Friday, May 10, 2013

Cheese Wheels

A couple of kind readers asked about what kind of insulation I used and why, so I'll try to answer those questions here.

But first, a warning:  Y'all, I really do not know what I am doing.  I suspect that people who read this blog do so just for the entertainment value of watching me get into one mess right after another, so when somebody asks me a question about house stuff it really throws me off guard.  I'm probably not really the person you should ask about house stuff.  If you see a glow in the sky and you're not sure if it's the setting sun or a big-ass fire, if you're bleeding and you can't figure out how to stop it, if you think you smell natural gas in your all-electric house, if somebody in the same room with you is flopping around on the floor like a crappie--in any of those situations, ask me.  I'll know just what to do.  House stuff, not so much.  What works for me may not work for you.  A thousand other people probably have a better idea.  Every situation is different.  Your results may vary.  I will not be held responsible if you hurt yourself, someone else, or your house because you followed my dumb advice.  

So, that's out of the way.  Let's dive right in the deep waters.

The stuff I used is unfaced, R-19 fiberglass insulation that comes in a great big roll.  I took a pic of it next to the washer and dryer so you can see what I mean by "great big".  It's also yellow.  I think it looks like a giant cheese wheel.  You shouldn't eat this, though.  Ever.

"Unfaced" means that it doesn't have a backing of paper or plastic on either side of it.  It's just a big roll of fiberglass batting.

Apparently there is a giant debate about faced versus unfaced insulation.  When I asked the guy at the hardware store about it, he said, "Ask ten different people about it, you'll get ten different opinions."  His opinion is that you should use faced insulation if you're putting it next to an exterior surface, like a wall or a roof.  The faced (paper) part goes to the interior side of the installation. He says you should use unfaced insulation if you're adding it to already existing insulation, like in an attic, or if you're using it next to an interior surface.

Now wait just a cotton-pickin' minute here.  He says you should use faced insulation next to a roof, but I used unfaced.  Why did I do that?  Well, because Mare  thinks that faced insulation traps moisture and doesn't let the house "breathe".  I have some reservations about Mare's opinion but he's fairly passionate about it, and since he threatened not to help me with various things, I bought unfaced insulation.  Time will tell if Mare's right or the guy at the hardware store is.  (That's kinda scary.)

Installing it by myself kicked my butt.  It's not really the installation that's hard, it's all the climbing up and down the ladder. Here's the most important piece of advice I have: Read the instructions on the insulation and follow them.  (Sounds simple, but I overlook this sometimes.) You really do need to wear long pants, long sleeves, gloves, real shoes, eye protection and at least a mask if not a respirator.  Also, the size of that cheese wheel next to the dryer ain't nothin' compared to how big it is when you rip off the plastic wrap.  Drag the insulation where you want it before you remove the plastic.  Then roll it out as much as you can and let it get all nice and fluffy.  Insulation is really easy to cut with a utility knife if you use a piece of scrap lumber as a straight edge to mash it down with.  You can mash the insulation while you're cutting it, but after that try not to.  I cut the insulation into pieces about 3 feet long or so because that size was the easiest to "feed" through the furring strips in my ceiling without either smashing it or tearing it when I pulled it through.  I just butted the pieces right up next to each other as I went along.  The whole thing took me a little over three hours for a room that's 11 feet by 14 feet.  When I finished, I washed my fiberglass-furred clothes all by themselves and ran the rinse-and-spin cycle twice just to be sure all the fiberglass was gone off the clothes and out of my washer.

And that, my friends, is the total of my meager knowledge about insulation.


  1. I cannot believe you did that by yourself wow!!
    I admire you!!
    You are brave, and very determined!

  2. There are times when I wish I had a completely covering protective suit before I did something. I think insulating might be one of them :-)

    What do you do if you have an all-electric house and you smell natural gas? Go outside to see what's going to blow up? Call 911?

    1. I'm going to buy one of those suits.

      If you smell natural gas inside or outside your house, call 911. Don't use anything that could cause a spark or a flame. Don't turn on or off any additional electrical devices. (In other words, if something's on, leave it on; if it's off, leave it off.) If the odor is inside the house, leave and go at least 350 feet away, uphill and toward a breeze if possible. If it's outside, leave the area. Keep all bystanders away from the area if it's safe to do so.

      Those are the instructions we give 911 callers. I have 'em memorized. Can you tell we get a lot of calls about natural gas and "funny" odors? (We treat unknown odors as gas until proven otherwise.)

  3. 1) I love your titles! 2) Imagine this: your advice sounds like professional advice... I bet you are good at what you do. 3) I know very little about insulation either, but I do think maybe Mare is onto something. Think about it... when our houses were built over 100 year ago, central air and heat were not heard of. Hot days and cold winters were! Houses were not made so tight that fumes building up were an issue, and women wore layers and layers of long sleeves and skirts. I don't read that hundreds died of carbon monoxide buildup from gas lamps, or in other ways they first began using gas in homes such as yours. Likewise, "swooning" was heard of, but probably not on a day in- day out basis. In the evenings, people did more "porching" (isn't this a term of either you or Christine?) instead of being stuck indoors. Dutch doors, summer kitchens, and transom windows all allowed airflow that now we try to close up or insulate the heck out of. Life was simpler, yet possibly physically more challenging.

    1. After reading your comment, I think he's onto something too. In the summer, I hardly run my air conditioner at all because my high ceilings, transoms, and windows (now that I have some of them pried open) provide a lot of air flow through the house. In the winter, I just close off part of the house (mainly the front half of it) and that keeps the rooms I'm living in much warmer.

      And yes, both Christine and I do plenty of porching!!

  4. Flopping around on the floor like a crappie? Bah, ha. ha...

    1. Yep, on the phone, radio, and in public we call that "a seizure"...privately, it's "crappie-floppin". Haha!

  5. I guess insulation is one of the most controversial topics ever, but here's what I've gathered:
    You want to avoid moist insulation at all cost, because it ruins the R-value and rots any wood next to it.

    In Northern climates the main issue is warm moist air from the inside of the house (people breathing etc.) getting into the insulation and condensing on the cold side. Therefore, you want a moisture barrier between the heated indoors and the cold attic/exterior/whatever. In hot, humid climates with air-conditioned interiors it's the exact opposite.

    Now things get complicated. Apparently some kinds of insulation (e.g. denim) are better at getting rid of moisture than others and don't really need a vapour barrier. Unfortunately, fibreglass and rock wool are known to be fairly bad and get soaked, so I'm not sure skipping this part was a good idea. In Canada and most European countries they actually don't use paper-faced insulation but cover the entire surface with plastic (seams taped with vapour barrier tape) before the drywall goes up. I guess you could still do that.

    But that's just what I've gathered... the DIY store guy was perfectly right, although I'd change that to "ask 10 people and you'll get 15 opinions". Some people passionately hate any insulation at all (actually it feels like they're on some kind of crusade against it) and others seem to think it's the cure for all our problems.