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Weston Ginther
Posts: 63
Location: NW South Dakota - Zone 4b
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Are there any other thoughts or ideas when it comes to improving the exterior insulation, windows and siding of a conventional house?

Last year my wife and I bought a small conventional house that is FAR from being energy efficient. All of the windows are really old and leak air terribly. When I remodeled the bathroom, I got to see what the exterior of the house had for insulation and it is definitely not up to par with current insulating capabilities. Our best guess is that the house was built around the 1930s or 40s and by the looks of it, I wouldn't be surprised if the exterior shell of the house is still mostly original material. As for siding, the house has some kind of tile shingles that are fairly brittle and probably contain asbestos. The house has a length of 28' and a width of 24', with the length running north and south. The house sits on a basement that extends roughly 3' above the ground, while the remaining 5' of the basement is below ground.

Since the basement leaks water, we plan on excavating down and fixing the basement foundation (along with adding drain tile around the house and fixing the grade in the immediate area of the foundation). While the trench is dug around the basement, I would like to insulate the cement foundation and the rest of the house, as well. I thought about using a low toxin version of the rigid foam insulation for around the portion of the basement foundation that extends below ground. For insulating the rest of the exterior of house, I've debated between strawbales, rigid foam or rock wool. I would also like to have the cellulose insulation blown into the vented attic of the house. I plan on eliminating the two windows on the north side of the house and possibly increasing the sizes of the east and south facing windows. All of the windows that remain will be replaced, too.

When it comes to the insulation and siding, I want it to be as non-toxic as possible. We really want to minimize the amount of heat loss during the winter and heat gain during the summer.

If anyone has any suggestions, I would really appreciate it. Please, keep in mind we live in northwestern SD so we normally see temps of -20F in the winter (windchill often drops it to -50F) and 105F in the summer. The relentless winds and extreme temperature swings are definitely a big obstacle. Thanks, in advance, to anyone who might have a suggestion, no matter how small!


 
John Elliott
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Welcome to the joys of home ownership!

As far as durable siding, I have had good experience with Hardiboard, the Australian fiberglass/concrete invention that is commonly sold in home stores. Once you have your old siding off, there are lots of things that you can do that will increase the thickness and lower the thermal conductivity of your wall. In Poland, they have a lot of cheaply built high rise apartment buildings left over from the Communist era. What they are doing is to attach 4" styrofoam panels to the outside of the building (I guess with some sort of lag screw assembly), and then they restucco over the outside of the whole thing. I watched this being done on a 16-story apartment block and it was quite the project. Replacing the windows when you do something like that is a given, because suddenly the wall is 4-1/2" thicker and the old window just doesn't seem to fit right.
 
Andrew Parker
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Posts: 514
Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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Weston, sounds like quite the project. Increasing insulation can be done by adding on the inside or outside, or taking out what is there and replacing it with something better -- or a combination. Your home is already a bit small by today's standards, so I would advocate adding on to the outside. Foam is probably your most conventional option and should work great in the Dakota winters.

Don't forget that your attic insulation is the most important factor in winter. What is your roof like? The roof can be a limiting factor when adding on to the outside, especially with straw bales, and in getting a thick layer of attic insulation.

To keep your walls thin, you could remove the exterior siding and sheathing (if any) to access the existing insulation. Remove existing insulation and replace with fiberglass/mineral wool, cellulose or foam, replace sheathing, add a layer of 1" or 2" foam panel, then put up the siding.

If your attic is low at the eaves, blow closed-cell foam around the perimeter (make sure you leave channels for ventilation) then finish the rest of the attic with your preferred blown insulation. If you have room to work, I suggest you put up a radiant barrier under the roof deck (leave a gap for eaves to ridge ventilation). It will make a big difference in cooling costs.

Codes will restrict removal of windows. You can make them smaller, but you will need egress from any room that can be classified as a bedroom (regardless of planned use -- my inspector's rule of thumb was if it has a closet it is a bedroom). I put in casement windows sized to the minimum requirement. They let in plenty of light and they meet the code. I still use insulating curtains in winter.

