Respected House Inspector Rich Hofeld helps us learn how to a correct squeaky floors, address foggy insulated glass windows, provide a vapor barrier for an old house, and get the maximum out of a house painting job.
Q. Our house has beat-up hardwood floors covered by wall-to-wall carpets. The floors squeak badly. Is there any way to fix this problem from the basement, without removing the carpeting?
Squeaking floors can be very tricky to repair, but if you can work from underneath the floor you have an advantage. The squeaks are often caused by floor boards rubbing against nails or each other, or the floor joists, because they are not securely fastened.
A repair method that sometimes works is to check the underside of the floor for gaps between the subfloor and floor joists. The gaps must be closed to prevent movement using thin wood shims. Have someone walk on the floor while you check underneath for places that squeak. When you pinpoint a squeak, and find a gap, spread some glue on both sides of a shim and tap it firmly into the gap.
Special screw-on brackets are also available for use from underneath on squeaky floors. One leg of the right-angle bracket is screwed to the joist; the other is screwed into the floor to pull loose flooring together. It is also possible to stop some squeaks from above, right through carpeting. This requires use of a special installation tool and special screws that break off when properly inserted so the heads are not visible.
Q. Several of our double-pane thermal windows have developed a translucent haze between the panes. These are good-quality windows, but they are about 20 years old. The manufacturer just said “this sometimes happens” and we had to pay a stiff price to get the glass replaced. What causes this and is there a way to prevent it?
Fogging inside insulated or thermal windows generally means that the air-tight seal between the panes of glass has failed, and is leaking and admitting moisture, dirt and air in to the cavity. This is fairly common with older windows, but window construction has improved in recent years and many newer windows have lifetime warranties against leaking seals. If a seal leaks on a warranted window, you should be able to get replacement glass free, but will either have to install it yourself or pay someone to do it since the warranties seldom cover labor.
Unfortunately, there is no way to prevent seals from leaking or anyway sure-fire way to repair them except to replace the glass. Buyers of new thermal windows should choose a well-established brand, preferably with a lifetime warranty on seals, and obtain and save a written copy of the warranty.
Q. Our wood-framed house was built in 1938 with no insulation in the exterior walls and about three inches of blown-in insulation in the attic crawl space. I am concerned that if I have insulation blown into the walls I would have moisture damage, since the walls have no vapor barrier. What is your advice about blowing insulation into the walls?
To get the optimum benefit from additional insulation, your first concern should be the attic, which has far less insulation than is recommended for any climate. Your current attic insulation probably has an R value of about 10, less than one-third of the heat resistance (R-value) now recommended for ceilings.
If you also want to add insulation into the walls, fiberglass or cellulose are the most common blown-in products. But as you surmised, a vapor barrier – a critical component in areas with cold winter temperatures – is still needed to prevent moisture related problems. One way to provide a vapor barrier in existing construction is to coat the interior walls with a latex primer listed as a vapor retarder. Then wallpaper or a coat or two of any desired paint can be applied for the final finish. Vinyl wall coverings can also serve as vapor barriers.
Q. We’re contemplating painting our house versus installing vinyl siding. The siding is in reasonably good shape, but we’re primarily concerned about future maintenance. How long can a good paint job last?
It is impossible to say how long any given paint job will last because so many variables are involved, but the question is certainly worth some discussion. Most manufacturers now offer long-term warranties on exterior paint – even some “lifetime” warranties – but while these may be an indication of expected paint life they are relatively meaningless. If the paint fails, and you can show proof of it (and still have your receipts), the warranty usually only provides for the paint to be replaced or the cost of it returned. There is no warranty on the labor, which is 90 percent of any paint job. Of course, if you do it yourself there may be little cost involved – but it will certainly involve a lot of time and effort that you will not want to have to repeat in a few years.
It does help to use a high-quality, top-of-the-line paint. Considering the labor involved, buying a cheap paint doesn’t make sense. And one absolutely essential rule in painting is to read and follow the directions on the container. This will make you aware of the variables – proper preparation of the surface, use of primer in some cases, suitable weather conditions for painting, and proper application tools – that will contribute to the service life of any paint job.
The life of a paint job will be extended if you check it regularly and correct any slight problems as they occur – remove mildew, touch up small peeled or flaked areas, and pay extra attention to the side with the most sun exposure. Generally though, if you use high-quality paint and do everything right (or hire a painter who does everything right), you can expect an exterior paint job to last up to 10 years. Anything over that should be considered a bonus. "Hofeld, Rich" <firstname.lastname@example.org