Laurentian Mountain Cottage in Quebec Canada

Started by Adam Roby, August 06, 2016, 11:32:12 PM

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The first place to look for slab insulation is around the perimeter. The ground under you is much warmer than the exposed and frozen perimeter.

Treated lumber doesn't outgas. It is appropriate to use it for sleepers on concrete. ACQ and its cousins are Alkaline (ammonia or one of several proprietary alkaline compounds), Copper and quat, (used in restaurant and food handling cleaning compounds).  The drier the wood is the better to help avoid shrinkage related squeaking problems. I've put 1-1/2" thick foam between sleepers when doing that. Personally I wouldn't want to be supplying home heat with that minimal insulation to my back and wood insulating me from where I want to get the heat to. I suspect you would spend a fair amount warming the core of the planet. I'd gain the extra R point from the wood floor and heat from above the floor. Radiant feels good and allows lower indoor temps and could be worth it for that but I don't think it would be efficient enough for primary heat.

Adam Roby

Thanks for the tips, I will have a look at the corners to see what I can find insulation wise.

I have another question regarding ice damming.  I noticed some bubbles in the ceiling just before handing the keys to the renters.  Didn't have time to look at it, and was afraid to put my finger through the gyprock.  The roof was redone recently, maybe 4 years ago.  We had a lot of snow, rain, freeze cycles this winter and I saw ice buildup probably 4-6 inches thick on the shingles, with layers of snow and more ice on top of that.

My best guess is that as things started to melt, a puddle formed and worked its way back into the attic.
Not sure if I can get up there now with this crazy blizzard happening, but as soon as I can I plan to get into the attic and at least try to divert any water to the soffits, and remove any wet insulation to try to prevent more damage inside until all the snow is gone and I can properly inspect for damage.

Question:  If this was due to ice damming, does it generally cause permanent damage or can it be something that is no longer a problem once the ice is gone?  I guess I am asking if there is any possibility I won't need an expensive repair or is it pretty much a guarantee that the roof is damaged?


Sounds like ice damming to me. and Joe Lstiburek are the best resource on how all that stuff works.

Mainly 3 things: lack of insulation at top plate, warm air leaking through drywall, insufficient ventilation between insulation and roof plane.

With some combination of those three things, the snow will act as insulation, and above your top plate at the eave, the snow right on the roof plane will get above freezing and drip down to the overhang where it is below freezing and freeze up. This will keep happening until you have several inches of ice, and it will push its way back up the roof and under the shingles, melting into the sheathing, attic, and drywall.

It looks like you have a flat upstairs ceiling, so you could take a look from in that attic? My first guess would be lack of ventilation space.

Some roofers will say that they can 'fix' the problem with ice and water shield all the way up the roof. That may end up keeping the water out, but will not stop ice damming.

Adam Roby

Thanks for the link, it makes sense to me now. 
Definitely sounds like ice damning.
I know there are only 2 or 3 small soffits along the entire length of each side.  I need to open up each cavity between the rafters to allow air flow. 
I can also add some insulation, and make sure it reaches the outer edge of the exterior walls.

How much air flow is required in the soffits?  It is just plywood... I was wondering if drilling a series of holes from the outside, then screening from the inside would provide enough air flow.  I'll probably just call in a roofer and see what they recommend.


The soffit vent should run the entire length of the eave and be continuous. That alone could be causing the problem.

Code calls for roughly even venting at soffit and gable (calculating square inches of vent sizing), but it is actually better to have more down low than up high. The idea being that you want positive pressure in the attic. Attic venting works by stack effect, cold air comes in the eaves and hot air leaves through the gables. If you have negative pressure it would encourage warm air being sucked out of the house through the ceiling.

You have gable vents which is good - probably better than a ridge vent in this climate.

Be careful with calling roofers. They are not 'building science' people, and their solution might be new plywood, ice and water shield, and shingles, and same old problem. I am not really sure how trades are supposed to intermingle and who is the attic ventilation tzar.

If you cut open the plywood soffit and put a screen mesh in there, that could really help things. If you cut that open this summer you might be able to see if rafter vents were installed underneath the roof deck.

Adam Roby

I spent some "quality" time in the attic yesterday.  Got a lung full of dust and coughed and choked for hours afterwards.
Nothing is wet, I was fully expecting some of the insulation to be drippy wet with how the ceilings looks... maybe it dried since the damage happened.  I wish the pictures came out, hard to take a picture of a white ceiling, the defects don't show.

