Today we reconnect with a client to talk about their first home inspection experience and their path to becoming a diligent homeowner. Alex bought his house 10 months ago and has learned so much since.
Alex shares about having zero knowledge about home maintenance and discovering Structure Tech. He also talks about his experience from purchasing his house, the home inspection process, the defects they found, and the challenges they encountered. They discuss walking through the inspection reports and how Alex used them to improve the house.
Alex also shares advice about home inspections, maintenance, and tips before buying a house. They talk about the current comfort condition of Alex’s house, moisture levels, dehumidifiers, radon testing, and installing a thermostatic mixing valve.
For show topic suggestions, please e-mail us at email@example.com. Visit structuretech.com to subscribe to our blog and structuretalk.com to listen to the show.
The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.
Bill Oelrich: Welcome, everyone. You’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman, as always your three-legged stool coming to you from the Northland talking all things houses, home inspections, and anything else that’s rattling around in our brain. Yes. Well, welcome to today’s episode, we have a former client of Structure Tech on the episode today, we are going to call this person Alex, and we’re not gonna reveal any other identifying information about Alex, but Alex used Structure Tech in the past year on a purchase of a home, and this house was a nice house, it’s inside the urban core. So I’m very, very proud of Alex for staying strong and avoiding the temptation to move outside the loop into these super-sized houses.
Alex: What kind of person would do that?
Alex: Oh yeah.
BO: Yeah, exactly. And your sister, who’s abandoning the core for a cornfield in drywall.
Alex: Eight minutes away from me. Yes, go on.
BO: Okay. We digress. We wanted to pick Alex’s brain. Okay, we wanna know, and what I said is, we wanna explore the home-inspection digestion process because Alex has an experience that he’s going to relay very quickly here about an experience he had after he moved into the house. And so without further ado, Alex, why don’t you go ahead and just do your introduction however you want to do it and then maybe tell us the story that came up after you moved in and which led you to Structure Talk, which led you to reaching out to us, which led to this conversation?
Alex: My name is Alex, I work a corporate job for a large e-commerce furniture company. Relevant for today’s conversation, before I bought a house about a year ago, I knew nothing about construction, nothing about building science. Also relevant, I was raised by two parents who grew up in New York City. When there were issues in their apartments growing up, you call the super, they come fix it. I grew up in a suburban house, and that wasn’t the way that I was brought up, but we would call tradespeople to come in, there was very little that we fixed around the house. It’s a very loving house but not many things we were fixing. And then my entire adult life up to about a year ago, I was renting apartments, so similar situation to the environment that my parents grew up in, where there’s something wrong with the apartment, there is a maintenance person that I can call and they come fix it. So as I neared purchase of this house, I knew nothing about what I should be looking for in a house, I knew nothing about home inspections, and ultimately very happy that I found Structure Tech, so really looking forward to telling you about my story.
BO: Cool, well, you worked with George, so maybe you just give us the background on what the home inspection process was like for you, and then we’ll get to the real meat of the experience.
Alex: Sure. Yeah, I can tell you about the purchase process. We were very lucky that we were the only people that put an offer on this house, so I’ve heard the real estate agents come on your show before and they say, “Oh my gosh, 13 competing offers, people had to waive inspections.” Luckily, that was not our situation, only offer. With a real estate agent, I actually looked it up before the show, what was her email to me with a recommended home inspection company, and she said… I won’t use the real name. “I recommend using a company called ABC Home Inspection Company, they’re located in St. Paul and I’ve worked with them many times on other properties.” And I got that email and I remember thinking like, “Well, you didn’t say what your experience was like with them, you’ve worked with them before. Are they good? Do they provide good insights? Are they providing good reports? Is it a good price? And I went online and looked at the reviews, and there were mixed reviews, maybe 10 online reviews, some fives, some ones, and it averages out in-between, and that raised red flags, which I started to look at, like, “What are the reputable home-inspection companies in the Twin Cities area?”
Alex: And that brought me to Structure Tech. I think you all are very aware of your online presence and how many positive reviews you have, but you had over 10x the number of reviews that this other company had and just a much higher average, so finding you guys was very easy. And then from there, actually calling you guys up, looking on the website, that whole process to actually schedule George to come out was also very seamless and very easy.
