Monthly Archives: April 2012

The Hidden Jewel Of Construction

By John Semas

Often times when homeowners consider doing a major remodel, the thought of upgrading insulation doesn’t come to mind.  Insulation isn’t glamorous like crown molding or new granite countertops, but often is one of the most important upgrades a homeowner can do.  If you have ever taken apart a wall that was built 30 years ago or more you will notice all types of different insulation.  The main types of insulation that homeowners encounter now are fiberglass batt insulation, blown in cellulose insulation, and becoming more common is open and closed cell foam insulation.  The cost varies from product to product, but what everyone should know is how insulation effectiveness is measured.  

 There are three key ways to measure insulation effectiveness:


  •  Air Barrier:  An air barrier controls the flow of air between conditioned and unconditioned spaces. Some forms of insulation do not qualify as air barriers (e.g. fiberglass insulation).
  •  Vapor Barrier:  A vapor barrier does not allow diffusion of moisture between spaces. Certain types of foam insulation qualify as vapor barriers, while others qualify as vapor retarders.
  •  R-Value:  R-value is a rating of thermal resistance. Increasing the thickness of an insulating layer increases the thermal resistance (R-value). Adding R-value, however, does not create a true air barrier.

 The one major buzz in insulation is the use of open and closed cell foam.  The use of foam has been around for decades, but has recently become more affordable for residential use. 

 The differences between the two are explained below:


  • Open-cell foam
    is soft. The walls (or cells) of the bubbles are broken, and air fills these spaces. This makes the foam soft and pliable, similar to a rubber ball. The R-value of the insulation is related to the value of the air inside these broken bubbles. Open cell insulation density is up to one pound per cubic foot.
  •  Closed-cell foam is solid, as the cells of the bubbles remain intact, which makes the product rigid. The cells are filled with a gas that makes the R-value higher than that of open-cell foam. Closed-cell foam has varying degrees of hardness, depending its density, but is typically 1.5 pounds to 4 pounds per cubic foot.

 Whatever the size of your remodel remember that it’s often what is not seen that is the most important part.  If your remodel offers the opportunity to upgrade your insulation, think about the benefits and remember: when was the last time your granite countertops saved you money on a monthly basis?

What you should do before hiring a Contractor

As a company, we do around 600 estimates a year.  To say we have a lot of experience meeting new customers and pricing potential projects is an understatement. With that in mind, I wanted to take the opportunity to provide some words of advice to homeowners looking to hire a professional contractor to perform home improvements.

Before calling random contractors, here are some things to think about and do:

  • Determine how much money you can and/or want to spend.  It is imperative to have a budget.
  • Make a list of priorities for your project.  What do you want and what do you need?
  • Do some research on the types of materials you would like to use on
  • your project.  Between what is available online and what information can be gained from lumber yards and other retailers, you can research every product available on the market.
  • Ask friends, family and co-workers if they have experience with any contractors.  If so, would they use them again or not?  What was their experience?
  • Consult with resources like the Better Business Bureau or Angie’s List to either figure out who to call and who to avoid.
  • Search online for contractors in your area.  If they do not have a website, you may want to skip over them.  Companies that spend money on a website recognize how many people perform online research to make purchases.  They tend to be more current and willing to do what it takes to attract and keep customers.  Do they have references online?  Do they have photos of projects they have completed?
  • Call three contractors and schedule appointments to have them come out to your home.  Explain what you are looking to do, so that they send out the right person to consult with.  Some companies have people who specialize in different types of work.
  • Generate a “scope of work” for your project.  If you have items that you want included in your proposal, list them.  If you have an idea of what you want something to look like, draw it.
  • Give each contractor the same scope of work.  This will allow every contractor that you meet with to have the same information.  With that, everyone can price the project on the same basis.  It will give you a better opportunity to compare “apples-to-apples”.
  • Ask each contractor for detailed, written proposals.
  • Select the contractor that you feel is the best fit for you and your proje
  • ct.  The best price is not always the best option.  Perhaps the cheapest price does not include everything that the others do.  Make sure you are truly comparing each contractor and the respective proposals on an even basis.
  • Ensure the contractor that you select meets the following criteria: have a Licensed MA Construction Supervisor’s License, hold a Home Improvement  Contractor’s license, and be fully insured with sufficient General Liability and Workers’ Compensation insurance.
  • Ask the contractor for references.  Do not be afraid to ask for the last three completed projects, rather than their three best customers.  You want to get a good grasp on what you can expect from the contractor and what other homeowners have experienced.
  • Demand a detailed, written contract.  Ensure that the contractor includes a “Workmanship Warranty” and a “Rite of Cancellation”.