Even harder is taking pictures in the attic, in such a confined space and trying to hold a flashlight at the same time.  I can see in many areas there is a large area of ceiling that is not insulated.  In that specific spot, at least 16" of exposed ceiling.  There are only a couple of small vents in the soffits, needs to be opened up when the weather gets nicer, and then add insulation to the missing spots.

I just hope the blocking is letting enough air in, I would estimate 1/2 inch or so gap.


What are the white "blooms" I'm seeing on the roof sheathing? It looks like the ceiling has seen water and I'm suspecting the sheathing is in trouble. I would run a row of insulation chutes from that gap up and then do a good job insulating out to that blocking. It wouldn't hurt to open it up with a sawzall... that would be less than fun.


I didn't notice that white foamy looking stuff until Don mentioned it. At the top edge of where the camera flash is.

I think as long as you are careful with the rafter vents and putting the insulation in there that gap will be big enough. A basic rule for insulation on the top plate is greater than or equal to whatever is in the walls. 2x6 wall you'd want at least R-20 on top of the plate.

Another thing you could do is caulk the drywall to the top plate to try to stop any warm air from leaking through at the eaves.

Honestly with no insulation up there it is no wonder you were getting ice damming. That's not helping the energy bills either.

Adam Roby

Yeah the electrical bills are killing us.  We stayed there for 4 days during the Christmas break, shut off the water tank and lowered the temperature for the remainder of the big winter months and our bill was still around $500 for that 2 month period.  Craziness...

I didn't notice any foam, will have to have a better look, might just be a camera effect.  The roof is not plywood, rather planks of wood.  There are small gaps here and there, either a space or where a knot fell out.  I can see a white sheet as the first layer.  The roof shingles were replaced in 2014 or 2015... its in the paperwork somewhere. 

Is there such thing as "too much" insulation?  I was thinking to put the Polystyrene rafter vents in, and then either lay a layer of R40 pink stuff over top of the existing, or see how much it would be to blow in insulation over top of whats there. 

For the venting at the soffits, I was thinking to put these in...

And between each rafter, drill 4 or 5 2" holes with my hole bit, maybe an inch between, and put that metal plate on top to keep out critters.  If I can see enough light coming in after drilling the holes, then I know I'll be OK on the inside and add the insulation.

Another potential problem is the previous owner laid down plywood everywhere.  The damaged area was completely covered by the plywood...  maybe 1/4 of the floor is covered, not fastened down, he was obviously moving them around to gain access to different parts of the attic.  Doesn't that also interfere with air flow and such? 

The sawzall idea would be good, but I really doubt I can reach in there.  I'll probably have to buy a suit and breather mask the next time I go in.

I'll be sure to bring up a better camera next weekend, and take some pictures of the white stuff, thanks for pointing that out. 


I'm not seeing the top plate, just sheetrock going under the block, hmm what is going on there, it might be just the pic. If you can't see the top plate drill a piece of stiff wire down right on the edge of one of those blocks, go down and see where that block is located in relation to the wall. I'm glad it is board sheathing, I was thinking I was seeing rows of something growing. Do look for water damage and rot in the lower, ice dam, region of the sheathing. You cannot overinsulate, at a certain point the return on investment isn't there. It sounds like you are not in that neighborhood yet.

Adam Roby

Got up to the cottage on Friday night and noticed my water pressure was at 0.
I normally shut off the water to the place in case of leaks but I leave the pump and pressure tank on.
The lever to the solenoid was still in the "automatic" mode (I actually never even noticed there was a bar there to select).  I tried shutting off the breaker and back on... no effect, tried tapping the solenoid... no effect.  The pump is 185' underground so I can't smack it with a hammer... options were limited.  I looked at that little bar/lever and it showed "automatic" to the left, 45 degrees was "reset or start", and pointing up was "off".  I cycled through the different options but did not notice anything.  Left the PO an email and started planning for the worse, looking up local plumbers, trying to estimate the costs of a new pump, etc.

The PO called the next morning.  Offered to swing by, its the first chance he's had since selling us the place back in October so he wanted to show me a few things that he missed when we exchanged ownership.  It turns out the pump is around 16 years old.  There is a back pressure valve (not sure the terminology) to keep the water from going back down to the well (keep the pipe primed).  It has been slowly letting water back down so the pump goes off every little while to re-pressurize the tank.  I thought it strange for the pump to be going off all night long when no water was being used but... what do I know.  He explained that you have to hold the lever at the 45 degree mark (if you let go it jumps to either option but wound't stay at 45 by itself.  After a few minutes you start to see the pressure go up.  Once it hits a certain point, it clicks and then you can let go, everything is back to normal.  Sometimes you have to actually remove the cover and hold the contacts manually, for some reason that has happened to him 2-3 times over the years.

