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CONDENSATION

The Cause & the Cure

Effective April 2003


WINDOW CONDENSATION

CAUSES & CURES


Each winter sees more and more home owners vitally interested in the subject of window condensation. It’s not a happy
interest. It stems from bad experiences with window condensation which range from irritating to downright expensive.

It may strike you as odd, but the growing problems of the nation are caused by progress. Yes, if you have trouble with
window condensation, it’s probably because you live in a “tight” modern home that you can heat for a fraction of the
money it takes to heat the house your parents lived in- a home that’s cleaner and more comfortable besides! And your
condensation problems also result from widespread use of several labour saving appliances that make life easier than it
used to be.

This information explains the moisture problem of the “tight” home. It offers suggestions for curing condensation problems
in existing homes. It provides additional suggestions for you who are planning a home. You unquestionably will build a
“tight” home, and there are more things you can do to prevent excessive moisture when you build that can be done in a
home where the problem already exists.

A little fog on the lower corners of your windows now and then probably doesn’t bother you. It shouldn’t. By the time
you've thought about it a second time it has usually gone away.

WHAT CAUSES “TROUBLE” CONDENSATION


What we’re talking about is excessive condensation. Troublesome condensation. Condensation that blocks whole windows
with fog or frost. Water that runs off windows to stain woodwork in serious cases, even damage the wallpaper or plaster.

If you have this kind of condensation on your windows, you have good reason to worry. And good reason to act. Don’t
worry so much about the windows... where you can see the effect of excess humidity. You should worry more about
what excess moisture may be doing elsewhere in your home. It may be freezing in the insulation in your attic, where it will
melt and damage your plaster, exactly like a roof leak when warm weather comes. Or it may be forcing its way out
through siding to form blisters under your exterior paint. That means the most expensive kind of paint job.

It’s natural and easy in such cases to blame the paint, or the insulation, or the windows. But it’s wrong to blame them.
The real villain is invisible. It’s water vapour... too much water vapour. The best - usually the only way to prevent this
trouble is to get rid of excess water vapour.

WHAT IS HUMIDITY
Humidity, water vapour, moisture, steam. They’re all the same. They are all one form of water. Humidity is an invisible
gas. It is present in varying quantities in nearly all air. This moisture in wet air tries to flow toward drier air and mix with it.

Scientists describe this force as “vapour pressure”. It is often a very powerful force indeed. It can act independently of the
air which holds the moisture. Vapour pressure can force moisture easily through wood, plaster, brick, cement... right
through most materials we use to build our homes. That is exactly what happens when moisture seeks to escape from
the humid air usually found inside your home to the drier air outside.

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WINDOW CONDENSATION

MORE MOISTURE TRAPPED IN LESS SPACE


Certain building materials stop water vapour. Glass is one of these. Also on this list are some varnishes, paints, tiles,
plastic wall coverings. Vapour-seal insulation is designed specifically to stop the escape of water vapour and protect the
insulation and your walls from the ravages of water.

Increased use of these “moisture trapping” materials in the last few years has created the modern “tight” home. Moisture
created by bathrooms, kitchens, laundries and occupants no longer flows easily to the outside. The modern insulation and
construction that keep cold air outside also keep moisture in. So it is very easy to build excessive and even harmful
moisture in such homes. American Builder magazine calls the problem a combination of many problems that build
excessive moisture in the modern home.

First, more washing, more bathing, more showers, more appliances, more furnaces-all pour more water vapour into
homes than in former years.

Heating and Ventilating magazine provides builders with reference data on sources of water vapour. For instance,
cooking for a family of four adds four & one half pounds of moisture a day to a house. Each shower contributes half a
pound, a weekly laundry thirty pounds, human occupancy six to eight pounds a day, dishwashing one & one quarter
pounds, etc.

All of this moisture must eventually escape from your home. So you see that the modern living of a family can easily
release one hundred & fifty pounds, or more than eighteen gallons of water per week into the air in your home! And
houses with no basements have further moisture problems.

Now, increased production of humidity is only part of the story.

Houses generally have been growing smaller and this means an even greater concentration of water vapour is trapped by
modern tight construction. It means more moisture contained in less space. No wonder we’ve created a condensation
problem for ourselves.

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WINDOW CONDENSATION

HOW TO REDUCE HUMIDITY


David Bareuther, Associated Press Building editor, sums up the problem of reducing of humidity this way. He says there
are only three ways to reduce humidity.

