November 6, 2014

Properly installed insulation is a vital step in building a new home that’s comfortable, durable and energy efficient.

Thinking of building a home in Greenville SC? Avoid common – and costly – construction mistakes by choosing a seasoned, professional builder.

It is easy to judge a home by the obvious: a floor plan that’s a joy to live in, a streetscape that wows passers-by, an abundance of natural lighting, ample storage … the list goes on.

But there are a few other, less obvious details that have just as great an impact on your satisfaction with a home over time. So be sure to partner with a builder who has the experience, skill and concern to ensure the following things are done right.

MOISTURE CONTROL. Mistakes here raise the likelihood of mold, mildew and rot. Steve Easley, a California-based building consultant who investigates moisture problems, sees the same errors again and again. Three common ones:

  • Horizontal valleys. Such valleys include where a roof slopes into a chimney or wall. The detailing here needs to be close to perfect to keep water out.
  • Lack of overhangs. In a Canadian study, 80 percent of examined homes with moisture in the walls had no roof overhang, making it easy for water to flow down the siding and into the wall.
  • Improper housewrap. When water gets behind the siding, flashing and housewrap should direct it back out before it can get into the structure. Mistakes here are rampant. Take the example of a piece of flashing that laps over the one above it. Anyone with a basic grasp of gravity will understand that if water dripping down the wall hits this intersection, it will flow into the structure rather than out. Shockingly, building science experts say that it’s one of the most common errors they see in the field.

MECHANICALS THAT WORK. Modern heating and cooling equipment is very efficient – but that doesn’t guarantee comfort. Equipment must be well sized and ducts properly sealed. Sadly, this isn’t always done.

Some HVAC contractors still use outdated rule-of-thumb calculations to size furnaces and air conditioners. That may have worked for old, drafty structures but with today’s tighter homes the result is often oversized equipment that costs more to buy and operate, and leaves the home less comfortable than it could be. Smart builders hire an HVAC company that carefully calculates the home’s heating load and precisely matches the system to that load.

Leaky ductwork is another potential problem. If a leak occurs outside the main living area — such as in a basement – then living and sleeping spaces won’t get the air they need. There will be resulting comfort issues, and the equipment will have to run longer to satisfy the thermostat. If ducts run through a totally unconditioned space — a hot attic in summer, for example — leaks can create a slight vacuum that pulls unwanted outside air into the house.

PROPER INSULATION. A home ends up with hot and cold spots along with uncomfortable drafts if insulation is installed without enough attention to detail.

John Tooley, a nationally-recognized energy expert and building science consultant, says that the most common problem areas he sees are attic knee walls (i.e., short walls, typically under three feet in height, used to support the rafters) and vaulted ceilings. In the former the insulation usually gets installed without backing and so falls away from the wall; in the latter it’s stuffed into the ceiling cavity, leaving heat-sucking voids.

“Insulation has to touch the surface of the drywall to do its job,” Tooley points out. “That’s obviously not happening in a lot of cases.”

The common thread in all of the above situations is that the builder lacked quality systems and processes to make sure insulation was installed right, mechanicals properly sized, ducts sealed, and the home protected against moisture. And if those tasks escaped scrutiny, chances are others did as well.

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