Alex: One other quick note about this for the home inspectors that listen to this podcast that have mixed reviews, people like me are reviewing websites, and you could have a really bad experience with just the communication and you never even enter into a contract with the company, and now you have this one-star review, even though you didn’t have your services, you could be the best home inspector in the world. I think that just reinforces how important every stage of the process is, the website to scheduling, even before the person comes out, the report, etcetera. Every part is important to build your online brand.
Tessa Murry: Thanks for that feedback, Alex.
Alex: I will also say, Reuben, I saw on the website that there was a podcast and a blog, and I remember thinking, “Why do they have this? What could they possibly… You’re talking about… Like you look at the foundation of the house, if it looks good, you move on. What is the blog post? And obviously, I’ve changed my tune quite a bit since I learned about what you guys blog about and podcast about, but I just thought that was funny, looking at the website for the first time as an outsider and having no idea what you guys could be talking about.
TM: So safe to say, we’ve turned you into a house nerd?
Alex: Oh absolutely, this is like my number one hobby right now.
Reuben Saltzman: That’s awesome.
BO: Okay, so you get in this beast and you’re setting down, getting ready to own for the next 20 years, what were you beginning to experience, what issues were you beginning to experience, and how did you approach trying to solve some of these issues?
Alex: Okay, so you’re talking about post-purchase, what are some issues that I’ve had with the house?
Alex: Yeah, so we moved in in the wintertime, and as you guys know, it’s quite dry in Minnesota, I won’t go straight to the issue, but basically it was very dry in our house.
TM: This is an older house. Right? I think…
Alex: Yeah. Okay, so house was built in 1925, but very recently renovated, so it’s dry in the house, we put in portable humidifiers in the kids’ room so that they could breathe at night. I’m putting Aquaphor on my hands, it’s just so dry. And we had a plumber coming out and I asked them to install a whole house humidifier instead of refilling these portable humidifiers all the time. What I know now, 20/20 being hindsight, is that I have a heat recovery ventilator. There are numerous settings on that heat recovery ventilator, and the heat recovery ventilator was on 24/7 in high, so basically pulling all of the humidity out of the house. So I know that now, but certainly I wouldn’t have paid the $700 or $750 for someone to install this thing, it’s an intrusive installation, like they’re drilling stuff through the side of the house, they’re drilling into the ducts.
Alex: But now to talk about the settings of the HRV, so there’s an off, a low and a high. We’ll test out this winter how the low does, affecting the humidity levels in the house. I did buy a controller, a wall-mounted controller for the HRV that gives me some additional options, for example, running 20 minutes every hour, so it’s not low 24/7. So we’re looking forward to seeing how that affects the humidity levels and hopefully, I don’t need to run the whole house humidifier at all because I’ve heard the stories you all have told about what happens with humidity and houses and mold, etcetera.
RS: Yeah, yeah.
TM: I’m sorry you had to go through that, Alex, it’s like a lot of times we see old houses that they’re just really leaky, that’s just how old houses are, and because they’re so leaky, in the wintertime when it’s freezing outside and warm in your house, you have this air exchange happening in an accelerated rate, all this warm air is leaking out through the cracks in the walls and the ceiling and everything. And so your house gets so dry because this cold air from the outside is being pulled in through all these cracks to replace the warm air that’s leaving, and so people ramp up their humidifiers to replace that moisture that’s leaving.
TM: And that can lead to problems, I’m sure you’ve heard us talk about that on the podcast too, where all of a sudden, you’ve got frost in your attic and frost in other places you can’t see, but it’s probably there because of that issue. And really, like if you’re looking at the house holistically, the best step is to try and stop that air from leaking out in the first place, then you don’t need to add as much humidity usually, and you don’t have that problem. But the HRV is a new dynamic that you add this HRV, it’s running all the time, it’s taking all the warm humid air out and getting rid of the humidity, and now you’ve got a drier climate inside you than you meant to have. So it’s fascinating. Isn’t it? You try and fix one problem and then you create a new one unintentionally.
Alex: And a problem that isn’t easy to uninstall, it will be costly to uninstall, so it will just sit there with the water and power off until maybe we need… We’ll see over the winter.
BO: The house you bought was completely remodeled. Right? You have new insulation in your exterior walls or is it not that extensive?
