Rigid foam insulation is the best thing since sliced bread. It’s thin, effective, has a great r-value and acts as a vapor barrier. With the time and space saved, it’s worth its weight in…well, rigid foam. It’s sort of expensive though at $18.99 per 4’x8′ 1 inch thick sheet. But the mice hate it and once it’s installed, it’s good for life. That’s why I’m using it to insulate the log cabin room.
I gave you a sneak peek of the one finished wall in my window installation post, but now that this phase of the project has begun, I’m going to be talking about insulation a lot more.
Okay – where to begin. When this past Winter rolled around, we felt a distinct chill in the air. We felt drafts and cold walls. Laura and I had conversation upon conversation about why the house was so cold. After locating and fixing some of the larger problem areas, I decided to start methodically tackling the lack of proper insulation in this house. She kept asking me, “Why don’t people insulate correctly in the first place?” I replied, “Because houses get built in the Summer. Insulation is one of the last things people think about when they are sweating. Also, builders have a tough time reconciling the fact that Winter will return. When they build, it’s 80 degrees out.”
I know that doesn’t make too much sense when reading it, but it’s true. Even me – the insulation nut, has mostly forgotten about the cold now that’s it’s late Spring. I have to kick myself to recall waking up to a house that’s 30 degrees on the inside. My plan is to stop that from occurring, because as they say in book 1 of “Game of Thrones” (which I’m reading at the moment), “Winter is coming.”
In the log cabin room, I felt moving air during the cold months. The room is constructed with 6 inch thick logs, one stacked on top of the other. For the peaks and the roof, it’s stick built. Since the walls are solid, they are not insulated. At an r-value of 1.5 per inch of solid wood, the walls currently have an r-value of 9. That’s far below what’s recommended. Not that I know what’s recommended, but I can imagine having walls with an r-value of 9 is low. The ceiling is insulated with r-19 insulation. That’s also low (I can imagine). But really, the issue in the room isn’t low r-value – it’s draft. The room isn’t sealed. There are hairline gaps and checking in the wood that the walls are constructed of and the roof has a ridge vent that warm air is finding its way through. A layer of plastic all over the interior of the room would work wonders, but I’m going to step it up a notch.
When I touched the walls of the log cabin room over the Winter, they were cold. But while they were cold, they weren’t freezing cold. That solid wood was doing a decent job of insulating the room. I attribute the cold and draft to the ceiling and the windows. As you know, the windows are now installed and sealed.
I got the idea of installing rigid foam to the interior of this room a while back, after learning about insulation ad nauseum. And when I say ad nauseum, I mean ad nauseum. Much of my Winter months were consumed with me reading articles about how insulation works. And after all that reading, I made the decision to go with rigid foam. Here’s why: with foam insulation, the room gets sealed from air flow. The room also gets a vapor barrier. A vapor barrier is very important because I’m pretty sure no one wants to see water leaking out from the interior of their walls.
Do you know how water condensation works when it comes to insulation? No? Well, let me fill you in. When warm, moist air comes in contact with cold, dry air, condensation occurs. More specifically, condensation occurs right at the point of contact. Say you have fiberglass insulation installed in a wall with no vapor barrier. One side of the insulation is cold from the outside air and the other side is warm from the inside air. In this case, somewhere in the middle of that insulation is going to be the point of contact for those two temperatures and moisture levels. When the air collides, you get condensation and puddles. Or, you get sopping wet fiberglass insulation in your walls.
Back when we lived in Pine Bush, NY, we had a house where the corners of a few rooms weren’t insulated. Common problem caused by lazy builders. I can remember trying to paint those rooms in the middle of Winter and having the paint run down the walls and not drying properly. The issue was that those sections of wall were freezing and condensation was forming in the interior of the house. The sheetrock was the vapor barrier. That’s why insulation and the proper r-value is important.