When he swapped the pump the last time, they also replaced the pipe which was metal and is now plastic.  The guy doing the install was impressed that his pump has lasted 20 years.  The house was build in '74 so that's how he estimates it was back in 2001 when it was last replaced, 16 years ago... these dates are very vague and the PO is probably 85 years young - his stories change a bit each time they are told but he's a nice guy and always willing to help me out.

He mentioned that one plumber had suggested adding an anti-back valve doo-hickey next to the tank (on the top end) to help with that problem.  Does anyone think that would help?  Is this already one (the bigger picture)?

Secondly, how long can one of these submersible pumps last - and if its almost due, how much am I looking at for someone to swap it out?  Are we looking at $2000 - $3000? 


We've been lucky to get submersible pumps to last 10-12 years in our home.  Had to replace it last year again...1HP pump cost 1300 just for the pump here in southern VT.  Our well is about 450 feet deep.  We replaced all the tubing as cost was about 5 grand.  Ouch.  In my younger days, I did this myself.  No more.


Right before the well line connects to the tank T you should put check valve. Plumber is right. Well pumps come with a check valve, I have read they usually aren't that good so you put another one on the pump too.

Our pump was around 550 or 600... 3/4 hp. Be careful with the big box store pumps, cheaper for a reason. Ours is Franklin electric, which makes the motor for gould pumps, kind of industry standard I believe.

We installed the pump ourselves, using poly pipe, which I think is way easier to service than rigid pvc.

Sounds to me like your problem is at the pressure tank though.

Adam Roby

Ouch... I think we will start saving now for the worse case scenario then.  Daing... can't catch a break.

So what is this part then if not a check valve?


Just because something has been done and has not failed, doesn't mean it is good design.

Adam Roby

Been doing a lot of work at the cottage lately.  Every time I drive up I pass a cabin that is precariously perched on some blocks, and I always want to take a picture but when moving and driving its not exactly an easy thing to do.  I just got a flash and looked on Google maps and sure enough it is there.  (map link embedded)


Where to start...  we are helping finance this cottage by renting it a few times during the peek months.  Goal is to pay the mortgage ourselves for retirement (selling the main house for cash) and we want to rent to cover the extra expenses like the utilities, taxes, etc.  We did pretty well this summer with an equal amount of using it ourselves and making some money, but there was a 1 month blitz where it was renting back to back with no time for us.  Once we got in there after the blitz we realized a few problems.

The Jacuzzi was leaking.  I had to open the ceiling in the kitchen because of the water damage and then noticed that the Jacuzzi installer cut away at a joist leaving maybe 1" at the very bottom.  Not sure what I will or can do about that without making more of a mess.  There was no access to the pipes, so I had to break away some tile and make a trap door to gain access.  Found out one of the previous renters had pulled too hard on the shower head and kinked the hose.  That in itself was an ordeal because none of the replacement pipes I could find would fit through the chrome hole cover... would up having to dismantle the hose and replace just the inner tube, and de-kinked the hose as best I could.  The bigger problem is I think they ran the motor without water because first it smelled like rubber, then would turn but very slowly, then it seemed to run fine for a minute or two, stopped it and wouldn't turn back on.  It was installed in the early 80's... that will be fun to find a replacement.  Does anyone actually repair these things anymore, like a starter could be rebuilt, is it not the same with a water pump (essentially)?

All of that happened on top of some other very expensive problems.  We kept having electrical issues, finally brought in an electrician to replace the panel from a 125A service to a 200A service.  It was more to make things safe because there were a lot of doubled up breakers and junctions inside the panel itself.  The estimate to replace was $1500 and when he left the bill was $2700.  Almost fainted.  Then we had the chimney guy come in to clean and he refused to, told us the chimney may have been fine for 1974 but for today's standard's he would not certify its safety.  Brought in an inspector and he confirmed, estimating at least $2000 in parts alone, plus labour I am guessing over $3000.  Since my wife hates the smell of a wood burning stove, and since we rent to complete morons, and since they burned up our reserve of wood for the winter on the outside fire pit... we decided to go electric.  I know... I know...  we'll keep the stove in the shed (oil it does so it doesn't rust) and go electric for now.  It also serves as an extra heating source, just need to wire it to 220V. 