Cementitious siding can be difficult to work with, heavy, brittle, generally cheaper than wood panels, doesn't soak up paint like wood, doesn't deteriorate as fast as wood. Go for a board and batten look. That is the easiest to finish and the wooden battens give some protection to the panel from impacts.
 
Angelika Maier
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Location: cool climate, Blue Mountains, Australia
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Changing window sizes is very expensive. I would stick to the existing opening and replace them with usual double glazed windows of a good standard. Take care that they insulate well when putting the windows in. If the house has asbestos siding you can use the existing structure to put usual bat insulation in. The rigid PS insulation is very dependent on someone doing it properly, and i have a personal dislike.
I would not use blow in insulation for the attic because it sits down after some years, I really prefer the bats.
As well to consider is the floor plan of the house. Here in Australia the entrance door opens directly into the lounge room. Apart from being impractical (were do you leave your coats and shoes?) you are not only losing energy when the door opens but you are heating against a door which has much less insulation than a wall. If you have a basement you can insulate the ceiling too. It would be helpful if you add some photos.
 
allen lumley
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Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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Weston Ginther : Properly done there is nothing as green as a retro fit on an existing house ! That Said, If you ask 12 people how to proceed you will get 10 answers,
and the answers that actually agree will be most out-of-date, and wrong !

I can actually recommend Cold Climate Housing Research Center (google cold climate and housing- they will come up first ) Thet are a Branch of Alaska University
in Fairbanks, You would expect them to know something about Cold climate housing ! Prices for fuel oil Last year on the tundra $10.oo U.S. per gallon !

There are a bunch of non-technical Videos, you want the one dealing with retrofit !Three good areas to help you under stand how to safely tighten up a house are
1) The stack effect in houses 50+% of all heat Energy costs in older houses is to replace the hot air lost due to the 'stack effect' in older houses !
2) The Alaska Wall and protecting your insulation and your houses structure from from failure do the moisture accumulation in exterior walls !
3) Heat loss due to - The Bridge or Bridging Effect and working to avoid this common construction mistake !

As I said, this is a pretty non-technical review, most of this material is covered by 1st year students at Alaska U. !

THink like fire, Flow like a gas, Don't be the Mushroom ! As always, your comments and questions are solicited and are Welcome ! PYRO - Logically BIG AL !
 
Andrew Parker
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Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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Changing window sizes need not be particularly expensive (when compared to the total cost of replacement windows and installation), especially if you are already doing some demolition, inside or out. If you are replacing aluminum or steel frame windows, you will likely already be doing some damage to get them out.

Mind numbing cold, wind and batt insulation are not a good mix. I used a hybrid system for my 2nd floor addition. In the walls (5.5"), I sprayed one inch of closed-cell foam against the inside of the exterior sheathing, then I blew in compacted fiberglass. I could also have used cellulose, but the blown fiberglass has less of a tendency to settle in the vertical space.

In the older part of the house, which has yet to be remodeled, we have conventional batt insulation, circa 1967. When the wind blows in winter, even the slightest breeze, it feels like we are living in a tent.

Settling of blown insulation is fine, as long as the installer compensates for the estimated settling. Batt is limited in attic installations in that you have to take special care with seams and gaps. Retrofitting batt in a small attic is often not a viable option. Cellulose is probably better than blown fiberglass in an attic, because there is far less air movement through cellulose.

The big problem with insulating a house, as with most things green, is "It takes Green to be Green." Do the best you can with the budget you have, and don't go into debt on the promise of "payback" based on what you won't be spending. It rarely works out that way.
 
