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Sat, Oct. 19

There are many possible causes of condensation inside windows

I need to catch up on some questions I've received from Courier readers:

Q: I woke up recently to ice on half the windows in my 4-year-old home - on the inside. What's up with that? Obviously it's a sealant fault, but do you think I have a case to take back to the builder? If I have to correct it myself ... how? Could this problem have been detected if I had you inspect the house before moving in?-Jan D. in Prescott Valley

A: Jan, I am sure you have double-pane windows in a 4-year-old home. The ice is from condensation on the inside of the windows because of the difference in temperatures on both sides of the window. We use coasters under our glasses of iced tea in the summer because condensation will form on the outside (warmer side) of the glass and damage a wood tabletop.

Condensation on windows is not because of broken seals on the windows - that would allow condensation (fogging) between the panes of the glass, not on the inside. Condensation on the insides of windows is a major concern with single-pane windows in cold climates. I remember putting storm windows on all our windows every fall when I was a lad living up north. Double-pane windows were designed to reduce condensation and eliminate the need for installing and removing storm windows every fall and spring. Unfortunately, even double-pane windows can get condensation on the inside.

So I'm guessing something is putting humidity in your home to cause the condensation on the inside of the windows. Most homes have a forced air furnace, which does not add humidity to the air. Are you using a humidifier, either on the central furnace or a free-standing model? If so, I would stop using it and see if that helps. If you have a humidifier on your furnace, have it checked by a contractor, and make sure it's not malfunctioning (running all the time).

Other sources of humidity are kitchens and bathrooms. Use the exhaust fan when cooking in the kitchen, assuming it goes to the exterior. In many homes, the kitchen fan does not really exhaust and just blows the air back into the room. In this case, operating the fan will not change the humidity levels in the home. Most newer homes have exhaust fans in all bathrooms, but an older home may have just a window. Make sure you use the bathroom exhaust fans, especially when using the shower or tub, to control humidity. If you have a bath with just a window, you really should open the window a little when showering. Of course that's easy for me to say - I admit I would not open a bath window when the outside temperature is in the single digits. If you have a bath with only a window, consider having an exhaust fan installed. This should be a relatively minor expense, depending on how accessible your attic is.

Another source of humidity is any open flame. A kitchen cooking range should not put much humidity in the air if it's only used for cooking (unless you do a lot of cooking!). But any type of open flame can put a significant amount of humidity in the air, including ventless fireplaces or other open flame heating sources and even candles or lanterns.

To answer your other questions, if the windows are not fogged between the panes, the contractor will not likely do anything because it is not a window defect. And a home inspector can only comment on the conditions present when he does the home inspection. It would be impossible to inspect a home in the summer and know what conditions may be present in the winter, especially during an unusually cold period like we've had this month.

Q: My house was built in 2004 and, according to code, has smoke alarms installed. They are AC operated with 9V battery backup. Periodically (usually in the middle of the night), the alarms go off - sometimes just for a couple of blasts; other times they can alarm for up to a minute before shutting off. It scares the heck out of us. What do you think is wrong?-Larry Peters

A: Almost all home smoke detectors have a "beam" in them. This is similar (but much smaller) to the beam across the bottom of your overhead garage door. If you interrupt the beam under the garage door with your leg, the door will reverse. If the beam in a smoke detector gets interrupted, the alarm will sound. Small insects can get inside a detector and interrupt the beam. Recently, a homeowner told me she called the fire department when her smoke detectors went off, and the fire department found a spider in one of them. So my advice would be to clean all the detectors. Most AC (120 volt) detectors will not "open" other than a small compartment for the backup battery. You can try (carefully) cleaning them with the brush attachment on your vacuum cleaner. If your home was built in 2004, the detectors should be interconnected, so if one goes off, they all go off. This is a nice feature: If an alarm in the guest bedroom is activated, you will know immediately, even if you're in another part of the home. Of course, this makes false alarms more annoying.

Most people don't know this, but these detectors also have sensors built in. These sensors can tell if something unusual is going on, and will cause most false alarms to happen when you have houseguests, during the Super Bowl, or if you had a little too much to drink.

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