Wednesday, August 8, 2012

baby, it's cool inside.

In the last post I wrote, I talked about how we updated our 1970s windows to the current century.  When it was colder outside, it stayed warmer inside - we were pretty excited!  But then we remembered how miserable last summer was after we first moved in.  When we would go upstairs to the second floor, the temperature would literally change 15 degrees.  (For some reason there is a thermometer in the light switch in one of the upstairs bedrooms, so we have proof).  If it were 75 degrees downstairs, it could be 80-90 degrees upstairs thanks to the sun beating down on the roof all day.

Side note: Ever notice rooftops in the winter after it snows?  The houses with snow on their roof have properly insulated attics, meaning the insulation is keeping the heat in the house.  The houses without snow on them usually have poor insulation allowing the heat to escape through the roof and melt the snow. 

We remember from our home inspection that our attic had very little insulation - approximately four to six inches of old rock wool.  Not enough to actually insulate our house.  We toughed it out the first summer in our house.  We dreaded going upstairs to go to bed.  When we got two-thirds of the way up the staircase, we could feel the heat.  While it's a fact that heat rises, it's frustrating when you have the thermostat set at a certain degree and only half the house is actually that temperature.

So, in April, when it was nice and cool out (remember that?), we decided we would insulate our attic.  Ourselves.  Without experience.  First thing on the list was to find out how to actually get up to the attic.  The attic access is in a very small closet in one of the bedrooms.

Tiny closet, tiny access.
Beam me up. 
Below are pictures of what the attic looked like before.  Notice how the insulation does not even come up to the cross beams on the floor?  They are only six inches tall.

Below is a gap we found in the floor of the attic - it is the space between our bedroom wall and hall bathroom wall.  It could be contributing to the heat in our bedroom.  We ended up covering it and then covering it with insulation.

Attic and whole house fan. 
One of my favorite features in our house when it's nice and cool out. 

After scoping out our attic, it was time to get started.  We had to prepare the soffit vents.  These are the vents in the eaves outside of the house.  They help circulate heat in and out of the attic and you do NOT want to cover those up.  Here is a depiction of their purpose.

And here's what they looked like before adding the baffles. 

By using an old door that we removed, Ehren was able to get down into the eave to install the attic baffles using a staple gun.  He looooved this job.

He ended up putting in 20 baffles - this took a great deal of time and was pretty hot despite it being in the low 70s.  Next, I built a box to go around the whole house fan (the correct name for what most people call an "attic fan" - an attic fan circulates air through the attic only, not the whole house).  That way, insulation did not get on top of the fan and cause a mess elsewhere.

These C&B boxes have had a lot of life: wedding presents, moving, spray painting projects, and now WHF surround.

We decided to use Green Fiber for our insulation.  Not only is it "green", but if you buy 20 bags at Home Depot, you can rent the hopper (the hoppa'!) for free.  Attic insulation levels are measured in in R-values and we decided to go with about R-38 (as our inspector recommended).  The bags of Green Fiber have an estimating chart to determine how much you will need.  Since our attic is approximately 1,000 square feet, we needed 50 bags.  It took six carloads to bring the hoppa' and 50 bags home.  The hopper is break-your-back heavy, along with 100 feet of hose.  

The hoppa'!
That's a lot of fiber.
Luckily, the hose was long enough to go from our deck up to the second floor bedroom and through the attic without a problem.  This stuff is messy so keeping the hopper outside is absolutely required.

And finally, after hours of prepping, hauling, unloading, stressing, we were ready to start blowing it in. At eight o'clock at night.  Whoops.  Sorry neighbors.  Ehren was in the attic blowing and I was loading the hopper.  You have to break up the blocks of fiber to fit in the hopper which then fluffs it up and shoots it up the hose.  You can actually see shreds of newspaper and plastic in the fiber which is why it's so "green".  Here's what it looked like in the process.

