Renovation & Design
Question: We have a new Carriere high efficiency furnace, which is one year old. We love it except for the interior humidity in winter.
We never had a fresh air vent before because the old system using the chimney drew out the humidity. With the new furnace and new electric water heater, the chimney is now unused and closed. T
he installation company felt that the only place to install a fresh air vent was from the front of the house, necessitating removing part of the basement ceiling to run the duct work.
An alternate plan proposed was to run a pipe down the unused chimney and tie it in to the cold air return near the furnace, using a damper, so that air only comes in when the furnace is running.
We’ve sealed up the house with tri-pane windows, new insulation, etc., and are running bathroom and kitchen fans. We also have a dehumidifier going all the time.
Have you ever heard of using the old chimney as a route for the cold air intake? I’d appreciate any info you may have before we go ahead with the chimney plan. The approximate cost is estimated at $450 versus the cost of redoing a major chunk of the basement ceiling. -Audrey and Brian Seddon.
Answer: Using an abandoned chimney to house a fresh air intake duct for the home should be possible, but may require some modifications to prevent problems. Condensation is likely the biggest concern, but simply installing a fresh air duct may only be a partial solution to your indoor air quality issues. Installation of a heat recovery ventilator may be a better alternative to prevent the high relative humidity (RH) you are experiencing.
One solution to prevent some of the very common issues you are facing, after doing several energy efficiency upgrades to your home, is to bring in additional fresh air in the heating season. Because the outside air can hold much less dissolved moisture than inside air when the weather is cold, bringing in the dryer air will help reduce the RH in your home.
The location of the origin of the fresh air can be in multiple places, including above your roof, but some considerations should be taken into account. If there are other chimneys nearby that are still venting their natural gas appliance, you may inadvertently draw in some of their combustion gasses into your new intake ducting. Also, if there is a plumbing vent termination on your roof near the chimney, which is fairly common, you risk sucking in stinky sewer gas to the lower pressure intake duct from that source. Either of those issues could cause a potential health hazard, so ensuring that your new vent is far enough away to prevent that is paramount. That is one reason why most fresh air intake hoods are installed near grade.
A second item to note is the potential for condensation to form in the old chimney, or new intake duct, from your proposed location. The longer the intake duct is located in a cold area, the more likely you are to have some condensation form inside or outside of the duct. That is because some warm air will leak into the duct from the house and if it does not have a chance to quickly escape, it will certainly condense when it hits the colder surface or the air inside. That is why most fresh air intake ducts are completely housed inside the heated building, and terminate immediately where they exit to the colder exterior. The possible solution to this issue is to seal the top and bottom of the chimney around the insulated duct, to prevent excessive warm and cold air leakage into that area. This may be achieved by partially filling the chimney cavity around the new duct with blown-in polyurethane foam. This should be done at the top and bottom of the chimney, to further prevent air leakage into the unused void.
Installing a mechanical damper to allow cold air intrusion only when the furnace fires is a good idea, but beware that these are not infallible. These devices rarely seal too tightly, because a well sealed unit will have much more chance of freezing if a small amount of frost forms inside. Also, it may be difficult to determine if the damper becomes damaged, which can either negate its purpose, or allow a constant flow of cold air if it stops working while open. Regular inspection and maintenance is critical to ensure it works as intended, if you go that route.
As a more costly but better alternative, looking into installation of a heat recovery ventilator (HRV) may be prudent. These devices are designed to draw fresh air into the living space, while venting out stale, damp air from the home. They have an internal core that recaptures a significant amount of the heat from the exiting air, increasing heating efficiency for the building. The best part of this system is that they have a control, normally known as a dehumidistat, that turns on the unit only when the RH exceeds the setting on the control. You can vary the setting, depending on ambient conditions, so you have much more control over the moisture in your indoor air than with a simple fresh air intake. With an HRV, you can throw away your dehumidifier, which will save even more time and energy. You may still have the challenge of location of intake and exhaust ducts, but I’m sure that can be solved by an experienced HVAC technician.
