Q: Our condo has thick walls, with a shear wall of ¾-inch plywood. We can only hear our neighbor's music when he's playing it very...

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Q:

Our condo has thick walls, with a shear wall of ¾-inch plywood. We can only hear our neighbor’s music when he’s playing it very loud. But there’s a mystery. He’s a heavy smoker. He uses a smoke eater and keeps his fans going. Still, his place stinks. Now we think we can smell stale cigarette smoke in our kitchen, which abuts his kitchen — through about 8 inches of wall. Is it possible for smoke to travel through that?


A:

There are numerous leak points in every wall — no matter how thick, no matter how well-built, no matter how heavy the insulation. Gaps between the wall and floor, gaps around plumbing pipes, holes outside and inside electrical receptacles, holes from screws or nails, leaky or common ducts and fans — among others — allow air to travel between adjoining condominium units.

Some you can get to, others not. Seal what you can with caulking and foam. You will decrease the ability of air to move into your kitchen by sealing, but the real culprit is unequal air pressure. If the pressure in the neighbor’s unit is higher than yours, you receive his smoke, albeit somewhat filtered by the insulation.

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The high tech method is a “blower-door” test and judicious use of smoke pencils, but the low-tech method is a lot more fun: Have your neighbor leave the bathroom exhaust fan running, crank up the clothes dryer, but leave the kitchen fan off.

Simultaneously set up a fan in a window to blow air into your unit, (use duct tape and cardboard to seal the rest of the window). With this, your unit should be somewhat pressurized, and his depressurized. Then go into the kitchen and cook up garlic and onions. At the same time have him light a cigar and leave it smoldering in the kitchen. Then go check where the respective smells waft.

Change air patterns by altering fan configurations. This experiment will tell you everything you need to know about the when, where and how of air travel between your units.


Q:

About three years ago, I had a roofing contractor replace my cedar shakes with asphalt shingles. He left the original deck sheathing and put new underlayment beneath the asphalt shingles.

Recently, I noticed significant condensation and moisture in my attic. The deck shows signs of condensation damage (mold, staining, wood deterioration). I never had this problem with the original roof. I called another roofing contractor, and they said that when you replace cedar shakes with asphalt shingles, you need to add additional air vents because asphalt shingles “breathe less” than cedar shakes. I was never told this by the original roofing contractor.

Now, I have a damaged roof deck and may need to replace the whole roof structure (shingles, underlayment and deck). My contract with the original roofing contractor does not mention anything about roof vents. He says that his contract was to replace the roof, not to add any roof vents.

Is it common knowledge among roofers that when you change from cedar to asphalt shingles that more air vents should be added? Should my original contractor have known this and recommended this? What do I do now?


A:

Yes, it is common knowledge that composition needs more venting than cedar does. To say he sold you the roofing “only” is an abdication of responsibility. Roofing materials and venting work together as a system. Unless he notified you in advance and in writing that he was installing a roof contrary to code and manufacturer specifications, and that he was therefore not responsible for the roof as a result, he did you wrong.

Most roofers would not even take such a job unless they could make the venting meet current code requirements. The risk of damage and litigation is too great.

Roofing needs to be installed according to manufacturer’s specifications, which spell out underlayment type, shingle spacing, nail placement and type, and venting, among other things.

It is normal and expected for roofers to include needed venting in a bid or proposal, if for no other reason than to give you warranty coverage.

If the roofing was not installed to the manufacturer’s specifications, then the installation was faulty. Determine the manufacturer of the roofing and call for an inspection by a factory or distributor representative.

This person will tell you free of charge if your roof was installed correctly and if the material warranty would be honored. If not, you will undoubtedly need more venting. I would first put pressure on the roofer through the manufacturer.

If the venting is adequate and the condensation persists, then look at possible warm-air leakage from the interior around lights, fans and unsealed chases.

If you have significant mold or rot, don’t overlook the need to clean up and repair as needed. Further action — either by taking him to court or by filing a complaint with The Consumer Protection Division of the state Attorney General’s Office, maybe both — may be required if the damage is significant or expensive.

Having the manufacturer on your side is your best first step. For more information about filing a complaint, visit the AG’s Office Web site at www.atg.wa.gov/consumer/contractors.shtml.

Darrell Hay is a local home inspector and manages several rental properties. He answers reader questions. Call 206-464-8514 to record your question, or e-mail dhay@seattletimes.com. Sorry, no personal replies. More columns at www.seattletimes.com/columnists.