How to Manage Moisture in the Home

As the holidays approach, with all the holiday prep, it’s important to be mindful of the air in the home, and moisture available in the air.  Unlike the Spring, Summer and Fall, when we might open our doors and windows to allow more air and exterior humidity in the home, during Winter months we typically keep the home tightly closed to reduce heat loss.

Unless we take steps, this can have a tendency to create a potential for moisture buildup, especially where we might not be able to easily control it.  Monitoring the situation to ensure this doesn’t happen will keep your air moisture regulated during the dryer colder weather.

There are over 10,000 types of mold that can be present in the air, and most require moisture above 50% in the air to thrive, so, it’s important to maintain control of the levels and location of moisture in the home.

Minnesota homes typically have basements, and, since MN is well known for having high Summer humidity levels, many home inspectors recommend a dehumidifier in every basement to cut down on mold potentials.  Also, inspectors typically suggest a dehumidifier is kept running all year long and regularly emptied.

During Summer we typically also use the air conditioning system to manage the humidity level, whereas in Winter, humidity can come from washing clothes, taking baths or showers as well as cooking.  Anywhere that condensation can form around those areas of your home should be monitored to cut down on condensation, which could potentially be a site for mold buildup.

Some homes have in-furnace humidifiers meant to balance out the humidity in the interior air to prevent the home being too dry, however, most home inspectors will recommend you shut this function off and not use it, because most homeowners do not properly monitor the humidity levels, or, change the level of humidity required as the temperature fluctuates.

Windows and walls are susceptible to condensation, and, it is important to ensure this doesn’t become an ongoing issue.  Where you notice consistent buildup of condensation on windows, it’s important to correct, monitor and prevent future occurrences.  Excessive moisture can damage or decay the woodwork, or, allow moisture to seep or migrate into the wall under the window creating a potential mold situation that can’t be seen visually on the wall.

Potential areas where condensation could become a bigger issue is the exhaust fan from the bathrooms, especially if the exhaust is pushed directly into the attic.  Bathroom vents, if not vented properly to the roof and outside the home, can cause bigger issues.  Mold can grow in the insulation, on the wooden studs, timbers and on roof decking if vents are not properly installed and sealed.  This also applies to the laundry and kitchen area if not properly vented to the exterior of the house.  Not all kitchens have exterior vents.

To ensure you home doesn’t have these types of issues, it’s key to keep the dew point low enough.  To monitor this, you can purchase a humidistat for under $25.00 and test the air humidity to keep it at or around the preferred 20% level in the Winter and a safer 45%, or lower, during the Summer months.  Using your dehumidifier all year long, or air conditioner during the high humidity months, will help you maintain correct levels of humidity.

To keep an eye on the situation as you use different areas of the home, and ensure the humidity is kept low, the following suggestions will help you take control of this and keeping consistent will cut down on mold potential.

In Winter, keeping the curtains and/or shades open during the day will allow the humidity to dry around windows.  Keep bathroom fans on after baths or showers for at least 45 minutes to get rid of all excess moisture.  Check the attic to make sure your bathroom vents out to the exterior, not just to the attic, and check for any potential mold or moisture around roof vent seals to ensure there is no sign of condensation.  Proper venting of kitchens, laundries, and bathrooms is essential.

Keeping the kitchen fan on while cooking on stovetops, if the fan vents to the outside, is also smart.  When boiling liquids generates a lot of steam, this can create condensation.  Some older kitchens have vent fans in the ceiling, others might have it above the stove hidden in a cabinet, either way, it’s important to leave it on during cooking so steam escapes to the exterior of the home.

It’s also smart to regularly check for any potential leaky faucets, looking under sinks and tubs to ensure that no leaks are occurring, and, if leaks are found they should be fixed as soon as possible.

One of our past clients noticed a bad odor coming from an unused bathroom and finally checked under the sink to identify the source of the smell.  They were shocked to find mold growing on every surface inside the cabinet.  The entire cabinet and wall area was removed by mold remediation, as well as all the flooring.  All new flooring, drywall, cabinet and sink were installed after air quality checks to ensure no further mold issues could be present.

