Wood and Pellet Stoves

Wood and Pellet Stoves Can Dry Out a New Home

Wood and pellet stoves are sometimes said to dry out a home too much and especially cause problems in new homes.  That’s why we instruct our customers to delay using a wood or pellet stove until the second heating season.  But the claim that wood and pellet stoves dry out a new home is both true and misleading.
What’s true is that wood and pellet combustion sends warm moist air from inside to outside the home through the flue.  This causes “replacement air” to enter the home from the outside.  In cold winter weather, this air is drier than the inside air.  However, today’s wood and pellet stoves don’t draw in more outside air than oil or gas boilers and furnaces.  So they don’t dry out a home more than a conventional heating system.

Wood and pellet stoves can cause excessively fast drying in a new home, especially if cranked up to a high temperature during the first heating season.
Wood and pellet stoves can cause excessively fast drying in a new home, especially if cranked up to a high temperature during the first heating season.

However, many people crank up the temperature of wood and pellet stoves much higher than hot water baseboard or warm air.  I’m someone who really appreciates the warmth of a hot wood stove after coming in from a cold day.  But it’s this high temperature that causes the wood and other materials in a new home to dry much more rapidly than a conventional heating system.  And it’s this excessive, rapid drying that causes an undue number of drywall cracks and nail pops as well as more warping, cupping, and shrinking of wood and other materials.

Warranty Coverage When Wood and Pellet Stoves Are Used

As a new homeowner, you need to know that this situation is not covered by the warranty of the modular manufacturer, dealer, or general contractor.  Wood floor vendors also don’t warranty against the excessive gaps between boards or splits in the boards that often result from the use of wood and pellet stoves.  This means that if you decide to use a wood or pellet stove during your first heating system, you will have to assume responsibility for any loss or damage caused by the excessive heat conditions.  On the other hand, waiting just one year before using these products at very high temperatures will help permit the wood and other materials in your home to dry slowly and normally.
For more information about the risks of using wood and pellet stoves during the first heating season, see Warranty Service for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Homeowner Warranty Service Obligations for a Modular Home

Homeowners have a few warranty service obligations of their own that must be taken seriously, especially those relating to normal maintenance and care. A good overview of the homeowner’s responsibilities can be found in a booklet by the National Association of Home Builders titled, “Home Maintenance Made Easy.”

Homeowner Warranty Service Obligations – Notify Responsible Party

One responsibility often ignored by homeowners is the obligation to contact the appropriate party in a timely fashion when a warranty service situation is discovered. Even a simple warranty issue can become serious and require an expensive fix when you delay reporting it. For example, if your front door leaks a little water every time it rains because the threshold needs to be adjusted, the finished flooring and framing can quickly become damaged.

