Q: What do you think of pressure-treated wood foundations (PWF) instead of concrete or block foundations? I’m getting contradictory advice.

A: Using wood as a foundation for a house seems risky and prone to failure from rot, but I’ve never heard of any problems with it. Pressure-treated foundations have been accepted in the building code for decades.

If I was building a PWF, I’d consider using structural insulated panels (SIPs) made for the job. They make for a really nice finished basement — dry, warm and ready to finish. A friend of mine built a new home with a pressure-treated SIPs foundation and he loves his basement.

SIPs are my favourite way of building above-ground walls, too. I’ve used them for many of my own projects. To see what they’re all about, check out my video.

Q: What should I do about the musty smell in my basement? There are no water leaks, the walls are finished with wood studs and batt insulation and there’s carpet on the floor. I plan to replace the bottom four feet of musty drywall and get rid of the carpet. (My wife has developed asthma since we moved in.)

A: Your wife is among the unsuspecting multitude of Canadians who experience health problems because of low indoor air quality, especially during winter. But simply replacing drywall and getting rid of carpet isn’t going to do much to stop the mustiness alone.

Starting from scratch is a better option. It means you can use a mould-resistant approach to the walls that will work better long term. My current favourite basement wall system is a Canadian panel-type product called Smartwall. Any approach that eliminates organic material on or near masonry walls will be a big improvement over what you have now.

Any of the major subfloor products on the market will create a warm, comfortable surface for a new floor. Most take up only an inch or so of height. DRIcore makes a nice product, so does Barricade and Subflor. As for flooring itself, laminate is excellent for basements. You’re wise to get rid of the carpet.

I don’t have room here for all the basement tips you should follow for good indoor air quality, but I explain three more on my podcast.

Q: Should the gas water heater and circulating pump connected to my in-floor heating system be running all the time? It’s my first winter in the house and this doesn’t seem right.

A: Water heaters can be used successfully for in-floor heating, but you’re right to question the fact that yours seems to be running all the time. It shouldn’t.

One explanation is that your hot water tank might not have enough heat output to keep up with the demand for heat to the floor. What size of floor are you heating? What is the floor made of? In-floor heating is sometimes installed under wood or laminate, and these don’t transmit heat to the room very efficiently.

Before you call an expert to assess the situation, do some detective work. Are you sure the water heater is actually firing the whole time, and not just its exhaust fan running all the time? Do you experience any shortage of hot water at faucets during cold weather? If you do, then this supports my notion that the heater is undersized. If the exhaust pipe of the heater is hot all the time, that’s another indication of continuous operation.

One thing’s for sure. Circulator pumps are meant to run constantly. They’re not always installed to function this way, but they can handle continuous use.

The Working Forest