Thar she blows

Postmedia Network Blowing insulation into an attic is fairly easy, especially if you follow the advice of our handyman.

Today we’re going to be adding insulation to an existing attic.

The home in question was built in the mid 1970’s, and presently has about six inches of fiberglass insulation on the attic floor, providing about R-20 of thermal value. With today’s attic insulation standards set at R-60, the homeowner will need to add about 14 inches of Atticat blowing wool.

Why add insulation to an attic that’s already insulated? Because this attic is insulated to 1970’s standards. In the 70’s, energy and electrical costs were relatively low, the economy was strong, and the Montreal Canadiens were winning Stanley Cups. So, it was no big deal having to put on a sweater before curling up under the covers, because hey, the Habs were winning hockey games. Today, the Canadiens wouldn’t recognize the Stanley Cup if it walked up and bit them on the butt, so there’s no celebratory mood to help warm your cockles.  Furthermore, home heating costs are atrocious, while Justin Trudeau’s focus is on getting fitted for his dragon embroidered Changsha (traditional ceremonial robe) in preparation for his trip to China, because that’s what Chinese men wear every day, apparently, with the deficit issue far down his list of concerns.

So, we’re left to fend for ourselves, which means reducing our heating bills by bumping up our insulation levels. Why choose a blowing wool, as opposed to fiberglass batting, to insulate an attic? Because the blowing wool strategy provides the homeowner with longer arms, allowing them to distribute the insulation matter from a series of vantage points, thereby eliminating the risk of having to gingerly step across the truss joists. The suggestion to use the Atticat strategy is based on the element of P&P, prudence and probability. The safety relevance of the P&P is based on what’s referred to as ‘balance beam heartbreak’, which simply refers to the fact 40 per cent of gymnastic injuries are balance beam related. Considering this beam measures four inches wide, and is stepped upon by trained athletes, what are the chances of the average do-it-yourselfer making it safely across a series of truss joists that are only 1-1/2 inches in diameter? Unfortunately, official documentation regarding this action is limited. However, ‘prudence’ tells us the average non-gymnast homeowner should be avoiding the strategy of straddling joists as they place batts individually over the attic floor, because ‘probability’ tells us the resulting fall will drive one’s scrotum up into their body cavity.
So, with this vision in mind, cut yourself a couple of 16”x48” sheets of 5/8” plywood, or pick up a couple of 2×10 pieces of lumber, and toss them up into the attic beforehand. These will provide a safe walkway as you slowly manœuvre over the floor joists.

Step one to this project, ensure the attic space will be adequately vented. For this job, you’ll need to staple vent baffles, aka rafter mates, in between each truss. The vent baffles prevent the insulation and blowing wool from blocking air from entering the attic through the soffit. Then, make sure there’s adequate roof venting to create this necessary draft of fresh, outdoor air. The roof venting requirement can be satisfied by having an accredited roofer install a Maxivent type of product near the peak of the roof.  Next, create an extended attic hatch tunnel by stacking 2×8 lumber edgewise along the perimeter of the hatch. This extended tunnel will prevent the blowing wool from falling through the attic hatch door. Since we’ll be requiring about 14 inches of Atticat blowing wool, use a tape measure to mark the 14 inch necessary depth along the truss webbing, or staple a series of Atticat paper rulers to the joists at 10 ft. intervals. In order to add R-40 of thermal value to this attic space, the amount of Atticat required will be based on the calculation that one bag of Atticat blowing wool will provide 49 sq. ft. of coverage. Be sure to watch the Atticat install video, and follow all instructions.

Good building.

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

Ice belongs in your freezer, not as icicles dripping from your roof

QMI AGENCY FILE

Today we continue with case No. 913, involving Alison Shiver, and her husband M.E. Timbers.

To recapitulate, the ‘Shiver me Timbers’ people are dealing with the fact their roof is producing more ice, in the form of icicles, than the 10 commercial freezers working 24 hours a day at their ice cube company.

The problem? A home attic space that’s too warm, due somewhat in part to heat infiltrating into the attic space, and largely in part to an under-insulated attic floor.

Step one to remedying the infiltration issue involves sealing the gaps found where the electrical outlet’s octagon boxes, and venting ductwork, penetrate the ceiling’s drywall. Products that would serve well in filling these gaps would include an ‘acoustic seal’ caulking, or ‘Gaps n’ Cracks’ spray foam.

