Tuesday, March 3, 2015

Insulation - My Favorite Thing

You know I love insulation, even more than air sealing. I even dream about insulation, mostly because my home is cold and I dream about being warm and snug in my own home. That problem will be improved on very shortly.

Anyway back to the insulation at hand, several years ago I bought a little house that we've partly renovated that Kathy lives in. In fact when I started this blog, the first stuff I wrote about was what we were doing at that house. There is a very solid, little concrete block building in the backyard (about 12' x 25' interior dimensions) that has been mostly used to store things. Since the home is so small at about 900 square feet, we decided to renovate this building to make it livable and give Kathy and her son just a little more breathing room.

Carlton has done most of the work. First, he studied the building carefully and felt confident that there weren't any water issues and that the block walls and roof framing were solid. Then he installed some windows to bring light into the space. Then framed the floor and installed 2 doors - one so you can go into the building from the driveway without having to open the gate to the fence. We may build a garage someday, so this door would open into the garage. Finally, Carlton installed a layer of foam insulation board on the interior of the walls, then framed the walls and insulated them with 3.5" mineral wool and installed drywall. That's where he stopped, now it's my turn.

Carlton was able to insulate a large portion of the ceiling with the Roxul mineral wool left over from John's house, but he ran out before he could insulate it all. I told him, "No worries, I'll finish it up." If you recall from last summer I spent HOURS and HOURS under John's house air sealing and insulating the floor of his house. It is tedious doing this work overhead. I also got tired of the itchy, scratchy sensation from the Roxul. It is supposed to be less obnoxious that fiberglass, but I wouldn't know as I've never installed fiberglass insulation before. In any case, I did not feel like suiting up to avoid the itching. So I ordered from Soundproof Cow once again and got some denim insulation.

My plan was to use these flexible metal tension rods to hold the 2 layers of 3" denim insulation in the 24" on center ceiling bays.

Don't do it. Don't buy those things. They will flop down and hit you in the head and they won't hold anything. You can see the scratches on the rafter on your right where they kept falling down on me. I had to come up with a new method to hold up the insulation.

The solution? An insulation corset.

I didn't want to use staples because it's hard for one person to hold the insulation up, pull the string tight and staple all at the same time. Also I don't have John's pneumatic staple gun set-up and regular staplers hurt my hands. (Youngsters, you will be amazed at what hurts you when you get just a little older - say, in your 50s.) So I hammered in some roofing nails because they have big heads on them and would hold the masonry string well. I chose masonry string because I figured it would pull taut and hold pretty well. I think it looks pretty good. Above shows the first layer of the 3 inch deep insulation.

And here is the full bay of insulation. I'm pretty happy with it. I will probably cover the seam between the Roxul insulation and the denim insulation with a band of the Roxul Rockboard that is left over from  John's house.

Denim insulation is a challenge to cut. It will not cut with a utility knife. Often people just end up tearing it which works pretty well though you won't get a good edge. I kind of do a sawing, tearing motion with a drywall saw.

Below you can see what the edge looks like.

So that was my insulation adventure today. I have 5 more 24" bays to insulate and 8 narrower bays. Tomorrow some more insulation will arrive. It is planned for my house, but I will use a few bales of it on this building.

I have not yet expanded on the topic of how much insulation should you use beyond the code requirements. That is coming as well.

Thank you for taking a look at my blog. I hope you are warm and comfortable.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"The Worst House You Can Legally Build" continued

It's kind of interesting that today on the Green Building Advisor the blog post of the day is "Grumpy Architect Time" in which Robert Swinburne, the architect, lists things that irritate him. And what is number 2? You guessed it. Here are the first 2 on his list.

"1. If your house is adequately insulated there should be little temperature differential between the ceiling and the floor.

2. "Adequately" differs from code. Remember, a house built to code is the worst house you can legally build."

He has gone through additional training to be a Certified Passive House Consultant to really take building energy efficiency to a new level - the Passive House standard which is the most stringent building standard in the world.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Building to Code - Building the Worst House Allowed by Law

If you think about building a house to the minimum level required by the building code, you are actually building a house to worst standard allowed by law. In other words, you're not building to a good standard or a reasonable standard, but to the lowest level possible. Why would anyone do that?

Obviously in this blog, my focus is on energy efficiency and making a home environment comfortable and healthy. So when I think about building or renovating a home, I think how can I make this home more comfortable, more energy efficient within reason (which usually means within financial reason) as opposed to what is the LEAST AMOUNT OF INSULATION I can get away with.

