Election Section

Sweating house in the winter is not uncommon

The Associated Press
Friday November 17, 2000

Q: Our house sweats inside when it’s cold outside. The windows steam up terribly on winter days. Water runs down the sill to the walls and all the way to the baseboard. The house is framed with R-30 insulation in the attic. Other homes in the area have the same problem. They were all built in 1954. I know storm windows would help but they’re expensive. Do you have a cheaper solution? 

A: We’ve run into excessive humidity in the house for years now, and it appears that yours is a classic case. To cut down on humidity, an exhaust fan in the bathroom and kitchen venting damp air to the outside is necessary. 

Although storm windows might appear as an unwanted expense to you now, stack their cost against the value of your house.  

This makes them appear relatively inexpensive and they should save their cost in fuel bills in a few years. 

Condensation is caused by warm moist air coming in contact with the cold glass in your windows.  

Storms should help to keep the window glass from becoming so cold that condensation forms. This can prevent serious damage to the walls from staining, plaster damage and wood rot over a long period of time. 

Q: The stairs leading from my deck to the ground have become shaky. What causes this, and what can you suggest to make them more secure? 

A: A common cause for loosening deck stairs is frost heaving or settling, in that the earth or pad which supports the bottom of the stairs can move.  

This loosens the attachment of the stair to the deck. The first course of action is to readjust the bottom support of the stair. If your steps sit directly on the earth, shim the stringers with flat rocks or shovel new earth in place.  

If your steps rest on a masonry pad, you’ll have to lift and shim the pad. Then, reinforce the attachments at the top of the stairs by driving toenails through the stringer into the rim joist. 

Through use, the nails that hold the stringers to the stair treads can become loose. Use a long clamp to draw the stringers tight to the tread and drive new nails to hold the assembly together. 

Q: Our new wood stove smokes up the room when we open the stove door for stoking. We have a tri-level house, and the stove uses 6 feet of pipe from the stove to the ceiling, then another 6 feet of pipe through the roof topped with a rain cap.  

The salesman who sold us the stove said we needed another 2 feet of chimney for sufficient draft to stop the problem. We did this but the problem persists. 

A: There are several angles to consider when the draft does not appear adequate. Most wood stoves have recommended drafts. You can check this with a manometer that should register .05 inches of water when placed in the flue. The location of the stove in the house is also important.  

If the stove is in the lower level of a tri-level, 14 feet of chimney might not be enough. Large trees can interfere with your draft causing high-pressure areas around your chimney. Also, you could have air leaks in your house, causing air to rush out various cracks creating a lower pressure around your stove.  

Opening a window slightly sometimes helps, but it must be on the pressure side of the house. Opening and closing doors of certain rooms can sometimes affect the air pressure in a house as well. 

To submit a question, write to Popular Mechanics, Reader Service Bureau, 224 W. 57th St., New York, NY 10019. The most interesting questions will be answered in a future column.