In this episode of the Structure Talk podcast, hosts Reuben Saltzman and Tessa Murry are joined by Dusty Jameson, a seasoned home inspector of Inspector Cluseau which is based in Knoxville, Tennessee. Together, they delve into the unique challenges posed by the mixed humid climate in their region. Dusty sheds light on critical aspects of home inspections such as heating and cooling systems, crawl spaces, radon detection, and insulation methods. The pervasive issue of humidity in crawl spaces is a key focus, with Dusty advocating for encapsulation as a solution. Mold and mold sensitivity, common concerns in the area due to the climate and construction practices, are also discussed. The conversation underscores the interconnectedness of building systems and the importance of adaptability and diversification in the ever-evolving field of home inspection. Dusty shares how he has adjusted his business to address market challenges, emphasizing the significance of customer education and convenience. The episode underscores the value of learning and collaboration within the home inspection community.
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.
Reuben Saltzman: Welcome to my house, welcome to the Structure Talk podcast, a production of Structure Tech Home Inspections. My name is Reuben Saltzman, I’m your host, alongside building science geek, Tessa Murry. We help home inspectors up their game through education and we help homeowners to be better stewards of their houses. We’ve been keeping it real on this podcast since 2019 and we are also the number one home inspection podcast in the world, according to my mom. Welcome to another episode of the Structure Talk podcast. Tessa and I just spent the last half hour talking about health and nutrition as a preamble to our show. Our show has nothing to do with any of that, but if that’s what on our minds, we’re gonna have to have a show just on that. Aren’t we?
Tessa Murry: We will.
RS: We’re gonna bore listeners and…
TM: We won’t dive into it today ’cause we have a special guest on that we really wanna get to. But Reuben, I think it’s fascinating that you cut your cholesterol in half in eight weeks by changing your diet. That’s a teaser, I think.
RS: There’s a teaser, yeah, yeah, we’ll about in a few months maybe. But we’re super excited to have Dusty Jameson on the show today. And Dusty, you were kicking off a series that we’re gonna be doing on regional differences on what different home inspectors do in different parts of the country, stuff that differentiates them, stuff that makes it where I couldn’t go in your area and do a home inspection on the houses you inspect ’cause you got different climates, different houses. Tessa, what else am I missing? Why else are we doing this? This was your brain child.
TM: Well, I think I’m just excited to hear from inspectors that are representing different climate zones around the US because we talk about cold, very cold climate all the time ’cause we’re here in Minnesota but I think we’ve got a bunch of listeners that are spread out across the United States and we want to talk about some of the issues that are relevant for them. So I’m really excited, we’ve got Dusty lined up and we’ve got a bunch of other good guests that are lined up for the next few weeks too that we’ll be talking to. But Dusty is from the mixed humid climate zone, and this is… For anybody listening, we are looking at a map that’s from Building America, climate-specific guidance map, and it breaks the United States up into a few different climate zones. I’ll just run through real quick, we’ve got hot dry, mixed dry, we’ve got hot humid, we’ve got mixed humid, which is what Dusty is representing. Cold, very cold, and marine. And then if you look at the IECC, which is the International Energy Conservation Code, they break the United States down into lots of different climate zones. I think as inspectors, we’re probably more familiar with knowing what our climate zone is that we’re in.
TM: So for anybody listening, the mixed humid climate zone actually covers several states in climate zone three, four, and part of five. And the states that we’re looking at today are mainly going to be Kansas and Oklahoma, we’ve got Missouri, Arkansas, and then the northern part of Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia. We got Tennessee and Kentucky. This is a geography quiz for me. Hope I get these right. And then the southern part of Illinois, Indiana, a little bit of Ohio, West Virginia, and then we’ve got South Carolina, North Carolina, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware, and New Jersey, I believe, is all in this mixed humid climates. So it’s a pretty big…
RS: It’s a big range.
TM: It is, it is a very big range, yeah. So you might be listening to this podcast and you might be in New Jersey or South Carolina and have slightly…, there’s gonna be differences between you, but in general, we’re gonna be talking about mixed humid climate zone for today with Dusty. Okay, so let’s dive into it. Dusty, it’s great to have you here, thanks for participating in this series and…
Dusty Jameson: Thanks for asking me to come on.
TM: Of course, so why don’t you tell everybody that’s listening a little bit about…, a little bit about yourself, your business and how you got into this?
DJ: Yeah. So in terms of location, I’m in Knoxville, Tennessee, so like you said, zone four, but Knoxville is the exact area that I’m at. I’ve actually been doing inspections for, I can say it now, half my life. Yeah, I started right at 20 years ago. Basically, the guy that owned the company, he owned the company here in Knoxville, he needed some help part-time at the time I was in college. And so real estate was booming at the time, he needed just some small things done during inspections, carrying ladders and checking plugs and checking windows, so that’s how I got into it. He was a friend of the family but got into it through that avenue. And then it just developed into basically an apprenticeship, and then 20 years later, here we are.
DJ: So I fell into it that way but just slowly learned the profession over time. The deeper I got into it, the more I got interested in it and wanted to learn. So it’s just been basically for me an evolution from not knowing anything or knowing very basic-level things about homes to really getting into the building science aspect and learning as much as I could based on what I’m seeing in my climate. I have a home inspection company here in Knoxville, we have two full-time inspectors. We’ve got another person that just came on full-time, and he is in that apprenticeship stage. Got back office staff that helps with the scheduling, and I have a side company or a sister company that really focuses on radon mitigation. I’m really interested in the radon mitigation aspect, so fell into that service just because of how interested I was in the building science part of it.