So far the expenses have far surpassed any potential income.  But maybe things will smooth out in the next couple of years.


The valve that you are asking about, is indeed, a brass swing check valve.  It has metal-to-metal internal sealing.  Google for more info.  It looks as though someone has already had a wrench on the top plug.  I would suggest you open it up for further inspection (with everything shut off for safety, of course) it could need a bit of internal repair.  I would have probably chosen, instead, a plastic ball check valve as they tend to seal more more positively than a metal swing type.  Some metal bodied ball check valves come with plastic/rubber seats for positive sealing.

Adam Roby

Thanks, I'll take a look inside.  It's only a $20-30 part so I may as well swap it out anyways.

Thought you would enjoy a snap of the joist that was hacked by the "professional Jacuzzi installer".  I had to open the hole a bit more to make a cleaner transition to new when closing it up and found even more of a mess...

Adam Roby

Back in the fall (October maybe) we had a plumber come out to the cottage to have a look at the setup for the well.  There was a pressure leak somewhere in the system, and the pressure would constantly drop and cause the pump to endlessly cycle.  The pump is 180' underground but the relay clicking all night was annoying.  He wound up changing the check valve and the pressure switch as it was showing signs of burnt contacts from all the abuse.  Now I can shut off the water, leave for a month, and when I return the pressure is exactly where it was when I left.

Fast forward a few months.  We've had three incidences where the water stops working.  When I check the pressure it has dropped and the switch is no longer activating.  I have to manually hold the lever to "start" and keep it there until the pressure builds and the relay clicks.  From there it will be fine until the next time.  I can't quite pinpoint when or why this is happening.  I suppose it could be a faulty switch, although it is new as of October.  The last time it happened we were there, and both my wife and I flushed two separate toilets at the same time.... doubt that is the cause though because we can run the shower and/or fill the tub without it happening.  The more troubling thing is when we have a renter there and it happens.  The last one was during the Christmas holiday and the women was mechanically inclined enough to follow my phone instructions, but not everyone is able to understand how things work.

Any ideas?  What other factors could cause the switch to not engage?  Its like the demand is there, the pressure drops, but the switch does not activate the well... or maybe the well pump does not engage?  The pump is old, going on 17 years if memory serves... but that will be quite the job to replace so we want to wait for it to really need done before starting that project. 


It sounds like the new switch is having the same issues as the old one?

How old is that pressure tank? The bladder inside that tank can fail, maybe that could explain some of the issues.

I would itemize everything you know about the system from breaker to the pump, and compare that with a by the book 'correct' system.

Adam Roby

I hadn't been up to the cottage in about a month, and wound up spending about 4 hours shovelling.  While it is beautiful, I am getting too old for this, a fun day trip just means a week of recovery.  Back is wrecked, and I threw out my shoulder, could barely get my jacket on or off afterwards.  The pictures don't do it justice, but it was about 3' deep everywhere.

Don't mind the Canadian hat, eh.   :)
That deck is around 20' x 16', with 3' of snow on it.  Main reason to shovel it all was the weight, and not wanting it to crack the beams.  I have a snow blower, but even with the cutting bar it was too high, and it had 3 layers with ice between (you can kind of see the layers in the picture).  I had to cut it down, then run the snow blower, cut down some more, more blower.  I can't believe it took so long.


I feel your pain, too many years of arriving to camp and shoveling/snowblowing for hours just to get off the road....I hired a plow guy this year, when I showed up to camp after christmas I only had to shovel about 15' to the covered deck.....Was glorious!  I know you cant plow a deck but I understand your situation!  

Adam Roby

We can usually get into the driveway, at least off the road enough to not be in the way.  Our driveway is about 200' long and on a pretty steep slope upwards.  I most certainly never want to shovel that by hand.  We have a plow guy to do that, but we then have 20+ stairs to get up to the deck, and then the deck itself before getting to the front door.  That driveway gets rather hairy when it gets slippery, as it also curves and has a 20 foot drop off one side.  The plow takes a run for it up as high as he can get while spreading sand.  Then slides back down and does another run until he reaches the top.  Sometimes it is just impossible to get up, even when I had my Jeep with 4x4 low and pinned tires.  We always back up the driveway in case we have no traction going back down.  It is easier to control the decent facing forward that it is backwards, especially at night when you know you are sliding towards the ledge.   :o