Alex: It was mostly remodeled, so you can still see some of the original joists if you are in the basement and some of the unfinished spaces, but otherwise, all the interior rooms have drywall, so walls replaced, new plumbing, new electrical, and then presumably, new insulation. Obviously, we haven’t opened up any of the exterior walls but in terms of comfort, it seems reasonably insulated. Although one of the things that George did pick up in the inspection is that the insulation in the attic was depressed, basically people had stepped on it, it no longer had the R value that George thought that we needed. So we have contracted with an insulation company to bring that up to R50, but companies are backlogged. We signed a contract with them back in June and we’re hoping to have them installed in November, so I gotta act early with this stuff.
TM: Wow, oh my gosh.
RS: Wow, that’s quite the backlog.
TM: Any air sealing for you?
Alex: They’ll seal all the bypasses. I could pull up the invoice sheet that they gave me, they’re also switching out the ceiling fan ductwork to something a little bit more rigid. They seem like a really reputable company and they had a long list of things that they’re doing for a fairly reasonable price.
TM: That’s great.
RS: That’s great. Yeah.
BO: So just to clarify, the ceiling fan ductwork, was it like… What are you talking about there?
Alex: Oh, sorry, I meant ceiling fan, sorry.
RS: Bathroom exhaust fan?
Alex: Bathroom exhaust fan. Yes.
TM: Oh sure.
BO: Perfect. Perfect. Perfect. Okay, so what was the experience like for you? Did you hang out most of the inspection or… Tell us about that.
Alex: Yeah, so this was during the height of your COVID policy, so George was at the house for about three hours and then I was invited to join him, and he walked me through the report. He started asking if I had any particular concerns which I told you before that I didn’t know what to expect of what would be tested. Again, it’s like, is the foundation good? That’s all I knew to ask. And I was just blown away with the thoroughness of the report, like you all know this ’cause this is your business, but that he turned on the gas insert fireplace and tested that, that blew me away.
Alex: The fact that he grabbed an exterior handrail to see if it was loose. He noticed the garage door close sensors were too high. My mind at that point was like, “Who knows the code for that, like who knows what the manufacturer is recommending for the height of garage door sensors?” And I’m thankful that he did because I have young kids in the house, I don’t know if we’ll have an issue with them with their leg underneath the door while it’s closing, and sure enough, I lowered them to the manufacturer’s recommendation. So I was blown away at the thoroughness of the report. And at that point, I didn’t even know what else he had done that wasn’t in the report, like testing GFCI’s or using the thermal camera, so there was more that he’d even done, and I’m still blown away.
RS: It’s just the stuff we take for granted, like of course that’s what we do, but…
Alex: I should say at this point, I am not being compensated by Structure Tech at all for this. If anyone knows Reuben…
RS: Check’s in the mail, check’s in the mail.
Alex: No, no, I wouldn’t accept the money.
TM: We’re inside our fish bowl a lot of times, and when you do this day after day, all these data points are collecting while you’re onsite and things you’re testing and things you’re looking at, it just becomes… You almost do it mindlessly. And so to hear from someone who doesn’t look at all of those aspects of the house on a regular basis, just to hear you say that feels really nice.
BO: Alex, was the process of buying a house intense for you, was it stressful? ‘Cause I’m hearing your story about this device that was running all the time. But I’ve seen George do his schtick and he is usually educating as he goes, and, “Hey, this box right here, this is a really important thing, and it does this, and here’s how it runs.” So was that something that you guys covered and it was just… There was so much information being shoved your way during this process? Not just the home inspection, just the entire process, that some of those details maybe were… You picked up on them, but you almost immediately forgot them?
Alex: Yeah, I remember… So George did tell me about, I think he called it an air-to-air exchange. And I remember him telling me about that when he was doing the readout, and I remember him saying, “Your house is equipped with… ” And I was like, “What does that mean?” Not equipped, but is it optional? I didn’t understand, why would someone put this in the house? Now I know the answer to that. But I remember him telling me about what air-to-air exchanging is, but I don’t think we went over the individual settings of middle means off, and left means low, and right means high, and how it’ll affect your humidity levels. It was in the report, at least that the house was equipped with an HRV, but again, I don’t think it went into the details.
