Insulation v. Winter

Colin: And if we just kept our thermostats at 68 in the winter…
Lisa: …we’d be free from our dependency on foreign oil in 17 years!

A couple of years back, we ordered an energy audit on the house (complete with blower test). The test showed that the house was tighter than many modern houses (yay, 1920s construction!), but there was much room for improvement. The results indicated that our exterior doors were leaky, so we replaced them, front and back, and caulked some corners and gaps. The test also said that we should add much more insulation upstairs. We didn’t want to spend a ton on insulation if we were just going to tear it out for a remodel a year or two later, so we just threw down another layer of fiberglass in the attic. That did make the house cozier, but it wasn’t a serious solution.

Closed cell spray foam insulation? That’s a serious solution.

Reminds me of snowdrifts only, you know, upside-down.

Foam in process

After spraying, our builder also added one-inch rigid foam between the rafters and the sheetrock to avoid heat transmission through the rafters. Heat gets through solid wood more slowly but can still cause ice dams.

Can you spot the rafters?

Can you spot the rafters?

Despite our El Nino winter (milder than usual), we’ve had some frigid stretches (down to -14F/-25C), and I’m loving this insulation.

Thing to Love #1: The ground floor is warmer. We knew we were losing heat through the top of the house before, but we overestimated the insulating power of an entire half-story above the main living area. In past winters, I’ve rushed to finish the window insulation on the first really cold day as it became uncomfortable inside. With less heat loss from above, the house isn’t drawing as much cold air through the older windows. I didn’t even do plastic this year (although it’s still a good idea).


We’re as warm and snuggly as Mayya was on Christmas, but much happier.

Thing to Love #2: Our energy bills are lower. We receive a monthly email from the power company to congratulate or shame us on our energy consumption. We’re usually low-average. Since winter started, we’re suddenly one of the “efficient neighbors” and our bills are noticeably smaller. It’s going to take a ridiculous time to break even, but (a) that wasn’t the point and (b) it’s nice to see an actual effect.

Actually, BETTER than efficient neighbors

Actually, 1% better than efficient neighbors

It’s hard to say how far down the bills are in real terms are because last winter was colder; this season would have been cheaper in any event. But as far as I can estimate, we’re down about 10 to 15%.

Thing to Love #3: We need less heat upstairs. The remodel floor plan involved moving a radiator because its original location was going to be inside a closet.

new plan

After BTU calculations, we determined a smaller radiator would work, so we disconnected the old one and capped the lines pending that purchase. But we’ve never needed it. The original radiator in the reading room and the heat captured from the ground floor keep it plenty warm up there. We’ll probably put in a radiator at some point–after we install the bedroom door, we’ll get less shared heat from the reading room–but there’s really no rush.

Thing to Love #4: Our attic storage is warm! When we formerly stored items out in the attic space, it was Really Very Cold out there. And it was Really Very Hot in the summer. Because we did a complete cold roof, the insulation covers the whole roof deck, so the storage space is insulated the same as the living areas (although the ceiling is plywood, not sheetrock).

Temperate storage is terrific. We take the time to put things away properly because we’re not worried about eminent frostbite or heatstroke, and we also make better use of the space overall. It’s so comfy up there, we’re even making a fort for the nephews.

Inspiration photo (via)

Inspiration photo (via)

It might really be a fort for me, in truth (update: here it is).

Thing to Love #5: No ice dams! Until a warm spell this week, we were one of the few local houses with snow mostly on the roof in snow form.


This was Reason One for the insulation, so hurrah!

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