1. Controlling Sources Of Humidity: For instance, venting all gas burners, clothes dryers, etc., to the outdoors. Use
of kitchen or bathroom exhaust fans.
2. Winter Ventilation: Because outside air usually contains less water vapour, it will “dilute” the humidity of inside air.
This takes place automatically in older houses through constant infiltration of outside air.
3. Heat: The process of heating your home will reduce the relative humidity- providing it’s dry heat. It will counter
balance most of all the moisture produced by modern living.

Now before we summarize specific steps for reducing humidity in your home, let’s include some basic data about
recommended moisture you can refer to if you are inclined to test the moisture levels in your own home.

The table below is the result of long and careful experiments at the University of Minnesota engineering laboratories. It
shows the maximum safe humidity for your home, not just for the windows. Even more for your paint, insulation and
structural members.

In most cases, reducing moisture to these humidity levels will cure troublesome condensation on windows. If not, you
can reduce humidity further without discomfort to your family.

If you test humidity in your home, be sure to use an accurate instrument, preferably a good sling psychrometer. Remember,
too, that these relative humidity levels are for 70° F. For higher temperatures, lower humidity is required.

OUTSIDE AIR TEMPERATURE INSIDE RELATIVE HUMIDITY-70°


INDOOR AIR TEMPERATURE

-20° F OR BELOW NOT OVER 15%


-20° F TO -10° F NOT OVER 20%
-10° F TO 0° F NOT OVER 25%
0° F TO 10° F NOT OVER 30%
10° F TO 20° F NOT OVER 35%
20° F TO 40° F NOT OVER 40%

These humidity levels are comfortable. They are above the average humidity you would expect in a spring month in
Phoenix, Arizona.

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WINDOW CONDENSATION

7 PRACTICAL STEPS TO CONTROL CONDENSATION


Here, arranged from easy to more difficult, are the steps you should take to reduce condensation on your windows.

1. Put on storm windows.


2. Shut off furnace humidifier and any other humidifying devices in your home.
3. Be sure that louvers in attic or basement crawl spaces are open and that they are large enough.
4. Run kitchen or other ventilating fans longer and more often than has been your custom.
5. Open fireplace damper to allow easier escape for moisture.
6. Air out your house a few minutes each day. Air out kitchen, laundry and bathrooms during use or just following use.
7. If troublesome condensation persists, see your heating contractor about an outside air intake for your furnace, about
venting of gas-burning heaters and appliances; or about installation of ventilating fans.

If the commoner remedies we suggest ( numbers 1 through 5) don’t work, you really have a condensation problem. But
the changes your heating contractor may recommend to further reduce humidity in your home should not be very
expensive. Certainly they will be less expensive than a big paint job caused by excessive water vapour. You see, the
basic principle of reducing window condensation is extremely simple. When there’s too much condensation on your
windows, it means that humidity is too high in your home. You should take necessary steps to reduce humidity until
condensation disappears. But in practice, window condensation and reducing humidity may become very complicated,
because a score or more of entirely different conditions may affect the way the condensation problem works out in
different homes.

Let us just mention a few: - the heating system - hot air or water perimeter or
- the number and type of windows in the home interior wall heating
- the type of double glazing system on the windows - even the type of soil and quality of drainage
- the type of insulation and water barrier

Because of so many variables, a condensation problem can sometimes be very tough to solve. That’s why we recommend
that you put an expert to work on your problem if the simpler steps to reduce humidity don’t solve your condensation
problem. See your architect or your heating contractor first. If they can’t help, we suggest that you ask your general
contractor or lumber dealer to put you in touch with a qualified expert. They are available both at engineering schools and
from staffs of heating, insulation, wallboard or window manufacturers.

Before we leave the subject of reducing humidity, we would like to add the following:
• There are two causes of condensation which are temporary. They will disappear after a few weeks or at a season of heating.
• First, there is the moisture that comes from construction or remodelling. There’s quite a lot of moisture in wood, or the
plaster, or other building materials of a new home. When the heating season starts, this moisture will gradually flow into the
air in the home and then it will disappear and not cause any more trouble.
• Much the same sort of thing happens in milder form at the beginning of each heating season. During the summer, your
house has absorbed some moisture. After the first few weeks of heating, your house will be dried-out and you’ll have less
trouble with condensation.

