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Roofing job causing issues with cathedral ceiling, water stains
By Henri DeMarne | United Feature Syndicate
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Published: 7/17/2010 11:06 PM

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Q. About four years ago our condo association decided to give us new roofs. After the roof was put on, I noticed they forgot to reinstall the soffit vents. It took them two years to get mine reinstalled after many complaints. Now we get water stains on our ceiling every year during the winter. We had a cathedral ceiling and recessed lights. We have no insulation on the underside of the roof in the attic. Is that code? After talking with you before and doing research, we understand the recessed lights are not good for our ceiling type. The association wants to wash its hands of this whole thing, leaving us to foot the bill to fix this.

A. I believe you mean that the roofer omitted the ridge vents. Soffit vents are in the soffits, which are part of the roof overhangs. I am also confused by your statements: "We had a cathedral ceiling." Has it been removed? And "We have no insulation on the underside of the roof in the attic." Are you referring to another part of your condo or where the cathedral ceiling was removed or in the cathedral ceiling itself? If so, how did you find out since it is an enclosed space?

Recessed lights in a cathedral ceiling are bad news. Warm, moist air can easily convect around and through the fixtures into the confined space, where it condenses on the roof sheathing. And if the ceiling is made of boards instead of drywall, moisture can convect between the boards, unless a plastic vapor retarder/air barrier was first applied to the bottom of the rafters. From there, the condensation can drip onto the ceiling and stain it. If convection was minimal, and there was little condensation on the roof sheathing before the installation of the new roofs, it is possible that the ventilation between the soffit and ridge vents was sufficient to dissipate it and prevent staining of the ceilings. The omission of the ridge vents or an incorrect ridge vent would interrupt ventilation, and moisture would accumulate and drip into the insulation and stain the ceilings, leading me to believe that there is no plastic vapor retarder behind the ceiling. If there were, water would follow it and leakage would take place at a joint of the plastic (if they installed it in more than one piece, the lower piece first, which is backward) or at the joint of the ceiling and the walls. An incorrect ridge vent (so often the type installed) is one that is not externally baffled, in which ventilation stops whenever the wind blows. By contrast, an externally baffled ridge vent deflects the wind over itself and increases ventilation by increasing suction from the soffit vents - the Bernoulli Principle.

If you are the only one suffering from stained ceilings, you may generate more moisture than your neighbors, and you'll need to address that. But if it can be documented - with the other owners - that the ceiling stains occurred only after the new roofs were put on without the ridge vents and continues because of the wrong ridge vents, I would think that you have a good case. But that's something for a lawyer to determine. If you have a regular attic, insulation should be installed between the floor joists, not between the rafters.

Q. We would like to finish the basement in our 13-year-old home. We want to frame the space and make a laundry room, game room and storage/work area. Our ongoing discussion is always about how to frame/insulate, seal and protect before we actually finish the space. There seems to be an array of opinions out there. Our house is on sandy soil, and we have had no issues of any water infiltrating into the basement from the outside. Our foundation is poured concrete.

We have tested for radon and are within safe limits, however, we have been wondering about sealing for future mitigation. There is a product on the market called RadonSeal. It's distributed by Radon Mitigation & Concrete Waterproofing Co. Do you recommend using it?

We have read about spray foaming basement walls as a way to seal for moisture. Another way is using foam board to both seal and insulate. If framing is used with foam board, should a barrier of some type (such as sill seal) be used between the framing and the concrete wall? Our contractor has suggested we use an integrated framing system - metal Z-frame with foam-board insulation that attaches directly to the concrete walls. He doesn't think it's necessary to put sill seal or any other material behind the framing.

A. Since you are on sandy soil and have had no moisture problems, there is no need to seal concrete walls, but you can do so with a cementitious waterproof coating such as Super Thoroseal by BASF (available at Ace, TrueValue, Home Depot and independent hardware stores).

For other readers who may be thinking that this product would be good to waterproof their block foundations, please be aware that I have warned against waterproofing these walls from inside, which can create a buildup of water within the blocks' cores and result in serious moisture problems in the house.

I have had no experience with RadonSeal. Thoroseal should accomplish the same. It will not, however, seal the joint between the floor and the walls and any cracks in the slab, but caulking with polyurethane will.

You mention sill seal against the walls. Sill seal is used between the masonry foundation and the first-floor deck, as well as between all floor platforms and the framing above. Rigid foam insulation is fine to use as insulation, but I would not depend on it as a way to seal the walls against moisture penetration from outside, if that is your concern. Rigid foam insulation protects the walls from summer condensation, if properly adhered.

You may wish to make your decision depending on the cost of what your contractor is suggesting, compared to applying 1-inch-thick rigid insulation against the walls and framing them the standard way, which may make it easier to run wires for the required plugs and switches. You may be wise to get a second opinion on costs, as your contractor, if he or she favors the commercial-wall system, may jack up the price of a standard framing system to get you to go with what he or she prefers.

Q. Our concrete patio gets sun until noon or later, and the concrete retains the heat, which doesn't dissipate for several hours. We painted a covered patio once and the paint wore off. Is there any kind of stain we could use to minimize the heat? We live in a retirement community and are not allowed to glue carpet onto the concrete. We don't want a loose, removable rug because of tripping danger. Around here, a trip means a hip replacement we'd rather not have.

A. You could try a white concrete stain, but it probably won't make much difference. The best approach is to wet the patio with your garden hose after the sun is no longer shining on it. It will dry very fast.

Q. I replaced my deck last fall with pressure-treated pine and am ready to stain with Penofin. Huge bumblebees are boring holes into the wood approximately one-half inch in diameter. I sprayed with Ortho Home Defense Max, which did not help. Any suggestions on how to keep them away would be appreciated.

A. Carpenter bees drill holes in old and bare wood. They build tunnels in which they lay eggs and store food for the larvae. They usually stay away from painted and stained surfaces, but these must be kept up almost yearly to be effective. Try plugging the holes with wood putty or an epoxy mix such as Bondo or Minwax High Performance Wood Filler and staining the deck. The alternative is to call on the services of a pest-management professional. I prefer to deal with a locally owned, family-run firm.