Wednesday, September 16, 2015

DIY Insulation Caper, aka Renovators Without Borders

The problem: the downstairs bathroom, very pretty little place, full of art and art toys, has zero insulation on the outer wall.  This wall backs onto the inside of the outdoor storage place, where the breaker box is housed and various gardening implements used at will by the community.  I never lock it, since who knows when someone urgently needs my stepladder or portable ramp or gardening tool and I'm not there.  And it's in the full blast of the wind, to the point that leaves and debris blow in there all the time no matter how carefully the door is fitted and snug to the threshold.

So the outside wall backing onto the bathroom is, well, it looks like cardboard to me, but I'm told sheetrock, and it clears the floor by a full half inch.  You could slide your fingers completely under it and encounter only the two by four between the elements and the bathroom floor. Hence the screaming wind in the winter.

So I consulted with various authorities, all of whom live in similar places, and we looked into the sort of foamy stuff you can fire into the cavity, but I vetoed that since it only swells and cures on an open wall with oxygen going, but inside this closed cavity would make sludge and no better insulation.  Then I wondered what else might work that is cheap and light and I can do.

So neighbor and handyperson Helen said, wait, I used styrofoam sheets on my indoor closet (different house design, same problem but hers is a coat closet that backs onto the outdoor wall).  And, since I'm very familiar with good old styrofoam in the studio, and decided I could use silicone caulk as a glue, went ahead and ordered up a package of four sheets.

Total cost about $30.  I measured and found the wall is eight feet, which I expected, by three feet, with a gap for the breaker box which requires a bit of extra cutting. And I got a package of four 2 x 4 foot sheets, ripped one down the middle, just using a pencil, a straightedge and a lino knife.  Then installed the halves on top of one another, ripped side concealed behind the doorframe, then the second I attached whole from the floor up, 

and the third I cut across to allow for the breaker box and fitted that in from the ceiling down.

I buttered the back of the foamboards with the silicone caulk, using the highly technical tool you see here.  

Remember this is the renovator who once repaired three broken sashes in double hung windows, the ancient kind with the weight going down into a pocket, weighed a ton, using a steak knife to remove the frame and my tack hammer to set it back after the sashes were repaired. 

They were charging $100 per window if I'd hired someone.  Why the steak knife?  well, for domestic reasons too complicated to go into, all the tools had decamped leaving me with a big house, no money and no tools.  But I was determined to get those windows to open.  Where was I?

Oh yes,  buttering the foamboards.  The reason I had to use a knife and saw open the container is that every time I try to use a caulking gun, the bottom of the container pops off and I have two handfuls of caulking, none of it coming from the nozzle.   And my hands are not strong enough to squeeze it out manually.  So sawing and buttering was the answer, though I doubt if any handyman would recognize the terms.

I was very happy that my measuring resulted in such a snug fit for the top piece that I had to press and squeeze it into place, yay, good stuff.  And I caulked some of the joins.  You will see that there are a couple of bits still to cover, not yet done because of a technical hitch.  I ran out of caulking compound. 

 No problem, I can cut the extras at my leisure and they'll be simple to attach, after a trip to the hardware store.  Meanwhile back inside the bathroom you can not detect any draft at all at the floor level. Last winter it was lifting the rug!  

My next door neighbor and good friend was dying to take over and do this for me, but I knew he would introduce all kinds of sophistication, translation -- complication, into a simple operation, so I sneakily did this this morning while he's away on vacation.  That was starting to sound like a comic riff from G and S..

He was urging that I get a third friend to bring a special power saw to cut the sheets, all very Y chromosome. He wants to do a similar thing to his own storage wall, but he plans on tearing out the entire wall, using manly power tools and so on, and I didn't exactly want that level of attention to the issue.

And if anyone's worrying about outgassing in case of fire, don't.  This is outside the house, in fact outside the firewall, and it's not the exit anyone would be trying to use.   

So it's, almost, done.  The messy blots on the breaker box was done by the original builders, not by your faithful renovator.  Just sayin'

I now have the rest of the third sheet to cut and fit into the final gaps and an entire sheet to play with in the studio.  Always nice to have a backup sheet in case of disastrous mismanagement with one of the others, such as falling on it and breaking it, or cutting in the wrong direction.  Quite a contrast to stitching peacefully on goldwork.


  1. i am impressed. a woman after me own heart, for sure.

    if you have some tiny impossible places to fix, plastic bags (a la store bags and bread wrappers) stuffed into the crevices work extremely well. you just stuff until you run out of bags, space to fill, or patience. (if you have enough, they also make lovely squashy cat pillows)

    And I agree with you about the steak knife. It's probably the handiest tool never invented. As a friend of mine who is a librarian always says, "it's one of those things that they never told you about in Library School..."
    I have a box cutter, but I can never find it when I need it, so I head for the tool--er--silverware drawer...

  2. Good for you. Now, for heavens sake, sit down and have a nice cuppa. Its shocking that the original structure was so poorly built.

  3. I'm not good with a caulk gun, either. I need to put a strip of the silicone kind between the bathtub and the floor. I've hesitated all this time because it's a very visible strip. It'll look like a Pretty Polly, aged two, did it.

    I'm not good with cutting, in general, so I'm impressed with how you cut the sheets so well.

  4. Very good. We could have done with you here for the house renovations.

  5. A very tidy job! Well done. And I guess your neighbor doesn't read your blog? ;)

  6. He's on the mailing list but never reads nonwork email unless instructed to!

  7. About the tea--I had made a nice pot to go with a maple walnut slice (from the 123book), came on here in case there were any comments and thought yessss, a person after my own heart!

  8. No more gale force breezes in the winter time - good show! I'm sure your guests will be most grateful.


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