Baby, it’s cold outside!
How many times did you sing that song over our cold Christmas season in Minneapolis? To be fair, the cold snap did not only hit the Minneapolis area over the holidays, but it was also pretty much the entire state of Minnesota. Did you know that bitter cold temps don’t only affect your lifestyle, they can affect also affect your home?
The first thing that typically occurs when the outside temperature drops are that we inhabitants start to close up the house. We close the windows and doors and even start installing different weatherproof products (insulation, weather stripping, spray foam, etc.). The problem often is that we are stagnating the interior and trapping moisture inside the house. This is especially the case if there are many occupants creating moisture by breathing, bathing, cooking and exercising. Also, we create stagnant odors and allow airborne particles to be locked in the house with us (germs, dust, mites, microbes, etc.). Kind of gross right? But oh how we love those people we share our air within our homes!
The next thing that usually occurs is we activate the heating system to compensate for the falling outside temperatures. This has the tendency to dry the interior out (get your hot oil treatments out!) but in doing so can encourage expansion and contraction of interior materials and cause cracks in drywall, doors that don’t fit, separating wood trim, heaved floors and other problems.
If you have a gas forced-air furnace, a benefit is that the furnace and its blower motor and filter help cleanse the interior environment. The concern is that you always need to maintain a balance where there is not too much or too little moisture being added to the now locked-up house. Too much moisture can cause the formation of mildew and mold, cause the windows to steam up, cause doors to stick and just create a damp, humid environment.
Furnace humidifiers were created to compensate for the dry winter interior air that can be caused by the furnace heat but are often set too high and then create a moisture condition. During the winter months, it is important to create air movement with the use of ceiling fans and draw fans.
Okay, we have now closed up the living area of the house and activated the heating system, but there are two specific areas that are out of sight that react differently and need to be paid attention to. These areas are the attic and any crawl space your house may have. These two areas are different from the exterior or interior but are affected by both.
Both areas typically do not have a heat source, maintain colder temperatures than the interior of the house and can be sensitive to the formation of condensation. The condensation can create a mildew and mold concern, dampen insulation, deteriorate wood framing, encourage infestation, and more. I have actually seen icicles hanging down inside of an attic space caused by the separation of a heat duct running through that area and humidifier left on high.
In a crawl space, it is not uncommon to have plumbing water pipes running through the area that can be susceptible to freezing up.
Our team at 24Restore have seen many water pipes cracked from freezing. What can happen then is a slow leak all winter, causing water to collect throughout the crawl? Crawl spaces must be sealed up during the winter months. Any vents need to be closed, outside access needs to be sealed and any holes need to be caulked or foamed. If this is done properly, these areas usually will stay above freezing just from the warmth radiated down from the living space above. Sometimes we see crawl space ceilings (the bottom of the first floor), is insulated to keep the house warm. The problem here, however, is that the crawl space now will become colder, negatively affecting any plumbing present.
If you have a newer-generation house (built within the past 50 years) with the roof and attic area framing having been done with trusses, there is another concern.
Roof trusses are a pre-fabricated wood framing often in the shape of a triangle, which creates the roof pitch and supports the roofing material. The exterior and interior temperature can impact these one-piece roof trusses simultaneously. Visualize this large wood frame triangle set on top of your house walls creating a sloping roof and then we insulate the upper-level ceiling, which is actually the bottom of the triangular truss. This insulation covers the bottom section of the triangle while the upper areas are not insulated and are exposed to the outside temperature.
So what happens? The bottom that is insulated stays near the interior temperature of about 70 degrees. The upper sections of the truss maintain the exterior temperature of about 10 degrees. The lower parts expand with the heat, the upper parts contract with the cold and something has to give. This condition is called truss lift and usually shows up with some creaking or popping noise up in the attic and then suddenly you notice a crack separating in the center of your house where the upper-level walls meet the ceiling.
We have had many homeowners tell us they think they have a large animal living in their attic and are afraid to look. Soon thereafter is when our team usually discovers cracks, not large critters …although sometimes critters and cracks can come together (but that’s another issue for another blog!).
This truss lift condition usually recedes when the outside temperature starts to rise but can recur during the next cold season. So, the more insulation you put in your upper-level ceiling, which is encouraged since about 70 percent of heat loss is up through your roof, the more potential you have for truss lift. Unfortunately, this condition is difficult to address and I have found that what works best is to lower your interior thermostat temperature a few degrees in very cold weather. This will bring the outside and inside temperature closer together and hopefully avoid the point where the truss lift occurs. *Fun fact! Keeping your temp below 70 is also better for your indoor air quality and the health of your family! We set ours at 68.
Also, remember that heat expands and cold contracts. This condition becomes more evident around the outside perimeter of your house where the ground freezes, but the interior house temperature remains warmer. Rigid construction materials such as brick, foundation walls, concrete walks, etc. can become damaged or cracked when the ground freezes and moves slightly adjacent to these rigid construction materials.
Finally, don’t forget that the cold also causes certain materials to stiffen and become brittle, which allows them to be more sensitive to damage.
So what have we learned here? Our houses are probably more stressed than we are and they need our help. Be aware, provide ventilation and use your heat source conscientiously. Always try to control moisture to avoid mold and any water damage.
I hope you found this helpful. Now get outside for some fresh air and enjoy the warm-up over the weekend Minneapolis!