July 23, 2012

The Big Blow: Part One

Mr. Man and I are using Cel-Pak - cellulose insulation made RIGHT HERE in western Massachusetts by National Fiber. I wouldn't use ANY OTHER cellulose. Wouldn't. And I'm not being compensated in ANY WAY to say that (I'm happy to show doubters the receipt from RK Miles showing what we paid for insulation & delivery.) SPEAKING of delivery. How BAD ASS is this?

Like spaghetti a la carbonara, cellulose insulation is not complicated. But like the famous pasta dish, the quality of your ingredients have a HUGE impact on the final product. Cellulose insulation has two ingredients: paper and fire retardant. That's it. Paper, and a fire retardant. Now. There are all kinds of paper and all kinds of fire retardants, and National Fiber uses ONLY the best of each. Let's talk fire retardant first.
The best fire retardant? Borate. Most expensive? Yes. But best? Yes. Other companies use lesser quality fire retardants like Ammonium Sulfate (hint: the word 'ammonium' is part of the ingredient). If cellulose insulation containing Ammonium sulfate comes in contact with water, it creates an offensive odor and a low-grade corrosive acid (and if it's near a pipe, that's bad). And as every homeowner with a flat roof knows, ALL ROOFS LEAK. So it was really important to me that our cellulose be a Borate only product.
Second, let's talk paper. You can use any kind of paper to make cellulose insulation: newspapers, magazines, cardboard, pizza boxes, etc. National Fiber only uses un-coated PAPER. No cardboard, no glossy magazines, they even pull out (BY HAND) the Sunday magazine from your local paper. Why un-coated paper? It has the longest fibers which trap more air, which means more insulating value. And by using the same kind of paper throughout (as opposed to some magazines and some cardboard), the insulation is nice and uniform. 

ALL forty 25-pound bags. 

That we carried up the stairs. 

All of them. Nice and uniform.

July 9, 2012

Insulating Our Row House

Like a lot of kids, I grew up in an un-insulated old house with an attic crawl space.

In warm weather, the roof gets sizzling hot during the day and radiates the heat into our living spaces at night. We spent many summer nights falling asleep with our heads lolling out the window to catch a breeze, listening to the Northern Katydid song for comfort. Unlike a lot of kids, my parents were EDUCATORS! So - I learned - the reason I woke up sweltering, brown bangs plastered to my forehead in clumps, was because of the magic of 'radiant heat' and 'thermal gain'. ISN'T SCIENCE INTERESTING?

The magic of science is happening in our house.

There are two steps to the insulation process. First, air sealing. Second, actual insulation. We're 1/2 through insulation and about 3/4 of the way done with air sealing. I am my parents' daughter, so you know what's coming, right? EDUCATION about AIR SEALING!

All air has moisture in it, and moisture has a dew point. The dew point is the condition below which water droplets begin to condense and dew forms.  Think of the back of your toilet on a hot day: hot air hits cold porcelain surface. Voila. Dew.

So, if you've got 50% humidity at 70 degrees, that same volume of air, when cooled to 40 degrees will condensate. In an attic space in the winter, you have a cold roof. If any moist air hits that cold surface, the moisture will condensate. Why do you care of condensation? You care because it can lead to mold.  If no moist air gets into that interstitial space, you don't have a problem because there's nothing to condensate. If you air seal perfectly. Air sealing also stops the movement of air that you've spent good money to heat or cool. If you can stop air from moving, it's not going to take the warmth (or cool) out with it.

To save money, Mr. Man is air-sealing our attic himself. The back half of the house was easy - BECAUSE WE TORE DOWN ALL THE CEILINGS in the back half of the house.

The front half of the house is a little trickier to air seal because we did NOT tear down all the ceilings. Mr. Man has air sealed about 3/4 of our 'attic' by crawling around on his belly patching any holes in the 3 chimneys and blowing air sealing foam from a giant can into the space between the furring strip on the exterior wall and the attic ceiling.  He's got a little more to do, then we're ready to insulate. Which is good, because it's hot up in here. AGAIN.

July 5, 2012

Happy Birthday America: On Lockdown

I grew up in Grand Rapids, Michigan, in an old farm house at the intersection of a busy street and a less busy street. The house sat in a good school district, but right on the edge, one block from a....."transitional" neighborhood (Easttown).  A lesson about home ownership looms large from where I grew up: If it's not locked down? Don't be surprised when it disappears.

Between the ages of 7-17 my heart was broken three times when bikes were stolen from our enclosed-on-three-sides porch. For a kid, your bike in the summer is EVERYTHING. Bike=access to candy at corner store. Bike=getting to the house of a friend with a pool on a hot day. Bike=freedom. I remember the glory of riding home at night, pedaling so hard the thin film of dirt/sweat coating my little body evaporated in the wind.

I can still hear my mom saying (the second and third time my bike was stolen) "If a person does not lock up their bike? Perhaps a person will need to use their babysitting money for a new bike."
Holiday decorations were lifted from the house too: strings of twinkly white Christmas lights or 4th of July bunting. It broke my mother's heart deeply, so deeply in fact that she eventually stopped putting out decorations. It absolutely escaped her how a human being could walk up to something lovely that didn't belong to them and take. it. Money was tight and she'd gone to all that effort to create something beautiful. I learned my version of this lesson last summer when one of our Boston fern hanging baskets disappeared.

Now EVERYTHING I put out is on lock down.
Happy Birthday America.