra sweatshirt. No big deal. For us in the Twin Cities metro area, that would be any time the temperature drops below -11. Old-school folks will say -20, but that's the old number.
An undersized furnace will work fine for the majority of the time, but every once in a while it won't get the house quite as warm as desired. How bad would this really be? You'd need to wear an extra sweatshirt sometimes. It's coldest at night, and people that have a programmable thermostat already turn the temperature down at night, so would this really be a big deal? No, probably not.
An over-sized furnace will keep the house warm no matter how cold it gets outside, but it does so at a cost. First, it will probably make the house less comfortable. When the furnace kicks on, some areas may warm up very quickly, so much so that they get uncomfortably warm before the thermostat has even been satisfied. In poorly insulated, drafty houses, this heat can be quickly dissipated, causing the furnace to turn on and off frequently. Many people run the furnace fan 24/7 to help even out the heat.
An over-sized furnace will also be less efficient. A furnace is least efficient when it first fires up, and doesn't reach its peak efficiency until the temperature of the air coming out has reached a steady value. When a furnace is over-sized, it spends a large portions of its running hours in the 'warming up' phase. Once it reaches a steady temp, the thermostat has been satisfied and the furnace shuts back off.
When a furnace constantly cycles on and off, the life of the furnace is dramatically reduced. The best analogy I can think of is a car with all city miles and no highway miles. City miles involve a lot of starting and stopping, which is what puts a lot of wear on a vehicle. Heat exchangers on furnaces fail from the metal heating and cooling repeatedly; when a furnace is over-sized, the furnace turns on and off constantly, putting all 'city miles' on the furnace. This is not a good thing, and will lead to premature failure of the furnace. Guaranteed.
Besides premature failure, an over-sized furnace will be prone to short cycling, which is a term that refers to a furnace shutting down before the thermostat has been satisfied. Furnaces are equipped with a safety feature that prevents them from overheating. When a furnace is over-sized, it will run hotter than it should, which puts it closer to the temperature at which it will shut itself off. Throw in a dirty furnace filter, and it will probably be enough to push the furnace over the edge. When a modern furnace short cycles too many times in a row, it will go into shut-down mode to help prevent further damage. This is most likely to happen when it's extremely cold outside, which is the time when you really don't want your furnace to quit working.
The same stuff applies. Most boilers are oversized, and it's not a big deal if a boiler is slightly undersized. An oversized boiler will make the house less comfortable, will be less efficient, and the constant turning on and off will shorten the life of the boiler and probably cause unexpected breakdowns.
From my own experiences and from everything I've heard from everyone in the know, a large portion of the older furnaces out there are over-sized. HVAC contractors who are passionate about their trade love to talk about this stuff, and when they do, I listen. I've learned a lot about this topic from a couple of local, passionate HVAC contractors; one being Enviroworld USA, and another being Chris Jirak of Neighborhood Plumbing Heating and Air.
Chris estimates that at least 75% of the furnaces that he replaces are over-sized. As furnaces get more efficient, the trend should be to install furnaces with lower BTUs, not higher. Many HVAC contractors are reluctant to go smaller because they don't want to deal with homeowner complaints about the house not heating enough, but just a little bit of client education is really all it takes to prevent this. A furnace that takes a long time to heat a house is probably sized properly.
When a furnace is replaced, the HVAC contractor should perform a Manual J calculation (or the equivalent) to help them determine what size furnace the home really needs. This is a calculation that requires several of a homes variables to help determine the proper heating and cooling requirements. If a calculation isn't done, the contractor is just making a guess at the size of the new furnace, which means they'll probably go big, then go home.
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
I hear a lot of the same home inspection myths repeated over and over. I've blogged about most of these, but there are a few topics here that I haven't blogged about yet.
The seller doesn't need to fix squat. Home buyers can ask sellers to fix things or pay for things to be fixed, but I can't think of a single defect that a seller would be required to fix.
Many cities in Twin Cities metro area have Truth-In-Sale of Housing evaluations (TISHs) that might identify required repairs, but those are separate from the home inspection. Even if the home inspector identifies a defect that was missed by the TISH evaluator, the seller has no obligation to fix anything.
