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July 04, 2006

Insulation, Week Two

All week I sat at my desk at work, struggling with the irrelevance of my quotidian task. I would pause frequently, gaze up at the stamped tin ceiling of the fire house, and think to myself, "I was born for bigger, better things. I was born to insulate." The days dragged by at the pace of glacial molasses, but eventually Friday came. And as eager as I was to get to Chestertown, I was more eager still to avoid the hordes heading east across the bridge to be the first on the beach Saturday morning. And so I came home and twiddled. I packed the van, ran the dog, watched television in a passive sort of way that brought no real joy. My heart lay across the waters, on the second floor of a dark, hot barn.

Eventually 8:00 rolled around and I felt comfortable setting out. I stopped at the fire house on my way out of the city to pick up my enormous roll of Prodex insulation (700 square feet!) and then proceeded to my friend Matt's house for yet further delay before braving the traffic. [Those reading on will be rewarded with a photo of the Prodex in its glory.]

My sojourn with Matt was idyllic. He was kind enough to procure a pizza and was thoughtful enough to add intrique by topping it with diced slivers of a fresh jalepeno from his garden and carefully shredded bits of lightly microwaved smoked salmon jerky from Bristol Bay. I'm convinced that (considering the mushrooms added by the pizza makers themselves) we were the only two men in Elkridge, MD sampling this particular delicacy that night.

Does this make you hungry? I hadn't thought I was particularly hungry when I arrived at Matt's. Then I ate half of the pie.

After dinner we moved an air conditioner from the basement to Matt's writing nook (he is a sensitive literary type, too) and then proceeded back to the basement where I proceeded to thoroughly trounce him at darts.

Ok, fine. Matt emerged the victor. But the final tally was closer than it has been in the past.

My subsequent drive to Chestertown was uneventful. I arrived, unloaded the van and was ready for bed, but Iggy insisted on seeing the barn. We took Matt's utility light over and set it up. He claims to have used the sucker to mow the lawn in the dead of night, and I can see that such a claim was not overstatement. I think it might be useful to hail a small planet. Skipping ahead to the next morning, here it is, in all of it's dual-halogen glory.

And what a lovely light it casts upon this naked, uninsulated corner of the barn. Seeing this sight, I was inspired to begin my task.

My task began with contemplation of the Prodex. I was hesitant to unroll the gleaming column, so lovely did it seem to me.

But the the minutes were passing and, looking around me, I knew that I would need them all.

And so I began fitting the Prodex up against the ceiling, leaving a 3/4 inch pocket of air above the Prodex. Apparently this is an important part of its functioning.

The job of the Prodex, according to the Web site on which Robbi found it, is to block the radiant heat that comes through the roof. Do I fully understand the intricacies of radiant heat? I do not. Do I know for sure that Prodex and fiberglass are not redundant factors instead of collaborators in insulating synergy? I do not. I must admit that I am charmed by its shiny surface, its light and pliable bearing, the gentle loft of the foam between the sheets of mylar. Given the heat of the barn, I am willing to dream the dream of hoping that the Prodex protects us from days of heat to come. And apparently, it will help trap what meagre heat our bodies are able to produce in the winter months.

Iggy misunderstood the meaning of Prodex. Once I explained it to her, she was embarassed for having mistaken it for a dog bed. I sent her back to the tuffet. Moments later she returned to the Prodex, undaunted. Apparently, it was the coolest surface in the barn. I hope that the presence of dog claw indentations does not lessen the effectiveness of Prodex. I scanned the instructions, and there was no mention of dogs.

I cut my teeth last weekend insulating some of the walls. The challenge for this weekend was tackling the ceiling. The precience of our purchase of the grand ladder became clear; I spent the majority of the weekend on the ladder, leaning back, staple gun above my head, fitting and attaching Prodex and fiberglass to the 23.5" space between the ceiling beams.

It was slow going:

But eventually the bare ceiling disappeared:

As did the roll of Prodex:

And eventually, the ceiling was a sea of kraft paper waves.

You can't see it, but underneath the mask, I am grinning the grin of a crazed, hot, gratified man.

The little montage above documents the work of several days. Along the way there were complications. Because this barn was never meant to be insulated, it is not layed out neatly for the ease of he doing the insulation. The dimensions are uneven and there are an inordinate number of diagonal cross beams that must be negotiated. And then there are the wires, which while necessary, do complicate one's best attempts to neatly orient the Prodex. For example:

Another man could have grown frustrated. I struck this pose, aiming to threaten the Prodex into straightening out.

My tactic was effective.

To my utter shock.

Another complicating factor was the heat. Saturday was hot. Sunday was ridiculous. It was 95 degrees outside on Sunday and easily another 10 degrees hotter on the second floor of the barn. I had to drink constantly and still could not stay hydrated. After approximately 15 minutes, my clothes were completely wet. Not just damp, but saturated with sweat, as if I had just climbed out of the pool.

These patches, for example, are from the sweat of my knees.

Every two hours or so I went back to the house and changed into another set of clothes, putting the ones I'd just ruined in the wash to be worn again some two hours hence.