RS: What’s the name of your company?
DJ: Inspector Clouseau is the home inspection company, and the radon mitigation company is called EnviroSolutions.
TM: Like Inspector Clouseau from Pink Panther.
DJ: Yes, yes.
TM: Love those movies. Peter Sellers was my favorite, the original.
DJ: The guy that I started working with, the company was named Inspector Cluseau. We went through a transition around three or four years ago, where I took over ownership and purchased the company, so basically did a small rebrand, just got some different visuals with it but kept the company name. So yeah, Inspector Clouseau like Pink Panther.
TM: Nice, nice. Okay, well, hopefully we’ll have time. I wanna get into some of the things that set your business apart and how you’ve adapted to this changing market and the challenges with covid and everything. But before we do that, let’s dive into some of this building sign stuff and just some of the basics of…, tell us about the types of housing stock that you see where you’re at, describe your typical house, the construction, maybe some of the materials, how it’s set up. Do you have crawl spaces or basements? All of that stuff. And then we can talk about maybe some of the building science challenges you have too.
DJ: Yeah. Yeah. Honestly, we have a mix of every type of construction. When I go to… Day in, day out, when I go to inspections, I could go into a crawl space, I could go into a basement, I could go into a slab, we see every bit of it. Some of the more tropical-type constructions, the pier and post types, we don’t have that. But crawl space, basements and slabs, it’s a mix, it’s all across the board. I will say most of the newer homes, the production builds, where they’re… I’m in one myself, there’s probably 60 homes in this neighborhood, it’s a small lot, but most of those are coming out of the ground as slab homes, slab-home grade, and then two story on top of that. That’s what we’re seeing as the norm with some of the new-construction production builds. But if the house is 20 years old, I don’t know what I’m going into. It’s a lottery. Hopefully, it won’t be… Hopefully, it won’t be a tight crawl space, but you never know. With our climate zone, we don’t have as strenuous cold conditions, so our insulation… Typically, our insulation air sealing, it’s not gonna be as good as you would probably see in northern states.
DJ: That’s one thing that…, it’s pretty interesting, just this yesterday, we were going through a report or going over the findings during an inspection and I could look at the buyers’, the clients’ reaction to certain problems, some ventilation issues in the attic, meaning like bathroom vents and things like that. And I can usually read and figure out where the person is from. But I did it yesterday, I could watch his reactions and he was getting a little skittish over some things that were happening in the attic. And I I stopped and I say, “Where are you from?” And he said, “Upstate New York.” I said, “I thought so.” You’re acting to these issues like they’re going to be really bad, but honestly, in our climate, you don’t see as many problems with leaking air from the house into the attic. It generally doesn’t show up in such terrible situations like it would maybe in Northern states.”
TM: More forgiving. Yeah. [0:10:18.2] ____.
DJ: It is more forgiving. Like eye stems, we don’t get them, and I hear you guys talk about eye stem all the time. It’s very rare that we see those type of things. So in terms of that translating to the construction, our insulation and air sealing methods aren’t gonna be as good as like a cold climate, but it’s not uncommon to see like an R30 and an attic and everything be okay for us. But like I said, mostly a mixture of crawl spaces, basements, and slab on grade. The crawl spaces are our hot topic that we always get into in terms of problems and humidity issues, that’s really the thing that we’re fighting against, is humidity here.
TM: Okay. Crawl spaces are the messy areas usually. Do you have… Do you have… What type of heating cooling systems do you typically see in your houses?
DJ: We have a mixture of gas furnace or heat pump. For the most part, a heat pump will be perfectly fine. A lot of times, people want gas because they produce really intense heat pretty quick. Heat pump takes a little while to get there. So as you get into the more expensive customer homes, they’re generally gonna flow towards gas heat, gas furnace, but a heat pump will work perfectly fine here.
TM: Okay. And for the houses that are slab on grade, is ductwork located in the slab, subslab ductwork and in the attic, or where do you… Is it run outside the building envelop? What do they do?
DJ: Yeah. Ductwork in a slab just goes down… I can go down a big rabbit hole on that one, but I’ll use my house as an example, it’s slab on grade, both of my…, I have gas furnaces, both of those are in the attic space, so the upstairs, the ductwork runs from the attic and drops down through the ceiling, and then I’ve got a chase that comes down, and the main-level ductwork is in the floor space between the first and second level.
TM: Okay, in the [0:12:24.6] ____. Yeah.
DJ: It’s very rare that we have ductwork in slabs, I would say I see it maybe twice a year, yeah, it’s very rare. And when I do see it, it raises my attention because we do have radon, and when you start to discuss radon mitigation, when there’s air ducts in a slab, it gets really tricky. And usually, when I find that there are air ducts in a slab, usually it’s on an older house. When I say “older,” 30-plus years at least. And then you get into the conversation about the ductwork forming condensation, it starts to rust out. And then, of course, the radon conversation comes up too. So it just gets really dicey when ductwork gets down in concrete for us.
RS: Now, wait. You say the ductwork rusts out, implying you’ve got metal ductwork in the slab?
RS: Stop, stop.
TM: In a mixed humid climate zone, that sounds like a bad idea.
DJ: Yeah. Yeah, if I ever see you ductwork in a slab, it’s always going to be your typical sheet metal duct and concrete, nothing encasing it. Very seldom do I see… I’ve seen PVC once or twice, but honestly, almost always, it’s sheet metal, and so it starts to rust out.
