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DayCreek Journal

October 31, 2002

The Answer My Friend is Blowin' in the Cellulose

How many bags must be blown in an attic
Before you call it R-60?
Yes, 'n' how many logs must be mudded into a wall
Before you call it a home?
Yes, 'n' how many Btu's does it take to heat a home
Before your feet are nice and toasty?
The answer my friend is blowin' in the cellulose,
The answer is blowin' in the cellulose.

(Original lyrics by Bob Dylan, modified for personal enjoyment by Alan Stankevitz)

Okay, maybe I've been breathing into too much cellulose or something, but hey, it's my web site! I can say or sing whatever I want. Besides writing lyrics, quite a bit has been accomplished over the last few days. Here's the scoop on what's been done:

Whole-House Fan Area
Last weekend I managed to finish up all of the cedar paneling including the center whole-house fan area.

When the whole-house fan was installed, I left room between the fan and ceiling to allow for insulation. The trick was to make it easy enough to install/remove the insulation depending upon the heating/cooling season.

This was accomplished by paneling slightly beyond the fan cowling to make a little ledge for the insulation to rest on. The insulation is made out of a roll of fiberglass insulation that was unrolled and then re-rolled allowing it to expand a bit. Strapping it with duct tape, I was able to take the whole roll and stuff it up in the round hole. The ledge along with a few shims prevents the insulation from falling out.

Following the insulation, a ring built out of plywood and window screen was attached to the ceiling by means of a door hinge and 7 screws . When spring comes around, the ring will be hinged open, allowing easy removal of the insulation and the cupola/vent system will be ready for those hot summer evenings.

Cellulose Day
With the ceiling completed, things were ready for Tuesday's big event: Cellulose Day. What is cellulose? It's shredded newspaper that has been treated with a fire retardant. It's R-value is around R-3 per inch, which makes it an excellent choice for attic insulation. The loose-fill insulation also fills all those nooks and crannies found in a 16 sided attic.

The day started by arriving at the friendly, neighborhood Menards at 7:30 a.m. to pick up the blower. The blower was loaded onto my pick-up truck with a fork lift and away I went. Shortly after I arrived back at the house, Tom showed up to give me a hand. (This is one aspect of the house that I couldn't have possibly done by myself and I was so happy to have Tom's help. A big THANK YOU goes out to Tom.)

The cellulose machine looks like nothing more than an oversized leaf shredder but the thing weighs a ton! Why they make this blower so dang heavy is beyond me, but Tom and I schlepped it up the hill in back of the house and wheeled it across the bridge to the house. (That bridge has been one of the best add-on's to the house so far.)

We started blowing in the insulation around 10 a.m. and things went smoothly. I pretty much just stood there directing the hose wherever there was a need for insulation, while Tom feverishly kept up dumping bags into the hopper. By noon, we were about half way done and realized that 84 bags weren't going to be enough. The attic space is roughly 1,000 sq. ft. and the vendor claims that it should take 82 bags for R-60. I calculated that we needed another 24 bags, so it was off to Menards to get more cellulose.

After we returned, it took about another hour and a half to finish up the ceiling space. I was definitely prematurely gray from the dust, but a happy gray to say the least. Another major hurdle had been accomplished.

So...How warm is the house?
With the house open to the cold most of the day on Tuesday, the temperature was in the low 60's come Tuesday evening. I started a fire in the soapstone stove and within an hour the temperature was close to 70°F. Within another hour it was 75°F downstairs. I then went upstairs to see what the temperature was and it was over 80°F. Since the ceiling fans have not been connected yet, I rigged up a portable fan to carry down some of those Btu's. I'm happy to report that so far, the house seems to be doing its thing.

Thursday night was the coldest night so far this season with temperatures dipping into the low 20's, but it only took 4 medium sized logs to raise the temperature to 79°F. I left the fire die out over night and by 6 a.m. the next morning, the outside temperature was 22°F, while the indoor temperature was 69°F. The temperature had only dropped 10°F over an eight hour period. Now granted, the soapstone stove does stay warm for a long time, but the fact that it only took 4 logs to keep the house warm for over 8 hours sounds pretty good to me.

How about solar heat?
There has been no sun to speak of over the last two weeks.. I'm hoping that by the time I return on Sunday that I'll have a better idea regarding the role that the active solar heating system plays. It's been sunny for three days now, so heat should start coming up through the floor in the next few days.

Passive solar alone has made quite an impact. Wednesday, it was cloudy in the early morning so I burned 3 logs in the stove starting around 8 a.m. By 10:30 a.m., the sun was breaking through the clouds and by 11:30 a.m., it was mostly sunny. The temperature in the house stayed in the upper 70's all day until late afternoon and then started a slow decent until the temperature was 69°F at 8 p.m. The boost from the stove in the morning, along with sun through the windows was enough to keep things warm all day. The outdoor temperature peaked at 37°F.

It's going to take some time to understand the heating needs of the house, but so far it appears it's not going to take much.

What's next?
I was able to rough-in the plumbing for the 9 kW electric boiler, connecting it to the 1,000' of pex tubing located in the cement slab. This system is totally independent from the solar heating system and will be used as a backup heating system to keep the house warm during times when I'm not around and there is limited sunshine. If all goes as planned, the electricians are due to come back out on Monday to install the circuit panel and install the current transformer used to run a second meter for the boiler. This second meter is required by Tri-County electric to monitor the usage of the boiler since the off-peak rate is half of the normal rate.

I should have the backup heating system up and running sometime next week. This will be the last big push for this year, and although work will continue on the house, it will be at a much more leisurely pace.

Joe doesn't seem to mind the unseasonably cold weather.