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Poor or No insulation, what to do?


Northern Mike's Avatar
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01-02-13, 06:01 AM   #1  
Poor or No insulation, what to do?

So... Had to start off the new year on the wrong foot.

Was sitting at the dining room table, went to plug my laptop in and noticed a nasty draft coming from the outlet (south facing outside wall). Outside ambient temperature was ~ -20'C (-4'F).
Not having a whole lot of time before the kids woke up (was ~6AM), I pulled the cover off the outlet to see what I can see. There didn't appear to be any insulation around the box, but I didn't pull the box to confirm.

Background info
- House was built in 1937 (former nun convent)
- 2860sqft above grade (~4074sqft total including basement)
- Hot water finned baseboard heating (~1970's rads).
- Plaster interior walls
- Windows are newer (replaced within the past 5 years, properly insulated by myself this summer).
- Outside construction is original planks, original asphalt shingles, aluminum siding (installed in 1970's)
- Insulation in outside walls is unknown. Areas that had seen renos over the years do have insulation or signs of insulation upgrades.
- Oversize boiler, under radiant on main floor (zone 1 of 2), particularly with the finned baseboards removed by the previous owner.

So... Going forward.
I will be pulling a couple power outlets (box and all) to see what I can see in the walls (and replacing once discovery is over).
What would you guys suggest for short term and long term solutions to this problem?

I'm thinking short term solution if there is no insulation in this wall (and others) will be to fill the voids around electrical boxes with insulation (spray foam or bat) and as cash flow permits, upgrade a couple of the finned baseboards.

Long term... tear down the interior walls, insulate and replace with drywall or remove the siding, insulate, wrap and refinish the outside? Which would be the best bang for the buck?

 
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Pilot Dane's Avatar
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01-02-13, 06:40 AM   #2  
Does anyone in your area still do blow-in wall retrofit insulation? It was common in the 70's with many people doing it but it's become much harder to find anyone that still does it. It's a great way to insulate existing buildings without opening up the walls. Usually outside the house they drill a hole in the top and bottom of each wall cavity and blow in insulation then plug the holes. The hole patches are generally visible but not terribly so and the price is pretty reasonable. The one gotcha is you have to insure that you do not have knob and tube wiring which much not be covered with insulation.

As a quick short term fix I would install gaskets on your switches and outlets. This will help stop the air flow without gumming up your wires and boxes with spray foam.
Amazon.com: Gasket Covers, Electrical Outlet & Light Switch Plate Draft Stopper Foam Gaskets: Home Improvement

 
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01-02-13, 06:52 AM   #3  
I was thinking about those gaskets (saw them the other day at the hardware store).
Does blow-in pack down over time?
Although cost is an issue, it's a bullet I'll bite as we're going to be here a long time if I have my way.
The holes on the outside would be ideal as we're looking to replace the siding someday. It was poorly painted by the previous owners (from white to yellow) and looks bad. It just wasn't high on the priority list but would be moved up with this.

As for the electrical, it's all newer. All wires and plugs had been replaced within the last 10yrs and I'm currently in the process of replacing all the light switches so I'm assuming this will be a non-issue.

 
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01-02-13, 07:14 AM   #4  
If you're going to be pulling the siding, that might be an easier time to insulate.

 
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01-02-13, 08:32 AM   #5  
If you're going to be pulling the siding, that might be an easier time to insulate.
That was the original idea until I noticed the major draft from the outlet.
Knowing the house is old, and has the original shingles under the siding from when the house was built, I figured we'd add insulation when we did the exterior of the house.
Now that we may be looking at no insulation on some parts of the exterior, should I consider pulling everything off the outside (down to the studs) and rebuild the outside of the walls?

 
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01-02-13, 08:51 AM   #6  
Do you know what's under the current siding?

 
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01-02-13, 09:14 AM   #7  
Going from the outside in, it's aluminum siding, ashphalt shingle then plank (6-8", not sure if it's t&g or simply butted together), under the planks is the studs (I believe).

This is the shingle siding back when the house was 4 years old. The siding was applied directly on top of the shingles in the 1970's upgrades.
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01-02-13, 09:25 AM   #8  
Ugh. That won't be a fun tear-off....

My thought is if you had planned to tear all of this off and replace the siding, I'd try to move the timetable up and insulate then. If that's still a long way off, then Dane's idea sounds best - you want some insulation sooner rather than later.

 
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01-02-13, 09:35 AM   #9  
Not looking forward to removing the shingles under the siding.
Definitely looking to move up the scheduling of the siding work. The cost isn't something I'm looking forward to. Going to look around at something different then the standard siding. Not a big fan of standard siding looks, specially in a big squarish house.