Next, we need to ensure any exhaust ductwork traveling through the attic space is not emitting heat. Often, bathroom fan ductwork is fed through the attic, then exhausted out the soffit, or worse, left lying on the attic floor, feeding warm air into what’s supposed to be a cold environment.

One, ductwork travelling through a cold space, such as your attic, needs to be insulated. This can be accomplished by either by wrapping what’s existing with fiberglass insulation and a six-millimeter plastic, or replacing the ductwork with the insulated version of whatever flexible pipe is needed.

Next, we make sure this duct vents out a gable wall, or better yet, out the roof. Because the soffit acts as intake ventilation, the feeding of warm, moisture-filled air created by showers and baths into this area is counterproductive.

Maxi-vents located at the peak of the roof work in conjunction with the soffit vents to create a draft.

Essentially, feeding your bathroom exhaust into the soffit will only have it re-entering the attic space. Venting out a gable wall, or the roof, ensures this humidity gets lost in the atmosphere.

Next, remove those dated pot lights and replace them with the significantly more efficient, non-heat producing, LED-recessed lighting. Pot lights are notorious for their inefficiency, the fact they create heat, and their habit of allowing warm air to infiltrate the attic space.

So, make the change to LED. Fitting tight to the ceiling, and being a fraction of the thickness of a pot light, the newer LED fixtures don’t protrude into the attic space, and therefore will require no special protective cover over top, making them an easy, value-added renovation decision.

Then, we insulate. Because heat rises, and cool air sinks, there’s a big benefit to adding insulation to the floor of your attic. Basically, insulation slows down the transfer of heat, or the transfer of cold, from one space to another.

The more insulation or R-factor that you have in your attic, the longer your living space below will stay warm, which will result in lower fuel costs.

The new home standard for attic insulation is R-60. In order to achieve this level of thermal value, a homeowner would need to cover their attic floor with about 18 inches of fiberglass pink insulation, or about 22 inches of Atticat blowing wool.

Most homes have at least six-to-eight inches, or about R-20 of insulating value in their attics already.

So, you’re basically needing to top things off to our 2018 standards.

Fiberglass pink comes in batt form, whereby a standard attic “batt” is 24 inches wide, by 48 inches long, by the desired thickness. Choosing the batt strategy will require the homeowner (or hired hand) placing each piece individually across the attic floor. If this is to be your preferred method, choose the R-20, six-inch thick fiberglass pink batt. This thickness of batt handles easy, and gets you to your R-60 goal quite effectively by using a crisscross pattern of laying the second series of batts over the first.

In Alison and Mike’s case, we’re going to be choosing the Atticat blowing wool. Next week, we find out why.

Good building.

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

Warming your timbers

Case no. 913 has us examining the home owned by one Alison Shiver, along with her husband, M.E. (Michael Eliot) Timbers.

Together, they own and operate ‘Shiver Me Timbers’, taking advantage of this match made in heaven to become the new owners of the local ice cube and ice block company, formally owned by retired seaman L. J. Silver. With over one million cubes of ice being manufactured daily, the Shiver Me Timbers people know how to make and bag ice. Incredibly though, the Shiver Me Timbers company still ranks second in ice production to an element that’s thankfully not a retail competitor of theirs. Who might this element be? Oddly enough, it’s the roof right over their heads.

Alison and Michael’s roof produces icicles, which unfortunately due to the rather stringent laws regarding the use of petroleum oils and granular roof matter in foodstuffs, prevents these icicles from being bagged and sold as a natural after school treat. So, with no profit to be made by harvesting these icy daggers, or added benefit of introducing “Icy Roof Treats” to the company’s line of products, it’s time to eliminate this obvious display of home inefficiency.

Regardless of how charming icicles look in a Hallmark Christmas card, they’re a sign of heat loss. Heat loss in a home is going to happen. We lose heat through our windows, our mechanical exhaust vents, and every time somebody opens a door. Those heat losses are inevitable, not so controllable, and other than having a bunch of poorly operating windows, are no real cause for immediate concern.