Rufus Laggren
Posts: 481
Location: Chicago/San Francisco
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In 10 years of regular reading on this subject (ie. google) and maintaining/upgrading two 100 yr/old houses:

1) Plug the leaks. Including leaks between house spaces (eg. where a heating or plumbing pipe goes through the floor and wall).
- Windows and doors: remove the casing inside and caulk/foam all joints and leaks. May also help to caulk the periphery from the outside.
- Install weather stripping (various choices) to seal the opening/closing edges. Casement windows are fairly easy, double hung require some work; probably "rebuilding" the window to fit properly as well.
- From inside the basement, seal _beneath_ the sill plate. (Piece of wood the wall structure stands on)
- Just above the sill plate you can usually see the wall structure. Caulk or foam all joints all the way around the cavity. You can cut a couple pieces of 2" foam (to get 4" of insulation) 1/4" or so small to fit the outside surface of the wall cavity (between studs/joists) and foam in place to provide both air sealing and insulation.
- foam all penetrations for wires and pipes wherever you can see/reach. You want to stop unplanned air movement. Look under sinks, behind toilets, in closets, etc. In the attic, foam any pipe or wire coming into the attic from below.
- In the attic and in the basement - if the wall cavity is open (up or down) seal it with a piece of ridge foam cut small and foamed in place. Stop air moving up/down.
- Caulk the INSIDE and around every electrical box to prevent air getting in/out that way; the inside of most boxes has 4 - 5 screw holes as well as the point of entry for the wires. You have to pull out and extend all the wires in the box to do this, let the caulk dry then push the wires back in. This may turn into a rewiring project because of the age of the wires...
- Caulk/foam any penetrations in the top wall plate for plumbing or electrical.

You tired yet? Oh well. From what I understand this is _the_ single most important part of insulating a home. Stop the leaks.

2) Attic floor insulation is 2nd most important. Blown in celluose works the best at sealing the dozens of little leaks that are left and also settling into all the little space like good insulation has to do. If you want to rewire the house, do it first before covering all the electrical up w/insulation. Most houses have vented attics - ie. the attic space itself is not insulated and is expected to be a lot hotter and colder than the living space. This is accomplished by vents that can either be cut into the roof, front/rear louvers or windows w/a fan, or a ridge/soffit vent combo. If you use soffit vents, then before you insulate the attic floor you _must_ physically and positively ensure that there is a clear air passage between the soffit (behind the gutter) up along the bottom of the roof deck, past all insulation and into the attic space - at each and every (mostly) joist space. "They" make plastic or cardboard baffles which can be stapled to the roof and the top of the wall at each joist or you can fab your own from foam, 1/4" sheet rock, whatever you have handy, as long as it ensures a clear air passage 1" deep and the width of the joist space connecting the soffit and the attic space. If you have recessed can lights, you need boxes around them to keep the insulation away unless the cans are rated for insulation contact. Foam the back of any ceiling electric boxes to seal air leaks most easily.

3) Wall insulation. Blown in celluose is probably the best performer. If you think the shell (exterior sheathing) leaks then blown in fiberglass might be a better choice because it handles lots of water better; celluose will absorb a lot of water and then dry but if there is a lot of water leaks or a constant leak fiberglass is better. The celluose/fiberglass needs to be blown in "hard" to work as designed. After drilling a test hole in a space which has been filled, you should NOT be able to push you finger into the packed celluose - yes, that hard packed. When done this way the insulation dust gets into every little leak and cranny and forms a complete air seal in the wall (remember #1?). It's the only way to do this easily and effectively in an old house.

The asbestous tile you have on the exterior is one of the best (most effective and long lasting and maintenance free) sheathing materials ever made - if it's in good condition. Repairing it is an art beyond the scope of this post but it can be done. The asbestous is not a problem as long as the tile is not pulverized to dust. If you do keep it, don't ever throw any pieces away and always be on the look out for more similar colored tile for maintenance purposes.

An alternative method to insulate walls and roof is on the _outside_ using 4" - 8" of foam. This is a big job but can work well and leave your interior as is. All the windows and doors need to be modified because you have just increase the wall thickness by 4" to 8".

Foundation insulation: Very doable when you're "down there" anyway. Research insect and water problems. Protect the part above grade. One technique involves digging the trench 4' to 8' wide and about 2' deep and laying a horizontal insulating layer outwards from the building. IIRC this keeps helps keep the ground under the slab warm. But I'm not especially knowledgable about this method.

