Homeowner’s Manual: Walls (Interior and Exterior) (Updated for 2021!)
Wall (Interior & Exterior)
Periodically, you should touch up any hairline settling cracks in your drywall corners. The same types of cracks occur in the wood joints around your doors and are due to normal settling of your house. These can be taken care of easily with a good quality latex caulking and latex or enamel paint. Whenever you are doing paint maintenance or repair on your walls, paint a small test patch on your wall and let it dry to make sure it matches. Wall paint will sometimes discolor from smoke, sunlight, etc., so it is sometimes necessary to paint a larger area than the immediate repair. If paint starts to blister or peel, repaint or touch up immediately to prevent spreading. Your house has two types of walls, bearing and non-bearing. All exterior walls are bearing walls and, in some structures, some of the interior wall can also be load bearing. Only non-bearing walls may be altered without fear of structural damage. All ceilings are essentially the same in structure, but they are made of a variety of materials. Minor cracks may appear in the plaster from time to time, but they can be repaired easily. To repair, fill the crack(s) with spackling compound, smooth it with fine sandpaper, then redecorate the entire surface. To prevent cracks wider than a half an inch from reopening, apply the spackling compound, then cover the crack with a strip of fiberglass mesh made for this purpose. Next, cover the mesh with another thin layer of spackling compound and sand smooth. Finally, repaint or redecorate the repaired area.
Note: Some cracks are not unusual and may not be structurally significant. If you are finding wall cracks greater than 1/8 of an inch, you should have qualified structural engineer or other expert evaluate them.
Normal shrinking will cause nails to pop from wallboard. Popped nails do not alter the strength of the wall and they can be left alone until you redecorate. They should then be reset, re-spackled, and repainted.
Time and weather will shrink caulking and dry it out so that it no longer provides a good seal against moisture and air filtration. As a matter of routine maintenance, you should check the caulking both inside and outside your home and make the necessary repairs. These areas would include the window frames, wood trim where it meets brick, wood trim inside at floors and around doors, shower and tub tile, counter tops in kitchen and baths. There are several different types of caulking available for different areas and applications around your home. Generally, a silicone or acrylic caulking should be used on exterior surfaces, while a latex caulk should be used inside. Colored caulks are also available for those areas that cannot be easily painted.
A Word About Condensation
Condensation is a sign of excess humidity inside your home and is more likely to exist during the cold weather months. The amount of condensation usually depends on how much moisture is contained in your home’s air and how much of that moisture is ventilated to the outdoors. If you see condensation on the windows, it is a sign that excess moisture could also be collecting in unseen places in your home. In serious cases it could damage the wallpaper or drywall. This excessive moisture may be freezing in the insulation in your attic where it will melt and damage your ceiling when warm weather comes (exactly like a roof leak). Or it may be forcing its way out through siding to form blisters under your exterior paint. It is natural and easy to blame the paint or insulation, or the windows but it is wrong to blame them. The real villain is invisible. It is water vapor.
What causes indoor moisture? Daily activities such as cooking, doing laundry, taking showers, and washing dishes all add moisture to the air inside a home. Even the normal perspiration and breathing of a family of four add about half a pint of water to the air every hour. All this moisture builds up if not released to the outside somehow. This is more of a problem in winter, when houses are tightly sealed against the elements, and when there is a greater temperature differential between inside and outside air. Some causes of condensation are temporary and will disappear after a few weeks, or at most after a season of heating.
Today’s energy efficient new homes are being carefully designed to seal out cold air. In addition to having insulated, watertight windows and doors, they also have efficient weather stripping, heavy insulation, and may use special vapor barriers to make them airtight. After new construction is completed, condensation may be noticed. There is quite a lot of moisture in the wood, plaster and other building materials used in construction. When the heating season starts, this moisture will then flow out into the air inside the home. Generally, it will disappear after a few months. Reducing indoor humidity during winter months can eliminate excessive condensation throughout your home. By maintaining adequate ventilation and humidity control you can minimize excessive condensation during the cold months.
