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Old 03-09-2010, 07:23 AM   #1
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vapor barrier on the wrong side?


Hello all,
I just started ripping down a bunch of drywall and insulation due to a leaky window well draining into the basement. I discovered a thin vapor barrier on the foundation side and none on the room side. I've been told that the location of the vapor barrier depends on your climate but as far as I know where I live, Northern Alberta Canada, it is supposed to be on the room side. Am I correct in this assumption?

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Old 03-09-2010, 08:06 AM   #2
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vapor barrier on the wrong side?


are you sure its a vapor barrier?

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Old 03-10-2010, 07:41 AM   #3
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vapor barrier on the wrong side?


In general, up where you live, vapour barriers are meant to be on the warm in winter side of the wall structure but I have read about people with damp basements putting a plastiuc moisture barrier right over their foundation walls, to prevent fibreglass insulation from becoming damp and mouldy. But it's not a really a vapour barrier as such...

There is also a lot to be said about wet basement walls drying to the inside of your house, as opposed to the upper part - which dries to the outside.

Tell us more about the wall construction and the insulation you have down there and we'll do our best.
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Old 03-10-2010, 07:46 AM   #4
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vapor barrier on the wrong side?


there are many people including alot of pros that don't know the difference between a vapor barrier and a weather resistant barrier

not saying you don't but we need more info
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Old 03-10-2010, 07:28 PM   #5
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vapor barrier on the wrong side?


I've seen the vapor barrier applied directly against the foundation wall in my area. The thought with this practice is that any moisture that may come in through your wall doesn't have a chance to get absorbed in the insulation. The downside is that if water does come in, it's relatively trapped behind the plastic and may lead to mold anyway.

The subject of vapor barriers in basements is widely debated. When I built out my basement, my inspector said no vapor barrier - his stance was that it gives everything a chance to breathe in case of potential moisture issues.
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Old 03-11-2010, 06:24 AM   #6
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vapor barrier on the wrong side?


Vapour barriers specifically (and moisture flow in basements in general) is so widely debated because there is misunderstanding of it; but the science involved - that doesn't change. It is made even more complicated because the unique solution to each basement is, well, unique, and has to do with construction of each basement, and there are quite a few out there. Not only do we have individual construction to contend with but we also have climate zones - so finding a correct solution for a particular house in a particular city is even more confounding...hence the 'debate' - or more precisely the misunderstanding and questioning.

But the OP is in a cold zone...that we know. We don't know anything more about the construction of his basement wall nor the housing material or vintage. So all we can give are approximations.

But if we limit our discussion to water vapour only and omit bulk water, french drains and all that, then the science of it says that no moisture sensitive insulation materials should be used down there against solid foundation walls, and that vapour will tend to dry inwards from the wall, and the therefore to trap the inward-coming vapour behind a vapour barrier is asking for trouble. So the OP found one major fautt IMO: a vapour barrier against the foundation wall. The fact that there was no vapour barrier inside is OK but that one against the foundation is rotting his foundation away, slowly.

He should remove this, put up 2" of XPS foam, then cover that with drywall and paint. But that's just a stab from a distance. Even that advice may be off the mark unless we know more...
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Old 03-11-2010, 07:59 PM   #7
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vapor barrier on the wrong side?


Thanks for the imput and sorry for the lack of specific details. The house was built in 79, the wall makeup is concrete foundation, 2X4 walls with fiberglass insulation (unsure of R value) followed by drywall and pannelboard (to cover the crappy drywall job). The "vapor barrier" between the concrete and framing is much thinner then what is usually used. Thanks again for sharing your knowledge on the subject. I've never built homes (I build powerlines instead) so any info you can pass along is greatly appriciated.
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Old 03-11-2010, 08:06 PM   #8
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vapor barrier on the wrong side?


Also the issue I'm having is with water coming in through a window. In general the area I live in is quite dry.

Last edited by mleriger; 03-11-2010 at 08:09 PM.
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Old 03-12-2010, 06:46 AM   #9
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vapor barrier on the wrong side?


Yeah, that's still clear to me anyway. Look, up here we use 6mil plastic rolls as vapour barrier but in those cases where I've seen plastic put onto foundation walls to prevent the fibreglass from getting wet, all you need there is garbage bag or grocery bag thickness, not 6mil...

So it sounds like what you have. But the days of thinking "fibreglass insulation everywhere - even in basements" have long passed. It is still done but for economic reasons, not good practice reasons.

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