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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Ask The Builder: Caulk gaps, broken water line and other reader troubles

By Tim Carter Tribune Content Agency

This week you’ve hit the trifecta. I have three questions I received at my website. This means you get three answers for the price of one!

Charlie from Easley, South Carolina, wrote to me with a problem I have at my own home. He’s got crown molding in at least one room of his home, and in the winter months, a gap appears between the top of the crown molding and the ceiling.

He felt it was a temperature-change issue, and in some ways he’s correct. However, it’s important to realize the temperature in his home is very likely fairly consistent month to month. Perhaps it varies by eight to 10 degrees.

That said, the outside temperature and humidity is much different in South Carolina during the year. As the air cools down during winter months, it holds much less humidity. The lumber in Charlie’s house, and mine, dries out and shrinks. This rough-framing lumber shrinkage is the source of our joint woes.

The problem could have been prevented if the carpenters that installed the crown molding had attached it to the ceiling instead of the wall studs. The foot of the crown molding would then just ride up and down the wall surface as the lumber expands and contracts with the change of seasons.

Charlie’s best chance of fixing the crack without reinstalling the crown molding – a huge pain in the keister – is to caulk the gaps in the middle of winter when the gap between the molding and the ceiling is the greatest. I’m going to fix mine by using the most expensive caulk I can find that has the greatest amount of long-term flexibility.

Six months from now, the caulk seam may squeeze out of the gap a little bit, but come next winter, if the caulk performs as expected, there will be no gap.

Andrea from Little Rock, Arkansas, wrote to tell me she was in a huge bind. Two weeks ago, she was planning to close on a house. Fortunately for her, she did a walk through inspection with her realtor the day before the closing.

When they opened the door to the house, they walked into a swimming pool of sorts. The recent cold weather had frozen a water line in the attic, and it burst while no one was in the home. Water was everywhere.

She told me: “Water was pouring down above the ceiling in the laundry room. The ceiling in the laundry room had already fallen out. The floors (some carpet and some hardwood veneer) were covered in a couple inches of water in most of the rooms in the house. On the brick on the outside back of the house, where the laundry room is, was a huge icicle. Apparently, the water was seeping from the inside of the house out.”

Andrea didn’t close on the house, and she wanted to know what to do. Here’s the best part. The insurance adjuster offered $7,000 to repair and restore the house.

Without being there to see the damage, I think the adjuster left a zero off his estimate. Based on Andrea’s description of the house, there could be all sorts of hidden issues, such as mold in walls, attic and other places. I’ve known water damage repair bills like this to exceed $70,000.

I’d want to strip out lots of the finished walls and inspect for hidden damage. Warped doors and woodwork, ruined cabinetry and damaged flooring are all very likely.

My advice to her is to walk away from this home. If the plumber put a water line up in an attic where it could freeze, what other boneheaded mistakes did he make? If this was a new home, how could the builder allow this to happen? What other latent poor-quality mistakes are going to show up months or years from now that the builder allowed?

I told Andrea to hire an ASHI-certified home inspector for her next home. This association, in my opinion, has the best home inspectors in the USA.

Finally, Eileen from Minooka, Illinois, wrote wondering about insulating the top half of her basement foundation walls. She used an infrared thermometer aiming it at the bottom and top of the walls and discovered at 10-degree difference.

She said she has no plans to finish the basement and wondered if there’s a way to insulate the walls. My answer is yes, but it may not make economic sense to do it. I’d only use 2-inch-thick closed-cell foam attached to the walls. This needs to be covered with drywall to make it fireproof.

By the time you do the math as to how long it takes to break even on this cost, you may discover it takes 70 or more years just to get your money back in energy savings. A 10-degree difference is not that much. Eileen may only be losing $3 worth of energy every six months her furnace operates. Even it if was $6, you can see it would take years and years to break even.

It’s important to remember you never save a penny on an energy-savings upgrade until you pay yourself back in energy savings the money you spent to save the energy. That can take a very long time in certain cases.

Need an answer? All of Tim’s past columns are archived for free at You can also watch hundreds of videos, download Quick Start Guides and more, all for free.

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