Monitoring these potential issues is the best way to prevent them and save you money in the long run, keeping your home healthier for you all.

Written by Claire Bastien for FindYourMinnesotaHome.com

How Home Winterizing Can Save you Money

Keeping your home warm, dry and free of pests over Winter will help you save money on future repairs and energy bills, however, this requires some regular maintenance.

Making any necessary changes or repairs in the Fall can really impact your energy bills and ensure that your home is protected from unwanted moisture, heat loss or intrusions by pests.  The first place to start is with unwanted moisture.

  1. Keeping your foundation drainage at the proper angle, 10 degree grade going from the house to about 6 ft out, is going to help prevent water entering the basement level.  Make sure drain pipes extend far enough away from foundation to prevent water flowing near foundation.  Make sure your drain pipes are firmly connected and made of solid metal, not plastic – which tends to crack and leak in Winter.
  2. Keeping your gutters clean and free of twigs, leaves or other debris will prevent the buildup of ice dams and keep water flowing to your downspouts and drain pipes.  While you are up there looking at your gutters, you might consider getting gutter covers, to prevent you having to clear them constantly, and, while you are at it, check the soffit and fascia to ensure there are no holes critters could use to enter your home.
  3. Inspecting your roof while you are up on the ladder and performing any necessary repairs prior to the first snowfall will save you potential leaks into the attic as well.  Replacing missing shingles or any shingles that are curling or cupping will ensure there are no gaps in your roof coverage.
  4. Repair any gaps in the foundation and get some appropriate caulk or foam to fill in any cracks to prevent loss of warm air, moisture or pet intrusion.  Any good hardware or big home store will carry a variety of caulk and seal for different types of stucco, siding or wood to help you close those gaps.  Expansion foam or the right caulk will help you close any holes and keep your home snug.  Especially check for locations around the home with potential for pest intrusion, like front and rear steps and entryways, and use some expansion foam to close off gaps or small entry points.
  5. Seal doors and windows with appropriate caulk or silicone sealant to close any air gaps.  Make sure there is no air loss around doors and windows.
  6. Chimneys often can develop a layer of creosote inside which needs to be cleaned if you plan on burning more fires over the Winter.  Chimney fires are often a result of not cleaning out the old creosote.  You cannot count on specialty logs, which claim to burn creosote, to fully prevent chimney issues.  Checking your chimney will ensure it is still in working order as well.  Some chimney issues can cost in the thousands, at which point it might make sense to install a gas insert rather than repair the chimney.  A gas insert has its own chimney inserted, making repairs on the inside of the original chimney obsolete in some cases.  Also, make sure the exterior of the chimney is in good shape as well, as, this will prevent animals from getting into the home.
  7. If you have an outdoor pool and you don’t drain the water, you will want to Winterize the pool to ensure you will have it to use again in the following Spring/Summer months.  Clean the filter, replace the cover after doing any necessary water treatment and follow the installers guidelines.  Make sure to check the cover to ensure no pests can enter.
  8. Make sure all the exterior vents have proper covers to allow for ventilation but also prevent pest intrusions.  Most pests look for warm air entryways into a home and you will want to use a screen small enough to allow the flow of air and to prevent smaller critters from having access.  Clean these screens to prevent a buildup, especially the dryer vent which tends to collect lint.
  9. All water hoses should be disconnected and drained and stored properly.  Turn off water to all exterior hoses and drain them to be sure they won’t freeze and burst water pipes during Winter.  If possible, install a freeze proof water faucet on the exterior
  10. Plants and shrubs vulnerable to the Winter blasts should be wrapped or covered with some type of covering, such as Burlap, to prevent the loss of expensive landscape plantings, as this will give them a warmer layer to buffer them throughout the cold weather season.
  11. Cut back or prune any trees, shrubs and hedges during the Fall, especially any plants touching the home or roof as this is best done in the Fall or early Spring before the branches can sprout again.  Keeping plants from touching siding or roofs can extend their life.
  12. Properly store all yard accessories and cover or store lawn furniture to extend their life.  Store hoses and tools away from the weather and winterize any gas-powered tools.
  13. Check your attic to make sure you have tight seals to the vents from kitchen and baths to your roof, and, ensure you have sufficient amount of batting or insulation material.
  14. Replace old furnace filter and have extras on hand to change appropriately.