Okay, enough of the lesson. Let’s get to some pictures of what I’ve done so far in the log cabin room. My basic plan is to skin the room with 1 inch thick rigid foam insulation. This will give the entire room a boost of 5 r-value points. This room had no issues with condensation and the temperature dropped to -24 this past season. Like I said above, I’m mostly concerned with drafts.
I’m taping all the seams and I’m going to inject foam in all the gaps that are left exposed after the install is completed. I think it’ll be great.
A few days ago, I picked up this really great tool. It’s an adjustable t-square. I was going to go with the fixed one, but Laura persuaded me to get the adjustable one, just in case. Well, I used the adjustable part yesterday to find the angle of the peak in this particular room and wow, just look at the results.
I’m not sure I’ve ever cut an angle of anything so perfectly. Here are a few pictures of the t-square. The 4 foot length is also especially handy for cutting long strips of insulation like this.
I’ll take more pictures of this part of the project as I go along. I know how exciting it is for all of you!
Air Sealing Rigid Foam Insulation
Since we received some nice snow recently, Laura and I decided to go for a walk in it. We did our usual route – up the road and back. It’s two miles and just long enough to get out whatever it was that we needed to get out. Remarkable how that works. Take a break to loosen up a bit.
Anyway, as we walked out of the house and onto the sidewalk, I noticed that the roof of the log cabin room had some snow melt. I looked at the roof, looked at Laura and then looked back at the roof. I said, “That’s not supposed to be like that. I just insulated that room. Why is the heat from inside still coming through to warm to roof?”
Snow Melt on Log Cabin Room Roof
Snow Melt on Roof
As I stood there on the sidewalk, somewhat disappointed, I began to wonder why the melt was happening. I decided to walk around to the back of the house to see if the same thing was happening on the other side of the roof. If anything, there should be more snow melt back there because that’s the side the wood stove is on. It gets mighty warm in there. Also, the roofs are facing east/west, so neither get much sun. I’d say things are about equal, especially during winter. Do you want to see what I found on the other side of the roof?
Snow on Roof
Well, isn’t that interesting. Little, if any real snow melt on that side. Something was going on.
A few weeks ago, I installed rigid foam insulation on the back side of the ceiling in the log cabin room. As I did this, I sealed (with silicone caulk) around the large cross beams that go from one side of the room to the other. My caulk sealing basically made that side of the ceiling water tight. I like to say that if you tipped the room upside down, you could fill it with water. No leaks.
Taping Rigid Foam Insulation
Sealing Rigid Foam Insulation With Silicone Caulk
I also taped all the seams between the pieces of rigid foam on that side as well. I already told you, though, that I plan on removing the tape to seal with silicone.
It only took a few moments for me to realize what was happening and why snow was melting on one side of the roof, but not the other. I sealed one side of the ceiling, but not the other side.
Rigid Foam Insulation Around Cross Beam
Unsealed Rigid Foam Insulation
After I realized this, I made a mental note of where those large beams were located inside and then lined them up with where the snow was melting. Amazing how much heat loss can occur from such small unsealed openings, isn’t it?
What’s the lesson here? Insulate with anything other than fiberglass (air travels right through fiberglass insulation) and be sure to air seal the hell out of your air-tight insulation. It’ll go a long way.
Insulating Walls with Rigid Foam
I have a somewhat entertaining story for you. Here goes…
Last week some time, mother nature decided to throw some -2 degree temperatures at us. I read the weather forecast ahead of time and after reading it, I stood up tall and puffed my chest out. I did this because I was me – and as you may remember from one of my earlier posts, I had installed a nice, new, shiny, gigantic wood burning stove. I have been waiting for the cold weather because, hmmm…let me see…as I put it, “I don’t know if we’re even going to need to use the pellet stove anymore. This wood stove is so great, we’ll be sweating in here all winter.” I love remembering all the fun things I say.