Incorporating your redundant chimney into your proposed fresh air intake solution for RH control in your home may be possible, but there are better, albeit more costly, alternatives. Installation of a properly set-up HRV with dehumistatic controls will not only solve your humidity issue, it will improve your indoor air quality, while saving some additional money from heat loss and power for your dehumidifier.
Ari Marantz is the owner of Trained Eye Home Inspection Ltd. and the past president of the Canadian Association of Home & Property Inspectors — Manitoba (cahpi.mb.ca). Questions can be emailed to the address below. Ari can be reached at 204-291-5358 or check out his website at trainedeye.ca.
A lot of thought, care and creativity goes into picking out and designing your upholstered pieces. It is a labour of love. Once the piece is in your home, you want to be able to enjoy it for many years to come. While disaster can sometimes strike (in my case, I’m referring to my almost-three-year-old with a warm chocolate chip cookie in hand), there are steps to take to extend the life of your beloved furniture.
It starts with the fabric
While this one might seem a bit obvious, you must pick a fabric that fits your lifestyle and needs. However, knowing something and knowing how to do something are two different things.
We are big fans of performance fabrics. These are fabrics created for pieces that get a lot of use. Crafted for easy care and lasting beauty, they are perfect for family use (yes, even toddlers and fur babies). But how do they look?
Don’t worry, durability doesn’t take away from style. Performance fabrics come in a wide array of patterns, colours and textures. Whether you are after a light, airy cotton blend or a luxe, velvety feel, you can find a long-lasting fabric that fits the bill. When in doubt, ask the experts. Communicate your needs and preferences to your designer and they will help you narrow down your options.
Designer tip: Once you decide on your fabric, ask for some sample swatches to take home. That way, if a stain does happen, you can test recommended removal products on your swatch before risking your piece.
Know your cushion type
All manufacturers use different terms and products do vary, but overall there are three cushion types. Each sits differently.
An all-foam cushion is going to be the firmest option. It requires the least amount of maintenance when it comes to fluffing and adjusting.
The second option is often referred to as a spring down cushion. Made of a mixture of materials with a core of coiled springs and comprised of a mostly down and polyester blend, it is the second-softest cushion option and helps give the user an extra spring when getting up from the seat. This cushion, along with the third option, both require more fluffing, but make up for it in comfort.
The third option is the luxurious down plush, comprised of thin foam and down — it feels and acts as a pillow. I love the way down feels and think it is worth the maintenance of fluffing regularly.
Many manufacturers offer cushion options that combine one or more of the elements above to achieve different results. Regardless of cushion type, I always encourage customers to ask for eight-way hand-tied springs in their furniture. It helps make sure your furniture is soft, supportive, flexible and comfortable. Communicate the look and feel you are going for and your designer will help point you in the right direction.
Designer tip: Our designers recommend picking a monthly bill and fluffing/turning every time you pay it. This way you don’t forget, and it becomes part of your routine.
Pilling and pet prevention
We get a lot of questions from pet owners on how to animal-proof their furniture. In short, you can’t completely (if only there were a pet hair-resistant fabric!). But to add longevity to your upholstery, we recommend getting a co-ordinating throw blanket to drape over your pet’s favourite spot.
Another issue clients sometimes have is fabric pilling (those tiny balls of fibre you sometimes get on sweaters and other textiles). A common misconception is it means you have a bad or low-quality fabric, but that’s not the case. Most fabrics pill because of the natural loosening of fibres and tangling of threads. Since upholstery fabric is so tightly woven, shaving the pills off once should do the job for the remainder of your piece’s life.
Designer tip: Use a sweater shaver for a quick way to de-pill a large upholstery piece without sending it to an expert.
Renew and refresh
You’ve taken the required steps to ensure a long lifetime for your chair or sofa, and now you are tired of the pattern or colour. Furniture fatigue is a real thing. Luckily there is an easy and cost-efficient solution, and it’s all about accessories. Instead of reupholstering or getting a bulky cover or entirely new piece, try incorporating fresh throw pillows to spruce up your furniture. You might be surprised what a big difference a small accessory change can make.