Sunday, November 15, 2009

Let Me Insulate You

When I bought my house last July, the home inspector said the insulation in the attic was too thin. I guess by 1950's standards, having 3-4 inches of insulation is fine. But insulation requirements have escalated over the years, and now they recommend 9-12 inches. I'm guessing in a another thirty years they'll recommend you just fill your entire house with insulation and burrow through it like a hamster.

Everyone told me that it would be easy: you just buy it in rolls and roll it out. No problem! Even a novice homeowner like me could do it. Look at how easy it is for this guy:

There are several things I would like to point out about this picture:
  • The area is well-lit
  • There is nothing but infrastructure and insulation there-- no random objects to get in the way of the rolls
  • That room is pristine
  • Although he has gloves and a mask, he's not wearing glasses
  • He's not hunched over like he lives in the bell tower of Notre Dame
  • He's not crawling on his belly trying to get into the corners
  • He's not coughing or rubbing his eyes
  • There's no bubble of swear words emanating from his head
  • He has meaty forearms that tells you he's done this type of thing before. Even if any of the above conditions were not perfect, you know he'd be able to handle it.
My experience was not so ideal. First of all, I'm afraid of heights, so maneuvering off of and onto the ladder to get into the attic is an exercise in terror. It's pitch black up there. After two trips to the hardware store, I finally found a light that would work, but I still have to point it in the right direction, and if I get between it and what I'm looking at, there's a shadow.

Once I'm up in the attic, there's tons of crap up there. In the past month I have discovered hideous carpet remnants from every decade of the second half of the 20th century:

Every time I go up there, I find more carpet remnants hidden in lost corners. I've been slowly throwing them out. Not only are they ugly, but like every thing in my attic, they are DIS-GUST-ING. Everything in the attic is covered in soot and dirt and schmutz and whatever the hell else has collected up there in 50 years.

But carpet remnants aren't the only thing in the way up there. A stack of tiles for the kitchen ceiling, a bunch of long rods I can't identify, a screen door. In the middle of the attic, taking up a huge chunk of real estate, is my air conditioning unit. It's sitting on top of huge plywood boards, and I can't very well insulate under those. There are also tons of random boards placed across the joists (the vertical boards that the insulation fits between.) Some of these boards are nailed down, some are not. These make it easier to walk up there, but you can't put insulation over them (or under them very well.)

So to do a thorough job I have to move the boards that can be moved, and try to stuff the insulation under the ones that can't. The image of simply rolling out the insulation is a lie; there are a hundred different sections up there, and each one has different needs.

Because of the fiberglass insulation fibers that cut into your skin, I have to cover my body. I wear gloves and a mask and a hat. I wore my old beat up painter's hat from high school: Go Grimsley Whirlies! I also wear glasses, so when I try to breathe with the mask on, it fogs up my glasses. Then it gets really hot up there, and I start to sweat, and the sweat falls into my glasses. So I'm blind, hot and sweaty; and trying to negotiate walking on the joists so I don't fall through the floor. Eventually I decided to just take off my glasses.

Not only is the roof slanted, but whenever I try to move around, beams appear at random locations to smack me on the head. There are also nails sticking out from the ceiling. (Maybe from where they nailed in the shingles?) I hit my head about 20 times in an hour and a half. That's also about the same number of times I yelled a word that rhymes with "udderplucker."

Finally, after getting the hang of it, I was able to install two rolls of insulation. I did the section over the couch in my living room, where I spend the most time. I would estimate that it's only about 10% of the surface area of the attic, though. I have a lot more work ahead of me if I plan to insulate the whole thing.

After I cleaned all the debris (carpet remnants, etc.) off the garage floor, I went inside to take off my clothes, which were filthy. When I took off my hat, I noticed this:

Notice the tear in it along with a red stain. Is that my blood? I wonder. Oh, shit, I guess one of those nails got me! No wonder it hurt like an udderplucker.

I take a shower, hoping to get all the fiberglass fibers and other detritus off of me. As an illustration of how filthy my attic is, whenever I go up there (even when I wear a mask) and I blow my nose afterward, whatever comes out is gray. Hardcore gray, if there is a such a word.

After my shower I use a mirror to look at the back of my head. Besides the depressing hurricane-shaped hole in my thinning hair, I see where the nail got me.

I guess this is a bonding moment with my house. I'm giving it my blood, sweat, and tears. And in return it's trying to give me tetanus. That's love for you.


ScubaNurse said...

get your shots, the big T is Not cool.
It pro wasnt funny for you but I laughed! thanks for a great post. I hate the way people make DIY look simple, so its nice to see someone else struggling.

Tim said...

Thanks for your comment. I'm glad my "big T" can serve as entertainment to you. :)

I didn't really get tetanus, but you're right that I should get my shots. Thanks for visiting!

Chantay Smithingell said...

Your post amused me up to the part where a nail scratched your head. Safety is paramount when insulating an attic because you’re working at a confined space. And while watching for yourself, you have to make sure that the attic is properly insulated, focusing on unfinished areas and floor joints. It’s been three years since you’ve done this, and I bet a lot has changed since then. Keep it going, Tim!