Energy standards for residential buildings are covered by the International Energy Conservation Code (IECC). These codes are updated every 3 years and adopted by individual states in the US. You can see in the map below that the majority of the states in the US are covered by the IECC 2009 code (states in blue). That's true for SC where I live.

Adoption of International Energy Conservation Codes by State

International Energy Conservation Code Zone Map

So what does that mean in terms of actual energy conservation? Specifically, for South Carolina that means that my attic should be insulated to an R-value of 30, my wood framed walls to R-13. If my house was built over a crawlspace the floor should be insulated to R-19. I've got a basement so that doesn't apply. My house was built in 1954 so truthfully none of these standards apply which is part of problem - why I am not comfortable in my house this winter. 

R-value as you know means resistance to heat flow. So what does it take to meet these rather lax requirements for my zone 3 home? Here is a chart I've made showing various types of insulation with R-values. 

Type of Insulation Material

Added just because the northeast is buried in snow

Wood is not really an insulation material but listed here for comparison since it is the major building material for most homes in the US and is about 25% of the frame in a home.

Wood Insulation board
Agepan is a wood-based OSB type panel imported from Germany

Fiberglass (loose fill)
2.2 - 2.9

Fiberglass (batts)
2.9 - 3.8

Cellulose (loose)
3.1 - 3.8

Cellulose (wet spray)

Cellulose (dense pack)

Mineral Wool (loose)
2.2 - 3.3
Also called stone wool, made from volcanic rock and recycled slag
Mineral Wool (batts)
3 – 3.8

Mineral Wool (board)

Depends on density of the product
Cotton (batts)

Wool (batts)

Really, wool as from sheep
Foamglas (board)

Cork, expanded (board)

Cementitious (foam)
2.0 - 3.9

Phenolic (foam)
4.4 – 8.2

Polyisocyanurate (foam)
5.6 - 8.0

Polyurethane (foam)
5.6 - 8.0

You can make some broad generalizations that simplify the calculation for how much insulation you need. First wood has an R value of 1per inch and that makes up 25% of your wall. Second, most fibrous insulation (that includes cellulose, fiberglass, mineral wool, and denim) range from about 3-3.8/inch. No significant difference in R-values between them really. The foam materials roughly range from 4-6/inch in terms of effective insulation. So you pick either a fibrous insulation or a foam insulation and go from there. I'm anti-foam insulation for the most part so I would exclude that now. (Maybe another post some time down the road.) So to reach an R-13 wall, I need 3.7 inches of fibrous insulation which not coincidentally is about the space provided by a 3.5 inch stud wall. To reach my attic insulation requirement I need about 8.5 inches of insulation.

Where am I now in my cold little house? I had all new vinyl windows installed about 10 years ago, then about 5 years ago I had my house covered in 2 inches of polyisocyanurate foam for a R-10 continuous layer on my walls and new siding over that. What I have not done is insulate my attic because I have a leak around my chimney despite having it "fixed" about 4-5 times and I may to have to take a ceiling down when I renovate my kitchen. The R-value of the compressed fiberglass batts that do not cover the entire floor of the attic might be 6-8 at most. That's where most of my heat goes. That is the main reason I am in fleece long johns, wool socks, multiple sweaters and still cold despite the heat pump running constantly. 

This house was built to code in its day. When energy was cheap, you just ran "Old Bessie", the ancient old heater (since replaced) constantly and kept warm. That doesn't work today and it won't work for the future. We have to do better with our houses. We will be happier, more comfortable, and have healthier places to live if we think past code minimums. 

Thursday, February 12, 2015

Leaky Walls - Infrared Photos on vacation in Montana

I just purchased a small infrared camera that attaches to your iPhone. It's called the Flir One. It's a little awkward to use because of the way it's attached to the phone (you have to take your phone out of whatever case it's in and insert it in the Flir One case which is a tight fit).

I used it a little bit when we went on vacation.

Here are a few photos.

The first one is from our hotel room in Bozeman, I believe. Obviously the dark colors are colder and the lighter colors represent warmth. You can see the leakage at the corner, you can see where the individual studs are in the wall. I wonder if they are metal studs because heat is conducted so much more effectively through metal. But the striking thing is the serious cold air at the intersection of the floor and the wall.

The second photo is from Big Sky, I think. Same problem, serious air leakage, cold air infiltration at the corner of the room where the walls intersect the floor. 

This view shows a seriously under-insulated corner stud.

I need to go over my house and take some photos. I have not done so yet because the daytime temperatures outside have been so close to my inside temps that it wouldn't show where the heat is leaking out and the cold is coming in.