House Components Issues – CheckThisHouse Home maintenance, remodeling, repair, and improvement tips for your property Mon, 08 Mar 2021 19:19:00 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Stains on Walls, Ghost Marks, Water Marks on Walls, Soot – Is it a Mold Issue? Thu, 15 Jan 2009 18:33:27 +0000 During my inspections, I have been asked many times about stains on walls, also called ghost marks, soot deposits / dust marks and water marks on walls interior surfaces. Since there was usually a mold concern in my clients’ questions, I’ll try to explain that stains on walls / ghost mark phenomenon. Are stains on walls ... Read more]]>

During my inspections, I have been asked many times about stains on walls, also called ghost marks, soot deposits / dust marks and water marks on walls interior surfaces. Since there was usually a mold concern in my clients’ questions, I’ll try to explain that stains on walls / ghost mark phenomenon.

Are stains on walls a mold issue?

In most cases stains on walls including so called “ghost marks” have nothing to do with mold.

If you notice ghost marks / dark stains on walls / interior ceiling surfaces outlining house framing, dark dots corresponding to nails and screws underneath the wall finish, stains around picture frames hanging on walls, carpet discoloration along the house exterior walls, sooty residue around the windows and doors, etc., mold is usually not the problem.
Water marks on walls - frost covered areas with ghost mark stains, possibility of mold growth behind the wallWater marks on walls - ghost marks and moisture stains on house wall, possibility of mold inside the wallHowever, if there appear to be water marks on walls, there’s moisture involved, and it’s detectable in the stained area (i.e. stained section covered with ice, surface condensation), there may be mold growing beneath the wall surface.

There are a few factors responsible for those dark stains on walls and, sometimes, to permanently stop ghost marks from appearing on your house interior surfaces, you may need to take care of all of the issues.

Mr. Albert Einstein has explained mechanics of those stains on walls decades ago, and the most understandable and simple translation of his equations would more or less sound like this:

Particles of dust floating in the air stick more to cold than warm surfaces.

Let’s see how this statement applies to ghost marks in our homes.

Stains on walls along framing members - ghost marks on house wallStains on walls - Temperature difference between ghost marked and unaffected wall area was 25FThe most annoying and noticeable dark stains on walls usually appear along the house exterior framing as straight lines on the walls and ceilings (especially cathedral ceilings). Sometimes they are back in one cold season, just after repainting.

You can trust Mr. Einstein and assume that discolored areas are colder that the rest of the wall. You can also do a little experiment and slide the palm of your hand along the wall surface between the darker / stained wall area and unaffected one to feel temperature changing, sometimes significantly. Unless you have a surface thermometer, pick a cold day for the “manual” testing.

I’ve measured temperature along those areas with stains on walls / ghost marks and clean sections during cold, winter days; and in some cases, there was almost 30F difference.

The reasons for those areas to have so much lower temperature are:

  1. No insulation / poor insulation or displaced insulation inside the wall
  2. No insulation / poor insulation between the exterior finish (i.e. siding) and wall framing
  3. Loose siding panels and gaps around wall penetrations
  4. Stains on cathedral ceiling
  5. Metal framing

Stains on walls - Ghost marks and moisture stains on the house interior walls caused by air drafts and missing wall insulationItems 1 & 2 – Unfortunately, the only solution to prevent stains on walls and water marks on walls caused by missing insulation or insufficient amount of  insulation is adding more. If it is in an accessible attic, you may be able to do it yourself – the most critical areas are along the wall / ceiling seam where the wall top plate is, so make sure that it is insulated. While doing it, don’t compromise attic ventilation by blocking soffit vents with insulation (install vent chutes / baffles instead).

For exterior wall cavities, the cheapest solution might be to hire an insulation contractor and have him blow the insulation into the wall cavities.

# 3. Loose siding panels and gaps around wall penetrations simply require resealing

# 4. Correcting a problem causing stains on walls / ghost marks on the cathedral ceilings (without an accessible attic space above) could be more difficult.

Blowing in the insulation will cause ventilation problems (like condensation and mold growth) in the roof rafter space. In some cases, the only solution might be the removal of the drywall / plaster / paneling, etc. and insulation installation. If the insulation is there, but there doesn’t seem to be enough of it, installation of another drywall layer would add an extra thermal barrier; make the interior surface temperature uniform – it may be enough to eliminate stains on walls, cold spots, and ghost marks.

# 5. Stains on walls / Ghost marks on the metal framed walls are the worst to deal with.

Since metal framing transfers temperature much faster than wooden studs (actually 300 times faster), the only solution would be to install foam sheathing over the metal studs. Try to do THAT on an existing home… It would be a huge mess.