TM: You know what I think’s interesting? It sounds like for the most part, though, builders in your area are not putting ductwork in the slab, they figured how to put it in the building envelope, like in the floor system, which is a lot better, in my opinion. But here in Minnesota, we still see all the new construction, like slab on grade stuff, a lot of it is subslab ductwork, ductwork in the slab still. And there’s just so many moisture issues and other air quality problems that like, Why are we doing that still? I think you guys are ahead of us in that department.
DJ: What material are you seeing?
TM: Like a lot of PVC, I would say, these day.
RS: Yeah. PVC, that’s it.
DJ: That’s the only…, so with the radon conversation, if you think about the ductwork that’s rusting out, well, just the metal ducts in general have joints, they’re never perfectly sealed. When you start creating negative pressure under the slab and trying to pull radon, all of a sudden, now you’re pulling from the supplier.
TM: You’re declutterizing the house.
DJ: The whole house, yeah. So anytime I find ductwork in a slab, I basically tell them, “Radon mitigation is not an option.” In that sense, there’s no way to do it. If you do it, you’re basically gonna steal your conditioned air, there’s no way around that.
TM: Yeah. And backdraft any natural gas appliances, which is a problem too. Wow. And radon is a pretty common problem where you are, what percentage of houses have high radon, would you say?
DJ: Well, this is funny, as I can locate…, if I know the zip code that I’m going to, I can tell you a little bit more, but just in general, I would say that, I don’t know, maybe 50%, depending on the time of the year, if we tested. But you also factor in the fact that most of our crawl spaces are ventilated, which will naturally make your radon levels lower, so there’s some nuance to that testing. But I would say half of them. Especially during the wintertime, you may see about half that have high radon. But yeah, it’s generally gonna be the basements or the slab is really the vent crawl spaces that have it.
TM: Okay. So I wanna dive into crawl spaces, can you just tell us like of the clauses that you see, what typically do you run into and what are the problems?
DJ: Humidity, that’s just the broadest way to say it but the most direct. Humidity is always the issue. We have traditionally. It’s mostly vented crawl spaces, we’ve started to see a transition now to a lot more concealed crawl or nonvented crawl spaces encapsulated. But when we talk about vented crawl spaces, it’s always elevated humidity, and it’s honestly just a matter of how bad… You’re gonna see it in every one of them, but how bad is it? And I actually have… I don’t know if it’s on my new website, but on my old website, I had a page that was strictly dedicated to, How bad is the humidity in your crawl space, and I could reference my clients and say, “You have a crawl space, you’re gonna be a 1 on that scale, or you wanna be a 6 on that scale.” And I would just point them to it and say, “That’s what you have because there’s always gonna be some form of humidity.” But we have traditionally block foundation walls. Our crawl spaces, sometimes they can be really tight, other times you can walk through. If you get into Gatlinburg area, mountain terrain, you may have crawl spaces. We actually have worked on some that have had 15 feet from the dirt to the bottom of the floor joist. On one side, it’s 15 to 20 feet, on the other side, you actually get up to hands and knees because you’re on the side of a mountain, so it does get pretty unresting.
DJ: But the typical stuff that I see is a typical crawl space, hands and knees, insulation under the floor system. Most of the time, the ductwork is underneath the house and the humidity just runs rampid. And generally speaking, it’s gonna be more humid whenever you, A, have drainage issues around the home, but then, B, when you add that HVAC system or ductwork underneath, you’re gonna make the humidity issue worse typically.
TM: And the type of insulation that you see most commonly, is it like fiberglass batts in stuck up in-between the floor joist?
DJ: Yeah. R-13 or better, R-11, R-13 underneath the floor system, fiberglass batts paper facing the bottom of the floor system, so you look up and see the pink or yellow fiberglass, that’s generally what you see. So the bottom 3 to 4 inches of the joist are exposed, so usually that’s where you see the moisture that’s coming up. If it gets really bad, you start seeing the beads of water on the insulation itself. Usually, the problems are exaggerated where the ductwork is running, so the main trunk that runs down because it’s so cold around that area, that’s where it’s gonna be a little bit more humid as opposed to maybe some of the outer skirts of the crawl space. But yeah, the condensation will catch on the bottom of the joist, that’s where we will see the mold start to grow. The insulation hangers, you’ll start to see rust on those, you start to see rust on the staples that are hanging up the wire, so all of the telltale signs of humidity just come in different forms. But that’s what we’re looking for when we go in, are all of those signs.
RS: Now I gotta ask you to talk about the insulation, you got the paper face on the bottom, where it should be, but then also on that paper face, it says a gazillion times on there, “This material is flammable, don’t leave this exposed.” Do you leave it exposed, and that’s just standard, or what? How does that work?
DJ: Yeah. When I say “the bottom,” the paper is facing the underside of the floor above you. When you’re in a crawl space, you only see the fiberglass.
RS: Oh, okay, so they got the vapor barrier on the conditioned side.
DJ: Conditioned side, yes.
RS: Which really is where it belongs.
RS: Okay, all right. Got it. So it’s not much exposed, I understand. Got it.
DJ: Yeah. And some things that you guys have. And it rattles my brain whenever I hear it, when you guys start talking about vapor barriers and plastics that go on different walls and stuff, it blows my mind because we don’t have…
TM: You guys don’t have [0:20:08.9] ____ barriers in your wall or in your attics?
DJ: We don’t use plastic. No, we do not use plastic anywhere. Well, the only thing… The only vapor barrier…, in the crawl space, the plastic will be on the dirt, but in terms of the floor system, the only vapor barrier is the paper.
TM: The paper.