Zen and the art of insulating. If you can get through the whole house, you're a master! <g>


Rufus
 
allen lumley
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Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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Rufus Laggren : Blown in insulation will not stop any leaks or slow them down perceptively, they will only temporarily 'hide' them, before any insulation is added ,
especially in the attic, the old insulation must be pealed back to expose the many places that there are 'punctures in the envelope' wiring, plumbing and heating/
cooling runs that are not properly sealed, usually the flow of interior air out of the heated spaces leaves behind a marked layer of 'dirty insulation' where interior
air has migrated through the insulation leaving behind a deposit of entrained dirt particles.

Often a contractor adding more insulation will promise that after his crew has 'added more insulation' the leaks through 'old' penetrations will be sealed, this is only
possible if the old penetrations are very carefully resealed with caulking, foam and/or plastic vapor barrier sheets, this does little to prevent build-up of moisture
where the insulation is on the inside of the vapor barrier, or the vapor barrier was improperly installed !

Much has been gained in the understanding of exactly where we have failed as builders within the last, 40 years, to repeat the same tired old cliches of the last 40
Years will not help us as home owners, or as members of this beleaguered Planet !

Please see my comments just above ! For the Good of the Planet ! Big AL !
 
Rufus Laggren
Posts: 481
Location: Chicago/San Francisco
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Hi Allen

I hoped by numbering the methods I had indicated the order in which things needed to be done, however perhaps that was not clear enough. In my numbered bullets, #1 was seal all leaks and holes which could allow air movement; as I said, sealing leaks is _the_ most important part of controlling heat w/in a house. Only after sealing leaks does insulation become a worthwhile, which is why actual insulation was listed as #2 and #3.

Also, w/out sealing around pipes etc, blown in insulation often ends up places you didn't expect, usually to no particular value.

As I understand the current practice, hard packed celluose in walls will completely surround and compress any existing insulation and continue to fill the wall cavity, sealing all "pin hole" leaks; IOW, the hard pack celluose works regardless of whats in the wall - IF/WHEN INSTALLED PROPERLY. Proper installation is not rocket science but it's not a no-brainer, either. Manipulating 8' of 1" plastic semi-rigid hose through a 3" hole in the wall while regulating air flow and material feed does take some learning and practice; one needs to get the celluose evenly packed into the whole cavity to the proper density where it will seal and insulate the best. It _requires_ a good strong machine to do this; those offered for rent at the box stores (last I looked, last spring) are marginal at best. Which may be as well because the big machines can literally blow the inside wall covering off the studs if the operator is not careful. Quite embarrassing, I'd think... <g>

All my advice is simply a conceptual overview - no way does it prepare anybody to do the work. In order to understand home renovation one has to spend time (a lot of time if one wants to actually proceed responsibly) studying options and methods, hopefully using sources with both in depth experience and knowledge. Good sources are out there, easily accessible. I just try to raise important concepts to be considered. For those not technically inclined, then the path has to include studying the people (contractors) to be used and determining the preferred social engineering and procedures to get real information and good work from that kind of trades person. And that takes a lot of work, too - BTDT.

Rufus

 
allen lumley
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Location: Northern New York Zone4-5 the OUTER 'RONDACs percip 36''
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Rufus Laggren : YOU WERE RIGHT, AND I WAS WRONG ! I was guilty of filtering what you were saying about Blown-in insulation in terms of the dry type of loose fill blown-in
insulation, Next to spreading used motor oil onto drive ways and calling it 'driveway sealant,' The blown in fine and not so fine Cellulose insulation schemes cost lots of home
owners tens of thousands,around here, that is why there are few regional applicators of 'hard' or I think the mostly call it 'wet insulation' on the west coast !