Homeowner Warranty Service Obligations – Maintenance and Care

Modular homes are strong, but they are not indestructible. Expect your home to show signs of normal wear and tear over time, and accept responsibility for fixing the inevitable results.
You will want to restore your home to as-new-as-possible condition after the first heating season, since most of the settling and drying of wood will have occurred by that point. In a typical home, completing this tune-up usually takes a day or two by someone who has carpentry, drywall, and painting skills. Some of these normal changes will reappear in subsequent years, but they should be less noticeable and easier to repair.
If your modular dealer was also your GC, it is reasonable to expect him to correct these problems before your warranty expires. It is less clear, however, who should make these corrections when the dealer and GC are separate companies. Some of the drywall and moldings will have been installed by the manufacturer, and some by the GC. You could insist that each correct what they built, but this assumes that all changes in a particular area of your home are due to the company that completed the work in the area, which is not always the case. If your home has excessive drywall cracks in a few different areas, for example, they could have been caused by the way the manufacturer built your home or by the way the GC leveled the sill plate. If there is a lot of shrinkage of the wood moldings and floors installed by the manufacturer, it could have been due to the materials used by the manufacturer or to excess moisture that entered the home during the button-up. The best course in this situation is to contract with your GC to complete all of the tune-up, regardless of who built the different parts of your home.
Your GC may balk at taking on this responsibility. Since he did not build the modules, he might fear that he is exposing himself to too big a risk. In addition, if he has no prior modular experience, he may feel unable to predict the amount of time required for the tune-up. A fair way to handle this is to agree to pay him for his actual time and materials. An alternative would be to take on the work yourself, if you have the skills.
When completing the tune-up, the GC should retape any cracks in the drywall or the tape covering the drywall. He might be tempted to cover them with compound or caulk to save time and money, but the cracks will reappear if he does. On the other hand, fine cracks in the mud covering the drywall tape can be filled with a high-quality, paintable caulk. Small, open miter joints or other small gaps between pieces of wood can be filled with wood filler or caulk; larger gaps should be corrected by removing and reinstalling the wood. Popped drywall fasteners should be driven further into the framing, when possible. Otherwise, additional fasteners should be used. A small gap between a wall and a kitchen or bath countertop should be filled with caulk.
After these corrections are completed, the reworked areas can be touched-up, ideally with paint or stain left over from the original button-up. If the GC has to buy new paint or stain, he may not be able to obtain an exact color match with the previous application.
Although you do not need to, you might want to wait until your home has finished settling and drying out before  painting the walls and ceilings with custom colors. If you do not wait, you should save some matching paint to complete the tune-up. However, you may still need to paint an entire wall or ceiling in a room when you do the tune-up to avoid shadows caused by slight variations in color.
You might also want to wait until your home has finished settling and drying out before wallpapering or stenciling. Regardless of when you apply it, you will be responsible for repairing any damage to the wallpaper due to settling or drying.
For more information about modular home warranty service, see Warranty Service for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Modular Home Warranty Service Disagreements

In my last blog I discussed warranty service expectations, inspections, and procedures.  In this blog I will discuss what happens if you disagree with your dealer or GC about whether something in your home is defective, damaged, or poorly installed.

Building Codes and Warranty Service

When a warranty service problem involves a building-code violation, the burden will usually be on the manufacturer, dealer, or GC to correct the problem. Installing the wrong type of smoke detector is something the dealer, through his manufacturer, must correct. Using undersized framing for your site-built garage or deck is the kind of mistake the GC must correct. The dealer is not, however, automatically responsible for meeting specifications that exceed the state building code. For example, if your local building inspector insists that an air-infiltration barrier must be installed under your siding, but this is not the required by the state building code, your dealer would be accountable only if he had accepted responsibility for verifying whether any special codes were being enforced in your community. If you agreed to assume this responsibility but failed to obtain the correct information, than you would be responsible for the additional material and labor, including, in this case, the cost for removing and reinstalling whatever siding was already installed by the manufacturer.

Contractor Scope of Work and Warranty Service

The GC is not responsible when the scope of work for a task was not included in his original contract with you. For example, the fact that you need a set of stairs from the door to the backyard does not obligate the GC to provide them if you excluded them so you could build a deck in the future. Nor is the GC responsible for providing clean backfill to place around the foundation if the building inspector declares that the soil that was removed from the cellar hole cannot be used as backfill. If the GC uses the fill before the building inspector instructs him not to, the GC will be responsible for removing it, since he is obligated to know the building code. You will still be responsible, however, for paying for the replacement fill as well as for removing the rejected fill, if it needs to be taken from your site, since you needed this to be done regardless of the GC’s mistake.

Quality Guidelines for Warranty Service

Cosmetic issues are often sources of warranty service disagreements. A customer should receive the degree of finish they selected and paid for, but this is often different from what they may have seen in a model home. One way to handle disputes of this kind is to have your contract include a set of quality guidelines for materials and workmanship that can be used to help settle differences. Keep in mind, however, that guidelines and standards spell out the minimum acceptable workmanship and product performance. Your personal standards will likely exceed these standards in some areas.

Warranty Service and What Is “Good Enough”?