Most hardware or large home stores have supplies and great options for helping you to keep your home maintained at any season.  Taking the time to do these fixes and maintenance items can save you time, trouble and money in the long run.

Written by Claire Bastien for FindYourMinnesotaHome 2021

What Clients Find Out During a Home Inspection

Buyers have an opportunity to inspect their home right after their offer is accepted, and during that short inspection period, Buyers can get an idea of whether or not the seller maintained the home well. The best home inspectors review the entire property, commenting on and photographing all exterior and interior issues starting with the roof, gutters, downspouts, chimney, siding and the exterior grading of the property. Also, any concerns on the driveway, sidewalks and condition of landscaping will be covered, pointing out any flaws or needed repairs or updates.

In a seller’s market, especially where multiple offers are present, contingent inspections are less likely to be considered by sellers, however, offers made with a non-contingent inspection do get consideration, and, sellers appear to be willing to make some repairs in some cases. In multiple offers, where my clients have paid well over list price, with a non-contingent inspection, the sellers did agree to make some repairs.

In a market where neither Buyer or Seller dominates, or, in a true Buyers’ market, where Buyers have stronger negotiating power, sellers may be more willing to give back funds to the buyer in lieu of doing repairs. Alternatively, if there is time, and you can get some estimates, it pays to find out what the work will cost to complete, and get an escrow set up by the lender or title company to pay contractors after closing, especially if repairs cannot be completed by the time you close.

One of my 2020 clients received a name brand new window and some extensive exterior stucco repairs, amounting to $25,000, paid for by the seller after closing. An escrow fund was created for one and a half times the amount of the anticipated repairs, and the funds were held in escrow by the lender until the work was satisfactorily completed. Only when the Buyer was satisfied was the contractor paid and Seller reimbursed the unused portion of their funds from the escrow.

Sellers sometimes look at repairs needed, such as chimney, roof, siding, etc., and have taken the cost of that into consideration by listing their property at a lower price point than like-kind housing. Even in this low inventory market, however, buyers are often overpaying for a property in need of expensive repairs, and, they get no real price break for the repairs because of non-contingent offers. Unless buyers have big cash reserves, I encourage my clients to pass on these types of properties and to be careful when writing non-contingent offers. Don’t overpay unless you can afford it.

Especially for first-time buyers, it’s very important to consider your cash flow and reserves in those situations. You don’t want to have to spend all your cash reserves doing the sellers’ deferred maintenance. You might need that money for other things, as, often furnishings you own no longer work in the new spaces and you have other new expenses.

On the interior, the ceilings and walls are inspected for cracks that might be more than naturally occurring hairline cracks which happen with settling over time. If windows and doors are not level, that could be an indicator of potential structural issues. When a home inspector finds issues that indicate settling, and you want to get to the source of this issue, the basement foundation and structural supports are to be inspected for issues.

Because many homes in the twin cities can be up to or over 100 years old, checking for structural foundation issues, temporary structural supports or repairs to the foundation is important, provided the basement walls haven’t been finished, which would hide any potential issues. Non-level flooring, crooked doorways and window frames could be evidence of unrepaired structural issues, allowing the home to settle inappropriately. Hiring a structural engineer to examine the home for structural issues is smart if you are still considering buying the home, or, if you wish to add onto the structure, and need to know if it will bear the additional weight.

This structural inspection can cost up to or over $500, depending on how extensive a report is needed, but, if the Buyer intends to purchase, it is worth the additional expense to discover if the house needs costly repairs or not. Better safe than sorry.

