Insulation

Boy am I glad that’s over! As a university employee I had the week between Christmas and New Year’s off, and I spent 3 full days of it crawling around under the house installing insulation. It was nasty, difficult work, and I’m hoping we’ll see a payoff in comfort and lower heating bills.

I planned to start Tuesday, and borrowed Dad’s truck to transport the bundles of insulation, but when I got to Lowe’s and started calculating how much I’d need I realized that I might as well have it delivered. I chose Johns Manville R19 with a mold resistant vapor barrier, which comes in bundles of 9 batts, each 23 (or 15) by 92 inches. Our house is 3000 sq ft, so I figured I’d need about 1400 sq ft to cover the ground floor (I knew that one area already had insulation in place). Since the bundles cover 133 sq ft, I ordered 11 bundles for delivery (I discovered later that Dad’s truck holds about 5-6 bundles easily). The thing that made delivery a no-brainer is that Lowe’s was running a promotion that included free delivery on a purchase of $300 or more. I was buying over $850 worth, so no problem there.

I was very happy to hear that they could deliver the next morning, because I had recently realized I had a deadline: the Federal tax credits for energy efficiency improvements would end on Dec. 31st! So I had 1400 sq ft. of insulation to install in our crawl space in three days.

To my delight the driver called Tuesday night and said he’d be there first thing in the morning, and he was right, they pulled up about 8:30. They couldn’t back in the driveway, and the bundles were heavy, so I backed the truck out to place the bed even with the back of their truck and we rolled bundles into it until it was full. Then I pulled forward (the crawlspace access door is at the back of the house) and tossed them onto the ground. Repeated the process once more and they were on their way to their next stop.

I had planned to cut batts to length in place (ie while under the house) and very quickly realized that was going to be impossible. So I set up a prep station on our patio table (a board that I could cut on and my 6 ft level for a straightedge), and got to work. I had bought several packages of steel supports (just straight pieces of wire about 26 inches long, with sharp points) and they made it fairly easy to put the insulation in place, by just propping one end of the batt in place, pushing a wire up to wedge it between the joists, and then lifting up the next foot or so and repeating the process.  The hard part was the working position and access: I must have crawled several miles on my hands and knees, and sometime wriggling on my stomach under ductwork.  For each area that I worked I’d crawl under with a notebook and measuring tape, measure and count the numbers of batts needed, crawl back out and cut them to length, and then crawl back under, pushing the batts ahead of me.

The work was not technically difficult, but physically demanding, and my biggest challenges were comfort and visibility.  Since I was working with fiberglass I followed all the recommendations re: safety, wearing long sleeves, gloves, goggles and a dust mask, and the goggles fogged up so badly I could hardly see what I was doing.  I started the work wearing a headlamp, (big fan of the Petzl tikka, ) and carrying a Maglite, but I realized after the first day that I’d left a 500W halogen work lamp under the house last time I was there, so I pulled in an extension cord and plugged it in. The difference was (brace yourselves…) like night and day!

I wasted a bit of time over the three days trying to remedy the goggle fogging issue. I googled a bit and found recommendations to smear the inside of the lens with soap, or a cut potato. One guy on youtube said it was a simple matter of increasing the pressure inside the googles (he was skiing) and suggested pasting bandages inside the googles. (I can no longer find that video…) Supposedly the bandages give off a gas (responsible for their characteristic smell) and would raise the pressure in the goggles enough to prevent fogging.

I tried soap, and then bandages, and neither worked. But the bandage idea got me thinking of better ventilation, so I wasted several hours playing with aquarium air pumps (first battery driven, then AC), rigging up an airstone and hose to pump air into the goggles. It didn’t help, the goggles still fogged so badly that I couldn’t see.

I gave up and installed the insulation without solving the fogging problem. I’ve thought about it since then, and if I ever have to deal with it again I’ve got a few ideas:

  • several vendors sell pancake fans less than an inch in diameter that many have installed into airsoft and paintball goggles, so it sounds like forced air is a viable option
  • the fogging was exacerbated by the moisture concentrated by my dust mask, and the cheap goggles didn’t seal to my face well enough to keep that moisture out. I think tighter sealing goggles would be easier to keep fog free.
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