However, a warm attic in the thick of winter is not a good thing. Essentially, your attic is going to end up catching a cold. Heat being produced in the home naturally rises up. If this heat, and accompanying moisture, is allowed to infiltrate the attic, it’ll continue up towards the plywood or roof plank underlay. When the plywood warms up, heat gets transferred to the shingles overtop, which melts the snow. This snow melt then races down the roof until it reaches the overhang, the only part of the roof that’s cold because it has no heat source underneath. When the snow melt crosses the overhang, it begins to cool, then freeze, just as it’s attempting its leap off the roof, forming the not so cherished icicle.

Unfortunately, hanging shards of ice will be the least of your worries. If the snow melt fails to make its way to the edge of the roof, it’ll join the ranks of the other icicle wannabes, and become a member of an even more notorious group, known simply as the ice dam bad boys. When heat is allowed to rise into the attic, condensation often forms on the plywood. Now you’ve got a couple of water sources in your attic, one as a result of an ice dam forcing snow melt back up and under the shingles, along with moisture dripping down from the plywood underlay.

Two bad things about these scenarios. One, wet plywood eventually rots. And two, the condensation drippings will fall into whatever insulation you have in the attic, lessening its thermal value, forming mold, and eventually making its way to the ceiling’s drywall. So, how do we keep our attics nice and cold in the winter? By sealing any breach in the ceiling’s drywall, removing any heat sources, and most of all, by insulating.

Start by removing the decorative collar around any hanging light fixtures and ceiling exhaust vents. Sometimes, the drywall cut around the electrical box, or ductwork, isn’t so perfect, which will allow moist air to draft up into the attic. So, seal this gap (if it’s a 1/4 inch or less) with an ‘acoustic-seal’ caulking. Larger gaps can be filled with a ‘Gaps n’ Cracks’ spray foam. Next, make sure any ductwork or venting pipes running through the attic are insulated, and, that they’re not exhausting directly into your attic space.

Next week, we’re insulating our attic. Good building.

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

Why glass breaks

Today we examine Case no. 805, titled ‘extra crunch for the Captain’ involving a Mr. Lester W. Bligh.

Mr. Bligh, aka “the Captain”, with this designation having no relation to Lester’s ancestral, seafaring British name, or his receiving top of the class honors upon graduating from the ‘introduction to sailing’ laser dinghy club, but is rather due to his eating of the Quaker Oats, ‘CAP’N CRUNCH’ brand cereal with regularity. On this occasion, our Captain Bligh is seated in his usual position at the kitchen table one frosty morning, enjoying a cup of coffee, along with a bowl of those golden, crunchy nuggets of sugar. The sea (although several hundred miles away) was angry that day, and with a strong Nor’easter wind mercilessly pounding Lester’s breakfast nook, the inside pane of his fixed thermal window suddenly shattered, sending bits of glass shrapnel into his bowl of CAP’N CRUNCH, minimally adding some much needed fiber.

Why do thermal panes break? Essentially, we don’t know for sure, but there are theories as to why this happens.

Breakage theory no.1, blunt force trauma, otherwise regarded as something made contact with the window. Unfortunately, the blunt force theory can only be proven if there’s evidence. Rarely will a culprit leave their baseball or football lying at the scene, or volunteer the fact they were using the bird feeder just outside your window as target practice for their new pellet gun.

Can a bird break a window? An albatross, yes, a chickadee, probably not, with every flying creature in between definite maybes. So, unless there’s a corpse, the bird theory is inconclusive.

Generally speaking, the modern thermal pane is a pretty tough customer, whereby it can handle some relatively severe shocks. However, glass has three main enemies, them being seismic activity, temperature extremes, and compression. Essentially, glass cracks, or shatters, because something has disturbed its comfortable state. I remember one fellow telling me every time he closes the front door in the winter, the windows shake, the dishes rattle in the buffet, and the cat gets blown back about eight feet. This represents an air circulation issue, whereby the home is so airtight, any action of opening, and then swiftly closing an exterior door, creates a vacuum of new air entering a home that doesn’t have the space to accept it. Hence the vibrations, and hence the need for an air exchanger.
Otherwise, homes can sometimes shift, or settle, regardless of age, which will cause doors to jamb slightly, windows to not slide so well anymore, and of course glass to crack.

