By Mitch Kuffa
Let’s talk about frost and heat loss. Both of these items are completely different, are obviously connected in cold weather and have significant impact on your house or construction project.
Today, heating your house can be quite expensive. Heat that escapes from the house is invisible and you probably do not even know that it is occurring until you get your heat bill. One of the most dramatic evidences of heat loss that I have experienced occurred in the very coldest part of the winter season. When the outside temperature was approximately 5 degrees below zero I was asked to inspect a brand new house (which was theoretically well insulated). The house had a full basement and was sitting in a wide open area. I bundled myself up, walked out into the blizzard and walked around the exterior perimeter of the house one time and it was so cold that I had to get back into the car to warm up. I knew that I had to walk around the house one more time. On the second trip, on a relatively sheltered side of the building, right next to the foundation, I saw something that I have never seen before. Approximately 3” from the concrete foundation wall and running about 7 ft. long was an area where the snow was melted, there was actually some type of green plant living and there were small flowers. Well I know that basement concrete walls generally “bleed” heat, but this was unbelievable. Also, you must realize that in general approximately 70% of all heat loss tries to escape through the roof, approximately 20% through doors and windows and only 9% through walls.
Old houses often have no attic insulation and for years thereafter the requirement was only approximately 6” of blanket, but today that has greatly increased. By adding substantial insulation to your attic you can save noticeable energy costs immediately and this type of improvement offers the fastest “pay back” that you can do. Keep in mind that when you add insulation to the attic the ventilation usually has to be increased or you can allow condensation to occur because heat is no longer warming up that area. In general, let the heat rise in your house. In the old days most upper levels often did not have a formal heat source, but simply relied on heat going up the staircases.
Make sure all your windows and doors are sealed as tightly as possible. There is a “cord” or “rope” caulking that is available to seal your windows. You roll out the caulking and place it around the inside perimeter, leave it all winter and in the Spring pull it out.
When we talk about frost we are basically talking about when the ground freezes. The degree that the ground freezes is directly related to how much water is in it. Keep in mind that frost can be “driven” down into the ground by vibration. That is why an empty grassy field may have no frost while water mains are freezing up below main streets. The vehicle traffic above the street drives the frost down into the ground
When you are building or adding onto a house, you must make sure that all attached structural appendages (porches, attached garage, addition, etc.) have adequately deep foundations. The colder the weather gets in an area the deeper the foundation requirement is. In our area the depth requirement for a foundation is 42” below grade. A foundation not only holds up the house, but also must be installed to a depth that would reasonably get below the anticipated frost depth. If the footing or foundation is not deep enough frost can get under it, lift that area of the house up and create large cracks and movement. That is why sidewalks, the slab inside the garage, exterior curbs, etc., have the tendency to break-up. The frost gets under these shallow areas, lifts them and breaks them. This is why we install those grooves “control joints” in concrete. We anticipate that they will break and create this weak spot so that the cracks are inside the grooves and not visible.
Frost impact also has the greatest negative effect on rigid construction materials; such as brick, stucco, concrete, etc.. When there are more elastic construction products (wood, vinyl siding, etc.), frost movement is more difficult to detect because those items have the tendency to bend and stretch instead of crack and break. When looking at a house, if any of the attached appendages show a degree of deterioration that is greater than the house they are attached to, then the footings beneath those areas may be to shallow. Digging a simple “test hole” typically reveals such a short coming.
Mitchell J. Kuffa Jr. has been in the construction industry since 1967. In that time, he was worked as a construction superintendent, general superintendent and construction manager for several large developers in the state of Michigan.
He has been a licensed Michigan residential builder since 1977, was an incorporated general contractor for 11 years and has built and/or run the construction of approx. 3,500 residential houses, apartments, commercial structures and/or light industrial buildings.
In 1981 he started the first private home inspection agency in Michigan and to date has personally performed approx. 16,000 inspections for a fee.
Since 1981, Mr. Kuffa, inspects properties and acts as a construction consultant for the Michigan Department of Mental Health (group homes), UAW Legal Services, numerous lenders, several non-profit organizations and for the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.
Mr. Kuffa is a federal housing fee inspector and FHA 203K mortgage loan consultant, works with several attorney’s as an “expert witness”, has been appointed by the Michigan circuit court system to act as a Receiver in several cases concerning construction litigation and teaches a series of construction classes (for misc. school districts, community colleges. Michigan state housing authority, etc.).
Mr. Kuffa has been a member of the National Association of Home Inspectors, in good standing, since 1983.
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