Ghosting in the Home: What is it? How to Prevent it?

Ghosting in the Home: What is it? How to Prevent it?

For many of us, purchasing a home is the biggest financial investment we’ll make in our lifetimes. Because of that, we put a lot into keeping it as attractive and welcoming as we can. We paint… we wash… we mow… we hammer… we rake… we measure… we saw… we purge… we plant… we keep unwanted critters out… we keep a comfortable environment in… you get the idea.

Boy, if we were to add up all the hours spent in “home care,” it would almost add up to a full-time job. No wonder we feel such pride when someone tells us how beautiful our home is, and rightfully so!

For those very same reasons, we can go absolutely bonkers when some phenomenon appears in the house that we can’t explain. It literally comes out of nowhere, and we’re left scratching our heads trying to figure it out.

Here’s one, for example. HVAC professionals call it ghosting. That’s when portions of walls, ceiling or flooring take on a dark, shadowy appearance. Sometimes the shadows outline the joists of the structure, almost like showing the house’s skeleton. The shadows build over time and eventually become quite visible to the naked eye. This leads us to three questions: Where does the shadowing or ghosting come from? How do we get rid of it? How do we keep it from coming back?

Where Does The Shadowing or Ghosting Come From?

The answer to question number one has to do with combustion – you know, the act of burning a fuel to create heat or light. Inefficiently burned fuel takes to the air in the form of soot, and over time, that soot finds a resting place on interior surfaces. We have several sources of combustion in our homes including our furnace, stove, a fireplace or burning candles. Any of these may contribute to ghosting if they burn their fuel inefficiently, but if we were to rank these potential soot sources, the most likely culprits are burning candles and gas fireplaces.

Candles first. They are notoriously inefficient burners of fuel (in this case their wicks). Notice that candle light is yellow. That yellow flame indicates that the fuel is not being completely spent; a blue flame generates little or no soot. So, if you’re a lover of candlelight in the home, you’re definitely running the risk of ghosting on some of your structure surfaces. A gas fireplace typically burns pretty cleanly, but if the pilot flame, which is on all the time, comes in contact with the gas logs, it, too, may be sending soot up into the atmosphere.

Where the soot ends up settling is a complicated discussion. To simplify for the sake of keeping this blog post readable… the soot is pushed around by the flow of air in the home. Where it settles depends upon the location of heat variations on outer surfaces due to the placement of insulation and structural materials, such as studs and joists. That’s why ghosting may take on the pattern of the home’s structural skeleton.

How Do We Get Rid of It?

Elbow grease, folks… and a sturdy ladder. Products are available, including soot-removing sponges, to help you clean your sooty surfaces. Check at your local hardware or home-improvement store for guidance.

How Can We Prevent Ghosting or Keep it from Coming Back?

Finally, we come to question number 3.  You can probably figure this one out… be sure your home combustion is as clean as possible.

You can start by not burning candles, or at least burning fewer of them. Still, if you can’t live without that wonderful candle-lit, and scented ambiance, take a pair of scissors and cut the wicks down to as short as one-eighth inch above the wax. That will limit the amount of combustible material being burnt inefficiently. Check your fireplace to be sure the pilot light is not coming in contact with the gas logs. As part of regular home maintenance, you should have your furnace checked periodically to ensure that it, too, is burning its fuel efficiently. Remember, the bluer the flame, the cleaner the combustion.

There we go… another home maintenance mystery solved! We hope we haven’t added too much extra work to your lengthy home TO-DO list. But it’s all a labor of love anyway, right?