DJ: Yeah, in our wall systems, if they use batt insulation, it’s gonna be on the paper, there’s no plastic that we use anywhere. It always blows my mind when you guys talk about using plastic in those places, interesting.
TM: Yeah. So in your attics, it’s just blown insulation typically or fiberglass batts again, no poly vapor barrier or…, and you’re not using closed cell spray foam to seal stuff up, really?
DJ: No, so like my house is the example, is the norm. I’ve got drywall attached to 2×4 trusses and the blown fiberglass is right on top of everything, that’s it. So when I walk through the attic space, I just see white snow, blown fiberglass, that’s it.
TM: Yeah. Wow. And you’re not… Because you don’t have the extreme temperatures like we do, you don’t have a lot of issues with like degradation of roof decking from attic bypasses or anything like that?
DJ: It happens, but it’s rare, and usually I can point to something else being a culprit for it. There’s obviously a ton of factors when you start, I call it “condensation on the underside of the roof deck,” that’s the note that I use when I put it in a report. But basically, when I start seeing it, I start going, “Okay, why is it doing it here and it hasn’t done it in the five other houses I just looked at that had similar circumstances?” But no, we don’t have quite as much of that going on as you guys do, we do have air sealing techniques that we are supposed to adhere to, and they help. But generally speaking, I don’t see as much issue with lack of insulation or air sealing in an attic space, it just doesn’t show up up there quite as much.
TM: So a lot of your attics, if you’ve got, like your house has a furnace in the attic, I’m guessing those attics are…, are they still vented to the outside then? Or how are they treated?
DJ: Yeah. So I have a… My attic’s fairly tall, but I’ve got an R38 on the ceiling, no vapor barrier. I’ve got two furnaces that are up there and some ductwork. I have soffit vents and then I have just standard box… I call ’em box vents, but I’ve got like six box vents on the back of my house. So it’s standard, low and high, just natural stack effect takes it out, so yeah, that’s a typical attic in our space.
TM: Yeah. So you’re not seeing a lot of like hot roofs where the thermal boundary is moved up to the underside of the roof deck to allow that ductwork and that furnace to be inside a conditioned space, you’re not seeing that too much?
DJ: No, it’s happening some on newer custom homes, higher-end homes, we’re seeing a little bit more of that. I think you and I talked one time about some condensation issue. So it’s coming around a little bit more, but for me, it’s pretty intriguing to look at…, I’m still not seeing a lot of it, but when I do see it, my brain starts firing and starts thinking about all kinds of things that can happen and what to look for. Now, interestingly enough, I don’t know if you know this, in climate zone four, we are not required to have any sort of return or supply into the attic if it’s a like a spray-foamed attic deck or a roof deck, it can be…, we can just spray foam the roof and that’s it, we don’t have to have any sort of makeup air or anything like that.
RS: Or conditioned air feeding the space. Okay.
DJ: Yeah. Sure.
TM: And the crawl spaces… Going back to the crawl spaces, Dusty, it’s interesting to me ’cause a lot of the building science in the last years has shown that like the way to treat a crawl space in a humid climate is to encapsulate it, which means you don’t want vents connecting that crawl space to the outside space because of the high humidity and because of condensation and mold and moisture issues. But you don’t see a lot of encapsulated crawl spaces? Like that’s not what builders are doing, really?
DJ: No, because builders can still ventilate their crawl space at a cheaper price tag. So if it’s cheaper to still ventilate it and they can usually get past their one-year warranty and not see any sort of issue, then they’re gonna go with the cheaper option.
TM: That’s the problem, it’s like the building industry is very slow to change and it’s like they’ve been doing it this way for forever, so “Why would you change what we’re doing?”
DJ: Exactly. And if they’re not forced to change it, if the building standard still says, “You can do it this way,” then they’re not gonna do it, they’re gonna go with the cheaper option. So in terms of new construction… In terms of new construction now, we’re sticking to ventilation for the most part. Now, you may get some particular clients or people who are building a house to say, “We want a conditioned space,” and maybe the builder will convert it over for them, but as a whole, no ventilation is still what we’re doing for the most part. But to your point, yes, encapsulation, the easiest way to say it is, that’s the only…, it’s the only way that you could… Well, you can’t guarantee that you’re not gonna have humidity issues in encapsulated space, but it’s the closest thing you can get to as compared to ventilation, there’s just no way.
RS: So when you go in these houses, in let’s say five, 10 years old, relatively new house, and you go in the crawl space and you’re seeing all these moisture issues, condensation and rusted staples and all that fun stuff, what do you tell people? How do they fix it, besides the obvious, “Manage your water on the outside better?” that’s the low-hanging fruit. But once you’ve taken care of the outside water, what do you do about it?
DJ: Basically, I go straight to the point, I say, “If you want to ensure that you don’t have humidity issues in your crawl space, the best thing that you could do is encapsulate it. And there’s an expense with that, if you want to take on that expense and go and do all of the things that that would require, then good, you won’t have humidity in your crawl space, I could almost guarantee it. If you don’t want to take that full expense, then do whatever you can to get you as close to that encapsulated space as you can. If that’s just a matter of sealing off the vents and putting a dehumidifier, not adjusting the vapor barrier, and not adjusting insulation, just do a dehumidifier, if you can at least do that, you can somewhat can control your humidity. Actually, it’s like a pendulum, you swing and you cause some other issues when you do that.” So that’s why I say like, “If you want to go and take care of the problem, do full encapsulation. Any step away from that creates some other problem, although it may be small, it creates something that you’re not addressing if you don’t go to that full extent.”