So, picture this.  As I was loading the hopper, I noticed it was taking forever.  Like ten minutes a bag, forever.  Multiply that by 50 and you have 500 minutes, which means 8.33 hours, which means we wouldn't get done until 4:30 a.m.  It was going so slow I was looking up at the stars, texting my mom, checking facebook, yawning, etc., thinking, "this is going to take forever".  Meanwhile, Ehren is propped up on the attic beams watching the fiber sputter out of the hose, thinking "this is going to take forever."  So I thought something must be wrong.  I re-read the directions on the hopper and it said, "for attic insulation, make sure the gate is all the way open".  There was no obvious "gate".  So I looked around and saw a piece of metal sticking out, I pulled on it and nothing happened.  Then I pulled it harder and WHOOSH! the fiber was shooting through the hose at lightning speed (compared to before).  Then I'm thinking, OMG.  Panicking, I start grabbing more bags, breaking up the fiber as fast as I could, trying to keep up.  Meanwhile, Ehren's up in the attic thinking, "woah, it's really coming now!".

The best way to visualize this is to watch this clip of "I Love Lucy" (my all-time favorite show).  Instead of chocolate, it's attic insulation.  At first I'm taking my time then the sh** chocolate hits the attic fan and I'm panicking, shoving insulation in my shirt, my hat and my mouth.  Okay, not really, but you get the idea.  Just watch.

So it went from ten minutes per bag to under one minute per bag.  Two and a half hours later, we were done.  It all seems like a blur now because it went so fast.  We used this walkie-talkie kind of app to communicate and it worked out great.

In the middle of the madness.
What a mess. 
We got done at about 11:00 p.m. and were exhausted.  Check out the the difference below.  The attic beams are long gone with 14 inches of insulation above them.

Oooh, fiber.

More than a couple servings of fiber.
Relieved to be done.
Foreshadowing to an older, greyer Ehren?
Despite the goggles and mask, we had insulation everywhere.  Every.  Where.  We celebrated accomplishing our biggest DIO project by getting Pizza Shuttle.. duh.  

So, how about the numbers?  To have attic insulation put in by professionals, it would have cost us at least $1,200.00 for 1,000 square feet.  With all the supplies (baffles, insulation), we spent approximately $450.00 with a free hopper for the day.  We were excited about saving money by doing it ourselves, but the most exciting part was getting our electricity bill this summer.  Who gets excited about getting an electricity bill?  We do.  

July 2011 bill: $189.00
July 2012 bill: $101.00

Wow!  What is amazing is that this summer has been hotter and we've kept the house cooler than last year.  And while we didn't live here last June, our June bill this year was only $69.00.  My estimation is that in 2 to 3 more months, we will have paid off our insulation costs with the money we've saved in energy bills.  We've not only been excited about the money we're saving but also the difference we feel in the house.  Now, when we go upstairs, there is absolutely no temperature change.  Sometimes, it's even cooler in our room due to simply not being up there.  

This project was a lot of work but will provide years (and years) of energy savings.  Take a peek in your attic and see what you have.  You could be in the same situation we were in.  And if needed, I highly recommend you doing this, no experience required!  Just remember to open the gate.. all the way. 


  1. Popped over from YHL - great job, laughed out loud at "the hoppa"!!
    Christina P (NS)

  2. Totally should have done this in our last house! But now it's someone else's chore :)

  3. Came over from YHL. Love your blog so far! Congrats on being featured on theirs! What an honor!

  4. Stopped by from YHL - just sent my husband the link to this post with a "we should do this..." :-) (we're just starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel of our bathroom reno)

    1. Do it! The hardest part is getting prepped.. and that's not even that hard. Were in the middle of our bathroom reno as we speak.. much more challenging!

  5. hi! another visitor from YHL... what a great post. and i'm thinking we might need to do this sometime this winter to help out with next summer. are there any rules/regulations about how much insulation you should have in your attic? (p.s. you guys are adorable!)

    1. Thank you! I don't know of any regulations, we just went with what our home inspector recommended which was R-38. Good luck!

    2. Becca, check out this website:

      You can enter your zip code and find out exactly how much insulation you need in you attic.

      Great project that you will see results from year-round!

  6. I think popping over from YHL is going to be a common theme in the coming days, guys :) I'm impressed you read the directions at all to be honest. I mean, who really reads those things?! And I would be excited to get the electric bill too - those are my kind of numbers!

  7. Wow, what a great project! I guess, saving is a really big result of that, but the environmental impact is even more important than that! Way to go!! xo Anja

  8. I was proud when I added insulation and saved an average of 20% on my bills. You saved 46% in one month - just imagine. I not only compare my utility bills, I read my meter between bills (saving $ on utility bills is an addiction. Sad but true!). Good job on identifying projects that save money and great job on doing it yourself!


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