Sippican Cottage

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A Man Who Has Nothing In Particular To Recommend Him Discusses All Sorts of Subjects at Random as Though He Knew Everything

‘Assorted Gummy Putties’ Is the Name of My Green Day Tribute Band. But I Digress

Well, now I have a problem. Yesterday I asked readers what they wanted to hear about next, and insulation came in second. “Put a sock in it” came in first, of course. I’ll explain. If you’re like me, you assume that all the empty chairs at the town meeting are voting no, and only the twelve teachers and DPW worker’s spouses in the front row are voting yes. So second place wins at Sippican Cottage, just like in elections.

What’s the problem, you ask? Well, I don’t have any pictures of our insulation extravaganza. Not a one, I don’t think. However, unlike all the other hoary anecdotes about remodeling I’ve been palming off on you lately, I’m still performing this task. I live in western Maine, and it gets pretty cold here. In the summer. Let’s not discuss February, if you don’t mind. So I could actually take some photos and write some material, hot off the remodeling press. That sounds like work. I think I’m getting hives. But the internet has spoken. Let me tell you what we’re doing to keep the food in the refrigerator from freezing in the winter. I refused on principle to put a heater inside my fridge, so insulation was in order. But what kind?

First, let’s talk about what we inherited when we bought our $24,000 house. We did ourselves a favor buying a house so cheaply, of course, but we also did a good turn for the bank manager who unloaded the foreclosed pile on us. We went into his office and said we’d buy the old dustcatcher, and that prompted him to take the noose from around his neck and climb down from his office chair. A win/win situation.

In some respects, the insulation in our home was pretty good. Way back in the mists of time, someone had hired someone halfway competent to blow what looks like rock wool insulation into many of the exterior walls, and most of the attic. This was accomplished by removing some of the clapboard siding, drilling holes in the solid wood sheathing, and using a very strong blower to fill up the spaces between the studs and joists. They replaced the siding and there was no outward sign of their ministrations. Good stuff.

I say I think it was rock wool. Rock wool and cellulose look about the same, but generally cellulose is made from shredded newsprint, and there was nothing printed on the bits of insulation. Neither type will burn, either, so testing it like that wouldn’t work. There were some rock wool batts of the same vintage installed in the ceiling of the basement (the floor of the main floor). Crazy people had removed most of them, but the few that were left had labels. It certainly tasted like rock wool. I’ve gotten many mouthfuls of it over the years while fixing old houses. Pro Tip: Don’t look straight up while performing demolition.

Other than the patchy application of blown-in insulation, the house was a horrorshow of misdirected caulk, and sticky tape residue, and unemployed staples, and fluttering sheets of plastic, and oakum, and spray foam crack filler, and assorted gummy putties rammed willy-nilly into cracks. The former occupants were fascinated with saving energy, and expended a lot of energy trying unsuccessfully to do so. They put little bits of duct tape over keyholes to keep out drafts, and thought it would work. So we were going to have to continue the insulation project from the forties or fifties or whenever the blown-in job was performed, while peeling back the wreckage of umpteen failed attempts to try to weatherstrip the place to death. In general, everything looked about like this:

And this:

And this-a here:

And of course:

There was no central theme to the insulation story. It was R-value delirium tremens all the way through. Plenty of fire hazards, too. The tan paper faces on those fiberglass batts might as well be made from rolling papers, which I’m certain the former occupants were quite familiar with. And all of it was so spotty and ill-fitted that it accomplished next to nothing. We’ll have to find a way to insulate very large areas of the house, and spend next to nothing doing it. I swear, we found a way. I also swore plenty while doing it.

[To be continued. Thanks for reading and commenting. Please tell an internet friend about Sippican Cottage}

7 Responses

  1. So sorry. I posted this on the wrong day’s entry. Thank you for your response and hope this post will help with the conversation. Thank you in advance for your insights.

    Oh boy. I am in a difficult situation here on the home front. Talked my DH into allowing me to tear down the sheetrock ceiling and all the 60 year old rat infested insulation out of the ceiling of our abandoned cabin. This is zone 4 and our night time temperatures have been down to 40. Went into the cabin yesterday when the outside temperature was about 65. Couldn’t stand to be inside for longer than 10 minutes. Clearly my “just clean it up” plan now requires new insulation immediately! DH is not happy as he just really wants to tear it down! Any suggestions about cheap but effective insulation?

  2. I’m starting to think that the big house my parents bought when I was eleven wasn’t so bad after all. It was COMPLETELY uninsulated, from basement to third-floor attics, with literally nothing in the walls. The previous owners had been snowbirds, and simply closed place down for winters, keeping the temperature inside just barely above freezing and thus avoiding the ice dams on the roof and resulting waterfalls through all of the walls and windows.

    Nothing was poorly done, nothing was partly done…just plain nothing was done. Actually easier to fix than having to tear out some lunatic’s bad work.

    In the first picture of the post what is the lighter-colored beam (nearer the picture-taker in the foreground) resting on? Looks like they just kinda set it on…something. And if you were really lucky, the cold air in the house killed off all of the spiders that spun those webs all through there.

    I can’t wait to see what the most economical scheme was that you came up with for this place.

    P.S.: Thanks again for re-starting your blogging; I tell everybody about it and then get a little stumped when I’m asked what it’s about. “Life, the universe, and fixing a house while trying to remain married?”

    1. Hi Blackwing- Thanks for reading and commenting.

      You’ve succinctly described benign neglect. It beats active remuddling hands down.

      The lighter colored joist you see is “sistered” to a charred joist. The charred joist runs over a ribband and keeps going through the wall to serve as the ceiling in the shed on the other side of the wall. They had two fires down there, so there’s a mix of old charred stuff and inexpertly added stuff like that joist. The ribband is sawed off a few inches past the two joists. God knows why they did that. All the weight of the floor over the joist is (was) was held up by the scrap of ribband and some nails. I fixed all that framing when we lifted the basement, and then we, get this, insulated that wall. I’ll explain the insulation method shortly. BTW, you can see another ribband on the left in the last picture. It’s basically a 1×6 nailed onto balloon framing for joists to rest on. They cut off the joists that used to rest on that ribband in that last picture, and ten jammed a post in to hold up the floor. Another “God knows why” moment.

      1. Thanks for the answer…based on that, I’m guessing Western Maine is seismic zone nothing, but the Nor’easters pack some pretty good wind, so while the house is still standing, it’s no surprise it was kinda-sorta sagging in spots.

        Whoops, just looked at the USGS Seismic Hazard map, and almost all of Maine is in the 8% to 16%-g risk zone. Good thing it never gave the house a good shaking.

        I’ll look for more of your insulation solution tomorrow!

  3. One part of my father’s decade+-long, room by room rehab of the old farmhouse I grew up in was to turn the attic above the kitchen (the oldest of the 3 parts of the house) into an apartment. He put in a concrete floor- after a year of reinforcing the area with mucho scrap metal. He built and installed wood panels. An impressive job.

    I suspect that one thing he went short on was insulation under the roof, as the place was mid-50s cold in the winter.

    In the other attic, he laid down an unfinished floor and insulated the heck under the roof. So maybe he did lay insulation in the roof above the apartment. The attic with visible insulation was warmer than the apartment, even though the attic had no heating ducts and the apartment had heating ducts. So maybe he didn’t lay insulation in the roof above the apartment.

    One of those unsolved mysteries.

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