While we have been discussing the control of condensation, we’ve mentioned just about everything except windows and
there’s good reason. There is just nothing much that can be done with windows to cut down condensation.

As the building experts have pointed out, the windows are not to blame for condensation. In the moisture of the inside air
lies both that cause and cure.

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WINDOW CONDENSATION

CONDENSATION: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS FOR HOMEOWNERS

INTRODUCTION
The facts about window condensation and what you, can do about it.
The winter season causes more and more of today’s homeowners to become increasingly interested in the causes of
condensation and the bothersome and costly effect it has on homes. If you experience the problems of window
condensation on Ross or any other comparable thermally improved products, it’s probably due to the fact that your home
is constructed better than the homes your parents lived in years ago. Many condensation problems are caused directly by
progress and improvement in building construction.

Advanced window and door design make a new home tighter and less susceptible to drafts. Homes are also built with
superior vapour barriers and insulation that tend to keep the majority of moisture inside the house, instead of allowing it to
filter to the outside as it did in older homes. Another contributor to the problem is the greater number of modern time and
labour saving appliances available today that can add to your condensation problems.

This booklet will help to explain the problems and causes of condensation in today’s homes and will give you suggestions
as to how you can eliminate these problems as much as possible.

Part #1
Q What causes condensation?
A The source of condensation is humidity or invisible water vapour which is present in all but the driest air. When this
water vapour comes in contact with a surface that is below what is called the “dew point temp” the vapour becomes
liquid and is called condensation. This process of changing water vapour to liquid occurs on bathroom mirrors and
walls after someone takes a hot shower. It also can occur on windows during the winter if the inside air contains
enough water vapour.

This condensation can occur at any normal temperature, provided the moisture concentration (relative humidity) is
high enough. Water on windows is condensation and can be a problem, and the solution usually doesn’t come from
the windows.

Q Why does frost or condensation form on the window?


A The water vapour in the air tries to flow towards drier air and mix with it. This process is termed "vapour pressure". It
is not an instantaneous movement, but definite movement from an area of high vapour pressure to where the air is
drier. In the winter, vapour pressure is very strong in the house because the cold outside air holds very little moisture.
This vapour pressure can force moisture easily through most of the materials we use to build our homes: wood,
drywall, even cement and brick are susceptible. Moisture in the bathroom and laundry areas is absorbed into the
warm air and then rushes to mix with the drier air outside. The most obvious indication of this is condensation or frost
on your windows. The moisture comes in contact with a surface of the window but cannot get through the glass or
frame. It, therefore, condenses to form either frost or water, depending on the temperature of the surface.

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WINDOW CONDENSATION

Q What is humidity in general?


A When air will hold no more moisture, it is said to be saturated. Relative humidity is a percentage of moisture in the air
in relation to complete saturation.

EXAMPLE: 100% relative humidity would be rain. 50% relative humidity indoors in the winter time would be
excessively high and dangerous. 10% inside humidity would be comparatively dry air. Warm air can hold more water
vapour than cold. Even though inside and outside humidity could be the same in the winter months, the inside air
would be holding far more water vapour since it is warmer. Condensation can even occur in warm weather.

Examples are as follows:


1) Condensation forms on a glass of ice water since the surface of the glass is down to the “dew point temp” of the
inside air.
2) Dew (condensation) forming on grass during the cool nights in the summer.

Q What are the harmful effects of excess moisture or condensation?


A If you have condensation on your ROSS or any comparable thermally improved windows, you have a good reason
for worry, and good reason to act. The problem is not the windows themselves, but what excess moisture may be
doing elsewhere in your home.

1) It may be freezing in your insulation in your attic where it will melt and damage your plaster exactly like a roof leak
when warm weather comes.

2) Paint peeling or blistering may result from condensation or moisture in your house. Characteristically, the blisters
will contain water and the paint peels down to bare wood. Moisture in the room penetrates the wall unit it reaches
the underside of the exterior paint. The building materials through which the water vapour has passed are porous;
paint is not. As a result, moisture gathers underneath the paint, forms blisters, and eventually the paint peels
away from the wood.

3) Damp spots on ceilings or warm-side surfaces of the exterior walls.

4) Moisture on basement walls and floors.

5) Ice and frost on the underside of sheathing boards.

6) Fungus, mold and mildew growth.

7) Delamination of plywood materials

8) Loss of insulation “r” value in walls and ceilings. Moisture reduces the effectiveness of insulation. It can reduce
the insulation value over 50%.