BO: Did you refer back to the report? One of the things we joke about in not a real good way is that we do a lot of home inspections where people don’t read the report. It feels like awkward but…
Alex: Yeah. I view that as my checklist of things to address with the house for various reasons: For improving durability, for saving me money down the road, for safety, for environmental safety, physical safety, etcetera. So I’m not quite through everything on the list but I’ve made a dent on the most impactful things just in the first year. As little as, “Throw away the tarp that’s covering the air conditioning unit during the winter, replace it with plywood, put a couple of bricks on it,” I’m following the Structure Tech guidance there. So small things like that where I can just at the home improvement store spend 15 bucks and get all the supplies, to larger things like a $4000 insulation install.
TM: Can I just say, Alex, you are an A plus, plus homeowner? Because a lot of times, we’ll do these inspections, send out the report, and we have had houses come back on our radar screen like years later, and we’ve done another inspection on the same house, and it’s amazing to see how few things ever get fixed. Am I right about that? Do you feel that way?
RS: Tessa, Tessa, case in point, just yesterday, there was a house that I had inspected in Wayzata back in 2013, and then Joe did an inspection on the same house just this week, and he’s like, “Hey, Reuben, guess what? I found the attic access,” and I’m like, what is he talking about? I had to look at my report, and sure enough, I hadn’t found the attic access panel. He did. And dude, he was giving me a hard time about finding it. And so I took that opportunity to compare our reports side by side, and there was so much stuff that I had reported on, “This ought to be fixed,” from nine years ago, and Joe’s reported on the exact same thing, there’s still a lot to be fixed.
TM: So there. So thumbs up to you, Alex, for using that report and trying to improve your house.
Alex: If I could add one thing, there was one thing that I did not look at from the report that I did not look at until recently. Luckily, I’m fine, but I did get a mainline sewer inspection, and I did not realize, this is my fault I’m sure, but I did not realize that there was a YouTube video that went through the report. Everything’s fine with the mainline sewer but if there was, I wouldn’t have known it till months after closing. And those are expensive fixes, so I just had your friends come out from Minnesota, Drain Busters, and they said “Everything looks good.” And I’d even signed up for cleaning because there were some tree roots at the time of the inspection, and just two weeks ago, they’re like, “There’s not enough to clean. We’re not gonna charge you for that. We’ll just do the inspection,” so good people over at Minnesota Drain Busters.
RS: Yeah, yeah. Good guys.
BO: Do you have large trees in your front yard?
Alex: We have a couple of trees, are you asking, are they within striking distance of the structure?
BO: Well, not of the structure, it’s the sewer line and…
Alex: Got it. Got it.
BO: Do you remember what… You’ve had a lot of upgrades to your house, was there any upgrades done to that sewer line?
Alex: Yeah, there was one patch of PVC, and most of it was clay tile or cast iron, so clearly there were some repairs too, I’d done some minor offsets from shifting and I guess some of the trees in the front yard, some of those roots are starting to make their way in, but it sounds like I don’t need to worry about that for at least a couple of years.
BO: Good. Okay, so you go through the inspection process, you dive into the report, you digest it all, did you end up using this with your real estate agent to try to determine important things that you needed to address, or was it just an instrument of education and, “It’s all we’ve got right now, but at least I understand what I’m buying?”
Alex: I did use the report. The house was in really good condition, so not much was picked up. There were no $5000 plus repairs on the inspection report, which is fantastic. Right?
TM: Yeah, that’s a pretty clean house.
Alex: So we’re in a good situation there. Also, the accepted price was below list, so we were already in a good situation financially. So when it comes to negotiation, like I’ve read a book on negotiation, I’m not a good negotiator, but read a book on it. And a lot of people view negotiations as there’s a winner and there’s a loser, and what I liked, the takeaway from this book was, you’re just trying to arrive at something that’s fair, what’s fair for both people because ultimately, this is a relationship. While the sellers are now out of state, like if there’s something wrong, maybe I can call them and they can educate me on something, and I didn’t wanna leave on bad terms.