TM: Can you talk more about that? ‘Cause my little building science brain is getting excited when you’re like, “You do one thing, and then it creates an unintended consequence here.” That is a building clients… It’s like all these systems are interconnected. So explain some of these other problems you might create.
DJ: Well, the first… I mean the first one right off the bat, as soon as you close the crawl space and put a dehumidifier in, you create a channel for radon. You’re no longer ventilating that radon through the vents, you’re allowing it to come up, so you’re creating a situation that will likely increase radon levels inside of the home. So if radon is an issue where that house is at, then you created a radon problem. Especially if you don’t address the vapor barrier, the vapor barrier is gonna help with soil gases, it doesn’t make it perfect, but it’s gonna help. So if somebody leaves loose laid vapor barrier, which is just plastic on the ground and the dirt is exposed along the outer edges, if they leave that in place, you’re allowing that radon to come up and you’re also not preventing the vapors that are coming from the ground. So your dehumidifier’s automatically gonna be working a little bit harder because you’re not sealing off the soil gas and vapor from the ground. Those two things are the easy ones.
DJ: People always ask about insulation because typically, if a house has humidity issues, it usually has some form of mold. And to address the mold the right way, you have to remove the insulation, so the question comes up, Do you reinsulate below your floor or do you reinsulate your walls? And then I get into that conversation about, Honestly, in our climate, the foundation wall insulation, it’s required by code, but it doesn’t help a ton. A lot of our crawl spaces may only have like a foot of ground that’s exposed on the outside, may be submerged. And so usually, I don’t see a whole lot of issues that come up because of not insulating the foundation walls. I’m sure it can help. But I will say the rim board is probably one of the main focuses where I tell people, “If you don’t insulate your foundation walls, at least insulate and air seal the rim board.” I do go to that extent. So those are some of the most common things where the discussion goes to.
TM: Wow, I would think that… Gosh, are there a lot of people that you come across that have like mold fears and mold sensitivity?
DJ: Oh, yeah. Oh yeah. Part of my business is actually evolved into just doing a lot of mold investigations. And I get referred by companies too to come in and do some preremediation testing to basically set a standard for them to go ahead and then do the mold remediation. So I get a lot of referrals for that. But yeah, the mold conversation comes up, comes up quite often, so yeah, that’s part of it.
TM: And it just seems like it’s a mold nightmare where you live because you’ve got houses… Because it’s not extreme cold or extreme hot, you haven’t been forced to build a really airtight house to control air movement and heat loss and improve energy efficiency and all that like the extreme climates like we have. So your houses are gonna be leakier, allowing that indoor air and outdoor air to mix more and you’ve got all this like these spaces that are in-between with these crawl spaces and these attics and you’ve got ductwork going through these areas and condensation problems, and it just seems like, Where do you even start?
DJ: Yeah. And you’re hitting one of the main things that I always tell people, The older the house, the worse that it’s gonna be air sealed. And when you start getting into the conversation about the crawl space and you go into a crawl space, and there’s a lot of times you go in, and you can just see the mold growing all over the floor system. And you look over, and they’ve used a joist space for their return vent, and so with that return vent, you may… And there’s times…
DJ: I even saw it a couple of days ago where they drilled through it to run a wire, and so you can actually see the dust and the mold accumulating in this hole where it’s getting sucked into the HVAC system. And then all of a sudden, you’re gonna have to… That morphs into, Oh, your HVAC system is 20 years old and it’s been pulling this air from the crawl space for 20 years. You can imagine what the inside of this thing looks like. And that obviously blows into your ductwork, and now all of a sudden, your supply side is contaminated too. And you go into the house and there’s carpet in every room. And that gets you into the conversation about just, All this stuff is blown through the ducts and then it settles into the carpet.
DJ: So I do work with real… There are some clients, there’s probably about two or three a year that have extreme mold sensitivities. And so we have to get really deep into those conversations about air quality. And it goes to that extent where it’s like, “Okay, you’ve gotta remove the carpet, you have to replace the HVAC system, you have to potentially replace the air ducts. We have also a lot of fiberboard lined air ducts.
TM: What? Fiberboard lined ductwork?
DJ: Yeah. It’s just about an inch thick of fiberglass, and on the inside, it’s just fiber.
DJ: Yeah. I call it “fiberboard,” but when that stuff gets contaminated, it’s immediate replacement.
TM: You’ve gotta toss it, yeah.
RS: Yeah. There’s no cleaning with that.
TM: You can’t clean that.
RS: It’s impossible, yeah.
DJ: No, so that conversation about air sealing and air movement through a house that’s…, yeah, it’s rampant whenever somebody gets into asking the questions about air quality because older houses, especially in our climate, air is just moving everywhere through a house.
RS: Now, I gotta come back to something. I’ve been noodling on this one and I can’t wrap my head around it.
DJ: Oh, the foundation wall insulation?
RS: No, about going back even further in our discussion, talking about the paper vapor barrier on the fiberglass insulation, your crawl space. Seems to me that the paper belongs on the bottom. And then Tessa, what do you think? Because… No, hear me out. Tess, think this through. In Minnesota, where our big concern for condensation is gonna be during the wintertime, you have a humid indoor environment and the moisture wants to travel through the building envelop and then it condenses when it hits the cold surface, so you try to have it right at the living space. But in Dusty’s area, you’ve got this humid crawl space and all that moisture wants to condense when it hits a cold surface. Isn’t the coldest part going to be right at the floor and you’re forcing the condensation to happen up inside the insulation? Wouldn’t you wanna stop it at the bottom? I can’t wrap my head around this. Why do they do it the way you do it, Dusty? And Tessa, help me out.