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WINDOW CONDENSATION

Q What causes excess moisture of high relative humidity which can cause condensation?
A With energy conservation the main concern today, modern homes are being built with the increased use of “moisture
trapping” materials such as increased insulation in the walls and ceilings, use of vapour barriers over insulation, and
better performing windows and doors. So there is less air filtration and air exchange between the inside and out. This,
combined with the following sources of moisture, adds to the problem of excessive condensation.
1) Uncontrolled furnace humidifiers.
2) Damp basement walls and floors.
3) Excessive boiling when cooking.
4) Laundry hung to dry.
5) Bathing, taking showers.
6) Large number of plants watered daily.
7) Unvented appliances such as automatic clothes dryers and all gas appliances (water vapour is one of the products
of gas combustion.)
8) Crawl spaces without adequate vapour barrier.
9) Cracks or voids in exterior caulking can allow cold outside air to cool inside surfaces of windows and doors and
cause condensation.
10) Lack of insulation between frame and the rough opening, allowing cold drafts to short circuit the window or door
thermal barrier.

Mopping the floor of a 150 sq. ft. kitchen can release 1 1/2 pints of water. A shower bath, about 1/2 pint. A family of four
gives off about 1/2 pint of water per hour just by breathing. It takes only four to six pints of water to raise the relative
humidity in a 1000 sq. ft. from 15% to 60%.

Housing generally has been growing smaller, and this means that even greater concentration of water vapour is trapped
by modern tight construction. It means more moisture contained in less space.

Q Why are new homes more prone to condensation?


A During the first year after construction, it is likely that a house will have more condensation present because of the
massive amount of moisture in the building materials used. It will be a drying out period when the wood, plaster,
basement floors, walls and paint finishes must dry. When the heating season starts this moisture will gradually flow
into the air in the home.

The modern insulation and construction that keeps cold air outside also keeps moisture in. Vapour-seal insulation is
designed specifically to stop the escape of water vapour and protect the insulation and your walls from the ravages of
water, but at the same time, it adds to the problem of condensation.

We are using superior insulating and vapour barrier techniques, along with superior windows and doors, that minimize
air filtration and air exchange between the inside and outside, which all adds up to excessive moisture. This is one
reason why humidifiers should not be used at all during the first heating season. In some instances, a dehumidifier
should be used to relieve the house of excess moisture content.

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WINDOW CONDENSATION

Q Why can two identical homes, side by side, react differently in regard to condensation?
A Condensation problems can be puzzling, and can differ from house to house and family to family. Identical side by
side homes could offer different degrees of problems, or could be trouble free and the other troubled. Normal living
processes generate water vapour. Cooking bathing and laundry all contribute to water vapour contents in the house.
A family of four is said to generate 4 gallons of water into the air in the course of a day. A new baby in the house
causing additional laundering could bring a problem that did not exist last year. Or the same thing could occur when
another person of any age joins a household. Each individual family has its own set of living habits which contribute to
different degrees of water vapour in the air.

Q Why is condensation more noticeable the first part of the heating season and directly after winter thaws or
winter rains?
A During the summer, your home has absorbed a great deal of moisture. Condensation will be more noticeable the first
several cold spells directly into the heating season. This is because the house is still moist and it will take several
weeks of continuous heating to be dried out. Condensation will usually dissipate as the heating season progresses.

A home picks up considerable amounts of moisture during the winter thaw and rains. If a cold spell sets in immediately
after a thaw or heavy rain, the relative humidity in a home will be at an extreme high, which can cause frost or
condensation until the humidity level is reduced by moisture transmission to the cold outdoors. This is one reason
why frost or condensation can be more noticeable immediately after a rain followed by cold weather.

Q Why can frost and condensation be more of a problem after the installation of ROSS replacement windows
than before?
A Before replacement windows are installed, most homes have loose windows that have excessive drafts around
them, which automatically reduce the humidity levels within the home. Actually, in many older homes, it is impossible
to obtain high humidity levels due to the moisture lost around windows. After the installation of ROSS windows and
doors, drafts are reduced to a minimum and the house is made far tighter than it ever has been in the past. The
interior moisture cannot escape to the exterior, thus causing higher humidity levels which could not be obtained
before. Ways of reducing this excess moisture are described below.

Q What can be done to control condensation and high relative humidity.


