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Condensation or what ???

Wayne Wildermuth

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I was called to consult on a house that had water on the interior walls. When I got to the house, there was water on the walls, windows, floors and ceilings had peeling paint.

Conditions - the house is a 1930s two bedroom cape of about 700sf. It has a walk up attic with minimal insulation in the floor of the attic, walls of house unknown. The attic has two windows, one on each end. The attic is an open area and has three beds in it and the area is heated with a portable electric oil space heater. There are ten people living in the house. It is not a typo, there are 10 people living in this two bedroom one bath house! There is only one bathroom (and as a side note, the shower walls are made of sheetrock and not the moisture resistant kind either, not that it would make a difference) anyway, no vent in the bathroom. Heating is with a steam boiler that is only used at night when they sleep and shut off during the day (not turned down, but shut off). No burst plumbing pipes were found. The windows are double hung, single pane with varying degrees of glazing deterioration. Walls are a mix of sheetrock and plaster with both oil based and latex paint. Some paint is peeling off the ceilings. Roof covering is asphalt shingles and is deteriorated but no staining is seen on the sheathing from the attic area. The fibrous siding is in fairly good shape. Ice is forming on the edges of the roof where the gutters are full of ice. Ice damming is occurring.

Problem - water is collecting on the interior window glass of all doors and windows including the ones in the attic. Water is on most of the interior outside walls from about the top of the windows down and is running down the walls to the floor and in some area beyond into the basement and down the concrete basement walls. Interior inner walls are dry. Most window sills are soaked with water. A mold type substance is growing on most of the walls where the floor molding meets the wall.

Initial conclusion - There is not adequate ventilation of the interior portion of the house. That many people taking showers, cooking, breathing, sweating or whatever, along with a steam furnace adding moisture to the air with the steam release vents on each radiator and the attic being heated and closed up are all contributing to the moisture being put into the building and not being allowed to exit. The condensation is building up on the windows and walls and dripping down. Just like dew on grass in the morning, when the steam heat is run overnight, moisture builds up inside the house and is clinging to windows and such, but unlike the sun drying the grass, in the morning the moisture is not dried by the heating system of the house during the day because it is shut off. It then stays as dew all day and is added to the following night and the cycle continues.

Input - Does this make sense? I am looking for other possible causes of this. Will a whole house fan fix this? If you have any other thoughts that may be causing this condition, or how to fix it, please post a reply.

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This came up in another forum several years ago, and there were responses that cited HUD, CABO (maybe ASTM?), or similar standards for maximum occupancies; IOW, published standards for this stuff. Wish I had them now.

The average human respirates approx. a quart of moisture every 24 hours, in addition to the gallons due to cooking showering, etc.; put that sort of humidifier in an enclosed space, & relative humidity skyrockets. Make that space a dingy uninsulated shack (which this place sounds like) and dew point does the rest.

IOW, it sounds like your analysis makes sense. Sounds nasty.

I don't think extra "ventilation" would do anything unless it was a mildly sophisticated HRV system. Gotta clean them hippies outta there!

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I agree with both of you. One of the biggest mistakes I see elderly folks do here in winter is close off one or two unused rooms of their house and close off the heat to that area. They think that they're saving money by not heating those areas but what they are doing is creating an environment that is ripe for mold growth. That many folks living in such a tiny house, turning off the heat, in Connecticutt, in the dead of winter is simply asking for it.

Hell, I used to live alone (Well, except for Jan & Mary) in a little uninsulated shingled cottage in Washington, CT back in '73. I had an unheated bathroom and single-pane double-hung windows all around. It got so danged cold in the winter that if I didn't leave the door of the bath open at night and then went in there in the morning to relieve myself, the walls and mirrow would be dripping wet with condensation within seconds after all that moist air from the interior of the house rushed in there. Also, the windows and the window sills were always wet in the winter.

Another thing that I'm sure contributed to it was the dug-out root cellar with the bare earthen floor beneath it. They estimate for every 1,000 square feet of uncovered soil under a home about 11 gallons of water evaporates into the air every 24 hours. That has to go somewhere and in old houses it usually rises up through the structure. Did this one have a crawlspace or a basement?

Betcha there isn't any insulation in those walls. 10 occupants, each dumping several pints of water into the air every night just by breathing, steam radiators venting, cooking, bathing, etc. Yep, the poor house is sweating. Bet if you could open up the walls you'd find ice built up on the inside of the sheething.



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I am also going to have them check the chimney for proper operation/blockage. CO may be going into the house and may be adding to the problem.

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  • 1 month later...

If there are that many folks in this house and nobody speaks English, you know they don't have any money to fix anything. I saw a lot of this last fall, working to hurricane damage for FEMA in the deep south. They just do what they can every day to survive. Good kind people, just trying' to survive.

This isn't a real answer but I'd suggest wiping down the walls and windows every day just to soak up some of the liquid water. At least till spring when they can get some windows open.


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