Maxwell’s Tips – Understanding Ventilation Controls, Peel-Free Paint Update and Choosing a Splitting Axe

Understanding Ventilation Controls

Q: How do I operate the four separate heating and ventilation controls in my new house? There’s one for the furnace, two for the A/C and air exchanger, and a fourth for the humidifier. How do I drive this thing?

A: Your confusion is exactly what many owners of modern homes have to deal with, but despite appearances, the reality of managing all those controls is pretty simple.

During the heating season, start by setting the furnace control at whatever temperature you want. Next, you need to learn to operate the air exchanger (sometimes also called an HRV) to admit enough fresh air to keep your windows clear of condensation. Tight, modern homes tend to get too moist in winter, and that’s why not running the humidifier is usually the way to go. Let your windows be your guide. A little bit of condensation is fine, but large beads mean indoor humidity levels are too high. Dial in more or less HRV fan speed until window condensation disappears (or nearly disappears). At our house this means running the HRV on low or one notch above low during the day, then shutting it off at night. We also vary this regime depending on outdoor temperatures. More ventilation is necessary to keep windows clear when it’s cold, and less as it warms up. Most houses feel too dry when you run an HRV enough to keep windows clear of condensation during very cold weather, but this is better than dripping condensation and mold growth. Things get simpler during the cooling season. Just run the AC to create a normal room temperature and the correct amount of dehumidification will happen automatically.

Peel-Free Paint Update

Q: How is your Allback linseed oil paint holding up since you first wrote about it in 2008? I am researching this paint and wonder if it still looks good.

allback_paint_windowA: I’m very pleased after more than 5 years after applying it. The main feature is that this paint is never supposed to peel, and that’s held true. The colour I used is dark brown, and though it has faded a bit, the results are still great. Fading is somewhat more than modern paints, but lack of peeling is what I’m really interested in. Next summer I’ll add a coat of linseed oil or possibly another coat of Allback paint. One small issue you should know about is the way some of the dark brown colour has washed down off the vertical window surfaces. This is probably due to the weathering of pigment but I don’t consider it a big problem.

Choosing a Splitting Axe

Q: Where can I get a good axe for splitting firewood? I’ve been using a regular axe and pounding it in with a sledge hammer, but I want something more efficient, up to 6 1/2 lbs in weight.

split_axeA: More and more people are supplementing their home heating with firewood, and the choice of splitting tool makes a huge difference.

Although you mentioned you didn’t want to go heavier than 6 1/2 lbs. I would encourage you to consider an 8 lbs splitting maul. It sounds like more work swinging a heavier weight, but it’s actually easier because you have more momentum on your side. I’ve split more than 600 face cords of wood during my heating career with an axe like this, and I know for sure that lighter axes work much less well.

I’ve yet to see a splitting axe produced by specialty axe manufacturers that works well. The best I know of these days is the wide, heavy type sold at most hardware stores for about $40 or $50. As long as it’s 8 lbs and has an axe-style handle and not an oval sledge hammer handle, you’ve optimized your choice.