Condensation at a basement window (C) Daniel Friedman

Table of Dew Point Data for Building Condensation
     

  • Definition of dew point in buildings;
    • How to Read a Psychometric Chart to Find the Building Surface Dew Point
    • How to find the dew point in building cavities or how to determine the dew point on building surfaces
    • What is the dew point ?
    • Poor Construction Details Can Lead to Dangerous or Costly Rot to Timber Frame and other Wood Structures
  • POST a QUESTION or READ FAQs about the dew point in building walls, ceilings, floors: definition of dew point & how to find where it will occur in building cavities.
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Here we explain how the dew point, the point at which moisture condenses out of air onto a surface, is obtained for a building cavity or building surface. We exxplain how to determine the dew point for any air temperature & relative humidity in a building. We illustrate and explain how to read a psychometric chart to find a building surface dew point.

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How to Find the Dew Point for Any Temperature & Relative Humidity in a Building

Dew Point Table (C) Journal of Light Construction, Steven BlissOur page top photo shows severe moisture condensation on a basement window and window frame. Insulating foam sheathing is becoming fairly common in cold climates.

But in most cases, it violates the rule of thumb that the exterior of a building should be five to ten times more permeable than the interior. This is particularly true with foil-faced sheathings.

This article includes excerpts or adaptations from "A Rotting Timber Frame", by Steven Bliss, adapted by permission, courtesy of the Journal of Light Construction.

Readers should review DEW POINT CALCULATION for WALLS for a bit more theory on calculating the point in walls at which moisture will condense. Also see MOISTURE PROBLEMS: CAUSE & CURE and HOUSEWRAP AIR & VAPOR BARRIERS and HUMIDITY CONTROL TO PREVENT MOLD also VENTILATION in BUILDINGS.

Some people argue that it’s all right to use insulating sheathing, because it warms up the wall cavity enough to prevent condensation problems. This is supported by tests (based on 40 percent relative humidity indoors) done at the U.S. Forest Products Laboratory in Madison, Wisc.

As shown in our illustration above, To find the dew point for any temperature and relative humidity: Start with the temperature, move up to the current relative-humidity line. Move left to the saturation curve, and down to find the dew point, as shown.

How can you gauge this for yourself? First, you need to calculate the dew point of the interior air during the winter. To be conservative, assume an indoor relative humidity of 50 percent at 70°F. That gives you a dew point of about 50°F, according to the chart at above left.

Next, calculate how cold it must be outside before the inside surface of the sheathing will fall below the dew point. The inside surface of the sheathing is where condensation is most likely to occur.

You can calculate the temperature at any point in the wall if you know the total R-value inside and outside that point. The temperature rise through the wall and the R-values are in direct proportion.

For example, in Wall A, when it’s 32°F outside, the temperature at the sheathing surface is 7/18 of the way from 32 to 70, or 47°F, which is below the dew point of the interior air. In Wall B, with two inches of foam, the temperature at the sheathing surface is 53°F — safely above the dew point.

Since the average winter temperature in most of central and northern New England is at or below 32°F, Wall A appears risky unless you use one of the more permeable rigid insulations (headboard or rigid fiberglass), or have a perfect air/vapor barrier. That’s not a bet you should make.

How to Read a Psychometric Chart to Find the Building Surface Dew Point

Several detailed psychrometric charts useful for determining the dew point are shown and linked-to just below. There moisture is expressed in vapor pressure in mmHg (millimeters of mercury). The curved relative-humidity lines intersect with the diagonal lines to show the dew point for various temperatures and levels of relative humidity.

Psychometric chart Dry bulb (Tdb) temperature (chart bottom or "x" axis) is just the measured indoor temperature measured using a standard thermometer.

Relative humidity (RH) is the amount of water in the air. We use the term "relative" humidity because the amount of water that a given volume of air can hold decreases as temperatures drop. (Think of it as cold air being more dense, squeezing water molecules out of suspension in the air.) So RH is the ratio of the actual water vapor pressure in the air to the water vapor pressure in air that is fully saturated (can't hold any more water) at that same temperature.

Wet bulb temperature (Twb) measures the amount of water that can be taken out of the air (by evaporation) - the old "sling psychrometer" used a simple mercury thermometer with a wet cloth over the sensing bulb to measure Twb by swinging the thermometer around at the end of a string - or properly: a sling psychrometer. Really.

See the left-most curve, the 100% relative humidity line for a simple case - that's air that is 100% saturated. So on the chart below, notice that on the left-most curve, the wet bulb temperature equals the dry bulb temperature - that is, when the air is fully saturated at 100% RH, no more air water can be evaporated out of the air.

Define Dew Point: Now the good part: the dew point (Tdp) is the temperature at which water vapor just starts to condense out of air that is cooling - for example when warm moisture-laden air contacts a cool surface inside of a wall cavity. Above the dew point the moisture stays in the air. At or below the dew point moisture leaves the air and in buildings, condenses on the cooler surface that the air is contacting. This also means that if you are measuring the relative humidity in a room, the RH number only has meaning if you measure the room temperature at the same time and location.

That's why, for example, when measuring basement humidity we will get different RH measurements in the center of the room than we will find right against a cool foundation wall - we discuss this in more detail at HUMIDITY LEVEL TARGET.

Dew Point Example: in the chart below, if the room temperature (Tdb) is 43 degC and the relative humidity (RH) is 20% (the curved line reading up from 43 degC) then the dew point is 15 degC (reading horizontally across to the left-most curved line and noting the dew point temperature scale set along that curve).

Dew Point Example 2: in the psychrometric chart given below, read up from 50 degC dry bulb temperature to the 20% RH curve, then follow the horizontal line from that point to the left to the outermost curve on the chart. If you don't go blind following this chart (click to enlarge it) you'll see that the Dew Point (Tdp) and also the wet bulb temperature (Twb) at the end of that line is 21 degC. Lots of variations of psychometric charts are available; they will all work about like this.

To convert temperatures from Fahrenheit to Celsius use: Tc = (5/9)*(Tf-32) where Tc= the Celsius temperature and Tf= the Fahrenheit temperature.

A nicely detailed free psychrometric chart is provided by Linric who also provide professional psychrometric software and other tools. A simple chart and additional explanation of moisture, mold, and the dew point can be seen in this NIOSH psychometric chart article.

-- Adapted with permission, from material by Steven Bliss and appearing originally in the February 1987 issue of The Journal of Light Construction

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