Insulation and winter proofing

After the power was out I was chatting with someone and I found out an interesting fact. Our heat was off for two days and the house went down to 45. Her heat was off for five days and it went down to 55. Jealous!

I found a whole lots of leaks in the giant kitchen windows, so I’ve been caulking them. When I went to do the outside I realized that at one time those doors were sliders. I don’t know how I could have missed it. The insides are sort of spackled shut but outside there is a big gap on all four sides. It’s sort of a relief to say “aha I can fix this!” instead of freezing my butt all the time.

Another thing I noticed when the heat was off was that the basement was pretty warm relative to upstairs. The gas-powered hot water heater was the only heat source. I’ve felt the outside of the hot water heater and it always feels cool so I don’t see a point to adding one of the hot water heater blankets, but I have gotten insulation for the hot water pipes. There was some insulation on some of the pipes but what was there was far too large for the pipes. Sure it’s better than nothing but we’re aiming for “ideal”.

There are a number of good resources for sealing and insulating from the Energy Star people. For caulk they recommend something like DAP Alex (acrylic latex) but when I was at the store there was a similar product labeled “for windows and doors” and another one labeled for cold weather. I called DAP and found an interesting thing. The alex stuff is okay but for places that don’t get as cold as NJ. For places like NJ you need the stuff specifically for windows and doors so that it will be flexible even in the very cold temps we get here. I further found that the one labeled for cold weather is what I need to use if temps will dip below freezing within 24 hours of application, um like right now when it can frost at night. This is because the windows-n-doors stuff is water-based and that water can freeze if it gets cold before the stuff finishes curing. The Alex product is about $3 a tube, the windows-n-doors is about $4, the stuff that can be applied in the cold is about $7. Nonetheless, I’d prefer to spend the extra $3 to ensure I don’t have to re-do this next year.

I was very glad I called the DAP people. Not because they upsold me, but because I feel I got a better product for the job.

It’s been my experience that you can learn a lot about a product first by reading the label. It will tell you how to apply, and under what temperature conditions. It also will tell you how long until the stuff is dry or is cured. Then, when you call the company they are happy to help you get the right thing for your job. It’s funny how they are used to the home owner DIY’ing–years ago I don’t think they would have been as helpful.

Caulking is one of those things that isn’t so hard. It’s a lot like frosting a very large cake with a super-funky decorating bag. And like decorating it helps to have practice.

One of the ideas that they have in the Energy Star guides is to ensure that registers that are over unheated spaces are insulated. The eating area of the kitchen is over an unheated (and yucky) crawl space and two registers are in that area. One has gaps at each corner–gaps that were probably greater than a half inch. I used a can of the “greater than 1″ gap” spray foam to fill the void and then, also from Energy Star, I used foil tape to cover the edge where the metal duct meets the floor.

I did the foil on the other registers in the kitchen. Unfortunately I cannot do this on all of the registers in the ground floor since many of them are simply a hole in the joists. It’s a stupid idea but when they find such things on Mike Holmes’ shows they say it’s not illegal. That’s Canada, of course, so the laws are different but clearly at one time it wasn’t so far out there. It’s on my “some day” list to get correct ducting there.

I did a survey in the attic today. Lynda (our KFA Lynda) called me with a blessed interruption to quickly go over something. I’m always glad to hear from her, I don’t have to be in a spider-webbed yuck-hole to be pleased to hear from her. I’d like to add insulation and the question was to see what my options are, and to get some measurements so I can estimate how mauch material (materiel?) I need. The floor space is only about 30′ x 14′ because the roof widens as it gets lower. The problem is that at the highest point it is 24″ (yep, two feet). 24″ is just about the exact same distance as from the bottom of my knee to the top of my backside as I’m on all fours. Well, it’s an inch or two smaller, which makes things interesting. Ahem. And since that’s the highest point of the triangle, things get shorter on either side.

I have about 4″ of insulation in there, so that’s maybe and R-11 up there. In NJ I need a total of R49-R60, or as this handy chart advises, I need an additional R38 to R49. I’d also like to ensure that at points where the walls meet the ceiling and where services go through the ceiling (like where electrical wiring goes to ceiling fixtures) are properly sealed. I’d love to pull out the crud that’s up there but I don’t think it’s reasonable at this point. One, I’ll start to wig out if I spend too much time up there. Two, the rafters are 20″ on center, not the current standard of 16″ and also not the less-often-seen 24″. So getting the right sort of batt insulation will be tough. I can get blow-in insulation but for various reasons I still need to use batt insulation on top of that. Blow-in is most cost-effective if you need a lot of it, not if you need just a bit.

It’s a lot to consider. Part of me says just to add an R30 as a start because fer cryin out loud it’s a huge improvement over what’s there now. Part of me really wants to do it right and to have it so I don’t have to worry about a missing R19 up there.


About lgiletti

What's to say? I cook, I garden, I repair things. I get into trouble sometimes but I get myself out again.
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