Unfortunately, there’s not much action that can be taken to reduce the chance of seismic shifts, other than building a foundation beyond regular code minimums. Because our climate zone has our window panes experiencing extreme temperature differences between the outdoor glass surface, and indoor glass surface, the glass panels are constantly under the stress of cold contraction meeting hot expansion. If you take a hot dinner plate out of the dishwasher and place it under a stream of cold tap water, you’ll soon discover how glass reacts to hot meeting cold. For this reason, floor grates (often found directly below our windows) that aim straight upwards, should have deflectors placed on them, directing this heat flow into the center of the room. Also, and on a particularly cold day, be sure to open up those blinds and curtains. Blinds and curtains will create an insulated air space between them and the glass. If it’s sunny outside, this space can really heat up. When the indoor/outdoor temperature differential on a glass surface exceeds 30 degrees Celsius, your thermal pane enters the risk zone.

Finally, if there are several glass panes that have failed, it could be the result of too tight an installation. Due to our environment, our window frames need flux room, and should be installed so that they somewhat float within a halfinch perimeter space filled with foam insulation. With the captain accepting these prognoses, Case no. 805 was closed.

Good building.

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

Why we wrap

We need to wrap our outdoor things, mostly the structural wooden outdoor things, essentially for two reasons.

One, painting doesn’t cut it anymore. And two, we’re not quite as handy as our fathers, in general, and not even close to comparing with the handiness of our grandfathers, again in general, when it comes to having an aptitude, or even desire, to fix things ourselves. So, when you’re as unhandy as our, and this next generation is, albeit through no fault of our own, since we were focused on watching the Brady Bunch after school, instead of learning how to change the oil in our parents’ cars, with this next generation preferring not to risk losing a finger on a table saw, when there’s still level 10 to achieve in PlayStation’s Resident Evil 7: biohazard game, you can understand how we failed as a society to maintain most of our home maintenance competence.

The issue with exterior paints and stains is that they simply can’t last any more than a couple of years in our climate zone. As a result, homes with wood posts, wood spindles, wooden decks, or wood sidings, all require maintenance. And, since we’re not so competent, or have the desire, or are too consumed with other affairs to really dedicate much maintenance time towards our wood structures, our homes are often left to the mercy of the elements.

When that happens, the home loses every time. So, in order to maintain the dignity and curb appeal of our homes, without actually having to maintain them, it’s imperative that we cover, or wrap our wood things, with something better than paint.

First thing to consider wrapping, or replacing, are your porch posts. Often made of either 4×4 or 6×6 treated lumber, square or turned wood posts can look good for a few seasons. Then they twist a bit, crack a bit, and all of a sudden, don’t look so good. Painting or staining a post can help camouflage the issue for a while, but unfortunately, there’s no hiding a crack. So, instead of replacing a weathered post, we wrap ‘em. Even though a post has twisted, and suffered a few cracks, the compression strength of a 4×4 or 6×6 timber is still strong. As a result, and in order to avoid the engineering challenge of replacing a post that’s structurally supporting a roof or overhang, we suggest wrapping the post with a PVC vinyl sleeve. As long as the post remains dry, it’ll avoid rotting, and maintain its strength.
Because the copper injected into treated lumber will sometimes corrode other metals, we don’t recommend wrapping a treated post with aluminum. The vinyl sleeves are an easy install, even for the unhandy, whereby the four walls that make up the sleeve simply snap together. These PVC sleeves also come with a number of decorative crown and base options that snap together as well, then get glued to the wrap, effectively turning a wood post into a very impressive white column.

Next, consider using PVC trim boards. Trim boards are moldings used to enhance the exterior look of a window or door by providing a four-five inch picture frame type border around the perimeter of these units.

Trim boards also serve well to border the base of the homeowners chosen siding, getting installed just above the foundation line, while providing an equally decorative border molding along the top, running just below the soffit. Trim moldings are attractive because they’re slightly thicker than the siding, and effectively help define the windows and doors, along with the general lines of the home. Unfortunately, by protruding out in this manner, wood trim pieces would often succumb to rot, simply due to the rain and snow matter resting on the edge of these moldings. With PVC trims, rot can’t happen.

Next, if you’ve got a wood deck in need of replacing, modification, or maybe we’re talking about a new build, it’s time to consider composite decking.

Next week, the maintenance free deck.

Good building.

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