 
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01-02-13, 09:40 AM   #10  
How well is your attic insulated? You could add more insulation there where it is cheap & easy and add the outlet & switch gaskets.

 
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01-02-13, 09:51 AM   #11  
Attic is pretty good, although I could add more. There is currently ~4" blow-in on top of the floor boards (attic has an actual floor), and the space between the floor boards and the ceiling on the second floor was filled with blow-in as well, via 2" holes.
The second floor feels pretty warm, no noticeable drafts or cold walls. The second floor however has a lot more finned baseboards then the main floor.

The main floor (which is where I noticed this issue with drafts) has had at least 2 rads removed (can see the filled in holes for the pipes). The walls for the most part are reasonable warm, except the south wall (where the draft at the outlet was) and the emidiate area around the front door (which we used maybe 3 times in a year). The walls in the kids toy room and the living room are not noticebly cold to the touch as is the area around the front door.

I'll try and pull a couple outlets (box and all) in a few areas of the house to see what I can see. I'll check areas of concern and not to see if I'm right in thinking some areas may have insulation.

 
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01-02-13, 10:04 AM   #12  
Seems to me your walls would be cold in those ambient temperatures if you had no insulation.

 
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01-02-13, 10:13 AM   #13  
Seems to me your walls would be cold in those ambient temperatures if you had no insulation.
That was my thoughts as well. As I mentioned, the area around the front door and the south wall are cool. The rest is not.
There is no baseboards on the East wall on the main floor, and the wall itself is maybe a degree or two cooler then the room temp and not really cool to the touch. I'll take a quick measurement with the thermal gun this evening and see how each exterior wall compares to an interior wall in the same room. It's about -25'C outside right now and promises to hold that cold or cooler tonight, so I should be able to get some good comparisions.

I should mention that when I noticed the draft, there was a good wind outside, coming from the south west. I don't think there are any areas the wind could have gotten into the wall, but at that angle, it's possible.

 
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01-02-13, 10:30 AM   #14  
Thermal cameras are great for looking at at areas that need insulation and very quickly tell you exactly where you need to focus your efforts without having to drill holes or cut into walls to see what you've got. This may be a bit of a long shot but do you know any predator hunters in your area that might have thermal night vision? In the USA some home centers like Home Depot rent FLIR cameras and there are some online companies as well though the color industrial ones are quite expensive even to rent.

 
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01-02-13, 10:44 AM   #15  
Thermal cameras are great for looking at at areas that need insulation and very quickly tell you exactly where you need to focus your efforts without having to drill holes or cut into walls to see what you've got. This may be a bit of a long shot but do you know any predator hunters in your area that might have thermal night vision? In the USA some home centers like Home Depot rent FLIR cameras and there are some online companies as well though the color industrial ones are quite expensive even to rent.
Not a bad idea.
I don't know if the Canadian version of Home Depot will have them, they appear to lack somethings the US chain stocks (like hot water heating components).
I may have access to a thermal camera if my buddy had bought one like he was planning too. If not, I'll check around to see who or where I can rent/borrow one.
Any sources of heat loss should show really well right now with the cool weather.

 
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01-02-13, 11:21 AM   #16  
Just confirmed that my buddy didn't pick up a thermal camera.
Home Depot's site doesn't indicate they have those cameras either (will call after work anyway).

I'll do the thermal gun tests while I try to source a camera.

 
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01-02-13, 03:03 PM   #17  
Take your knuckle and rap on an interior wall where you know there is no insulation. Then do the same rapping on an exterior wall. If they sound the same, no insulation. If there is insulation, the outer wall will sound different. More of a thud than a rap (if that makes sense). Think about something like a bell. free hanging it rings nicely. Hold a finger against it and it no longer rings. The insulation will be like your finger on the bell. It will deaden the sound transmission.

 
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01-03-13, 05:06 AM   #18  
Take your knuckle and rap on an interior wall where you know there is no insulation. Then do the same rapping on an exterior wall. If they sound the same, no insulation. If there is insulation, the outer wall will sound different. More of a thud than a rap (if that makes sense). Think about something like a bell. free hanging it rings nicely. Hold a finger against it and it no longer rings. The insulation will be like your finger on the bell. It will deaden the sound transmission.
That would work fine on drywall, but 1930's plaster... Not so much.
My previous house was 1 1/2" plaster (someone used way too much). Was like tapping on concrete.
Not really sure how thick the walls are in this house. Probably 1/2 to 3/4" range. There is wood strapping (correct technical name?) supporting the paster where the previous house I owned used chicken wire.

 
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