A Any or all of the steps below can alleviate a condensation problem.
1) Recaulk any broken exterior caulking around windows and doors.
2) Shut off furnace humidifier and any other humidifying device in your home.
3) Use kitchen exhaust fans while cooking, or at least close kitchen door to rest of house and open window slightly
for ventilation. During and after taking a shower or bath, the bathroom should be ventilated with the use of
ventilating fans or by opening windows slightly for ventilation
4) Open windows in laundry rooms for ventilation when laundering.
5) Concentrate large numbers of plants in a sunroom or other seldom used room during critical cold weather.
6) Treat basement floors and walls with efficient waterproofing.
7) Open windows slightly throughout the house for a short time each day to allow humid air to escape and drier air to
enter. The heat loss will be minimal.
8) Never hang up clothes to dry indoors in a house with extreme humidity.
9) Open fireplace damper to allow moist air to escape.
10) Provide vents to outside on all major gas appliances. Also, vent clothes dryers.
11) In crawl spaces, provide proper vapour barrier and wall insulation to prevent moisture from escaping from walls
into your home.
12) Run a dehumidifier if necessary.
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WINDOW CONDENSATION

If troublesome condensation persists, see your heating contractor about an outside intake for your furnace, about
ventilating of gas-burning heaters and appliances, or about installation or ventilating fans, or about installation of
ventilating fans. Certainly they will be less expensive than a big paint job caused by excessive vapour, not to mention
the deterioration of the insulation in the walls.

Q Is higher humidity necessary and can it even waste energy?


A Some humidity is necessary for comfort and it may help health; in older homes it was a struggle to keep enough
humidity inside the house. But with our modern, tight, well-insulated homes the situation is completely reversed. The
problem is how to get rid of excess moisture. Yet, many new homeowners go right on pouring additional moisture
into their homes. They certainly aren’t discouraged by the danger signs of condensation on windows. Sometimes
they aren’t even discouraged by exterior paint jobs costing many hundreds of dollars. Let’s turn the light of reason on
this humidity myth. See what the director of the Research Institute of San Antonio has to say on the matter "In the
more tightly built modern houses, the moisture given off by showers, laundry equipment, cooking and by other
occupants themselves put more humidity in the air than is needed, and there is little likelihood that the humidity
levels would ever become so low as to be harmful or irritating. High humidity, however, can greatly contribute to the
deterioration of a house and to the discomfort of its occupants."

In fact, the recommended humidity levels are higher than could ever be obtained in older housing built before the days
of modern insulation, vapour barriers, superior windows and doors that are completely weatherstripped. Higher than
recommended humidity levels can even waste energy. Have you ever had a feeling of dampness in the house, due
to excessive moisture? Usually when the house feels damp, excessive moisture causes you to turn up the heat to
take the dampness out of the house. What you are actually doing is raising the temperature beyond the normal
comfort range to eliminate the dampness. This is one wasteful effect of excess moisture.

Q How can static shock be minimized in the home?


A Static electricity, commonly referred to as “shock” is a nuisance that plagues many homeowners, especially in the
wintertime. The causes of static shock range from low relative humidity in the home to the prolific use of nylon
carpeting, but is usually a combination of many factors. Proper humidity levels can minimize static shock but may
eliminate it entirely. It is not recommended to raise the humidity over the recommended level due to the greater
unseen damage this can cause. Many spray products now on the market can reduce the level of static shock, and
“antistatic” services, while expensive, are also available. It is wise to inquire about the static retarding properties of
new carpeting, as many manufactures are now offering fabrics with a built in antistatic feature.

Q What other factors contribute to frost or condensation on windows?


A If the heat within a room is not allowed to warm the windows and doors, it can become colder and is prone to the
formation of condensation or frost. On cold winter nights when drapes and shades are pulled, windows and doors are
not allowed to absorb the heat from the room. That is why it is important to position heating registers directly beneath
doors or windows in question. Improper installation is another factor in condensation forming on the windows in your
home. Insulation should be stuffed between the rough opening framing of the door and window during construction.
This is extremely important that the exterior perimeter of the doors and windows to be caulked, also to eliminate any
drafts from short circuiting the thermal barriers, which could cause frost or condensation in the interior. Minimize
exterior frame exposure to the elements. This is especially important with frame and aluminum siding window
installations. Protect sides of windows with brickmold or “J” channel.

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