There is no such code requirement. This misunderstanding comes from section R308.4 of the International Residential Code (IRC). The IRC requires special glass in hazardous locations, and goes on to give a list of hazardous locations. One such example is glass in a location that meets ALL of the following conditions:
- Exposed area of an individual pane larger than 9 square feet.
- Bottom edge less than 18 inches above the floor.
- Top edge more than 36 inches above the floor.
- One of more walking surfaces within 36 inches horizontally of the glazing.
When only one, two, or three of these conditions are met, it's not considered a hazardous location and tempered glass is not required. My oldest code book is the 1988 UBC, which basically had the same requirement.
For more detailed information about safety glazing, check out Douglas Hansen's article: Safety Glazing.
Buyers will probably get the most out of the inspection if they do what the home inspector prefers. If the home inspector prefers to have the buyer show up at the end, the buyer would do best to show up at the end. If the home inspector prefers to have clients attend the whole thing (like we do), the buyer should try to be there the whole time.
We inspect a ton of new construction homes, and we find a ton of defects. Click here for some examples: new construction inspections.
Minnesota's requirement for CO alarms has nothing to do with real estate.
The physical size of that thing at the outside of the house won't tell you anything about the cooling capacity. It has a lot more to do with the efficiency of the unit; larger units = more surface area = higher efficiency. The cooling capacity is measured in tons. To figure out how many tons your unit is, look at the model number and find a number usually between 18 and 60 that's a multiple of 6. Divide that number by 12, and you have the number of tons your unit is.
For example, the unit pictured below is a 2-½ ton unit.
For more info on sizing air conditioners and a nice explanation of why air conditioners are rarely undersized, check out this article on Air Conditioner Capacity that was published in the ASHI Reporter.
There are several blog posts about AC sizing at the Vanguard Energy Blog. Here are a few:
Replacing a water heater won't correct backdrafting unless a new powervent water heater is installed. If a water heater backdrafts, there's a problem outside the water heater. Sometimes it's a problem with the vent, sometimes the vent connector, and sometimes it's a more complicated problem that requires evaluation of the entire house.
For more detailed information on this topic, click this link: backdrafting water heaters.
Old stucco is fine. It's just the newer stuff from the early 90's on that should be a concern. What went wrong with this stucco? Joseph Lstiburek calls it the "perfect stucco storm." We recommend invasive moisture testing when buying a newer stucco home.
There is nothing in the building code that requires a closet. An appraiser might want to see a closet... so what's a closet?
This is one of the most common electrical defects that home inspectors report on, but the repair for a double tapped circuit breaker is usually quick and easy. When compared to most of the other electrical defects that home inspectors find, the safety risk posed by a double tapped circuit breaker is quite low. So what's the big deal? Probably fear of the unknown.
This is one of the topics I'll be covering in an upcoming continuing ed seminar for real estate agents on October 23rd. It's free and breakfast is included. Click here for more info: https://cecreditbreakfast.eventbrite.com/
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections
In last weeks blog post about backdrafting water heaters, I mentioned that I might someday follow up with a blog post attempting to explain how to use section 501.3 of the Minnesota Mechanical Code (MMC), which is the code section that describes how to supply makeup air to dwellings. Well, there's no time like the present. This isn't the most exciting topic, but it's certainly a misunderstood topic.
There's a general consensus among those 'in the know' that makeup air is needed any time a kitchen exhaust fan rated over 300 cfm is installed, however, that's not exactly true. The real requirement is that makeup air must be provided if it's needed. If an exhaust fan rated over 300 cfm is installed, makeup air might be needed and a calculation will need to be done.
The Minnesota Mechanical Code is a combination of chapters 2 to 15 of the 2006 International Mechanical Code and Minnesota's amendments. The amendments can be found online here: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/rules/?id=1346 . Minnesota has amended section 501.3 in it's entirety, which means that this entire section is available online: https://www.revisor.mn.gov/rules/?id=1346.0501. Nice.
The MMC has very specific language about makeup air that basically says makeup air must be installed when it's required, unless it's not required because of an exception. Yes, that's how code language is written. Clear as mud.
I'm going to paraphrase this code section to hopefully make it a little easier to understand, because it's written in a very confusing manner. The easiest way to break it down is by the age of the home. There are five age categories, but the requirements for two are identical so I lumped them together under number 2:
New homes require a calculation for makeup air using table 501.3.1.
