The attic as a tuque

Properly insulating the attic is an important part of home heating. It’s also definitely a do-it-yourself job. Postmedia Network

There are two types of tuque people — those persons with a mop full of hair who selectively wear tuques as a fashion statement, and the follicly challenged, who on a cold winter’s day, depend on this garment for their ultimate survival.

The tuque, for all its simplicity, is nevertheless an effective tool in guarding our heads from two of the basic characteristics of heat. These being that heat rises, and that heat naturally moves from hot to cold.

Therefore, understanding that a warm entity, such as your body, or your home, doesn’t absorb cold, but conversely loses heat, gives us a better understanding of the value of insulating your head, and our related topic of today, your home’s attic.

Now, what about the row of shirtless guys with painted letters on their chests that frequent -25 degree Celsius professional football games, why aren’t they freezing, you may ask? Unfortunately, the science of heat transfer cannot be altered by applying paint to one’s chest, nor can it be subdued for any length of time with the use of alcohol, hallucinogenic drugs, or the vocalizing of inspirational chants. With heat escaping their bodies in great volumes with every second that passes, these brave souls will have approximately a 10-minute window in which to get themselves on camera. If their moment of glory should pass, the boys will have some humbling choices. Either continue their shirtless crusade, and die like real men or, toss on their jackets and huddle up like a gang of emperor penguins. Regardless, shame and humility is in their future.

So, your home, like a lettered body up there in row #102, requires insulation, not so much to keep the cold out, but to keep the heat in. And, due to heat rising, and cool air sinking, properly sealing the space between living area and attic space becomes even more critical to home comfort and energy savings.

In today’s age of rising heating costs, a homeowner should be looking to insulate their attic floor with at least R-60 of thermal resistance. This would translate into layering the floor space with 18-20 inches of fiberglass pink batt insulation, or filling the area with 22-24 inches of Atticat blowing wool.

Insulating, or adding insulation to a home’s attic space is a very do it yourself project, with the greatest challenge to success being your ability to manoeuvre up through the ceiling’s 22 x 30 inch attic hatch. If you’re capable of achieving this semi acrobatic feat, have your local building supply dealer deliver a sheet of 5/8 inch spruce plywood (cut in half, providing two pieces of 2’ x 8’ walking planks) along with the insulation. The 5/8” plywood, placed diagonally or perpendicular to the truss joists, will allow you to safely navigate the attic floor, in order to place the batts or blow in the wool.

Don’t omit the plywood or skimp on a thinner sheeting. Sure footing is key to the success of any operation. With the truss joists providing 1-1/2 inches of footing, spaced at every 24 inches on center, while being somewhat hidden by any existing insulation, the chances of a fellow’s eligibility in entering a gender neutral washroom facility, increases twofold with every attempted step. Plus, the plywood can be further ripped into 12 inch strips, providing excellent shelving, or be used to create a deeper shaft around your attic hatch.

Before insulating, ensure that there are attic vents (24” x 48” raised foam shields) stapled and fitted in between each truss, that stretch down into the soffit. These vents are essential in preventing the insulation from blocking the cool air from being drawn up into the attic space.

Finally, invest in a sheet of 2 inch ridged insulation, then cut it to size and glue the pieces to the back of your attic hatch door, effectively insulating this last cold spot.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

What to dew

Properly insulating your home can reduce the amount of energy you use and save you money. Postmedia Network

Back in the olden days, when energy was cheap, the Habs were winning Stanley Cups, and our knee joints were well-oiled and pain-free, batt insulation was all we needed to keep our homes relatively cozy inside.

Then came the term “thermal bridging”, which enlightened us to the fact that lumber isn’t all that good an insulator. And, considering wall designs featured a stud at every 16 inches on center, the overall R-value of the wall was reduced significantly. A typical wall assembly would have contained either an R-12 or R-20 batt of insulation, depending on whether the wall had been framed with 2×4 or 2×6 lumber. The weakness in this system, energy wise, is the solid lumber, which accounts for about 10 per cent of the wall’s mass overall. With a thermal resistance value of about R-1 per inch, between every 15-1/2 inch span of warm, protective insulation, you had 1-1/2 inches of solid wood that would effectively allow the cold to migrate through to the inside, hence the term “thermal bridge”.