As it turned out and as the cold weather hit, Laura and I began freezing our asses off. I felt a little stupid in the beginning, but following my explanation of thermodynamics to my better half, I felt even stupider. After hitting rock bottom, I finally admitted that the problem wasn’t our heat sources, it was the fact that we were living in what can only be described as a colander. You know, a spaghetti strainer. Stand anywhere in the house you want, you can feel a draft hitting you right in the face. And in those special corners and dark nooks, you can even smell fresh air from outside. How? Who knows.
So many things went through my mind as I sat there wondering why my stupid wood stove wasn’t keeping the place warm. I first thought that I should really crank the sucker up and harness all the BTUs it has to offer (running out of wood the whole time). After that, I thought I should run over to the pellet plant and grab a few tons of pellets to run both stoves simultaneously. Finally I thought that I should just get going and fix the source of the problem. The reason why the stoves have to work overtime to keep the house a measly 60 degrees. I needed to get back into insulating, so that’s what I did.
I want to give you a quick analogy here because I’ve been thinking of it all week, and really, this is the only place I can speak freely. I get the feeling that a few specific people are getting tired of me talking about insulation. This blog doesn’t talk back or have any feelings, so it’s probably the best place to talk shop.
Say you live in an area that has cold winters – and one day, while it’s bitterly cold outside, you decide to stand on your front sidewalk totally naked. I’m sure you can imagine what would happen within just a few minutes of standing there. Yes, you’d get cold and begin to freeze. Now, we all know that when we get cold, our bodies shiver. The reason our bodies do this is to burn stored energy (food) to create heat (body temperature). If it was really cold outside or if your shivering wasn’t getting you warm enough, you’d most likely begin to jog in place. If things get bad enough, you can play touch football in the front yard, but that would be tough to find people to go up against, so you’d most likely just jog in place.
Funny thing would happen if you jogged in place long enough – you’d get hungry. Why? Because you probably burned off enough stored energy. Your body would feel that and want more food to stay in operation. So you ask someone to throw you a ham sandwich out the front door. They do and you chomp it down. You feel better, but strangely enough, as you continue to jog, you continue to get hungry. You ask for another ham sandwich and you get one, but the cycle continues. Sure, you can stay warm, but the price to pay for that is a whole heck of a lot of ham sandwiches. We like to call this, “feeding the beast.” It’s also known as needless energy consumption.
How much does a goose down coat cost? I’d guess that a nice one costs a few hundred bucks. Imagine that someone got sick of you jogging naked outside the front door and having to continuously toss ham sandwiches to you, that they chucked out a goose down parka instead. You slip that sucker on and fall asleep, nice and warm all night long. No more ham sandwiches necessary. We call that insulation. It’ll take a hundred ham sandwiches to pay off that goose down parka, but after it’s paid for and put on, you won’t have to jog anymore and you’ll be a heck of a lot more comfortable. Get what I’m saying here? I’m sick of jogging.
Since I was only partially finished with insulating the log cabin room, I decided to head out to Campbell’s building supply in Madison a few days ago to purchase ten sheets of one inch thick rigid foam. I bit the bullet and got all ten. I usually only do around four at a time, but I figured that it really makes no difference at this point. The room has got to get done. And now that I know how far ten sheets go, I know that I only need about five more to finish completely.
I have been working on attaching the foam board to the walls for a few days. I’m trying to do a nice, tight job, so the thermal barrier will be something I’ll never have to worry about again. As you can see from the picture below, I used tape to seal the seams for the first part of the install, but abandoned it after realizing that silicone caulk does a much better job. Unfortunately, I ran out of caulk, so I’ll need more before I continue. Here’s a picture of what I’ve done so far:
Insulating With Rigid Foam
And here’s a picture of a seam that I sealed with silicone caulk. I’ll tell you – it’s a really strongly sealed seam. I love the caulk idea. It practically bonds the pieces of foam board together.
