Do your exhaust vents terminate at your soffits?

The building codes specify that exhaust fans shall not terminate in the attic or soffits. While there are those that argue “at the soffits” is not the same as “through the soffits,” I think it pretty much amounts to the same thing.

The reasons we do not want to vent warm moist air into attics is well known and documented. It can lead to mold growth and other four letter words.

So what exactly does the code say:

M1501.1 Outdoor discharge. Air shall not be exhausted into an attic, soffit, ridge vent or crawl space.

That seems straightforward enough, and since “aimed at the soffit” is still in the attic, my personal opinion is, when the code says “Shall not be exhausted into a …..soffit,” they are meaning “through the soffit” as well.

So let’s forget about the code, and let’s see if my opinion can be supported by building science.

Wow, do we really have to go to “science?”

What are the building conditions that would come into play to sort this all out? Typically, or at least most of the time, in a properly vented attic, the attic space is under negative pressure relative to the higher pressures at the soffits and at the ridge. Because of this, air is attempting to push its way into the negative air space to make balance–24/7. All air in the vicinity of the soffit vents is forcing its way into the vents.

Now lets place a bathroom exhaust fan vent right at the soffit vents.

We are exhausting warm, wet, buoyant air that it is already moving upward and increasing the pressure in the area of the soffits. This increase in pressure difference between the attic space and the soffits makes that warm wet air work even harder to get into the attic.

In this picture, you can see evidence of where corrections have been made of the four vents that terminated too close to the soffit. The opening have been covered over, and hopefully they now terminate properly through the roof.

The staining on the siding above the lower vents is consistent with the buoyancy of the air from the vents.

Staining above the soffit vents on the underside of the roof sheathing is consistent with the upper vent’s previous termination at the soffits.

I think the codes need to clean this up a bit and require minimum distances to vented soffits.  Any current guidelines are at best “vague.”

Until then we should resort to good sense.

Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

 

How to tell if your electrical panel cover is energized

There is a long standing myth among home inspectors and others, that one should always touch the electrical panel cover with the back of your hand, specifically your right hand to see if the cover is energized.

There are some problems with this approach.  All touching it with your hand does is tell you that YOU are not grounded. You are isolated from the ground (rubber sole shoes, floor coverings, location etc). The idea is, if you were to get a shock from it, your muscles would contract pulling your hand away from the cover instead of toward it.  

Some recommend using an NCVT (non-contact voltage tester) to check the cover.  The assumption is if the NCVT is activated the cover must be energized.  But again this is not true, because there are ways to “induce” voltage on the cover without it being truly energized.  In terms of being energized, this would be more of a “false positive” indication.  Activation of the NCVT is at the very least an indication the panel is not properly grounded, but it does not “necessarily” mean it is energized.  In fact it is VERY rare the cover would actually be energized–but because it is possible we must be cautious.

So what is the best way to check to see if the panel cover is energized?

Well of course use of a multi-meter or equivalent is a good way–but finding locations to put the second lead is not always easy to do, without carrying a coil of wire to make one of the leads long enough.

There is another way to test it that is not complicated.

This method involves using both your hand and an NCVT.

In the video below, you will see a wire stuck in a receptacle that is connected to a metal box with a metal cover that symbolizes an electrical panel or ANY metal component that could be energized.  The multimeter shows the metal box at 122.5 volts (leads run from cover plate to neutral slot of nearby receptacle). 

The NCVT indicates the cover is energized and yet I can hold onto the cover without getting a shock (because I am isolated from ground). 

Watch what happens when I touch the box and touch the energized wire.  The NCVT turns “OFF.”  Surely magic, right? 

Not magic–this is just the way they work.  The NCVT cannot “see” voltage on grounded conductors (only ungrounded conductors–hot wires), and even while my body is not physically grounded, it represents enough similar characteristics to confuse the NCVT . 

As I move the NCVT away from the wire, notice how it lights up again?  This method, with one hand on the cover plate and the NCVT in the other hand, will tell you the cover is actually energized.  If it were not energized, the NCVT would simply  not activate.

Always, always, always make sure whenever you are working on any electrical component that you yourself are in no way in contact with something grounded.  And, such testing should only be done by qualified parties.

By Charles Buell Real Estate Inspections in Seattle

Grandfather gets grandfathered

Once-upon-a-time, grandpa was working on a junction box in the basement when he came in contact with the neutral of a multi-wire circuit for the dishwasher/disposal. He had shut the circuit down but because there was no handle tie–the neutral was still energized.

He got such a shock he fell off the ladder and broke his leg—already compromised by long term lead exposure.

There was no way he was going to make it up the stairs, so he thought if he could crawl to the basement bedroom he would be able to get out the window. However, the window was too high off the floor and way too small to fit through. It was not an option.

By now it was getting dark and he was beginning to panic.

The stairs loomed like a mountain in front of him, dark and ominous. There was no light switch to light up the stairs and he might not have been able to figure out a way to turn it on anyway. The missing handrail would also be of no help. So, he began the long painful slide up the stairs dragging his sorry leg behind him.

Fighting all the way, to avoid sliding back down the too steep stairs, he finally got to the top. That is when he realized he left his keys on the basement workbench. He remembered it being a bad idea when he set them down.

Without his keys he could not unlock the keyed deadbolt. It would have been excruciating to reach anyway, but after the stairs he figured he could have managed.

He thought about the back door but calling for help from there would have been useless. It had to be the front door.

He thought about the phone hanging on the kitchen wall 5 feet off the floor, but he had already ruled out being able to reach that.

He lay there listening to himself wheeze, mustering all the common sense he could.  He likely later would trade that for good sense instead.

He decided his only option was to break the very large plate glass panel next to the door to call for help.

He lifted the heavy cast iron Cherub door stop and smashed the glass with one painful blow. The non-safety-glass panel shattered into large guillotine shaped pieces that swooshed down slicing off poor grandpa’s hand.

He bled to death right there.

Charles Buell, Real Estate Inspections in Seattle