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Around the house: Steal cool air from basement to battle summer heat

By: Ken Moon Special to The Gazette
May 12, 2018 Updated: May 12, 2018 at 8:11 am
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Condensation in windows cause mold and moisture in the house

Dear Ken: You mentioned on your radio show a way to bring cool air from your basement to the main floor during the summer. I missed some of it. Could you elaborate? - Sam

Answer: You can create a simulated version of central air if you have a basement, most of which is below grade. The year-round temperature of the deeper soil in our region is about 52 degrees. That's what keeps the lowest level cooler even during the hottest summer days. The main floors can be as much as 20 degrees hotter, so if we mix the two bodies of air, the main floor will get cooler and the basement warmer, just as mixing hot and cold water creates a warm liquid.

It's a pretty easy system to contrive. You might even already be set up for the air exchange. First, there must be a cold air return in your heating system in the basement. The cooler air will be sucked through it to mix with warmer air entering the return air upstairs. The other requirement is some way to turn the furnace fan on and off. That can be what is known as a "summer switch" mounted on the furnace cabinet or a "FAN-ON-OFF" switch on the thermostat. Either is a fairly easy install for a heating technician or an electrician.

On hot days, turning that fan on for about 45 minutes will lower the temperature of the main level by about 10 degrees. Of course, there is a limit to the benefit. Once the air in the two levels reaches equilibrium, continuing to run the fan will simply waste electricity without further improvement of the temperature. This arrangement can work pretty well in a ranch-style home, where the two levels are about equal in air volume. In tri-level or two-story houses, the benefits will be less, since the volume of warmer air will overwhelm the basement space sooner. But when used in conjunction with ceiling fans, and perhaps a whole house attic fan, it can be a welcome source of cheap "air conditioning" during the hottest summer days, which are inevitably just around the corner.

Dear Ken: We live in a 40-year-old house. The basement windows are very small, and we want to make them bigger for escape. Is this a job to tackle ourselves? - Cassie

Answer: Not really. You'll need to hire a concrete sawing company to enlarge the window openings. The last time I checked, egress windows need a sill no more than 44 inches off the floor and a minimum openable width and height of 20 and 24 inches, respectively (this last requirement is so a firefighter can get into the basement with an air tank strapped on).

The new openings require slicing the concrete wall - steel rebar and all - down each side and across the "new" sill. The contractor will literally bolt a large, water-cooled, carbide-bladed saw to the wall to cut the hole. It's a little messy, what with the spritzing water, but works quite well. There are also structural implications. The city will require an engineering study of the capability of the wider opening to carry the house load from above. Sometimes, they even require a small steel beam to bridge the hole. So as you can see, this is no job for us part-time DIY-ers.

Dear Ken: Is there a generally acceptable date at which it is safe to turn on the sprinkler systems along the Front Range? - Wes

Answer: When I began my radio show 25 years ago, I always told folks who wanted a guaranteed "no freeze" date to wait until Mother's Day - which can be as early as the 8th and as late as the 14th of May. But winters are milder now than they were in the '80s and earlier. Now I think May 1 is a good target date. In other words, now. For future reference, keep an eye on the predicted overnight lows during the transitional weather in spring and fall. Pipes will freeze and burst at about 27 degrees, so expected temperatures of 30 or below should be a red flag for you to re-winterize the system.

-

Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 9 a.m. Saturdays on KRDO, FM 105.5 and AM 1240. Visitaroundthehouse.com

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