One perspective taken by guidelines for materials and workmanship is that it is neither realistic nor fair to expect a modular dealer or general contractor to remove blemishes that are not readily visible or noticeable, and can only be seen in unusual light or from very close range. Finished drywall, especially, will almost always show minor blemishes in the right light and from the right angle. For a customer to insist that such small items be addressed under warranty is to create a potentially antagonistic relationship. The customer wants their dealer and GC to take seriously those things that are most important to them. They do not want to create an atmosphere in which the dealer or GC feels compelled to deny assistance by appealing to some technicality in a set of guidelines that relieves them of responsibility. In other words, if the customer can exercise some flexibility over defining what’s “good enough,” they should expect the dealer and GC to adopt a similar attitude. You could ask your dealer to replace a pine bifold closet door with a small dent on the inside, which can only be seen when the closet is open. If you do so, however, do not be surprised if he tries to hide behind a technicality for some other item that’s important to you.
For more information about modular home warranty service, see Warranty Service for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

Modular Home Warranty Service

Modular Home Warranty Service Expectations                                           

When you buy a modular home, you expect it to arrive without mistakes, defects, or damaged materials. If you discover any, you expect the manufacturer to repair or replace them. You also expect the manufacturer to provide this warranty service at no cost to you. Manufacturers usually understand these expectations, but they have a few of their own. They will accept responsibility for problems found when your home arrives, but they expect your dealer, as well as you and your general contractor (GC), to accept responsibility for any damages incurred after that. This seems fair, and in principle it is. When you purchase your home from a dealer who completes the GC work, your warranty service expectations are likely to be met. When the dealer and GC are separate companies, however, the situation can trigger contention and distrust.

Modular Home Manufacturer’s Quality Inspections

A modular home is typically built with most of its interior complete. Walls, cabinets, tubs, doors, moldings, and electrical outlets are almost always installed at the factory. All of these products can be damaged accidentally, and this can happen as easily at the factory as at your site. Your home will be thoroughly inspected before it leaves the factory. The manufacturer will try to repair or replace any defective or damaged goods before shipping the home. When that is not possible without causing a delay, the manufacturer will document the problem, make plans to fix it at your site, and inform the dealer so that you are not surprised. Either way, the inspection enables the manufacturer to document any warranty problems with your home.The inspection, however, does not preclude disagreements between the manufacturer, dealer, and GC. If you discover any damage to your home after it is delivered and set, it could have been caused by the manufacturer even though it is not listed on the inspection report. But it could also have been caused by someone on your site.
The manufacturer could have missed an item, or an employee could have caused the damage and failed to report it. The same damage, however, could have been caused by one of the GC’s subcontractors, who may or may not have been aware of it. You or a friend could have unknowingly caused the damage.

Modular Home Warranty Service Procedures

A warranty service inspection checklist
The modular home dealer and general contractor will complete a warranty service inspection with the customer after the set.

Under the circumstances, it is not surprising that there are occasional disagreements over who is responsible for damages. The modular industry has developed a procedure for handling these warranty service situations. Modular manufacturers attempt to minimize these misunderstandings by requiring their dealers to identify and report in writing any warranty service issues right after the set. You can expect your dealer to insist that you complete a warranty service inspection, and sign the resulting written report. If the GC is separate from your dealer, ask him to sign the warranty service report along with you. You should receive a copy of the warranty service report that is also signed by the dealer.
The exact time allowed for the inspection varies from manufacturer to manufacturer, with some giving the dealer 24 hours after the set and others allowing him a few days for some items and a few weeks for others. Items that are easily damaged on site, such as installed vinyl floors and carpeting, are less likely to be covered beyond a few days unless there are extenuating circumstances. This warranty service procedure allows the manufacturer to limit its responsibility to preexisting conditions. Consequently, if you find a damaged item after the reporting period expires, the manufacturer will assume that the damage was caused by someone on your site, and will not accept responsibility for correcting it.
Since the set-day activities can cause accidental damage to a home, some manufacturers require the dealer to complete the warranty service inspection as soon as the modules are delivered. This is common with manufacturers who ask their dealers to select an independent set crew. Since the dealer selects the crew, the manufacturer wants the dealer to assume responsibility for any set-day damages. The manufacturer secures this accountability by having the dealer complete its warranty service inspection before the set. While this may seem reasonable, a delivery day inspection is unfair to the dealer and the customer. It is impractical to complete an accurate inspection on delivery day, given the poor lighting available in each plastic-wrapped module. It is also difficult to inspect a module when it is stuffed with ship-loose materials. Waiting until after the modules are set allows for a more accurate inspection. If at all possible, resist a delivery-day inspection.
In my next blog I will discuss disagreements about warranty service coverage.
For more information about modular home warranty service, see Warranty Service for a Modular Home in my book The Modular Home.