Alex: So I looked through the list and worked with my real estate agent to say, “There are three safety issues.” Like I mentioned the handrail on the front was loose, one of the… There was uneven height on some of the stairs going to the house, and then there was a lack of carbon monoxide detectors, and I was like… I just came up with an idea of a few thousand dollars, like, “Help us take care of the safety issues, like we have older family that live in the area, I don’t want someone slipping and falling on the winter steps, just like take care of this before we move in or reduce the price.” And because I’m bad at negotiating, I straight up… And we really wanted this house, I told my agent to tell them, we will buy the house regardless of if you give us any concessions because, I don’t know, treat others like you wanna be treated. If we eventually sell this house, I want someone to treat us right. So they did give us a modest discount that was like, I don’t know, maybe a tenth of what I had requested, but again, we got the house for under list, it was a fair price. And I know we did a lot better than a lot of other people in the Minnesota market in the past couple of years. So we feel lucky to get the house, and we really wanted it.
RS: That’s great.
BO: Do you have a passive radon system or an active radon system in your house or any radon system?
Alex: Yeah, so there is a radon mitigation system, I did not get a radon test as a part of the inspection process, the… Oh my gosh, I never get the word right. Manometer?
RS: Yeah very good.
Alex: The manometer was offset level, so there’s suction, so we waived the radon inspection. The only thing… So I’ve done a couple of things with radon, I had, is it Jesse from American Radon? I had him come out to install just a radon alarm because the manometer is like way buried back in our mechanical room. I’m never looking at that thing, so just to be alerted if there’s a lack of suction from that thing. And luckily, it hasn’t gone off yet. And the fan is older at this point, I think. What is the useful life for a radon mitigation fan?
TM: You’re gonna love me saying this, but it depends. Doesn’t it? On how much pressure is going to the fan, how many suction points, but maybe 10 years, plus or minus. I don’t know, I’m not…
Alex: Okay, so it’s approaching end of life, so it’s nice to have the alarm. The other thing that I’ve done is I did buy a digital radon sensor, so I can move that around the basement and get a reading, even if the accuracy is like plus or minus 10%, I see that it’s pretty close to outside bubbles. It’s usually 0.4, is it picocuries? So really low radon levels in the basement, except for in a unfinished storage room in the basement, the levels seem to be higher, but we’re not in there and the radon doesn’t seem to be seeping into any other levels of the house.
BO: What’s this device you speak of, this portable radon testing? Reuben has never talked about this, and I didn’t even know there was such a thing.
RS: A radon alarm basically.
Alex: Like the digital… No, I’m talking about a digital radon meter. Hold on. Let me see if I have it. I think I might have it upstairs.
BO: I didn’t even know that there was such a thing.
Alex: So you can pick this up at your local home-improvement store, it’s about $100. So you can see it has a long-term average… Sorry, go ahead, Reuben.
RS: It’s made by the same company that we get our radon testing equipment from, Airthings, and this is their home version of it.
TM: Can I just pause this for a moment? I am so impressed by you, Alex, you went from not knowing anything about houses, living in apartments and rentals your whole life, to all of a sudden, now you’re educating us on radon monitors and talking picocuries per liter. Like, whoa. And that’s all… You bought your house, what, was it January of 2022? Just 10 months ago? You’ve just learned all of this house lingo in the last year? I’m just blown away.
Alex: Well, thank you. It’s been an interesting journey and obviously one that I’m passionate about. One of the reasons I reached out to you and suggested we do this show.
TM: I would love to hear from you if there’s any advice you’d give to anyone that’s in your shoes going through this process, any helpful information that you wish you would have had before you bought this house that you’ve learned now?
Alex: Yeah, maybe I’ll break this down into three different categories: One is, oh my gosh, get a home inspection. Obviously, I’m preaching to the choir, you guys work for a home inspection company. But for anyone listening, go back to the conversations, the Structure Talk podcast recordings with real estate agents, where they talk about interesting ways to negotiate so that you can do some type of home inspection, whether it’s the walk-through consultation or saying, “We’re not gonna negotiate for anything less than $2000.” Number one, get a home inspection, there are issues that you guys have talked about that are like $100,000 issues. Who has that money just to spend because you didn’t do a moisture test or something? I feel badly for anyone stuck with the bill for those types of issues if they didn’t get an inspection.
Alex: Number two, learn about the ways that the systems in your house work and find a way to make maintaining them enjoyable. Maybe I’m different, but I’ve enjoyed maintaining like the refrigerator and removing the dust from the coils because I know that that is saving me money long-term, like find ways to enjoy home maintenance. Or you’ve had the people from Kura come on, hire them and they’ll just do it for you and you can pay them to do all that work for you, but see if you can find a way to enjoy the house work and home improvement problems.