DJ: Well, Tessa’s gonna have a better answer than me, I’m gonna give mine and then we’ll get the legitimate truth with Tessa. My take is it’s impossible in a vented crawl space in our climate to control the humidity, there’s no way to do it, you can’t. The air… To give you an example, there was one day this week, I think I text Tessa about it, the dew point temperature was like 76. And so logically, if that air flows into a crawl space that stays about 65 degrees for the most part year round, it’s an uphill battle, you won’t win that battle. So it doesn’t matter where the paper is, there’s gonna be condensation anywhere you put the paper because everything in that crawl space is 65 or it’s cooler in some spots, but the air coming in, it’s gonna condense on those services automatically.
RS: So why not just have a big sheet of plastic underneath it, impermeable plastic? There’s no such thing, I know, you got staples. But just a big sheet of plastic, let it condense on the plastic and drip down and, I don’t know, deal with it then?
DJ: Are we bordering on… I will say this, when I do like a manufactured home, it’s the same concept that you’re talking about. You have the underbelly and the installation’s above the underbelly and then you just see basically the felt. Generally speaking, you don’t see condensation issues above that if that’s fully sealed. Sometimes they cut them open and you start to see the problems, but yeah, if it’s fully sealed, I agree with you, it does only condense underneath all of that stuff.
TM: So like in a cold climate like Minnesota, that vapor barrier needs to be on the warm side of the wall ’cause you wanna prevent that warm, humid air in the wintertime from leaking out and getting into the wall cavity and condensing and creating moisture issues. The challenges though with climates where you’re both heating and cooling, you’ve got air-conditioning parts of the year too, then you’re fighting humidity that can move from outdoor humid air through that wall system to the inside of the house, if you’ve got central air. And now that you’ve got that vapor barrier on the inside of the wall, then you can trap moisture in the wall that way too, so it’s…
TM: For me, like vapor barriers are really tricky because especially in climates where you’re heating and cooling and you’re dealing with humidity from both sides of the wall, inside the house and from the environment. And especially like what you’re describing in your crawl space, with the humidity on the outside. But also I’m sure there’s times of the year where you’re heating and there could be humid air pushing out through the floor, pushing out into the crawl space. Then you put plastic on the other side of the insulation and you’re just trapping that moisture in that area. And especially, if you’ve got leaky ductwork, you could be pushing humidity out the ductwork and trapping it in that space as well. So like a vapor barrier, it can be just… It can be a problem I think anywhere. And the most important thing is, ideally, you want that thermal boundary, wherever that insulation is, to be in contact and continuous with your vapor barrier. Two separate things, your thermal barrier and your vapor barrier. Or your air barrier, which is like your flooring or your Sheetrock or something like that. And anytime you’ve got like a gap or a space between them, you’re asking for problems.
DJ: Makes sense.
TM: Yeah. I guess like in your climate zone, I’d almost be like, “Let’s not even put the plastic up. Let’s not put up a vapor barrier unless we’re gonna do it perfectly, and we’re not gonna have leaky ductwork and… ” Yeah.
DJ: It gets. I saw you describing that closing your eyes ’cause it’s so much to think about, but that’s where I get every time when I start thinking about how you guys use plastic so much in houses. And I start thinking about our climate, I’m like, “But it moves up, everything’s doing this and it’s… “
TM: Yeah. From every direction, and it depends on the time of year and the climate and all of that, yeah, it is a challenge. So I think the best way to tackle it is encapsulation, like we’ve been talking about. And it’s just a shame that the construction industry builders have not caught up with that science yet.
DJ: Yeah. Yeah, but it’s becoming more known that that’s really the only way that you’re going to address it the correct way. And like I always tell my clients, the closer you can get to a full encapsulation system to a perfect system, the better the house is gonna perform.
TM: Yeah. Not only with durability of the building materials and the floor joists not rotting and getting moldy and ductwork not rusting and getting wet, it’s like you’re talking about air quality, huge impacts on air quality and… ‘Cause the leakier that boundary between the crawl space and the house is, the worse the mold and radon problems are gonna be. And the air quality in general is gonna suffer.
DJ: Yeah. Yeah, definitely.
TM: Yeah. Well, that’s fascinating. Do you ever come across houses where… Do you have termites where you are too? Is that an issue as well?
DJ: Yeah. Subterranean.
DJ: Yep, so yeah. Termite, the statement is, “It’s not if you get termites, it’s when you get termites,” yeah. So we have subterranean, they…
TM: And do the moldy crawl spaces make it… I mean does the moisture attract the termites?
DJ: Yeah. Yeah, moisture is always going to. I mean, if you have damp wood, that’s what they’re looking for, so our crawl spaces generally are gonna have a few feet of block foundation wall or your block piers in the center. And hopefully you catch the termites as they’re traveling up the surface of those and you can catch them before they get to the wood. So the wood’s not necessarily in contact with the ground, we’re trying to keep it away from it, but yeah, we get them. If they go undetected and they start getting into the floor system, they can wreak havoc. With our slab houses, once they… One of the most prevalent areas where termites come in slab homes, for whatever reason, the garage, the gap between the slab and the foundation wall, they find that. I find those all the time, they’ll basically get up into the garage walls just from the slab, they’ll be underneath and come on up through. So builders are required to pretreat the soil, so on a new construction home, either the soil has to be treated, the wood has to be treated, or they have to provide bait stations. I’m not a fan of that method, but that’s one of their options, they have to do one of those three things on new construction homes.
RS: Got it.
TM: You got some challenges where you are, Dusty.