A client spent funds on a structural report to find out if building a second floor onto a garage was possible, and to verify that a structure was stable. Another Buyer was purchasing on a creek, and, as the house was on an elevation, and showing a fracture in the basement flooring, the stability was in question. A structural engineer confirmed the crack in flooring was a torsion stress fracture from a 1964 tornado and not a structural flaw.

No home inspector can see through walls to check the condition of the plumbing and wiring. A visual inspection will show if all sinks and drains are leak proof or not. All outlets should be checked for reverse polarity issues and point out whether some outlets are updated to GFCI or ‘ground fault interrupter circuits’ allowing the breaker to trip if the circuit is overloaded. Since these need to be installed within 6 feet of water, they should be installed in the kitchen, bathrooms, laundry and sometimes in the garage as well. An efficient inspector will check every outlet in the house and let you know if there are any issues.

Attics often can show signs of past or current issues, like moisture problems, bathroom vents not connected to the roof when roofs were redone, snow or rain water leakage, condensation issues, or pest intrusion as well as low insulation levels. It will be smart of the Buyer to get an accurate idea of what corrections might need to be done in the attic. Best case scenario you do nothing, or can add some more insulation. Worst case the attic is improperly vented or you have pest intrusion or insufficient insulation.

It is best to know what is going on though and get any potential issues fixed.

Buyers want to know the age and life expectancy of their HVAC and water heater. How old is the system, how much potential useful life does it have? Any Buyer would love to have new HVAC and water heater and new roof in their home, saving the cost of replacing those bigger ticket items for years to come, however, you will compete in multiple offers with other Buyers for homes that have those updates.

One client was told during inspection that the furnace was not working properly and might need replacement, so asked the seller to provide a furnace repair. Initially, a contractor told seller he’d need to replace the furnace, however, a subsequent estimate from another contractor found the repair was possible and would cost one third of replacing the furnace. Of course, the seller opted for the repair, and, the Buyer had to be happy with that instead. So, although the outcome is that the furnace worked at closing, there is no guarantee of how long it will keep working, and, it is wise to save some funds in case old systems stop working after you own the property. Also, be sure the furnace filters are changed regularly, sometimes that has been the only reason a furnace was cycling on and off a lot, and, changing the filter out made all the difference.

Another Client had the water heater fail a month after they purchased. However, the seller had purchased a home warranty for the buyers, so, for $150 in fees, they received a new water heater. The Buyers saved the $1200-$1600 price they might otherwise have had to pay.

Having a sewer line camera is also essential, unless the home is relatively new. Older sewer lines can be clogged by tree roots which can cause sewer backups. If there are other issues, like breaks or drop offs, a sewer camera will point them out. It is worth the expense to ensure the sewer is functioning well and needs no repairs.

One of my clients found their home had no internal access to the sewer line, so, the seller had to establish one, and in performing the sewer camera it was shown that the sewer line was not connected to the city sewer line. This repair needed to be done in Winter and cost over $10,000 in total repairs, however, the expense was on the seller side.

Some cities require sellers to ensure the sewer line is clear and in good condition, and, in those cities some sellers like to pay the buyers closing costs in lieu of doing those repairs, if the city doesn’t mandate that the seller must perform that fix. Many sellers have paid via escrow for the sewer repairs and buyers scheduled the work once they moved in with no additional expense.

Radon gas inspections are also very common, Radon being a colorless odorless gas which causes lung cancer. Radon remediation is recommended if the gas levels exceed 4 pci/l and this must be tested in a 48hr test if you are going to complete it during inspection. There are other tests which last longer and you can get them from the EPA, State of Minnesota Health Department or purchase at some hardware stores, but, those take longer to get results. During inspection you don’t have the luxury of time.

High Radon in the home above 4pci/l is a Material Fact to be disclosed, and, can be a negotiation point with the seller, since they would have to share with subsequent buyers if the current buyer backed out of the sale. Most sellers would likely wish to cover the cost of remediation, if there are no other issues coming from inspection, or possibly at least contribute something to buyer’s closing costs.