Some other “ghost marked” areas:

  • Stains on floors – If you see dark stains on carpet along the exterior walls, put your hand there. The area is usually much colder and you may feel some air drafts. So, once again, we have that cold spot / magnet attracting dust, plus carpeting acting as a filter for air being exchanged between the interior and exterior (or just between two different areas inside the house).
  • Stains on walls – ghost marks around the pictures / picture frames hanging on the exterior walls – picture and frame act as an extra insulator creating small temperature zones, disrupting air circulation and attracting dust particles.
  • Stains around the doors and windows – gaps in trim and lack of insulation around the openings allow for air drafts, lower surface temperature, and attract dust

We just covered two stains on walls /ghost mark creating factors – cold and Mr. Einstein’s dust particle theory.

However, there are many other components of our households (and beyond) responsible for creation of one more factor – black carbon, commonly known as soot.

Soot is composed from microscopic particles, which are released into the air as a by-product of an incomplete combustion (fuel burning process). Any type of fuel we burn inside our homes is a potential source of soot; even the extremely popular scented candles (especially them) can produce significant amounts of soot.

Since our homes become more and more air tight for energy conserving purposes, the air exchange becomes minimal and all that soot is being deposited in various areas of our homes creating stains on walls / ghost marks. Colder spots will be of course favorable, but areas directly next to the soot source will also become contaminated.

Stains on walls / Basic soot deposits solutions:

  • Let your house breathe occasionally / open the windows and doors to replace some of that contaminated air
  • Regularly service all your fuel burning appliances to keep combustion as clean as possible (soot deposits around the central heating system registers might be a sign of the furnace heat exchanger failure)
  • Service your chimney to ensure that all exhaust gases are being properly discharge to exterior
  • Trim your candle wicks to a max ¼” long and use open candles (not the jar type) for better combustion

You can take some simple steps to control stains on walls also referred to as “ghost marks” but in some cases the solution (especially if you noticewater marks on walls) may not be that simple.

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Flood Damaged Household Appliances Sun, 28 Sep 2008 17:48:11 +0000 Read more]]> Are you scratching your head wondering if your flood damaged household appliances can be saved, or if you can safely operate them after just a few inches of water flooded your basement …

There are a few household appliances that, because of their large size, are usually installed directly on the floor surface. With the basements and crawlspaces that are subject to flooding, such installations become very risky, and it would probably make sense to either elevate those appliances on some kind of a platform or relocate them to the first floor to prevent the possibility of water damage.

Some or all of the electrical and gas components (depending on the design) in water heaters, furnaces, washers, dryers, dishwashers, ranges, etc. are located in the lower part of the appliance enclosure. Often, even just a few inches of water might compromise those parts, making the operation of the appliance hazardous.

Yes, you’re right: this may not happen. Just like the cell phone you’ve dropped into the sink, and after a few days of drying, it started operating again. But you’ve lost warranty on it now – cell phone manufacturers will have proof because there is a little sensor inside the phone which changes color after being exposed to moisture.

Flood damaged household appliances are unlikely to have such sensor, but because their electrical and gas components have been designed to operate in a dry environment, submersing them under water might cause unexpected problems, eventually leading to electrical shock and / or gas explosion.

It’s just like with a flooded car, even if it runs for a while, its electrical wiring and other components will start corroding and deteriorating, eventually causing the car to stop running, possibly even start a fire. It might happen after a week, month or even a year.

When you see have it replaced in the “flood damaged household appliances” listings below, it applies to the whole appliance, and not just the parts. In many cases it might actually be cheaper to install a new appliance than have all the compromised parts replaced (unless you’re capable of doing it yourself).

  1. Flooded gas water heater – if the water level reaches the burner or gas regulator / temperature control – have it replaced. Moisture might cause corrosion of those parts and create hazardous conditions, including gas explosion. Also, soaked insulation under the exterior jacket will cause water body to corrode (same for electric).
  2. Flooded electric water heater – depending on the size, they might have one or two heating elements. All submersed electrical connections and components (wires, terminals, relays, thermostat, etc.) will eventually corrode and create hazardous conditions / possible fire – have it replaced.
  3. Flooded Gas Furnace – it’s bad for any design. Up-flow, down-flow, horizontal – a few inches of water will most likely cover some of the gas or / and electric (electronic) components – have it replaced. If you’re not sure how high the water level was before it receded, turn off the power to the furnace and remove the lower service panel – there might be a distinctive water line on the side walls, cover, or any other internal parts.
  4. Flooded Electric Furnace – any electrical parts submerged under water require replacement. With an electrical furnace, it might actually be cheaper to replace the electrical parts, unless the blower and its motor were also affected – have it checked by an licensed HVAC contractor.
  5. Flooded washer / dishwasher – both have electrical wiring, motors, and other components installed in the lower portion of its enclosure – if submerged, have it replaced
  6. Flooded clothes dryer – gas or electric will have a motor at the base, some wiring, gas valve / pressure regulator – if submerged, have it replaced
  7. Flooded gas range – gas supply, regulator, and bottom burner may be at the very bottom (depending on the design) – if submerged, have it replaced
  8. Flooded  electric range – there are usually electrical connections, terminals, and the bottom heating element within the few inches from the floor level – if submerged, have it replaced

Sometimes, your flood damaged household appliances might be salvageable, but have a professional determine it … It’s for your own safety!

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