Balloon framing was once a popular construction method, including in Washington state. In a balloon framed house, the exterior walls have cavities in between the studs (known as stud bays) that run from the attic to the crawl space or basement. Due to this vast expanse of open space, homes with balloon framing have several problems. Here's what you need to know if you own an older balloon framed house.
First, you'll need to determine whether or not a previous homeowner had made any changes to the open stud bays, which are the open expanses between the exterior wall studs. Go to your basement or crawl space and shine a strong flashlight straight up in between each wall stud. If you can see the attic, you'll know no changes were ever made, such as the addition of insulation or fire blocking.
Crawl spaces are notorious for being drafty and damp. They also make fabulous homes for rats. These issues are compounded in a balloon framed house.
Problem: The stack effect is a natural phenomenon that occurs in open stud bays. It's the same thing that happens in chimneys that draw flames and smoke upwards and out of the fireplace. This effect is why balloon framed houses are well-known as fire hazards to firefighters. Heat rises and pulls cooler air into the area to replace the heated air as it escapes. The cooler air will come through any cracks in the crawl space and move upwards into the open stud bays.
Solution: Seal all the cracks and crevices in your home's foundation. Install fire blocking to the bottom of each open stud bay where your basement or crawl space meets your home's wooden balloon framing. Use fire rated blocks for the best in fire protection, which will be thick enough to stop the drafts from occurring due to the stack effect.
Problem: Moisture in a basement or crawl space can cause extensive moisture problems throughout the home, especially in balloon framed houses that have open stud bays. Along with the air that gets pulled upwards by the stack effect is moisture, which can come from leaky foundations, excessive ground water, and humidity. With moisture running upwards through the stud bays all the way from the foundation to the attic, there's a high risk of mold growth and water damage in your home.
Solution: Waterproofing your basement or crawlspace is essential if you have a balloon framed house in Washington state. The amount of rainfall the region experiences leads to consistent moisture in basements and crawlspaces. Hire a crawl space repair and waterproofing service to reduce the moisture in the basement or crawl space of your home, which will make the rest of your home dryer as well. Contact a company like Perma-Dry Waterproofing & Drainage, Inc. to learn more about waterproofing.
Problem: Older homes often have many areas where rodents can squeeze through to get inside. In basements and crawlspaces of balloon framed houses, rodents can have everything they need to survive, particularly shelter, water, and easy access to the living quarters above via the open wall cavities.
Solution: Finding and sealing off all openings where rodents can enter your home is a must. Controlling the amount of moisture in the basement or crawl space is also necessary. Also, fire blocking at the top of the foundation walls can make it difficult for them to reach the living quarters to find food if they do find a way to enter through the foundation.
In conclusion, balloon framed homes are more susceptible to problems with drafts, dampness, and rodents. However, improvements to the basement or crawl space of a home with balloon framing can reduce or eliminate the problems altogether.