The home inspection is where the buyer learns as much as possible about what is happening at the property and everything taken altogether will let you know how well a seller has kept up the home maintenance as well as what you will need to do when you are the homeowner. Smaller items or issues you wish to control can be done once you move in, and the report can be a future resource reminding you to do regular maintenance annually.

The home inspector I currently use also provides a comprehensive report with photos and a home maintenance workbook with explanations of all the home systems. It is a great way to get to know your new home better before you buy, and information in the report is a great tool to help sellers understand needed repairs during the negotiation period.

Written By Claire Bastien for FindYourMinnesotaHome.com

How to Avoid Air Pollution in the HOME

 Most homeowners and homebuyers would like to avoid the use of chemical compounds, which can be found in most housing components, and, are referred to as VOC’s or Volatile Organic Compounds.  They can be in almost any building products, soft furnishings and certain paints that can off-gas, or evaporate, in the home at room temperature.   It is likely your home has some, no matter when it was built, so, consider choosing low VOC products as you replace furnishings or components or remodel in future and check to see which ones have the lowest VOC rating.

The off-gassing of VOC’s can happen from installing new paint, kitchen or other cabinets and flooring which can go on for years and expose your family to potential issues such as headaches, eye & nose irritation, certain respiratory issues can be exacerbated, fatigue and lower ability to concentrate or allergic reactions.  These are just some of the experiences homeowners have had, and, prolonged exposure, for some, has the potential to develop into more serious issues, especially those sensitive to toxins.

As awareness has grown, many manufacturers developed products with lower toxic emissions, allowing buyers and homeowners to choose from healthier options when furnishing or remodeling their home.  Lower VOC options come in flooring, starting with carpeting which is typically loaded with flame and stain retardants and potentially has anti-microbial treatment as well.  Avoid treated synthetic carpeting and consider wool or natural fiber carpet free of chemical treatments, along with a non-synthetic  natural backing, and look for low VOC padding underneath when installing.

Some laminate and other floating floors use formaldehyde in the gluing process which can cause off-gassing.  Solid lumber flooring sealed with a water-based polyurethane labeled as low VOC should help if you can go that route.  Look for low VOC options in other vinyl products, especially ones that don’t require adhesives to install.  Consider using natural fiber rugs where needed to avoid the issues synthetic or treated fibers might cause.

Today’s kitchen cabinets are often made from a timber composite product referred to as MDF. (medium density fiberboard) MDF is typically bound with a resin containing formaldehyde and other chemicals.  When looking to install new cabinetry consider using a real wood product or look for a safer EO MDF with less formaldehyde in the manufacturing process.

Paint is another culprit and the basic wall covering of most homes, so looking for a a water-based acrylic  versus solvent based paint, and paints with lighter tints, will help to keep the VOC levels down in your home as well.

Furniture is also a big consideration when dealing with VOC issues, as, many soft furnishings are treated or made from MDF product, so, looking for quality furnishings from hard wood construction, especially in the nursery, will help to lower the potential for off-gassing and ensure a healthier home environment.  Sometimes, used furnishing, especially older ones, may have finished off-gassing, so, antique and vintage finds might actually be a smart choice in some situations.  If they look a bit dated, you might sand furnishings and use zero-VOC paint to refinish, or reupholster with low VOC natural fibers.

Many houseplants can actually filter out toxic chemicals from the home environment and are easy to care for.

Using air purifiers, non-toxic natural cleaners such as vinegar and baking soda or other home-made cleaners can help keep your environment low in toxins.  Also, plants are known to cleanse the air and the Peace Lily among other plants are known to filter the highest levels of Benzene from indoor air.  

Here to help you buy a home!

With 20+ years in Real Estate and additional experience with Relocation clients, I am gifted in helping people save money while getting into a property they love at the best possible price with savings in all categories from choosing the right lender, choosing the right inspector, and closer, as well as the right options to help when fixing up your new home.  Reach out with your questions and I will be happy to help you get started.

Super Real Estate Agent 2015 – 2020