House Upgrades: Oct 2011

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My entries have been missing these past weeks because life has interrupted my normal routine, shifting me in unplanned directions. I suppose this is how life unfolds. I needed to remove my attic insulation, upgrade a ceiling pot light and vapour barrier, fix the attic vapour barrier, vent my bathroom fans to the outside, redo soffit venting, and then get everything back to normal. I get lemons and then make lemonade.

Reshingling of part of my roof went well. I did not fall off. Dirty yes, but it had to be done.

Sucking out the insulation in my attic was traumatic due to cause. The house was much colder at night. Still, I feel better than the cellulose insulation is not gone. Cellulose insulation is a fire hazard and is pretty combustible. Though it will not dramatically burst into flame it will smolder for hours until it reaches wood, which it will set on fire. Why is this type of insulation still being sold I do not know. We replaced our cellulose insulation with blown in fibreglass.

An empty attic space allowed me to repair the vapour barrier. Over 30 years ago, builders were not too particular about ensuring your attic vapour barrier was sealed. There were rips all over, places not sealed. I used sheathing tape, aka Tuck tape, to seal up ajoining sections of vapour barrier, repair ripped sections, and replaced a section. Ideally I wanted to spray foam the vapour barrier, but a quote from Insta-Insulation came in at ~$4,000 (Walltite Eco), way over my budget. Spray foam would have been the best. Steve Maxwell recommends Tiger Foam. I will consider this next time, but they do not have pickup locations in East Toronto.

Vent stacks were not sealed. These were sealed with spray foam. Mice openings were found and also sealed with spray foam. I walked the perimeter of the house and found many small openings, which I sealed with spray foam.

Most annoying of all is that I discovered that my two bathroom fans were venting into the attic. Both fans were venting into a galvanized pipe, which went somewhere and was covered with insulation. Once the insulation was gone it was clear than the original installers simply jammed the galvanized pipe into the eave as best they could and left it like that. Unfortunately they did not cut the soffit plywood and no soffit venting was done. As the home owner some 35 years after the fact, I had to again get up on my roof, remove the eavestrough and fascia, remove the existing aluminum siding used as soffit, find the exhaust pipes, cut the soffit plywood, install 90° elbows, buy and cut vented soffit, merge the vented soffit into the original aluminum siding used as soffit, then reinstall everything back to original. The new vented soffit material needed to be bent in order to seamlessly hook into the old aluminum siding. I also added styrofoam baffles throughout the attic space. I did learn a lot doing this but it was still a lot of work that I did not intend to do. I have the satisfaction now that my fans are venting to the outside. My neighbour confirms that his fans are venting into his attic.

There is more attic venting I can do, but at a cost. I have three soffit vents in my aluminum siding soffit. Only one has the soffit plywood cut and is venting to the outside. The other two are sealed tight. The deception is maddening. The fix would be to remove my downspouts and eavestrough, remove all the fascia, remove the aluminum siding soffit, cut holes into the soffit plywood, add new aluminum soffit vents, then reinstall everything back to original. The problem is that the new aluminum soffit is much longer than the old aluminum siding soffit. Replacing a couple of panels in the middle of a 25′ run and then ensuring that the end pieces seamlessly fit, as original, is quite difficult. Retrofitting this back to original so that it looks like nothing was changed is quite a challenge. While I like challenges, I pick them with care and only when they bias to my benefit.

Crawling around my attic I find a pot light near my front door. It was the original one that came with the house. Rated at 150 watts, there was cellulose insulation all around it. I find out that this fixture is safe provided there is no insulation covering it, but without insulation and vapour barrier, in the winter hot air from the house enters the attic, melts snow from the roof, which then refreezes causing an ice dam. I have been pondering why I have been having small ice dams for over 5 years, and I believe I have found the source.

The original pot light, being 35 years old, was not rated for contact with insulation. I do not think they had this standard back in the day. A new, IC (insulation contact) rated pot light was purchased for $17CAD. A building code rated vapour barrier of thick blue plastic was also purchased for $8CAD. These costs are small. Installation would be more difficult. The old Halo brand pot light was made of thick steel and is well made. The 4 nails holding it to the rafters would not come out, so I had to cut the nails with a dremel. The new Halo brand pot light installed easily, and the electrical 3 wire connection was a very simple push in type. Halo makes some good stuff.

Installation of the pot light vapour barrier was much harder. The vapour barrier looks like a plastic box with the top open. It must be cut and tuck taped into place, around the rafters and pot light. Doing this taping took me about 3 times more time than installing the pot light. Eventually I was done. The insulation guys covered it with pink blown in fiberglass, as it was intended. The pot light is now air tight and insulated. There will be no hot or cold air infiltration from my living space into the attic, thereby eliminating my ice dam problem. I will see this winter.

With all the work I have done this month, the house hardly looks any different. All my work was behind the scenes and hidden. The original builder skipped corners where the home buyer could not see. I suppose this is common in the building industry. A building inspector cannot see every little detail. I do wonder about the integrity of the workers, who skipped steps and cheated the original home owner, and all subsequent home owners. I did learn a lot more about the systems that run my house.

One can only control your own actions. I would never cut corners on a job, even if I knew the owner would not see it. Eventually someone finds out you cheated them, and sooner or later you will be found out. Do the best job you can, because the end result will shine through.

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