What You Need to Know About Ice Dams

Ice dams at the edge of the roof can be quite destructive to your home.  Removing them before they do damage is very important.  But preventing them should be your first priority.

What Causes Ice Dams

Ice dams form when the snow above the eave melts along the surface of the shingles and runs down the roof.  This happens when the attic temperature is above freezing.  The water freezes at the bottom of the roof because the eave, which extends beyond the home’s exterior wall, is below freezing.  Over time the ice builds up and forms a dam.

How an ice dam forms.
How an ice dam forms. Diagram by Owens Corning®.

The reason ice dams often form after a heavy snow is because the snow acts as an insulator, trapping whatever heat enters the attic.  The situation is made worse when storms are followed by extremely cold weather with bright sunny skies.  The solar melt starts the water flowing but the cold freezes it in place.  A series of freeze-thaw cycles further complicates matters.  The result is dams on the gutters and icicles everywhere.

Ice Dams Can Cause Serious Damage

Ice damns can create a lot of havoc with your home because the melting water can backup above the eave and flow under the shingles and into your house.  Your modular home will come with a water proof membrane under the shingles at the eaves, but when the conditions become extreme the dams reach higher up the roof than is covered by the membrane.  The leaking water can damage insulation, drywall, paint, and framing.  It can also fuel the growth of mold.
There are two ways to handle an ice dam:  manage it at the eave, where the freezing occurs, or deal with it in the attic where the melting starts.

Handling Ice Dams at the Eave

One way to take care of the eave is to install heat tape.  Electricity running through the tape warms the eave enough to reduce ice accumulation.  It helps if you install the tape before the first snow storm.  Otherwise you will need to first remove the snow.

Use a snow rake with a long handle to safely remove snow from your roof.
Use a snow rake with a long handle to safely remove snow from your roof.

Another way to handle ice at the eave is to use a snow rake.  It helps if you keep up with this throughout the winter.  But don’t use a shovel, ice pick, hatchet, hammer, chisel, chainsaw, etc.  They will almost certainly damage your shingles.  Moreover, they can endanger your health.  Salt will melt the ice, but it will also damage your landscaping.
This attic ventilation system brings in the cooler outside air through a soffit and vents out the warmer attic air through a ridge vent.
Attic ventilation is typically done by bringing in the cooler outside air through a soffit and venting out the warmer attic air through a ridge vent.

Preventing Ice Dams in the Attic

A better way to deal with ice damns is to stop them before they start, which requires you to reduce the temperature in your attic so the snow doesn’t melt on top of the shingles.  The most important step you can take to control the attic temperature is to ensure the attic air is circulated with the outside air.  The ventilation is typically done by bringing in the cooler outside air through a soffit and venting the warmer attic air out through a ridge vent.  The system will only work as designed if baffles are in place at the lower side of the roof.  Otherwise the attic floor insulation will block the air flow from the soffit into the attic.

How baffles installed at the lower side of the roof ensure that the attic floor insulation does not block the air flow from the soffit into the attic.
The general contractor should verify that baffles are in place at the lower side of the roof so the attic floor insulation does not block the air flow from the soffit into the attic.

Ventilation and Ice Dams

Even if you have a good ventilation system, heat can build up if too much of it escapes into the attic from the home.  This can happen when there is insufficient insulation in the attic floor or if the insulation is poorly installed.   Air infiltration from the story below into the attic can be a significant source of unwanted attic heat.  Inadequately insulated attic duct work is major culprit.  So are uninsulated folding attic stairs and recessed can lights installed in the ceiling of the story below.  The same holds for bathroom fans that vent improperly into the attic.

Modular Homes and Ice Dams

With a modular home, most of problems that cause ice dams are the responsibility of the general contractor.  For example, here is information about sealing a modular home against air infiltration.  If an ice dam forms on your home, ask your general contractor to help you determine the cause.  But don’t wait to remove the dam.   The damage could be more expensive to fix than remedying the cause.