So, how can we as homeowners, and home builders, reduce the cold thermal bridge inadvertently created by the wood studding? The answer is Johns Manville’s polyiso ridged insulation board. With a thermal value of R-6 per inch, polyiso ridged sheeting can be installed directly over the wall studs, or over the OSB (oriented strand board) or plywood sheeting. The JM polyiso board is not a structural sheeting, therefore, a stud wall would have to be re-enforced with steel bracing if it were to be nailed directly to the lumber.

How thick should a homeowner consider going with their JM polyiso? Minimally 1 inch, with a 1-1/2 inch sheeting being better, and a 2 inch ridged board better yet.
Essentially, with the cost of heating being what it is, there’s no such thing as over-insulating an exterior wall. Therefore, a standard wall assembly in 2017 would begin with drywall on the inside, then a 6 mil. vapour barrier, wood studding with batt insulation in between, then a plywood sheeting, followed by JM polyiso, then a house wrap, ending with the customer’s choice of siding overtop. The 6 mil polyethylene vapour barrier is always installed on the warm side of a wall assembly, and effectively stops heat and moisture from entering the wall system.

Many people question why a plastic vapour barrier couldn’t be installed on the outside of an exterior wall as well. Or, be installed on the outside only, since that’s the side that faces the elements, and is the most likely side to let water in. Two elements dictate why we install a plastic vapour barrier on the inside wall only — our colder weather conditions, and the resulting dew point. In a perfect world, with a dry and air tight exterior wall cavity, having a vapour barrier on both sides would be the perfect scenario. Unfortunately, we can’t build a home in the same way we build a fridge, or beer cooler, at least not yet anyway. So, moisture already in the wall assembly, or entering the wall cavity by some other means, has got to be able to escape somewhere. In our Canadian climate, that’s best accomplished by having moisture dissipate towards the exterior.

Without a vapour barrier on the inside wall, heat and moisture would get into the insulation, then hit the dew point (the line where warm meets cold) somewhere in between the studs. An ice mass would then develop in the insulation, killing it’s thermal value, while creating all kinds of mold issues once things thawed out in the spring.

Installing a JM polyiso creates a band of continual insulation, and moves the dew point to about half way into its foam core, well out of the wall cavity. As a result, the thicker the JM ridged foam board, the further cold is kept from the home, and that’s a good thing.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Rock cousins

Today we’re talking brands of insulation, and where it should be installed in the home.

There are basically two kinds, or more common types of batt insulation used in the exterior walls of most homes, them being fiberglass and mineral wool.

Fiberglass batts, such as Owens Corning’s pink insulation, is not so surprisingly, made of woven fibers of glass. Mineral wool, also referred to as rock wool, is made of crushed volcanic rock, steel slag, and other bonding agents.

The most popular mineral wool insulation in today’s market is a product made by the Roxul Company. The Roxul name has become so recognized by homeowners and contractors alike, that people never specifically request a mineral wool insulation, but will simply ask for “Roxul” instead.

Is there a difference between a fiberglass and rock wool product? And, is one better than the other? Material wise, the pink insulation is made of glass, which comes from sand, whereby mineral wool is derived from crushed rock. So, these products are pretty close cousins.

Consistency wise, fiberglass pink is kind of like day old spaghetti, while Roxul has a density similar to toast. As a result, the pink fiberglass is somewhat stringy, and a little more difficult to cut. Plus, the glass fibers can break apart a bit if the material is over andled, which will cause an itchy reaction if you’ve made the mistake of not wearing pants, a long sleeve shirt, gloves, goggles, and a dust mask.

Roxul, on the other hand, cuts like . . . well toast, making it an easy product to fit around electrical outlets and ductwork. Roxul, like toast, is crumbly, or rather, a little more dusty than fiberglass. So again, completely covering your body with clothing, along with goggles and a dust mask, are all required equipment.