To complete this calculation, you'll need to know the number and type of combustion appliances (power vent /direct vent / fan-assisted / atmospherically vented / solid fuel ), the conditioned floor area square footage, and the CFM rating of exhaust fans. Once all of these numbers are plugged into the table and a little math is done, the final number will be the amount of makeup air needed.
If the number is negative, nothing has to be done. If the number is positive, table 501.3.2 determines how makeup air should be supplied. Footnote "K" at this table says that if flex duct is used (and flex duct is almost always used), the diameter of the makeup air duct needs to be increased by one inch.
Any time a vented combustion appliance is installed or replaced, or an exhaust system is installed or replaced, table 501.3.1 needs to be used to determine if makeup air is needed. This means that if an 80 cfm bathroom exhaust fan is replaced with a 90 cfm exhaust fan, yes, a new calculation needs to be done to determine if makeup air is needed.
When a solid fuel appliance is installed, use table 501.3.1. One exception is if the appliance is a closed combustion appliance and combustion air is installed in accordance with the manufacturers installation instructions.
When an exhaust system with a rated capacity greater than 300 cfm is installed, use table 501.3.3(1). One exception is if powered makeup air is electrically interlocked and matched to the airflow of the exhaust equipment.
When a solid fuel appliance is installed, use table 501.3.3 (3). One exception is if the appliance is a closed combustion appliance and combustion air is installed in accordance with the manufacturers installation instructions.
When an exhaust system with a rated capacity greater than 300 cfm is installed, use table 501.3.3(2). One exception is if powered makeup air is electrically interlocked and matched to the airflow of the exhaust equipment.
There are two exceptions to all of the above makeup air requirements. One is if a test is performed in accordance with ASTM Standard E1998-02, Standard Guide for Assessing Depressurization-Induced Backdrafting and Spillage from Vented Combustion Appliances, and it's proven that makeup air isn't needed. I don't know what those standards look like because I don't own them and I'm not going to buy them. The other exception is if a test is done that's approved by the building official which verifies proper operation of vented combustion appliances.
Just for fun, lets go through a sample calculation. Lets say I have an old house in Minneapolis and I want to install a 600 cfm kitchen exhaust fan. This is an exhaust system with a cfm rated greater than 300 cfm and the home was built before 1994, so I'll need to use table 501.3.3(2) to determine if makeup air is necessary.
The house has a high efficiency, sealed combustion furnace, which is a 'direct vent' appliance. The water heater is a powervent, and the fireplace has a sealed combustion gas insert (direct vent). There is a total of 2,000 square feet of floor area in the house, which includes the unfinished basement.
To start, I need to figure out which which column I'm working with. The first column on this table lists "one or multiple power vent or direct vent appliances or no combustion appliances." That's what I have, so I'll use this column. To determine the estimated house infiltration, I can either use the conditioned floor area or use the results from a blower door test. If extensive air sealing has been done on an old house it would be wise to use the results from a blower door test, but we'll use floor area instead to make it easy.
I plug in the numbers and get 500 cfm for my estimated house infiltration.
Section 2 says to plug in 80% of the largest exhaust fan, which will be the 600 cfm kitchen fan, which gives me 480 (600 x .8).
Section 3 subtracts part 1 from part 2 (480-500), giving me a negative number. When the number is negative, no makeup air is required. So there you have it. Makeup air isn't always required when installing a big kitchen exhaust fan, but the calculation is always required. The calculations are shown below.
On the other hand, lets say I'm working with the same house but I have an atmospherically vented water heater and a wood burning fireplace. In that case, I would need to use the column at the far right. Once I plug in all of the numbers, my makeup air quantity would be... 380 cfm. That's some serious makeup air. Next, I use table 501.3.2 to determine the size of my makeup air duct, which would be a 9" rigid duct with a motorized damper, or a 10" duct if I use flex material.
In that case, a 600 cfm kitchen fan would just be a stupid choice, dontcha think? Hopefully I've taken a little mystery out of the makeup air requirements for Minnesota homes.
Author: Reuben Saltzman, Structure Tech Home Inspections