Vapor Barriers Trap Moisture?
Do vapor barriers trap moisture in walls of post frame buildings? They can, but only if they are installed on both sides of a wall insulation cavity.
Regular readers of this column will recognize a prevailing trend towards climate controlling both new and existing post frame buildings. An ability to control interior climate extends far beyond merely what one happens to be doing for insulation. It also includes what one does for weather resistant barriers and vapor barriers.
The purpose of a vapor barrier is to stop warm, moist, indoor air from infiltrating fiber-type insulation (think fiberglass or cellulose) during cold weather and condensing. Visible moisture or frost on the inside of a vapor barrier is either caused by a leaky vapor barrier or moisture migrating into the wall cavity from the outside. Leaky siding can cause this, and it often happens in basements that are apparently leak free. Vapor barriers are essential for any kind of insulation that air can pass through. Never do the really foolish act of slashing a vapor barrier that you find has moisture behind it or forgetting to install a vapor barrier in the first place. Today’s best vapor barriers prevent moisture from moving into wall cavities while also letting trapped moisture escape.
Recommendations below are for cold-climate construction. As a rule of thumb, if you have to heat your building more than cool it, this probably applies to your circumstance.
A weather resistant barrier (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2016/01/determining-the-most-effective-building-weather-resistant-barrier-part-1/) will prevent moisture from entering a wall from outside of building. It also allows any moisture within a wall to exit. Pretty slick stuff, as it is smart enough to be directional.
Inside of this wall, once unfaced (recommended) insulation batts are installed, should be a vapor barrier (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2017/11/vapor-barriers-post-frame-construction/). It is imperative this vapor barrier not have unsealed tears or holes. It should be sealed to floor and ceiling and any joints, rips or tears should be adequately taped. Where problems most often occur, with vapor barriers, is when penetrations are made for things such as electrical boxes. Properly sealing of these penetrations with closed cell spray foam from a can does more to prevent warm moist air to pass through into your post frame wall insulation cavity, than anything else.
Continued from yesterday’s blog:
(1) Storage – if you ever believe anyone might ever in the future desire to climate control then provision should be made for making it easiest to make future upgrades.
At the very least a reflective radiant barrier (single cell rather than wasting the money for the extra approximately 0.5 R from double bubble), an Integral Condensation Control (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2017/03/integral-condensation-control/) or sheathing with 30# felt should be placed between the roof framing and roof steel to minimize condensation.
If a concrete floor is poured (in ANY use building), it should be over a well sealed vapor barrier.
For now we will assume this building is totally cold storage. If it might ever (even in your wildest dreams) be heated and/or cooled include the following in your initial design: Walls should have a Weather Resistant Barrier (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2016/01/determining-the-most-effective-building-weather-resistant-barrier-part-1/) between the framing and the siding. Taking walls one step further would be ‘commercial’ bookshelf wall girts (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2011/09/commercial-girts-what-are-they/).
In the roof – have the trusses designed to support a ceiling load ideally of 10 pounds per square foot (read about ceiling loaded trusses here: (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2016/03/ceiling-loaded-trusses/). Trusses should also be designed with raised heels to provide full depth of future attic insulation above the walls (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2012/07/raised-heel-trusses/).
Make provision for attic ventilation, by having an air intake along the sidewall using enclosed ventilated soffits and exhaust with a vented ridge.
Any overhead doors should be ordered insulated – just a good choice in general as, besides offering a minimal thermal resistance, they are stiffer against the wind.
(2) Equine only use: Same as #1 with an emphasis upon the ventilation aspect.
(3) Workshop/garage and (4) Garage/mancave/house are going to be the same – other than whatever the client is willing to invest in R value, being the major difference.
Adding onto #1 for the walls the low end would be unfaced batt insulation with a 6ml visqueen vapor barrier on the interior. Other options (in more or less ascending price and R values) would be Mineral wool insulation as it is not affected by moisture (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2013/03/roxul-insulation/), BIBs (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2011/11/bibs/), closed cell spray foam in combination with batts and just the closed cell spray foam (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2016/07/advantages-spray-foam-over-batt-insulation/).
For added R value and a complete thermal break, add rigid closed cell foam boards to the inside of the wall.
Once a ceiling has been installed, blow in attic insulation.
For (4) a Frost-Protector Shallow Foundation (https://www.hansenpolebuildings.com/2016/11/frost-protected-shallow-foundations/) with sand on the inside rather than a thickened slab is an excellent and affordable design solution.
For insulation solutions which follow the roof line, the best bet is going to be the use of closed cell spray foam, as it solves the potential condensation on the underside of the roofing and does not require ventilation above.
In most cases, the steel trusses fabricated for post frame buildings are either not designed by a registered engineer, are not fabricated by certified welders or both – so it makes it difficult for me to recommend them as part of a design solution.
With scissor trusses, they can be treated the same as a flat ceiling would be, provided the bottom chord slope is not so great as to cause blown in insulation to drift downhill.