Sealing Rigid Foam Seam With Silicone Caulk
The temperature hasn’t dropped back down to the single digits yet, so I don’t know if this insulation made an improvement, but I will tell you that the log cabin room holds its temperature much better than it used to. Yesterday, it was about 32 degrees outside and all we had going was the pellet stove in the other room. The log cabin room stayed a cool 60 degrees and didn’t move all day. It actually may have risen towards the end, meaning that the room is holding temperature and keeping the heat in, as opposed to letting the walls and ceiling suck it all out.
It’s all about stopping the conductive heat loss with the rigid foam r-value and then stopping the convective heat loss with the air barrier of the foam and then the silicone sealant. If you can accomplish stopping both of those things, you’ll have a nice toasty warm house without burning all your firewood and pellets.
Up next, drywall and paint.
Installing Drywall Over Rigid Foam Insulation
It’s been an exciting past two days. A few weeks ago, the heat of summer broke and I got up off my duff to begin working on the house once again. The first project was to finish the drywalling in the log cabin room. This is something that has taken me almost two and a half years to complete. I began a long time ago and just yesterday afternoon, I finished. Well, the drywalling part anyway.
Let’s look back some many many months. When Laura and I first moved in to this house, we were greeted by a rather cozy “separate” room that sits off the main house. To see photos of it, please visit this post:
Working on the Log Cabin Room
Personally, I though the room was great. It wasn’t until our first winter rolled around that I realized a small insulation problem. The Problem was – there was none. Sure, the walls were solid wood, much like a traditional log cabin’s walls are, which sort of insulates, but in between the rows of solid wood were air gaps. As you may have guessed, air gaps in walls during January nights of -23 degrees are an issue. We decided to barricade the room off and focus on more pressing projects.
Here’s a funny story for you. During the more windy days and nights of our first winter and after we closed the door to the log cabin room, Laura and I would sit around listening to that door bang back and forth on its framing. The room has such air infiltration that the mere change of pressure between it and the outdoors would create a vacuum and then pressure and would repeat over and over again. Sitting there listening to it prompted me to head back during the early spring with a crowbar in hand. You can see how I tore the drywall ceiling out in the post I linked to above.
The best idea I could come up with to solve the lack of insulation issue was to layer rigid foam over the existing walls and ceiling. I screwed the foam right up against everything and when I was done with that, I taped all the seams. Immediately, I felt a huge difference. There was no more air leakage and no more cold spots. It was incredible. If you’d like to read about that experience, you can do so in these three posts:
To make things even more tight, I blocked off one window (which still needs to be covered from the outside) and replaced the four that remained. Basically, this created an airtight room, which is exactly what I was looking for.
A few months ago, I began to hang dry wall. While this wasn’t very difficult to do, I did it alone and quickly bored of it. I think if drywall was the only thing to hang, I could have tackled the project with much more gusto. The fact that I had to first tear the entire room apart, then install the rigid foam and then replace the windows did nothing other than to cause me to completely lose interest. After living in so many houses and doing pretty much the exact same types of repairs, I simply don’t want to do it anymore. Even as I sit here and write, I look at the walls that surround me and wonder when I’ll get to the spackling that needs to be gotten to.
Anyway, I worked all Sunday and then half of Monday to finish the drywall. Now, I made a promise to myself that I’ll take advantage of the momentum that I created and continue to spackle. As you can see in the (horrible) photos below, I already have begun that endeavor.
Here are a few photos. I tried to brighten them up as much as possible.
I really wish I had one of those clean construction sites to share, but unfortunately, all I have is a lived in area where I have to work around everything that’s currently there. Even Steve’s poor old couches are in the way. I have to keep shuffling them back and forth. Oh well, I’ll finish up soon.
So there you have it. I’m not sure if I wrote this post more for you or more for me. I love keeping tabs on my progress. I get to look back at exciting photos such as these during later years. The next post I write about this topic will include photos of mud, or spackle, or whatever you want to call it.