insulating the attic

Earlier today I went up in the attic to sort out the mess of insulation that was up there when we purchased our house.  I’m not sure why I didn’t do it sooner, but it’s really been a game of one thing at a time working on our house.  First this, then that, someday I’ll get to that.  Our gas/electric bill has been higher than usual the last two months.  For central Texas, it’s been chilly.  Lots of our plantings were hit hard.

The outer walls of our house are uninsulated, except for my sons room, which I insulated when the walls were opened up.  His room was originally a porch that was walled in at some point, probably in the fifties or sixties.  When I tore out the painted 1/4” plywood paneling throughout the house, the framing in his room was exposed, allowing access to the cavities between the studs.

All the other walls in the house have ship lap, which I didn’t want to remove.  It’s beautiful old wood, and provides a lot of strength to walls that were framed on 24” centers.  You can punch holes and blow insulation in behind it, but it wasn’t in the budget for us while I was working on the house for the four months before we moved in.  Those four months were tough, physically and psychologically.

The attic insulation was like a lot of things about our house, probably done by someone with limited knowledge and less motivation.  What’s up there is an assortment of odds and ends, random widths and thicknesses, probably acquired second hand.  It was mostly strewn in piles as though someone gave up before long up there, and reported back that the job was done down below.  Or maybe the owner did it himself.  There were so many crazy things done to this house during it’s lifetime, that leaving insulation unresolved seems a minor transgression.  Who painted all the windows shut?  Why would anyone run a circular saw across the original floor boards while cutting stock?  Did someone really need to use asphalt glue to stick 1/2” subfloor down to the hardwood floors before the linoleum tiles went in?  Where was the subfloor gonna go?  It was screwed down!  Even today I discovered that the attic fan installed in the gable vent was never wired up.  Whoever installed it got as far as stripping the wires and then gave up or forgot what they were doing.

People have asked me what the worst part of renovating was, like which job was hardest.  The drywall was tough to do alone.  Just slow.  Sanding the ceiling burned my shoulders up.  And the tiling was tough on my knees.  The kitchen tiles were big 1/2” thick 12” x 24” mothers.  After a couple days of doing that floor, first installing the durock panels, then laying the tiles out, setting them, grouting, my knees were throbbing.  Using the big rented edger machine on the hardwood floors was rough as well.  It’s a powerful tool to run in a kneeling position, the huge motor jamming against your muscles as you try to control it.

But the fear was the worst part.  Even though I worked in construction for over a decade, this was our first house and I’d never done much of the gritty stuff involved with a full renovation.  There were lots of firsts for me.  First time doing plumbing.  First time moving gas lines.  Wiring electrical, hooking up appliances, rebuilding windows, hanging doors, building a shed.  Doing anything alone for the first time is scary.  In the past I was always in a group, helping, leading, there was always somebody else around.

I went in the attic a lot during those first four months.  Bracing the springy ceiling off the roof, moving light fixtures, replacing wiring.  I got used to scurrying up there almost every day for one reason or another.  It ain’t pretty up there.  Plenty animals have lived there and I was glad to not find any current tenants there today.

Even on a cool day attics are uncomfortable and once you’re covered in fiberglass insulation, rat turds everywhere, you’re just not that stoked.  Respect to guys that do insulation for a living because it’s a tough gig.  By the time I was done cutting and fitting all the random bats in between the joists, it didn’t look all that bad up there, like a respectable attic.  Fixing the unseen elements in a home, like the attic insulation is a part of the whole.  There’s a sense of calm with a home that’s cared for and maintained properly.

In the year since we moved in I’ve mostly worked on smaller projects that improve the house, hanging new ceiling fans, installing air conditioners through the exterior walls, refacing the bathroom vanity, building closet systems, making curtain rod holders and hanging our curtains from them, building custom mirror frames, tiling backsplashes.  I keep going, one task after the last.  It’s gratifying work.  When my wife comes home and I’ve completed something that makes our life here nicer, she’s happy and grateful.  She’s an exceptional person and appreciates simple luxuries, like a new sink or a pot rack.  It feels good, and it’s nice to add our personal style to the home we love.  A friend of ours commented that our house is a real gesamtkunstwerk, which means that every element is a crafted piece of the whole, all the parts considered and personal, a home full of appurtenances and intention.  I hope I’ve earned the compliment.

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