TM: One last question that’s building-science related. What kind of ventilation strategies do most of the houses have where you are? Do you see any balanced ventilation systems like a air-to-air exchanger or HRVs where you are or is it just point source like with batt fans?
DJ: Point source with batt fans that mostly terminate in the attic space. Usually, they always go up into the attic and then they drop into the soffit and they just lay the vent there, it doesn’t even go outside.
RS: But that’s good enough, though, that’s good enough, it works.
DJ: Well, that’s when the guy that I was talking about yesterday from upstate New York, when I was telling him, that’s what his fans were doing.
TM: He’s freaking out.
DJ: He’s freaking out, that’s why I said, “Where are you from?” And that’s when I explained to him, I said, “I may look at 50 houses, and 49 of them have this exact issue, and they don’t have any problems. One out of… “
TM: There’s no rot, there’s no ice standing.
DJ: No. “There’s no condensation. There’s nothing, but one house out of that 50 may show the signs of condensation. And so I have to tell you that this is a problem, but in your attic, I don’t see the condensation.” and that house was built in 1955, so he was like, “Okay.”
RS: Yeah, we’re going with it. We’re gonna…
TM: Oh my gosh.
DJ: But one of the more recent experiences that I’ve had with ventilation that was pretty interesting to me, it’s the first time that anybody’s approached me with this one, this house was two-story slab on grade, she had spray foam on the exterior walls and in the attic, so the whole house was spray foamed. She moved in and after a few months she couldn’t breathe. And she ended up…, what it was, she had no balanced intake ventilation. So the HVAC guy came back out, he put in a fresh air intake, it wasn’t an ERV or anything like that, it was just fresh air intake, and cleared it up right away. But that was the first real experience I’ve had with somebody saying, “Hey, I can’t breathe, the house is basically too tight.” So it was pretty interesting to see that. But yeah, it’s very rare that I see HRV or ERV, anything like that. Every once in a while, I’ll see it. I see maybe five a month. Looking at around 40 houses a month, I see maybe five of them that have it, so.
TM: Wow. Yeah, that’s another method to filter out some of that mold and the pollutants in the air, is if you’ve got an air-to-air exchanger, but if you don’t have that, then you’ve got your furnace filter potentially, but that’s all you got.
DJ: It’s all you’ve got. And sometimes, it’s a method of attacking radon situations, sometimes, it doesn’t do a full job, but it does some, obviously, it dilutes the air a little bit.
TM: Good point.
DJ: But yeah, usually the houses that do have it are a little more higher-end custom builds and things like that. And I’m always interested when I see them, I applaud the builder, I’d say that these are really good features about the house, but we don’t see them too often.
DJ: I wonder if…
TM: Wow, are there any other building…
DJ: One of the facts that we… Outside air is so humid during the summertime, I wonder how that would react in some situations ’cause basically, you would almost have to counteract it with a whole house dehumidifier possibly, if you’re pulling in air that’s that humid. I don’t know.
RS: Yeah. Yeah, I could see it causing problems, for sure.
DJ: And that’s one thing that we…, we do have dehumidification, so dehumidifiers, we do have to use those in basements, crawl spaces, even inside, point-of-use, we used dehumidifiers a lot. We don’t see a lot of humidifiers, so that’s one thing that we don’t see a lot of, versus in dryer climates, they’ll see more of those.
TM: Yeah. Those dehumidifying systems, they’re whole house dehumidifiers that are hooked up to the ductwork and stuff?
DJ: Crawl spaces will have… Usually, it’s like a Santa Fe or an AprilAire commercial, it’s usually 70 pints, but 70 pints…, and it’s just a point-of-use. Every once in a while, I’ll see a whole house dehumidifier, but not too often. Usually, people use point-of-use for the most part.
TM: Wow, fascinating, we could keep geeking out all day, I know we could, but I think we’ve touched on some good things. Are there any other interesting challenges or things about houses that we haven’t covered that we should mention?
DJ: The humidity issue is really the main thing that’s very unique to our climate, and I say unique to ours, there’s obviously other parts of the country that have it, but that’s our biggest challenge. Outside of that, we touched on the radon and some of the insulation and air sealing stuff, but for the most part, the humidity is what we really have to manage. Water in all its forms is really the thing that causes the problem, so whether it be in humidity or just our drainage too, around the outside of the house, it’s simple to say, but focusing on drainage and move water away from the house. And I’ve heard Reuben talk about a step back, when you’re doing inspection, you step back and you look back and you say, “Where does the water flow off of the roof? And then how are we taking it to the ground? And then from there, where does it go?” So paying attention to that on the outside is obviously extremely important, but that’s not unique to our climate, it’s probably everywhere.
RS: For sure.
TM: Yeah. We speak a common language when it comes to moisture, it’s a home’s worst enemy no matter where you’re at.
DJ: Oh, yeah, oh, yeah, absolutely. Absolutely.
TM: Yeah. Oh, man, well, I don’t know, do we have time to just quickly touch on anything that you’ve done in the last few years, Dusty, that’s set your company apart, and how you’ve adapted to some of the challenges with the market?
