A Few Words About WINTER….BRRRRR

Seen on a Maine license plate – BRRRRR. When it comes to winter, that says it all!

But what of our houses in winter? Here are a few thoughts.


CONDENSATION is the result of a combination of high moisture levels in the air and low temperatures.

Warmer air can hold more moisture – cold surfaces cause condensation to occur. Thus, condensation is more likely in the winter. Condensation on windows is common. On old windows with storm windows, condensation on the inside of the inside window suggests a loose storm window; the inside window is too cold. Condensation on the inside of the outside window (no double-talk here!) suggests poor weather stripping. Inside air is escaping to the space between the windows.

Condensation is common on fixed pane windows – many are single pane – and on skylights.

Also common is condensation on older, metal framed sliding doors. The key is keeping the cold separated from the moisture-laden air. If you have a problem with condensation, the addition of a storm panel (window or door) and weather stripping will usually help. However, with some situations (most notably the older, metal framed sliders), the only real fix is to replace the door.

If you’re looking at a new house (less than one year old) in the winter, you may find severe but temporary condensation problems. The natural drying of wood, plaster, concrete and other building materials will produce an excessive amount of moisture during the first year or two after construction.

VENTILATION – or its absence – is also noteworthy in the winter.

Basements and crawl spaces – normally WELL VENTILATED – should be closed up for the winter.

Traditionally, it’s called banking – to “bank up” hay or leaves around the foundation to cut off air infiltration. This is important to minimize heat loss and protect the plumbing from freezing.

Attics, however, should be vented through the winter as well as the summer.

Proper ventilation in the attic, particularly at the eaves, will minimize the possibility of ice dam formation along the edge of the roof, a common winter-time source of water leakage.

If you look in an attic during the winter and see frost on the nails that poke through from the shingles, the ventilation is probably inadequate.

Why is attic ventilation important?

Other than the obvious control of ice dams, inadequate ventilation causes winter-time condensation which leads to dry rot which can (and has, in at least a few cases in our files) cause a partial collapse of the roof.

WOOD HEAT is romantic…and warm!!

Despite the fact that wood (if purchased cut and split) costs about the same as oil (for each BTU of heat produced), we seem to be willing to keep our houses warmer when we heat with wood. Of course, the hassle of heating with wood has led many of us to coal, or back to oil, gas, or electric – an aching back from carrying wood tends to dull one’s romanticism.

Regardless of your motivation, a SAFE WOOD STOVE INSTALLATION is very important.

Most of the stoves we look at are substandard when measured against applicable codes. A recent study found less than ten per cent of the stoves examined to be in complete compliance with reasonable safety standards. There are many conditions to be met.

The most important are adequate clearances to adjacent materials. There should be 36 inches of clearance to combustible materials and eighteen inches to non-combustible materials. While there are exceptions, most stoves should comply.

Also, a brick wall behind a stove and directly against the supporting wood framing is NOT safe. There should be an airspace (1 inch or more) between the brick and the wood framing to avoid heat build-up.

Stove pipes are also common hazards. Again, the most important consideration is proper clearance. Generally, unless the specific piece of equipment specifies otherwise, eighteen inches of clearance around stove pipes is required. Also, the entire length of the stove pipe should be accessible for regular inspection.

HAZARDOUS MATERIALS can be more hazardous in the winter.

Formaldehyde and radon, if present, are likely to increase in concentration due the lower levels of natural ventilation available. Asbestos can become more of a hazard since the kids are playing indoors more and are more likely to dislodge asbestos fibers from that pipe insulation in the basement.

Think about it. Is your home winter-time safe?

WINTER is fun! And winter is demanding on our houses. Keep these few thoughts in mind through the coming months; your home will love you for it!