Alex: And lastly, as you’re buying, consider the things that you can’t see. You’re coming in and you can see, “Oh, it has a open concept, it has nice cabinets.” And a lot of people over-index on that. Oh my gosh, there are so many things behind the scenes that could be really dangerous or really expensive to fix that I’ve learned about. Like lead service line that delivers your water, lead paint, which we’ve had to deal with on the porch, I mentioned there’s drywall in the interior front porch covered in lead, not disclosed. Didn’t know about it, so we’re dealing with the encapsulation now. Radon gas, carbon monoxide, all these things you can’t see. And I haven’t even completed the list, you’ve talked about backdrafting gas combustion appliances, there are just so many things you can’t see. Get that stuff sorted out, either walk away from the house if it’s dangerous or try to negotiate that because you don’t wanna be fixing all those things when you’re in the house. I mentioned that there is a five-month backlog in getting insulation. Like what about fixing your water heater or furnace? So my third piece of advice is, think about the things that you can’t see.
TM: Great advice.
BO: I’ve got a new issue that cropped up at my place, maybe I’ll ask you house nerds what’s going on here. But late this fall, we had some really moist days and I’m getting a lot of condensation that’s developing on the outside of my ductwork, right above my furnace around the A coil, and I’ve never noticed that before, but it was enough that it would leak down the side of the furnace and leak onto the floor. I thought there was like a condensation clog in the drain line and it was backing up, but actually what it was, it’s just leaking down the side of my furnace. So Reuben, what in your experience is happening suddenly at my house that didn’t happen before?
RS: I’m stumped, I don’t know. My only guess is that you’ve got a problem with low refrigerant and something is icing up and it’s getting way too cold right at that one spot or you’ve got a restriction in airflow making it way too cold at that one spot. That’s the only thing I can guess.
TM: Have you done a temperature-differential measurement, Bill, to see what temperature the air is going in and leaving to see if it’s within that acceptable range or if it’s cooling too much?
BO: I have not just simply because we’re in colder season now, and I’m not sure delta temps without a real measure of strong… Like a high level of humidity outside. If this thing isn’t truly working, is it really telling you all that much?
RS: Well, if it’s a high differential, even with the cool temps outside, it indicates a problem.
BO: Okay, yeah, so I haven’t done any further testing on it. We’ve got a regular… We have a subscription to regular inspections and maintenance with a company here in town, and so I just thought I would address it with them this spring or next year before we really get into the cooling season again.
TM: I was just thinking like if it’s cooling too much or you’ve got, like Reuben said, a restriction in airflow if a filter’s dirty, or it could just be the humidity in your house has increased and you didn’t realize it.
BO: Yeah, it’s not the air filter, the air filter is clean. I just thought maybe suddenly there’s a bunch of junk on my A coil, which is slowing down the whole air movement process. Anyway, I stumped you guys.
RS: It depends, Bill, it depends. How’s that?
BO: Yeah, it depends. Of course. Of course, it depends. Yeah.
TM: Lots of factors.
BO: Alright, Alex, comfort-wise in your house right now, how do you feel about it? You went through a heating season, you went through a cooling season, was there anything that you didn’t expect that is a problem?
Alex: The moisture levels below grade in the basement have been extremely high. Unfortunately, I’ve never experienced that before, but it’s the original foundation, there is no vapor barrier. So I bought a dehumidifier, I don’t know, towards the beginning of spring, one that has a pump so I can actually… I ran it through some drywall so that I could put it in the middle of the basement and run it to the floor drain conveniently through what was an old coax connection so I actually didn’t need to cut open the wall.
Alex: So that thing just runs 24/7, and it’s crazy how much water it pulls out. I think… I don’t know if it’s the tank that’s 50 pints or if it’s like it could do 50 pints in a day, but it basically is like pulling out that water. And even so with that thing running 24/7, the humidity is still around 30% downstairs. Before I started running it, you could feel the moisture if you touched the carpet. And one of the mistakes I made was, for this, I didn’t get to the backlog of a Structure Talk podcast to talk about this when you had… I guess it was Vickie on from… Is it Minnesota…
TM: Minnesota Mold, I think, yeah.
