Construction: Insulation

My home gets a cozy inside blanket.

On May 20, 2014, I began blogging about the construction of my new home in Malaga, WA. You can read all of these posts — and see the time-lapse movies that go with many them — by clicking the new home construction tag.

My new home is a pole building. That’s a type of construction where heavy duty posts are anchored into the ground, a frame is built with horizontal girts, and the roof is constructed with trusses, glulam beams, and purlins. The whole thing is covered with a metal skin.

What I Started With

Roof Insulation
This photo shows the start of my shop roof installation. The white stuff is the insulation, which came in rolls with a vapor barrier on the other side.

I ordered my building with R-8 insulation in my shop and RV garage — that’s the big open area beside my car garage and living space. It’s minimum insulation, mostly to take the edge off winter cold and summer heat. The insulation in that area was placed between the girts/purlins and the metal skin. You can see it being installed in one photo; the other photo shows what it looks like on the inside.

Shop Walls
This 12 x 12 corner of my shop area shows what the inside of that insulated space looks like.

The living space was not insulated, mostly because it required more insulation than what could be installed between the building’s frame and its skin. Instead, I’d have the insulation done as part of completing that space. The builders added a vapor barrier to the walls but left the ceiling bare.

Because I didn’t want the posts to show in my finished space, the framer built a house frame inside the building’s frame. This gave me a very generous area between the inside and outside walls. The roof sat on the purlins and glulam beams. I wanted the beams to show in my living room, kitchen, and bathroom; the ceiling would be attached to the purlins.

What I Needed

There was some confusion at first about how the roof would be insulated. Apparently, my construction isn’t anywhere near standard for a home. (Surprise, surprise.) It was finally decided that I’d get my total of R-38 insulation in the roof with an R-25 layer of insulating foam and R-13 batting beneath it. The walls would be R-21 batting and the floor would be R-30 batting, placed under the subfloor in the garage rafters.

Following all this so far?

The Foam Goes In

Getting the foam insulation wasn’t a big deal. I called two contractors and got two bids. They were pretty close. In the end, I went with the company that included insulation for the pony wall between the roof of the RV garage and the roof of my living space. Although it wasn’t required to meet code, if the cost was the same, why not do it?

Foam Insulation
Here’s the foam insulation in progress. You can see the bare metal roof it adhered to.

They came on October 29 with a big truck that had a generator and sprayer in it. The covered my walls and floors and glulam beams with plastic. Then they covered up with paint suits and masks and went at it with their spray hoses.

I stayed out of the way. I did go up to take a peek at their progress when they took a break for lunch. I had no idea what I was looking at, but I took pictures for my scrapbook.

When they were done, they stripped off most of the plastic, leaving (at my request) the plastic between the living space and RV garage. This would later help me contain heat in various heated parts of my building — at least until the rest of the insulation went in.

A friend of mine stopped by to see it when they were finished. He said they’d done a terrible job. I called the guy who’d given me the quote and voiced concerns. He came over with a stiff metal wire marked with the thickness the foam was supposed to be. He climbed a ladder in various places to test it. Although it wasn’t even, even in the thinnest areas it met the requirements.

Of course, all that really mattered was what the inspector thought. He came by to take a look and was thrilled. He signed off and I was ready for the next step.

I should mention that the added benefit of the foam insulation is that it adhered tightly to my metal roof panels, thus adding strength to my roof.

The Batting Goes In

Time passed. For a while, I sat on the fence about moving forward this winter with construction or waiting until spring. I decided in early December to move forward. That meant I needed insulation done.

I got handful of bids. One of them was for a company that could do the insulation, drywall, and painting of the entire place for just a bit more than another guy wanted for drywall only. I went with the all-in-one solution, knowing that it would make the process faster — no need to coordinate multiple contractors for tasks that could be done in quick succession. And because my walls were so thick and R-25 insulation cost the same as R-21, they’d put R-25 in the walls.

I scrambled to get my electrical rough-in done and inspected. And the plumbing rough-in gone and inspected. And fix a few things the county wanted done. January 15 was set as the start date.

Five minutes after the electrical inspector left that morning, he called me from his cell phone. “Were you expecting the insulation today?” he asked.

I confirmed that I was.

“Well, a truck and trailer filled with insulation has jack-knifed on your road.”

Long story short: despite the icy condition of the road I live on, the insulation guy, Bill, had decided to give it a go in 2-wheel-drive. That was the day he’d learn the valuable lesson I’d learned the year before: If you have 4-wheel-drive and have to drive in ice or snow, turn on 4-wheel-drive.

I climbed into my truck with my 10,000 pound tow strap, and headed out to find him and offer assistance. His Ford F-150 pickup truck was pointing away from my home and his trailer was off the road on about a 45° angle to it. Must have been some slide! There was no way the hitch could be undone. I drove around the inspector, who was apparently doing paperwork while he waited for the road to clear and managed to drive around the truck by straddling the ditch on one side. (No matter how much I dislike my big, ugly one-ton diesel pickup, I have to admit that it’s a real workhorse.) The inspector followed my tracks and got on his way. We transferred some of the bales of insulation to the back of my truck and Bill offloaded the rest from the trailer. Then, as I watched, he managed to get the truck and mostly empty trailer back on the road. I headed home at his urging, leaving him to reload the trailer and follow.

The only thing I regret is not getting a photo of his mishap. It was quite impressive.

Insulating the Bedroom
Here’s Bill, stuffing insulation into the west wall of my bedroom.

He arrived an hour or so later. I was finishing up some electrical fixes with my electrician friend when he started offloading the insulation and stowing it in my garage and living space. Rather than lose him for another hour or more while he went to get lunch, I grilled up some chicken sausage and served it with a salad. I could tell he appreciated it.

A while later, his helper arrived and they got right to work. They managed to do a good portion of the space before calling it quits for the day. They did notice that they’d gotten the wrong width insulation for the ceiling — the purlins were 24 inches on center instead of 16. Bill made a phone call and, before leaving for the day, pulled all of the wrong R-13 insulation bundles aside.

Insulation in North Wall
Here’s a look through my kitchen, bathroom, and bedroom with the insulation in the north wall.

Insulation in Garage Ceiling
Here’s Bill on the manlift, installing the insulation in the garage ceiling beneath my bathroom. The outlet box and wires are for my garage door opener.

They came back the next day and continued working. Bill loaded up the wrong insulation and drove off to meet the delivery guy, returning a while later with the right stuff. They started work on the ceiling, using thin metal rods to hold the batting in place. When they were almost done upstairs, they went downstairs and got started on the garage ceiling — a task that required me to work with them to move the cars out and the boat aside. They used the manlift that the HVAC guys had kindly left behind for our use. I think that saved them a ton of time and effort — my garage ceiling is 10 feet up.

I had to do some work, too — we needed nailers above the garage doors. I spent some time on a ladder with cut 2 x 4s and my impact driver, getting it ready for the drywall.

The work continued on Monday. As the wall between the living space and RV garage filled in, my living space became noticeably warmer. The heater even shut itself off — it finally reached the desired temperature. At the same time, my RV garage and shop got cooler — no more heat from above!

On Tuesday morning, the drywall guys showed up. The inspector came by not long afterwards to look at the insulation and gave us a thumbs up to keep going.

We were ready for the next step: drywall.

What do you think?