One reputable company sent out a poorly trained crew,who were not taught how to inspect in the basement for Ballon type construction, 1/2 filled the basement will cellulose
blown in insulation, and spent two days cleaning their mess up, during which the cellar flooded a sump pump died, and they ended up buying the homeowner a new furnace,
and also that week partially did it again 8 houses away ! Much damage was also caused by contractors who plugged soffets and facia's and then of course there is the ever
popular put a foot thru the ceiling

The Hard or wet blown-in insulation is a totally different product, This type of blown in insulation will Seal penetrations and most air infiltration routes if used properly ! Though it
is No excuse, I was guilty of the very thing I tried to pin on you ! I had heard the claims before of sealing air leaks when it was B.S., It only takes a few bad contractors to
bias a whole generation of consumers against Technology that just sounds the same ! Try selling a call today by praising its 'Road hugging weight !' For the Craft ! Big AL. !

AGAIN, FOR THE RECORD : YOU WERE RIGHT AND I WAS WRONG ! Types of blown-in insulation do exist that can seal most air leaks ! Allen Lumley
 
Andrew Parker
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Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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I wholeheartedly agree. The best plans and material are only as good as the ham-fisted morons hired to do the work.

All this discussion of vapor barriers is a bit foreign to me, as they are not required here in the arid West.

When re-insulating older construction it is a lot easier if it is done in conjunction with major refurbishing which requires stripping down to the framing on at least one side. If you have old low-R or poorly installed batt in your walls, the only way of guaranteeing results is to remove it completely and start fresh. (One caveat about stripping out old wallboard or plaster, new gypsum board is inferior to the old. It is not as robust after installation because they foam the gypsum to make a lighter panel to reduce shipping costs. It only takes a slight/child's effort to gouge or dent it.) You can sometimes pull the old batt out through a narrow opening at the top and/or bottom of the wall.

In Weston's case, it would help if he included some photos of the house.
 
Gail Moore
Posts: 213
Location: south central Appalachia, southwest Virginia, US zone 6/7
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Weston and all.
In our area of the country we have a company which makes SIPS panels--structural insulated panels-- which are made of dense foam sandwiched between steel panels.

They give away all their scrap pieces for FREE, which can be wall sized and various depths to small shim sized pieces. I recently took a 26-foot Uhaul truck and picked up a HUGE load of the foam. FREE. My cost was about $140 for the Uhaul truck and gas. I will be insulating a 30 travel trailer as my tiny home. and putting a geodesic quonset (covered by a 4-year greenhouse film with no-drip treatment) over the whole thing to create a warm passive solar space for the winter.

This foam is slated as R-4 per inch. So, the seven inch thick pieces are approximately R-28.

You could use this foam, if you can get some, on the inside of your home and cover it with fabrics or ? to be decorative. You could use it in an attic or basement.

SOme people have even glued it to the outside of trailers

Someone on youtube put up a video on Poor Man's Spray Foam, where they use this type of foam and leave a small gap to fill with spray foam to seal the space.

It has held up to the elements outside, as I have used a 4'x4' 7-inch thick piece on top of a pallet as my temporary front porch this past summer.

Perhaps you or someone might be able to locate this in your part of the country. If the foam is free, all you have to pay for is a vehicle and gas to get it.

maybe do an internet search for SIPS panels in your state or ? to find the manufacturers.

YES I know this is polystyrene and has some odor, etc. Yet, it is free and keeping me warm. REUSE keeps this stuff from the landfill.

hope this helps someone.
blessings,
Gail

 
Andrew Parker
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Location: Salt Lake Valley, Utah, hardiness zone 6b/7a
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Gail,

Sounds like a nice find. I would caution about using foam, as is, inside the home. To pass code, and for the safety of you and your cohabitants, it needs to be covered with sheetrock (mudded and taped) or some other approved fire resistant material to isolate it from any possible ignition source.

Will you put shade cloth over your quonset in the summer? Also, off topic, what material will you be using to build your quonset?
 
Gail Moore
Posts: 213
Location: south central Appalachia, southwest Virginia, US zone 6/7
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Andrew,

thank you for updating the need to cover the foam in order to protect folks for fire reasons.

To answer your off topic:

My dream of the GeoQuonset is to utilize structural bamboo, and build it similar to Native American Long House tradition. I know you and I have previously talked about Native Architecture in other threads. I'll stay in touch about this...

blessings,
gail

 
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