Alex: Yeah. She talked about… The top place for mold in Minnesota is in basement carpets, and of course, I had already gotten mine re-carpeted. So we’ll keep that for as long as it’s not moldy. Hopefully, we’re doing the preventative stuff with the dehumidifier, but I had no idea that we had to take such effort to keep that as a comfortable and safe place to be.
BO: Building scientist, Tessa, what is the normal relative humidity in a basement during the summertime?
TM: You’re laughing ’cause you know what I’m gonna say. Don’t you? It depends, Bill. There’s a sliding scale obviously, but I mean, I would say if it gets over 50%, that’s too high. Typically, anywhere between 30 to 40 is average. Obviously, the dryer the better though, and when it gets really cold outside, I mean the recommended relative humidity could get down to 20%. It just depends on how cold it is.
BO: That’s main floor. That’s main floor. I mean, you go into a hole on the ground, it’s gotta be… It’s gotta be 70% on a regular basis, just without… Even if you’re working on it.
TM: No, that would be…
RS: Too high.
TM: Your walls would be dripping, dripping with water.
RS: Too high.
BO: Why does my humidistat that I have in my basement tell me it’s like 70-plus percent?
RS: Don’t know. Your humidistat’s broken?
TM: It’s time you tested it out. Yeah.
Alex: So is it too late to add a vapor barrier if I’m gonna… Is it possible to pull up the carpet, lay out some poly or Tyvek or whatever, and then, I don’t know, pour some self-leveling concrete over that and then put flooring on top of that? I realize now you’re like creating maybe two or three fewer inches of headroom, but would that work if I added a vapor barrier retroactively?
RS: I’ve never heard of it being done. I have no idea personally, I don’t know if that’d work or not.
BO: My Spidey sense says you would create a bigger problem because you would now be trapping moisture two or three inches. Okay, so it’s gonna rise to the top of the old slab and then gets stuck there, and now where is it gonna drain to? You have to then deal with that moisture if it is coming up. I’d invite it in and try to manage it through the humidifier instead of trying to stop it personally.
RS: What do you think, Tess?
TM: Yeah, it’s a good question, and it’s like, well, it would be pretty expensive to rip out the carpet, install self-leveling concrete, vapor barrier, rip off the trim, do all of that, then refinish it. And is that worth it? I don’t know. Like Bill said, I’ve seen some basements where that moisture does get trapped in the actual concrete block because of a vapor barrier that people will install in the inside of the foundation, and then that moisture gets trapped in the concrete. And it starts to expand. And over time it pops, it starts to disintegrate the blocks, and they almost fall apart. So I’m wondering if you put a vapor barrier, like Bill was saying, in that concrete, if it at some point might trap the moisture and cause more issues, but it’s not… I don’t know, it’s a good question. I don’t know. I tend to go with Bill and just say, I would let that moisture migrate through the slab, and then do your best to let it dry to the inside as much as you can.
Alex: Yeah. Have you seen many permanently installed dehumidifiers in basements or do you mostly just see the portable ones?
TM: Mostly portable. Yeah, at least residentially, and that’s pretty much all I know.
RS: Yeah, that’s all I see too. Every once in a while, crazy houses, they’ll have a permanently-installed dehumidifier, this big central thing, and it’s just crazy-looking but I’ve never seen it in an old house like yours, it’s always just the self-contained units that go around on wheels.
BO: Well, you do have one of sorts, the radon mitigation system is in and of itself a dehumidifier.
TM: That helps.
RS: It will help. That’s not the job. It’s an unintentional dehumidifier. Yeah.
TM: How is the grading around your house, Alex, is it pretty good? And you’ve got gutters and downspouts and all of that?
Alex: Yeah, so good gutters, gutter guards, and very few trees around where the roof is, so they’re not getting clogged. I guess typical to the area, everything drains to the front and just not really well designed because there are two downspouts, one leads to a garden drain which freezes over the winter, so I have to figure out how to put an air gap in that, that’s one of the things from the report that I’ve not addressed. The other one just dead ends at a sidewalk, like a sidewalk on our property, so I have to figure out if I wanna…
TM: Let’s get some skates.