There are several ways to reduce or eliminate excess humidity and condensation inside your home. A temporary solution is to open a window in each room for just a few minutes. This is especially helpful after showering or using the washing machine. Keep the attic louvers open. This allows moisture that travels upward through the house and into the attic to be released to the outside. If you have exhaust fans in your kitchen, bathrooms and utility rooms run them longer than usual in winter. Keep draperies and shades open so that air can circulate around the inside glass. Eliminate any other controllable sources of moisture in your house. Properly ventilate clothes dryers and all gas appliances.
The Exterior Walls
Four inches clearance from finished grade to masonry type sidings and six inches clearance from finished grade to all others is recommended to minimize moisture damage and insect infestation. If soil is graded to improve siding clearance, take care that water does not pond at the foundation edge (see “Grading & Drainage”). Exterior surface should be checked for fading, chalking, blistered, or flaking paint; rusted fasteners and “nail pops”; loose or rotted wood, panels and trim; gaps between panels, and water damage. Masonite, hardboard and other composite panels are prone to “nail pops” and water damage at edges and bottoms and should be kept well painted and dry. Remember to thoroughly paint the bottom edge of these panels, for greatest protection. Loose fasteners can be replaced with large-headed screws (with washers if necessary) for a more permanent repair. Gaps or cracks at trim or between panels should be sealed with a good quality exterior caulk. When repainting exterior surfaces, pay special attention to surface repair and preparation so your paint job will last. Masonry walls should be inspected for soft or missing mortar, cracks or separations in mortar joints and cracked or loose bricks or stones. A competent mason can replace soft or missing mortar. Cracked masonry or mortar joints may indicate foundation distress and should be inspected by a qualified structural engineer who can recommend any needed repairs or remedial action. Weep holes are openings in the bottom of brick or stone walls and above window and door lintels designed to allow an escape route for moisture that enters the wall cavity. Weep holes are usually spaced about four feet apart and should not be obstructed. Carefully inspect stucco surfaces for cracks and evidence of moisture penetration. Stucco is often installed without provision for moisture to escape from wall cavities. Moisture seeping through cracks can do serious damage before detection. If repairs are needed, it is always recommended that a professional familiar with stucco exterior surface do the repairs. Stucco siding should terminate several inches above the soil.
The exterior bricks are an especially important part of your home’s cosmetic appeal. Dirt or sand should be washed off the brick periodically with a low-pressure water hose. Some bricks will develop a lime deposit (white color) that can be easily cleaned with baking soda and water. Also, when adding flowerbeds or other landscaping, be careful not to block the weep holes located along the bottom course of bricks. These weep holes should be cleaned out from time to time, since they are essential for draining moisture absorbed by the brick. When watering your lawn or flowerbeds, be careful not to spray directly into the weep holes. Water may seep into the living areas, causing wet carpet, or buckled/mildewed vinyl.
Flatwork (Driveways, Walkways, and Sidewalks)
With time, you may notice cracks appearing in your concrete driveway and sidewalks. These cracks are the
result of expansion and contraction due to temperature changes as well as the natural shrinkage of the concrete as it “sets up” to full strength. These types of cracks cannot be prevented and do not affect the structural integrity of the concrete
Remove or thin dense foliage close to the house to allow for inspection of exterior surfaces and good air circulation. The foliage holds moisture, promotes rot and damages all siding types. To minimize wood rot and insect damage in siding and trim, allow air to freely circulate next to the house. This is easily accomplished by locating decorative plants several feet away from exterior walls and keeping them trimmed off the exterior walls at least 8-inches. If siding is easily visible, maintenance problems will be detected early and unwanted guests (insects) will not have a place to hide. Vines should not be allowed to grow on or cover walls. Vines growing on any exterior surface will cause serious damage over time and should not be permitted. Do not try to remove vines by pulling them off. Instead, sever them at the ground and wait until the plants have died before removing them. Landscaping not only increases the value and attractiveness of your home and neighborhood; it also serves a practical purpose. Shade trees, properly placed, will help you conserve energy by reducing the amount of heat coming into your home. Flower beds around your home will ensure an even moisture content and reduce the effects of settling, especially in the dry summer months; the ground “shrinks” away from the foundation. When you do add flowerbeds, trees, etc., be sure to note how the yard is designed to drain. Be careful not to alter this grading since it could result in problems with standing water in your yard. With time, some settling and/or ground erosion will occur, and it is possible that you might have some areas where water stands. If the water does not drain within a 48-hour period, these areas should be filled.
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