DJ: Yeah. I think, one, just staying in it, not falling away or hiding or anything. No, I’ve tried to make… One of the things is just being available, from scheduling to availability, just making it easy for a client to get to us and get us on the books and get us to the house. And doing that by either hiring more people, hiring an office admin who answers the phone, where I don’t have to do anything with the phone, she schedules all of the access information. Those things, they seem like not a big deal, but when it comes down to it, people want things to be easy. So if I can make it easy for somebody to get in touch with us and to schedule, it makes the client happy and it makes the agent happy. Outside of that, just trying to be really proficient at what we do with the inspection, understanding things. I think that’s part of another thing that will make any home inspector really good, is knowing what they’re doing well enough where they can explain it in a way that the client can understand it and not be afraid of it. I think when people are left wondering what’s going on or how to fix it, I think that’s where they get scared, and things don’t go as smoothly, but if they’re told… You can tell somebody, “Something’s really bad,” but if you tell them what caused it and how to fix it, they leave a little bit more comfortable. So I think that’s part of it too.
DJ: In terms of just general business stuff, opening up and having the ability to do some radon mitigation, that plays pretty well because generally, home inspections will taper off during the wintertime, get a little bit less busy. But radon, just because of the nature of it, it actually picks up during the wintertime because we’re turning our heating systems on and radon levels are a little higher and people are doing testing during real estate transaction, and so levels come back high. So having home inspections slow down but to be able to supplement that with installing some radon systems, just from a business perspective, that’s worked really well for us, so those are your just…
RS: And you have your home inspectors doing that?
DJ: I usually do…, I’m heading up the radon installation, and then if the home inspections are slow, I’ll pull those guys over and have them help just ’cause it’s basic stuff. But yeah, if we have home inspections, I usually try to get them to do the home inspections, and I’ll jump over and do the radon stuff.
RS: Gotcha. Okay.
TM: Yeah. So you’ve diversified, you offer radon services, home inspections, and then it sounds like you do mold investigations and some little things too.
DJ: Yeah. I didn’t cover that, the home inspection. Our service list has drastically grown. I don’t know if I could off the top of my head… Alright, termite inspections, we do radon testing, obviously, and I’ll have to say this, fill that in there. If I do the radon test, I am not trying to sell the mitigation, if they do approach me for a mitigation, I say, “Look, I have to tell you, full disclosure, obviously, I own both of these companies.” So I have to give that little disclaimer in there. But yeah, radon testing we do. Yeah, the mold has become more prevalent, there’s just…, a lot of people move here and they hear about the allergen stuff that we have in our climate, and so they’re automatically thinking about mold stuff. So mold, we have added a sewer scope service, we do not do the scopes ourself, I actually still subcontract that with a plumber, but that has been really interesting to see. So with our slab homes and with our older homes that I go into, the cast iron pipes and all the problems that can happen, it’s been pretty wild to see that. Gosh, what else do we… Well systems, so we do the well system inspection, we test for well water, we’ve had…
DJ: There’s probably a few other things that I’m not even thinking of, but yeah, the things that we do beyond the home inspection has helped tremendously because just, again, business perspective. If you take a $500 inspection and then all of a sudden you add three or four different services on top of it, all of a sudden that service is now a $1200 inspection. So one inspection can go much further than having to do two or three to cover costs for things.
TM: Yeah. Yeah, that’s awesome. Well, thanks for sharing a little bit about just your business and your strategy, but also I appreciate too, Dusty, just personally, your integrity and then your curiosity about things and wanting to present accurate information to people in a way that they can understand, that’s helpful to resolve their problems in the right way. And I think that’s the biggest thing in our industry. As you know, there’s a lot of misinformation out there or there’s a lot of people that have been doing things one way for so long, “Why would we do it a different way?” Or the house is too tight, people can’t breathe in it. Well, it’s like, okay, build tight but ventilate right. And there’s all this, I think, education that needs to be done to help homeowners understand these things. And it sounds like you do a really good job of that with your company.
DJ: I will have to say the…, stroke your ego a little bit, but Reuben is like the… He’s like the gold standard for me for how to run an inspection business, so I look up to Reuben for those things. When it comes to building science and stuff, I have people that pop in my head, so I text Tess or text you about building science things, or I’m gonna throw a name out, Charles Buell. Those are people that I look up to. And the curiosity is just like I’m seeing…, a few years ago, I started seeing things and just getting curious about it, but I reached out to these people that are much more knowledgeable and better at certain things than me. And that’s where I’ve learned a lot of my stuff, is from mentors like you guys, so I appreciate what you guys do.
TM: Back at you. Well, I learned a lot from you too, Dusty, especially on these mix climate things, so thank you. I think that’s…, I think I just am grateful to be a part of a community where we are not afraid to admit we don’t know everything and there’s room to grow and learn. And that’s the purpose of this podcast, and having people like you on it. There are so many mentors that I have too, that I look up to, that have helped me understand these things. So I’m just happy to have a platform where we can all learn from each other and get better.
DJ: Absolutely, yeah, I appreciate you guys having me.
RS: Well, thanks for coming on the show.
TM: Thank you.
RS: Really appreciate it, Dusty. Good to catch up, man.
DJ: Likewise. Likewise.
TM: This has been really fun. Okay, so to close it out, Dusty, tell our listeners where they can get a hold of you and how they can find you.
DJ: Yeah. So I guess you search my name on Facebook, that’s probably the easiest way. No, Inspector Cluseau is the business, we’re out of Knoxville, so if you google, you’ll find us there. You can even find me on Facebook, I may give you my cell phone number, so.
RS: Alright. Well, again, thank you, everyone, for tuning in. Next week on our podcast, can’t wait, we got another guest continuing on the same track. And we’re gonna have Jim Katen out of Portland, Oregon, one of my earliest home inspector mentors. I can’t wait to have him on the show, it’s gonna be fantastic.
TM: Nice. Is it Oregon or Oregon?
RS: Yes, it certainly is. We’ll catch you next week.
TM: See you next week. Bye.