What’s the HWBB Heating Pipe Doing in the Attic?

By Lawrence Englehart, GPI Franchise Owner, Halifax, Nova Scotia


My client was wondering why their house’s addition above the garage was so difficult to heat during our Canadian cold winter season, and why their heating costs were so high. I guess that’s what happens when an incompetent contractor (nine years ago) installs the Kitec hot-water baseboard (HWBB) heating pipe on top of the attic insulation, which runs for more than 20 feet in an unconditioned space! The attic was relatively warm on the day I inspected it, about 0° C (32° F), versus this pipe at 70° C (162° F).

Englehart PhotoLawrence Englehart is a professional Global Property Inspections home inspector in Halifax, Nova Scotia. If you live in the area, call 902.403.2460 to schedule your home inspection with Lawrence.

NPI and GPI home inspectors have the tools and knowledge to assess your home. Consult with your local NPI or GPI inspector for an inspection of your home or a home you are planning to purchase.

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Pinpointing Source of Moisture Can Be Tricky

Submitted by Lawrence Englehart, GPI Franchise Owner, Halifax, Nova Scotia

EnglehartQ. The buyer for our home had a home inspector with an infrared camera, and he showed them what he thought was a leak in the kitchen ceiling, which is directly below the upstairs bathroom toilet. Obviously we wanted to get it fixed right away, so we hired a plumber to remove the toilet, but they could not see anything leaking or any water damage. How is it possible the home inspector got it wrong?

A. I’m not sure if I can properly answer your concerns without knowing the full details of the situation you describe. However, it might be possible that the home inspector was not wrong. As an example, several years ago I had a similar experience following an inspection of a home that had a jetted tub in the master bathroom. As part of my inspection process, I filled the tub with cool water to just a bit over the jet nozzles, ran the tub for several minutes and then drained it.

In fact, part of my inspection procedure is to test all of a home’s water fixtures by turning on each of the faucets, flushing toilets, testing showers, etc.

Following the inspection of the various plumbing fixtures, I used my infrared camera to scan this property and noticed a thermal anomaly in the living room ceiling which, in my professional opinion, indicated a possible water leakage from the bathroom above this area. To more accurately diagnose the problem, I then used a moisture meter on the identified area, which confirmed the presence of an active water intrusion/leakage (>58.1%).

The inspection report included pictures of this area and described these findings as: “The infrared camera identified a thermal anomaly in the living room ceiling, which appears to be directly below the jetted tub in the master bathroom. The moisture meter also confirmed the presence of an active water intrusion/leakage. Further intrusive investigation will be required by a licensed plumber to confirm the exact cause of the water intrusion, as well as a cost estimate to repair.”

Just like you, the seller was diligent and hired a qualified plumber to repair any problems, but they could not find the leakage associated with the jetted tub. Because their plumber did not have an infrared camera or a moisture meter, and the sale of this home was in jeopardy, I agreed to meet the seller and their plumber the following day. At that meeting I showed what the thermal anomaly looked like with the infrared camera, as well as what the moisture meter was measuring. Since the access panel on the side of the tub offered minimal viewing, the seller authorized the plumber to cut a hole in the living room ceiling where the high moisture area was identified. It was then discovered that the slip joint nut above the P-Trap had become loose. The minor leakage finally stopped once this fitting was tightened.

Now this is an example of how not all water leakage can be easily identified from a basic visual inspection. Those professionals who use an infrared camera know that when water comes into contact with drywall it will eventually evaporate into the surrounding air. The effects of evaporation will cause a slight cooling of that area, which should then become visible an infrared camera or to a person who is trained on how to use an infrared camera. However, it is important to note that an infrared camera does not see moisture directly, but can only see minor temperature variations. That is why a moisture meter must be used to further identify whether the material has been cooled due to a lack of insulation, or possible air intrusion or as we know from this situation, from water leakage.

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How Can I Determine My Home’s Energy Loss?

Infrared House_shutterstock_108938912If you think you may be experiencing high-cost utility bills in your home, then your first step should be to contact your utility company to see whether it offers free or discounted energy audits to customers. If not, then you need to hire a home energy audit professional, such as a certified home energy rater, to evaluate your home’s energy efficiency.

A professional home energy auditor will use a variety of techniques and specialized equipment to determine the energy efficiency of your home. Equipment used includes blower doors, which measure the extent of leaks in the building envelope, and infrared cameras, which reveal hard-to-detect areas of air infiltration and missing insulation. The auditor will look at your HVAC system and equipment to determine the age and the energy efficiency of the unit. To complete the survey a professional auditor will also look at the major appliances to determine the same. Some surveys may go as far as inspecting light fixtures and the type of lamps (light bulbs) to see if a better solution may be needed.

For the best results in determining whether you are living in an energy hog of a house, you are best off hiring a professional energy auditor. The cost savings in energy consumption may be well worth the cost of hiring a professional to get the job done right.

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Be Energy-smart This Winter

Infrared House_shutterstock_108938912In the Midwest and northern parts of North America, winter means higher energy costs, and who couldn’t use to save a few bucks? But regardless of what region you live in, a few simple tips can help save money on energy costs and keep your home cozy.

First, you might want to have an energy audit performed on your home. Performed by a professional, an energy audit typically checks for leaks, examines insulation, inspects the furnace and ductwork, performs a blower door test and uses an infrared camera to determine points of heat loss on your home. After the audit, you’ll have a report listing areas where heat is escaping.

One of the easiest ways to save energy is to be sure you have the appropriate amount of insulation in your attic. Fourteen to 20 inches is usually recommended. If you have less, then you’re wasting energy in both the winter and summer months. An insulation company can easily blow in more insulation to get you where you need to be.

Another simple way to reduce energy costs year round is to caulk and seal gaps and cracks around windows and doors.

Duct sealing is another way to improve energy efficiency and reduce energy bills in the summer and winter. Many homeowners choose to hire a contractor to seal their ducts, as the entire duct system will need to be checked and sealed. If you choose to seal your ducts yourself, start by sealing all leaks using mastic sealing or metal tape (NOT duct tape, as it isn’t long-lasting) and insulating all the ducts that you can access, including those in the attic, garage and crawl space. Then, make sure that the connections at the vents and registers are well-sealed where they meet floors, ceilings and walls. For more information about duct sealing, visit http://www.energystar.gov/index.cfm?c=home_improvement.hm_improvement_ducts.

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Protected: Infrared Technology Can Alert You to Defects Early On

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Protected: The Benefit of Infrared

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