Alex: Break up the concrete and then run something underground, or I saw this video online of someone taking PVC piping, cutting a sharp tip on it, and then using a sledgehammer to basically create your drainage line. And it acts as almost like a hypodermic needle to cut through the soil, so that could go under the concrete of the sidewalk, but maybe things beyond my skill level.
TM: You never know at the rate that you’re learning, Alex.
Alex: Next summer, you’ll see me with a sledgehammer. And then the grading is pretty good, like the back, it’s not angled towards the house. There is a little bit, our house is towards the bottom of it or the middle of our street, like the middle house of the street, that’s the top of the hill, and then it gradually goes until our house towards the end of the street. So we do get a little bit of water pooling just in those… It seems like just those few days of… There was a lot of snow melt and water’s trying to figure out where to go, but otherwise really good water management, getting it away from the house.
TM: The best that you can do, you’ve got pretty good grading, gutters, downspouts, you’ve got a dehumidifier running all the time. You’re monitoring it, so.
BO: You can’t fight the soil that’s there, and most of the area that you’re speaking of is very heavy soil, and it just is what it is, it just…
TM: And you’ve got a really porous foundation ’cause it’s an old house, probably… Is it like a limestone or a…
BO: No, it’s gotta be concrete block.
Alex: I don’t know, are you able to pull up my inspection report and tell me?
TM: Take a look.
BO: That’s gotta be concrete block, I would bet my left index finger on that one. What, is there like six houses left? I know the neighborhood, there isn’t a lot of stacks and foundations in that area, just so you know.
TM: It looks like it is a concrete block, at least the pictures of the inside of the foundation, there’s some efflorescence, and it looks like it’s concrete block.
Alex: I’m glad to hear that Bill can keep his finger, I was pretty worried about that.
RS: Close. Close.
BO: I’m not a risk-taker but there are some times where I feel pretty safe. Alright, well, Alex, I think we’re gonna put a close on this week’s episode, any parting wisdom for any new home buyers looking at houses?
Alex: I have one win that I wanna share, this was a recommendation from Reuben that I love, and I just have to call this out. On my hot water tank, I had a plumber install a thermostatic mixing valve, so in the inspection…
Alex: In the inspection report, it links to a blog post from Reuben that says, “There is no perfect temperature for your hot water tank. Too high, it’s gonna scald you, too low, you’re gonna breed bacteria and Legionella.” But there is a solution, which is installing a thermostat mixing valve, which you all know, as the hosts of the podcast, there is output line coming out of the hot water tank, and then you set your hot water tank to as hot as it goes. I think mine’s 155 degrees, and then it instantly as it leaves the tank mixes with cold water, so then it’s delivered at the faucet at exactly 120 degrees. I love that thing, like I have a young kid who’s using the faucets and he just turns the hot water on and I don’t want him scalding himself. I know precisely what the temperature is. I could set it to anything but I set it to exactly 120 degrees. I just think that thing is fantastic. The other benefit, which I have not needed to leverage on is if you have guests over let’s say over the holidays, and a lot of people are taking long showers, it boosts the production of hot water available because now you’re mixing the hot water in the tank at capacity with the cold water.
TM: Right, yeah.
Alex: I love the thermostatic mixing valve. Thank you, Reuben, for that recommendation. I think about it every day.
RS: I’m glad you did it. Man, you are a diligent homeowner. I love it.
TM: Just gonna say, Alex, if you ever want a career change, I think you could have a future as a home inspector, give us a call.
Alex: I’ve thought about that, I’m sure I’ll send this podcast recording to my co-workers, so I won’t say that I’m in but I’ve definitely considered a change in careers.
BO: Alright, well, with that, we’re gonna bring this episode to a close, you’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry and Reuben Saltzman. Thank you, Alex, for your time. And thanks everybody for listening. Have a good one.
BO: Hi, everybody, Bill here again with Structure Talk. We really wanna thank you for listening to this podcast. It’s been a ton of fun for us to put this presentation together and if you could, we would love it if you would go to any of the podcast platforms where you find Structure Talk and leave us a rating and subscribe to the show. You can also subscribe to our blog at structuretech.com and of course, you can listen to the show on the internet at structuretalk.com. Thanks again for listening. We appreciate the support. And if you have any suggestions for show topics, please email them to firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for listening.