Choosing one over the other depends primarily on whether you like the Owens Corning Pink Panther logo, which for some may rekindle thoughts of the mischievous cartoon character, and some of the classic Inspector Clouseau movies starring Peter Sellers. Or, if you’re a fan of home repair reality television, whereby Roxul is certainly the favored batt product of the celebrity carpenters (Roxul must be feeding these guys all the insulation they can butter).

Price wise, fiberglass pink is significantly cheaper than Roxul. This could be due to actual costs of manufacturing, or the fact it costs a few more bucks to feed Mike Holmes, than it does paying royalties to MGM Studios.

Product wise, both are used primarily as insulation in the exterior walls of residential homes. Roxul has the added bonus of being fireproof, whereby a Roxul booth at a typical home and trade show will usually have the rather impressive feature of a piece of Roxul being blasted by a direct flame of heat. Regardless, after a total and complete loss to fire, never has a home been found with a pile of Roxul sitting amongst the rubble. In other words, you put enough heat on something, it’s going to burn, or melt. However, timing is everything when it comes to a fire in the home, whereby if the flame spread can be delayed by even a minute or two, lives can be spared. As a result, Roxul is a popular choice to use in walls separating the garage from the house, or in the floors of a home, separating the basement from the living space above. Fiberglass pink can also be used in this manner, with glass obviously having a relatively high threshold to heat. However, fiberglass pink doesn’t advertise itself as fireproof, and is primarily marketed for its value as an insulation. Besides being an essential product for the exterior wall, and an effective barrier to flame spread, insulation can be an excellent sound barrier. So, be sure to consider it for bathroom and bedroom dividing walls if you’re going to be building a new home or renovating this spring.

Good building.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

The hammer is in heaven

Did you hear that?” said Al. “No, I didn’t hear anything,” replied Hank.

It sounded like a crack, are you sure you didn’t hear anything Hank?” says Al.

Listen Al,” says Hank, “the sound you heard was probably my old knee acting up again. So stop your worrying and give that last 2×4 wall stud a good shot with the sledgehammer.

Moments later, the boys find themselves seated in a rather crowded little room.

Gee Hank, you don’t look so good,” says Al. “Really,” says Hank, “other than the fact I seem to have crushed my lower body, I feel pretty good, and as a matter of fact, the knee pain is gone.

But I gotta tell you Al,” says Hank, “your head’s about as flat as a pancake.” “And hey Al,” says Hank, “look at that moron seated over there.

Who?” says Al. “The guy with the crowbar passing through one ear to the other? What a maroon, they’ll be calling him ol’ crowbar head from now on,” and the boys share a laugh.

Unfortunately, the boys, along with ol’ crowbar head, have found themselves in the Unfortunate Home Repair Tragedies Department of what they’re about to discover is Do it Yourself Heaven.

The mistake was taking down a load bearing wall in a just-purchased older home without having studied the original plan, or having consulted a professional engineer. What a home purchaser has to realize is that every previous owner has in some manner, altered the home.

This home modification could have been limited to drywall repair and a subsequent coat of paint. Or, buyer #3 could have attempted his own bit of household engineering, with the former owner and a buddy having shocked the obituary pages decades before.

So, if you’re buying an older home, it would be useful to know the number of previous owners. Homes that are 80+ years old can be spectacular with their solid wood doors, large casings and baseboards. However, with six to eight previous owners, it’s pretty well a given that somebody has fiddled around, or removed something, from somewhere. Or, even with fewer owners, homes tend to see a major renovation, especially to kitchens and bathrooms, every 12-15 years.

Therefore, if the century home you’re about to purchase has an open staircase, and a couple of eight-foot patio doors leading to an interlocking brick terrace, along with an open loft area above, with the whole picture conspicuously resembling last August’s cover of Modern Country Home Monthly, then something is rotten in the state of Denmark.