Basically, while I took the long road in explaining what every homeowner should do, it really is very simple.  Do your homework.  Make sure you have a firm understanding of what is being priced.  Know what you are agreeing to when you sign a contract.  Make sure you are protected.

Diving In To Tackle A Flooded Basement

In the event that you have a flooded basement, it is important to make sure the area is safe and dry before you repair the damages.  Basements can flood for many reasons, but the most common is ground water or a ruptured hot water tank. 

In the event that you have a problem with ground water, there is something important to keep in mind.  Just because the water looks clean, it does not mean that it is.  Ground water contains many things that are harmful for humans to come in contact with; including pesticides, animal feces, and other unknown ground contaminants.  Anything that ground water touches should be considered contaminated and be considered for replacement. 

If the hot water tank has ruptured, then the water can be considered clean water and you do not have to worry about human contact, but remember that does not mean that it should not be removed right away. 

Ground water should be removed from the basement by professionals and the area should be dried using dehumidification and air movers.  It is important that your basement be dried by professionals and not just some company that does provides this service in a part-time capacity.  The risk of mold and further damage always exist if the area is not dried properly and in a timely manner.  Even if the water is clean, the risk for contamination is present.  Once water sits and becomes stagnant, it can become dirty over time.  So, remember that acting smart and fast is the only way to ensure health and safety. 

Once the water is removed it is important to protect the area from future growth of mold or microorganisms.  There are lots of products on the market that are mold inhibitors, and each product has benefits.  Remember to read the labels carefully before a choice is made.  Often times, people think bleach is the safest way to disinfect a basement area with a musty smell.  But, the truth is, bleach has high volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and the negative health affects from its fumes are a real concern. 

If water does come in your basement, make sure you follow the three simple rules of action to keep yourself and your family safe.

  1. Determine what type of water is in your basement.
  2. If the water is higher than outlets, make sure the main breaker has been switched “off” by a licensed professional.
  3. Hire a restoration company certified in water remediation.

In The Know About Attic Ventilation

New roofs, with a combination of plywood roof sheathing, felt paper, ice and water shield and roof shingles are simply “tighter” than old roofs.  Old roofs were more able to “breathe”.   By that, I mean air was able to move in and out of the attic space through gaps or spaces in the roof.  What you will see now is that with the lack of air movement, water vapor can no longer escape.  The water vapor or condensation is created when the warm air from within the home comes in contact with the cold surface of the roof.  What use to escape is now trapped in your attic, typically right below your roof sheathing.

This can lead to issues for the house itself.  The condensation can cause the rafters and plywood to be compromised and potentially rot.  The inability of the heat to escape can cause significant problems with the roof shingles.  You may see the roof shingles curl or deteriorate.  If that happens, due to a lack of proper ventilation, the manufacturer’s warranty for the shingles will be voided.

In addition, it can lead to significant health concerns for you and your family.  If mold does develop over time, it will spread and it can become air-born and have hazardous respiratory effects.  

So, what’s the solution?  Install proper ventilation.  The best bet is to ensure that your home has both soffit and ridge ventilation.  What this will allow is for air to enter the attic space through the soffit, travel up the rafter bays, and out through the ridge vent.  This will allow for proper ventilation and will prevent condensation and mold from forming.