Funny story here. The story’s not actually over yet, but I think I’ve got a handle on things.
A few nights ago, Laura and I were talking. We were kind of chilly and our discussion revolved around the next evening’s low temperature of -24 degrees. Apparently, much of the country recently went through some huge wind chill. Since we’re pretty North, we got hit hard. Nothing really out of the ordinary, but still quite cold. And just to let you know, after it gets below zero, you really can’t tell the difference in temperature. All that changes is the length of time it takes for you to freeze solid.
As we were talking, the issue of heat came up. For the past few weeks, we’ve been trying to decide which is better, a wood burning stove or another pellet stove with a backup generator. I already have a generator, but if we were to rely on an electric appliance to give us heat, I would need a backup. Anyway, as we were discussing the heat thing, I kept wondering why it was so cold in the first place. Not outside, but inside. Why was it that when the temperatures outside hit below zero, the pellet stove would have a tough time keeping up. How was the cold getting inside?
Since we arrived here, we noticed something funky going on with the bathrooms. They are always cold, which leads us to keep the bathroom doors closed, which leads to frozen and burst pipes. It was a catch 22 – either leave the doors open and freeze out the rest of the house or close them and have to clean up a mess in the morning. No matter how good I’m getting at sweating pipes, I’ll tell you it gets old after a while. It hasn’t yet (because I love doing it), but I’m sure it will soon.
Tip: To help avoid frozen pipes, turn the main water off. Then, open a few faucets and close them again. This will release the pressure in the system and give the expansion somewhere to go.
When there was a pause in the conversation, I walked into the downstairs bathroom, which was about 30 degrees. The door was closed and the temperatures outside were falling fast. I grabbed a chair, pulled down the plastic I stapled to the ceiling after a previous pipe burst and stuck my head up in between the sheetrock and the wooden area between the lower floor and the upper one. I shined the flashlight around and noticed that the cobwebs were blowing in the wind. I think my head turned blue because it was so cold in between the upstairs floor and the downstairs ceiling. I told Laura right there that I was a little tired of dancing around the issue of the bathrooms. I was going to fix them.
See, the house we live in is post and beam construction. These types of houses are notoriously difficult to insulate. This one is pretty good, but the rooms with sheetrock in them are really terrible. Where there’s sheetrock, one must insulate and insulate well.
That night, I pulled down a small chunk of sheetrock behind the bathtub. I had a feeling the trouble was coming from back there. I was right, from my vantage point, I was able to see the corner beam of the house and all the gaps between us and the outer wall. It was almost as if nothing was between us at all. I’ll tell you – freezing.
Let me start off with a few before pictures just to get you warmed up.
Well, as it turns out, by pulling down the last remaining hope of warmth in the bathroom and keeping the door closed all night, I accidentally froze each and every thing in the vicinity. Even though I turned the water off to release the pressure in the pipes, I ended up having to replace five broken ones the day after (yesterday). That little treat took up about three hours of my life.
The good news of this whole thing is that starting yesterday morning, I tore the entire bathroom down and insulated it. You can now keep the door closed all night long and it will only drop a few degrees. It’s utterly amazing.
I’m going to give you a short photo sequence below. I’ll write descriptions after the photos.
This is what happens when you keep the door of a cold room closed. To avoid the room and plumbing from freezing, insulate correctly.
Silly me. In an attempt at heating the bathroom in the morning, I used a kerosene heater, which warmed the toilet unevenly. After a while of heating, I heard a “clunk.” It was a piece of toilet hitting the floor. I wanted a new toilet anyway (not). But seriously, I had to change the gasket underneath. That doesn’t mean I wanted to replace the toilet though. I may actually try to epoxy it.
For future reference, it’s actually a terrible idea to run a heat source that relies on the movement of water through a house in Maine. If you were able to guarantee that the power would never go out, your generator would always start up and if the boiler was to function 100% of the time, I’d say go for it. Otherwise, it’s a very risky endeavor, unless, of course, you enjoy pulling down walls and repairing frozen pipes. If you live in a cold climate, do yourself a favor and rely on a heat source that doesn’t have the potential of freezing. This is a picture of what one of the baseboards looked like after I cut it out of the bathroom.
This window had no draft, but we realized it had no insulation around it. I remedied that by filling the gaps with “Great Stuff.” Now it’s fixed.
This is what I look like when I’ve had enough and I start pulling apart the bathroom.
And this is what it looks like after it’s done.
Much of the insulation issue stemmed from faulty insulating of the board and batten siding. Each piece of the “board” is only about eight inches wide. In between each piece is a gap, covered by a batten. This is air leak central as you might imagine.
The way to fix this is to use one inch rigid foam insulation, sealed with “Great Stuff” and then covered by R-19 fiberglass. Add a moisture barrier to that and you should be good.
I can’t even begin to tell you how much warmer the bathroom is. I keep going in there to see if it’s really true – and it is. The drafty corners were the issue, but the entire bathroom got an update anyway. And this will hopefully lead to many years of unfrozen pipes.
In this one pipe alone, there were two breaks. One in between each wall stud. There was another one in the wall next to it and two more upstairs, behind the tub in the that bathroom. That’s getting a makeover next.
I’ll add more photos and posts as I make my way through this bathroom update. I’m looking forward to posting as much as I’m sure you’re looking forward to reading!