Friday, April 3, 2015

Excitement on my Street

I live about a quarter mile off a busy highway. Sirens go by often and it sets Burbank, my dog, to barking. I think she learned to howl from old Buddy, the bassett-lab hybrid who was a real pro at howling. She's not quite as effective at howling as Buddy was, but she can let you know that there is something going on.

Most days I hear the howling, then the sirens behind my house where the major highway is, but this day I realized the sirens were on my street. In fact, there were 2 large fire trucks right in front of my house.

Here is the sequence of events:

You can see that the lawn guys are looking kind of sheepish. The ironic thing is that this field is in front of the local fire chief's house, my neighbor. It's not his field though.

Ok, now back to my usual topics. Here is the last bit of insulating that I will do because the temperature is getting too hot to work in the attic consistently. Today the temperature was up to 84 degrees. I'll blow in about 10-12 inches of cellulose in the fall when things cool down again after I do some flashing around the chimney and put in baffles at the end of each joist bay. This last area is a bit of a pain to crawl around in, but I think I can get there without it being too claustrophobic.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Improving the Thermal Envelope

I can tell that the hours I've spent in my attic have made a difference in the temperature of my house. For example, 2 nights ago the temperature dropped to 28 F. Normally on a night like that with the heat set low (set on 58F - I like to sleep cool under my blankets and comforter) the temperature will drop 10 degrees overnight. This time it only dropped 4 degrees and I haven't finished with my first layer of insulation yet. I've got about 15 joist bays to go.

The photos from my infrared camera also show the difference. This way you can actually SEE the difference.
Infrared photo of my stairway ceiling before air sealing around the sun tunnel. 
Now look at the difference afterwards. I have not put down a layer of insulation in front of the Sun Tunnel yet because I just foamed it. The camera in both photos is not calibrated to the same temperature, but you can still see where the warmth escapes. And you can see that the area around the Sun Tunnel no longer transmits heat.

The center circle is the Sun Tunnel itself which is not insulated at all. It is basically a transparent dome surrounded by a tube of very shiny aluminum to transmit light to dark areas.

This photo shows a soffit in my kitchen before and after insulation.  Again, the camera is not calibrated the same because I don't know how to do that. But you can still see that there is much less heat transfer in this area.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Giant Holes in the Attic - Air Sealing again

Sun Tunnel in attic
Kitchen fan vent in the attic
Fiberglass around the kitchen fan vent - the black discoloration is years of dust going through the fiberglass where it functions as a filter.
Almost every day I work in the attic trying to get a basic level of insulation in place before it gets too hot to work up there - probably within the next 3 weeks.

I am installing 5.5 inches of UltraTouch denim insulation on top of seriously compressed fiberglass batts squashed down to one inch. The UltraTouch is supposed to be R-21, but that may be overestimating a little. I figure what I'm doing will get me to at least R-20 in the 5.5 inch ceiling joists. I think that just this small amount will make a tremendous difference for the summer. But for my area the code requirement is R-38. I'll get way beyond code when I install 10+ inches of cellulose later in the year.

Anyway, to ensure that the insulation can do it's job and not just function as a filter (see fiberglass photo above), you've got to do the hard work and air seal what you can get to. My Sun Tunnel is way out at the edge of joists between rafters, I cannot physically get there. I am going to put an extension tube on a can of spray foam and squirt the hell out of what I can reach.

I was able to air seal around the kitchen vent fairly easily. I used foam board and Prosoco Joint and Seam Sealer. I was a little over exuberant in using the seam sealer as usual, but it is sealed.

The weather is finally like springtime here. We might get frost this weekend, but things are blooming and it is really lovely. I hope you are enjoying some springlike weather.

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Damn! Carpenter Ants in the Attic

Big ass carpenter ants in the attic. See those giant black ants on the left side where I have not insulated yet.

 Here let's blow it up for you. Now you see them?

Carpenter ants (probably these are black carpenter ants - Camponotus pennsylvanicus) don't eat wood like termites do, but that can be equally destructive because they nest in wood, particularly wet wood. There shouldn't be any way the wood is wet in the attic. I don't see any evidence of that, but I am wondering what the hell are those guys doing in my attic. They may not have a nest within the home, but where there is damp rotting wood. They apparently eat insects. They even farm aphids and eat the sugary material that aphids give off. I think that is why the ant are located at this eave because it's below the a louvered area where insects entered my home. 

Now I have to figure out how I want to get rid of them. Here are the options that seem reasonable to me:
1. Follow the trail of the ants to their nest to kill them there. 
2. Use a bait with a slow-acting poison so they take the poison back to the nest and kill off the rest of the colony.
3. Dust boric acid or diatomaceous earth along the edges of my home to kill them with more "natural" insecticides.
4. Treat the area around my house with an insecticide. 
5. Call a pest control company.

After crawling around an attic for days and days, I'm not going to "follow ants to their nest". I know the most likely places for nests around my house. There is some wood at the base of my house that needs to be disposed of. They often nest in areas like that. And I have a doghouse that is not raised off the ground, I suspect they are nesting under that doghouse. I'll work on those areas first by eliminating the wet wood and treating with boric acid.

If that doesn't work, then I will go with a bait I can buy online that sounds promising and not too environmentally destructive - the Complete Ant Bait Kit from Do Your Own Pest Control.

If that doesn't eliminate my ants in the attic, then I'll treat the area around my house with an insecticide and possibly call a pest control company. I don't like that idea though. I want to try the more benign forms of control first.

For a funny, interesting story on battling carpenter ants in a renovated barn, read Joe Lstiburek's article on the Building Science web page called Leiningen versus the Ant Redux.  He's a major engineering guru in building science who is controversial, funny, and very knowledgeable. You'll enjoy it.