It was so hot and humid that my mask also became saturated, making it possible to breathe through. I switched to the backup mask. Soon both were unusable (and sang with an inarticuable reek and funk). Out of options, I put one of the masks into the laundry with my clothes and Lo! it came out as good as new.

For the most part Iggy spent the weekend on the porch at the house (fiberglass is bad for a dog's lungs, too), but I brought her over occasionally to check out the progress. It's strange, but she really loves the barn. She's enthusiastic about most things, but it's clear from the way she races up the stairs whenever we arrive, that she knows that this is her new space and that she's eager to start living here. Or maybe that's just projection. Because it's certainly true for me.

Once I finished insulating the ceiling, the next order was the bedroom. I spent most of Saturday and Sunday on the ceiling and walls in the big room and had thought that the bedroom, small as it is, would be an afterthought for a short day of work Monday. I had underestimated the complexity of the bedroom and soon realized that Monday would not be a short day of work.

Here, for example: we placed this series of boards against the beam to create support for the header for the west wall of our bedroom. The boards made Prodex hanging rather difficult.

But not impossible. This time I used gentleness instead of intimidation.

And eventually, the bedroom ceiling was done.

The bedroom walls presented such challenges as this beam, which made an otherwise straightforward task rather complex. I am not known for patience. But I dug down.

Dramatic shot of Matthew and Prodex (on bedroom ceiling).

By this point, the Prodex was nearly gone.

Fortunately, the bedroom was done, and the need for Prodex done with it.

The finished bedroom from a slightly different angle.

Once the bedroom was complete, all that remained was the big wall that separates the big room from the bedroom and the stairwell. This being new construction, the work of hanging the insulation was easy and predictable, a refreshing departure from two and a half days of improvisation.

See how the studs are all evenly spaced? Notice the lack of intervening diagonal beams? I was glad to have saved this for last. At this point I was just about running out of gas.

Here's a shot standing on the stairs, looking up at the back of the big wall and the bedroom wall.

And another, for good measure. See the dust motes? In their midst are milions of tiny airborne shreds of razor-sharp glass fibers. This is why I wore the mask. This is why Iggy was not invited to hang out in the barn this weekend.

There is one more adventure to relate. Since our bedroom does not connect directly to the big room, we thought it would be fun (and useful) to have a cat door so that the cats could pass freely between the bedroom and their litter should the spirit move them. I had discussed framing the cat door with Michael and Ken, but had not yet gotten around to it given the pondfull of bigger fish to fry. Hoping to finish as much of the insulating as possible, however, I realized that the time had come and that there was no one but me on hand to get the job done.

I used Bob's table saw to cut two side supports the same height as the cat door:

And cut two narrow strips for the cat door to attach to:

I then cut a top support to span the two studs in question:

I then used the (harder than it sounds) toenail technique to fasten the whole shebang into the existing framework.

And so the cats will have egress:

Given the long list of potentially threatening factors (tall ladder, sharp box-cutter, searing heat, my already acute procilvity for unwitting self-mutilation) I am gratified to report that the list of casualties is light. The worst injury of the weekend happened before I even left Baltimore. I stabbed myself in the right thumb with a fork while scrubbing it too vigorously. In the barn I twice bumped my head against nails sticking down from the ceiling and twice banged my head against the boom of the crane that lifts things between the kiln room and the Florabana warehouse. I suffered the indignity of all-over fiberglass rash, but that's more irritating than actually painful. In fact, the greatest casualty of the weekend was none other than Bob's Power Shot staple gun.

Previously, the Power Shot had a nicely contoured handle meant to make the act of pressing and ejecting a staple much easier on the hand. After the 11th (or perhaps 12th) time of being knocked from the top of the 8-foot ladder, the Power Shot gave up and jettisoned its handle. I'm not sure what this sign of protest was intended to achieve, but it had the impact of making my stapling quite a bit more difficult. My forearm this morning is a work of art. A swolen, painful, badly fatigued work of art.

The other casualty was Seiko's hydrangia, which I pruned to appease a passerby who claimed that it was impeding her progress along the sidewalk and that if it wasn't pruned soon the city would likely intervene. Not wanting to see Seiko carted off to the Kent County slammer upon arriving home, I took matters into my own hands and pruned back the beast.

At the end of the day Monday, the barn was in a sorry state of repair. Because of the odd angles and uneven measurements, there was a great deal of fiberglass detritus.

So I cleaned it up.

This is going to be a nice space.

The other direction:

For the first time, you can really get a sense of how nice the exposed beams are going to look:

I'll leave you with this shot looking from the foyer through our front door and out the recently-opened front door into the street. I like the patch of early-evening sunlight on the far door. Our new home is going to be beautiful. Thanks Bob and Seko, for making this possible.

I'm now back in Baltimore on the morning of the 4th of July. There is no part of me that doesn't ache. I don't think I could do more work today if I had to. Or maybe I could. This afternoon I will grill steaks with Chris and Emily, the second year of a two-year tradition. And tomorrow, back to work for a three-day week.

Posted by bogenamp at July 4, 2006 02:08 PM