10_28_03 energy 211 (copy)

The paper facing on insulation is a vapor barrier that stops the migration of moisture.

I’ve been conducting an experiment over the last couple of weeks at my house to see how hot the attic gets in the daytime. I was somewhat surprised to see temperatures routinely in the 120s and 130s during the middle part of the day. And, on one of the hotter days, I was stunned to see 138.5 degrees!

My attic is insulated, so why is this a big deal, you ask? Because heat transfer is a direct function of the difference in temperatures — so with an attic that hot, there is 40 or 50 degrees of temperature difference “pushing” heat through the insulation and into the house — and that overheats the bedrooms and of course runs up air conditioning costs big time.

So I am beginning to rethink my love affair with whole house fans — the kind that sit in the ceiling and pull air through the windows. Yes, you could run it during the day to lower those excessive attic temperatures, but the problem is you’re dragging 90-plus-degree heat through the house.

What’s another alternative? A regular attic-only fan. It is significantly cheaper to buy and install than a whole house fans. It pulls ambient (and much cooler) air in and across the attic during the day. Most models are preset to come on at a specific temperature. And the installation is incredibly easy; it just hangs on the side wall blowing out a gable vent. There also are roof-mounted versions called “top hats,” so named because their exterior vent opening is a large round disk designed to keep out the weather.

So if you want a more comfortable house and lower cooling costs, ask your regular HVAC contractor for a quote on this appliance.

P.S. One other benefit to this approach is increased roof longevity. An excessively hot attic can soften up the shingle substrate from underneath, allowing the tiny grit particles to slough off more easily than they otherwise would. And that leads to premature aging.

Dear Ken: That little pressure valve on the side of my water heater dribbles all the time. The plumber changed it, but it still happens. He mentioned a small tank they could install. What about that? — Paula

Answer: It’s called an expansion tank. Usually painted red or blue, the tank is about the size of a 1-gallon milk jug and simply sits on the cold water line just before the water heater. Recall that heated material expands, so when the water heater comes on, the now-expanded water has to go somewhere. That’s why it drips out of the pressure valve; it’s the only escape to the outside world.

The expansion tank, on the other hand, has a rubber bladder inside — with air on one side and water on the other. So it can absorb that extra volume as the system heats up. The cost? The tank itself is less than $50, but of course, you’ll have to pay the plumber at least another hour’s worth of labor to install it.

Alternatively, check your interior water pressure. If it’s more than 60 pounds, set the regulator back to a little under that level, and the dripping may stop all together.

Dear Ken: In my attic, the previous owner laid an insulation batt over some old loose stuff. However, the paper on the insulation is on top. Isn’t it supposed to be the other way? — James

Answer: Yes. That paper facing is really a vapor barrier that stops the migration of moisture from the living area into the attic. In other words, vapor barriers always go towards the inside of the house. But here’s the catch: In an attic we don’t want any vapor barrier at all, regardless of which way it’s facing. That’s because it can trap moisture that comes up from the living space between the insulation layers. The way to ameliorate this is to gash the paper facing with a sharp knife to defeat it.

Dear Ken: When our clothes washer runs, a gurgling sound comes from the kitchen sink. Is this OK? — Rick

Answer: In older houses, we used smaller diameter pipe sizes for the drains. Up until about 40 years ago, a 1 1/2- inch washer drain was OK — and that may be what you have. Now, it’s de rigueur to install a 2-inch pipe for the washer. If that weren’t bad enough, new washing machines pump out waste water much more vigorously than older models. So these noises may be normal at your house as the plumbing system struggles to cope with the increased flow. On the other hand, if it’s been awhile since you’ve had a drain cleaning company in, it would probably benefit you to have them scour out those branch lines plus your main sewer pipe.

Dear Ken: I have an older hot water heater. Should I flush it out once in a while? What is the process? — Lance

Answer: This task is particularly important for folks on well water or small community systems, where there is usually more entrained sediment — not so much if you are connected to a large municipal water supply. Nevertheless, you can check your water quality yourself quite easily by lifting the tank lid on a couple of your toilets. If there’s a lot of sand or grit lying on the bottom of the tank, then flushing the water heater is probably a good idea.

Here’s how: First, turn off the gas, including the pilot light. Then take your morning showers or do a load or two clothes washing to use up that valuable hot water in the tank. Next, turn off the incoming cold water valve near the top of the tank. Attach a hose to that little drain valve at the bottom and run it to the nearest floor drain, then turn on the spigot to let all the water flow through the hose. Once the tank is empty, the secret is to then blast jets of cold water on-off-on-off into the heater using that same cold water valve. The effect will be to roil up all the settled contamination on the bottom of the tank. Once the hose runs clear, reverse the process.

Ken Moon hosts the Around the House radio show each Saturday from 4 to 6 p.m. on KHOW 630 AM in Denver and KCOL 600 AM in Fort Collins. Visit aroundthehouse.com.

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