November 10, 2008

Insulation blues

When I first purchased our home back in 2002 I noticed that our upper 1/2 story was fairly frigid during the cold weather months (roughly 9 months out of the year here in MN!) and broiling in the summer. I wasn't overly concerned about the temp disparity seeing as this level wasn't connected to the main heating system (radiant baseboard) and had a supplemental electric baseboard system. We just turn the heat on when we're using the room (which is any time we want to watch TV) and turn it off when we aren't (yay, energy conservation!). It doesn't take long to heat up as it's more like a 1/3 story than a 1/2. For lack of a photo, picture the highest point of the ceiling at roughly 6'5 for a span of 24 inches and then sloping down to about 3 ft. in height. It is indeed a cozy little nest!

But over the years this difference in temperature has been gnawing at the back of my mind. Take, for instance, this morning. After the chilliest night of the season so far (the overnight temp dipped into the 20's) and our main level thermostat set at 62 degrees I ventured upstairs only to find the temp was hovering around 57. Not too bad, you might think, except for the fact that the electric baseboard was left on its lowest setting overnight. Under normal circumstances it would probably have dropped to somewhere around 52 degrees. That's a difference of 10 degrees, and considering the fact that a) heat rises and b) we leave the doorway leading upstairs open all the time that's a pretty significant drop in temp! So I decided it was time to do a little investigating.

I've heard that the easiest way to find out whether your walls suffer from lack of insulation is to remove the switch plate from an outlet and take a look behind the electrical box. I did the next best thing and peered behind an unused phone jack. And what I found, or rather, didn't find, amazed me. There wasn't any insulation. None, nada, zip, zilch, ZERO!!! Seriously?!? Who finishes an attic, and even goes so far as to add a supplemental heating system, and doesn't insulate even an inch of the space???

Of course, now all the tell-tale signs are falling into place. The ever-increasing amount of cracks in all the seams, the darkening of all the screwheads through the mudding and paint (yes, we can easily identify each and every screw in this entire room!). Perhaps having been raised by DIY parents who built the house I grew up in themselves (aside from the foundation and framing) I naturally assumed that no able-minded person in the last quarter of the 20th century would simply forgo insulating their attic, especially in Minnesota!! Greg suspects one of the PO's was just trying to finish the space on the cheap. I think I'll stick with my conclusion of complete and utter idiocy.

That being said, we are now at a crossroads. How do we insulate this space? Do we go the seemingly easier route of blowing in insulation? Do we tear down the already craptastic walls and ceiling and start from scratch? And on top of all this, do we even dare attempt any remedy this year seeing as how I recently became a victim of the economic downturn and, like so many others, am currently out of a job? (I know, I know. I can hear so many of you screaming "hello!! no job, no income, no house projects!!" But in this case I see more of an urgency with the rising cost of utilities).

So house bloggers, I am reaching out to you all and asking for your advice. What were your remedies to insufficient insulation? Pro's, con's, things you would or wouldn't do if you had to do it over again? Oh, and if you know of any job openings in the Twin Cities area you can drop me a line as well ;)

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