Not to say that there’s cause for concern. Hopefully, the proper engineering strategies would have been put into play. Creating an open concept from a space historically carved up into smaller rooms requires a sound strategy. If however, you wanted to see how the home might have looked, and been divided up originally, a visit to our local Upper Canada Village might be in order.

Can a bearing wall be removed? Absolutely. Basically, the weight of the roof trusses, plywood, and shingles, now being supported by a wall, must be transferred to a beam. This beam would then be supported by a post at each end, with the weight on these posts being passed on to two posts directly beneath them.

Essentially, weight needs to be transferred from one key point to another, with the last spot of contact being the concrete floor, a.k.a. terra firma.

How large a beam will be needed? Should it be constructed of composite lumber or steel? And, how thick a concrete pad will be required in order to handle this immense weight? These are all questions that will need to be addressed by an architect or structural engineer, not Hammering Hank and Al’s Renos, may they rest in peace.

Good building

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard

Don’t move that wall

Would you go to a zoo, take out your pair of pocket bolt cutters, and free a tiger of its cage?

Would you venture out onto a pond, the day after minus degree weather created an ever so thin sheet of ice over top, to organize a game of shinny for the local seniors club?

Would you try to re-position the cheese on a rat trap after it’s been set? The mechanism, after all, is designed to snap the neck of a relatively tough rodent.

Therefore, is it really necessary to find out whether pain will result if you should happen to trigger the spring?

Participating in any one of these scenarios would seem unlikely. Then again, why do people, coffee in hand and sitting comfortably at their kitchen table, and after feeling an overwhelming urge for more open space, delay refilling their cup, and take a sledgehammer to the nearest wall?

It’s what was documented as “sudden claustrophobia syndrome” by the renowned psychologist Fred Sigmund, who not so surprisingly, authored the followup, and timely homeowner’s renovation manual titled, “Our roof collapsed on my mother-in-law, and other related fix ups.”

Most homeowners want more space and more natural light, with existing walls the obvious culprit in preventing this from happening. There can be several interior walls in a home, falling into one of two categories, those being “dividing” or “load bearing”. Dividing walls are usually recognized by their 2×3 or 2×4 construction framework, and by the fact they’re normally shorter in length, whereby if we’re talking the 8 ft. wall used to separate a bedroom from the bathroom, it’s most likely a dividing wall. Load bearing walls will span the width or length of the home, and are normally constructed with 2×6 lumber, so they’re usually recognizable by their thicker appearance.

Now, a load bearing wall isn’t necessarily continuous wall, it could be broken up to allow for a hallway or archway. That being said, and even though there’s an open space underneath, the load bearing wall will have some type of continuous beam overhead, with the weight of this beam supported by extra framing in the walls. The difference between a dividing wall and a load bearing wall is that one simply divides, while the other keeps the roof and floor structure from collapsing.
Besides a load bearing wall usually being a couple of inches thicker than a dividing wall, load bearing walls can normally be confirmed by the fact they’re supported by a wall, or beam, directly underneath. The point of one load bearing wall being directly under a load bearing wall from the floor above, is to allow for the transfer of weight from the trusses and snow load, all the way down to the concrete footing in the basement.

Load bearing walls are structurally engineered to keep the home solid, and free from sag and compromise. So, as a homeowner, or person about to buy a home, you never touch a wall before having an engineer, architect, or accredited home builder, have a look at things. Plus, be aware of the term “usually”, as in load bearing walls are usually thicker, or usually run the full span of the home, or are usually supported by jack posts and a beam in the basement. Home designs aren’t all alike, with some engineering strategies not following traditional means of load bearing support.

Plus, if you’re the fourth or fifth owner of a home, particularly if its 50-100 years old, previous owners may have changed things. Older, larger homes were often designed with small rooms for energy preserving reasons. With the desire for more open space, walls were often removed without the consideration of whether they were load bearing or not. Which, would account for why many older homes have squeaky floors and slanted ceilings. It’s not necessarily that they’re old, they may very well be missing a leg to stand on.

Good building and safe renovating.

As published by the Standard-Freeholder
Handyman's Hints Standard-Freeholder Cornwall Ontario by Chris Emard