Blown-in Insulation in the Attic *Messiest Project EVER*

A couple years ago we had our home energy audited.  For those of you who don’t know what that is, it’s where a company comes in and assesses how much energy your home consumes and they also evaluate what measures you can take to make your home more energy efficient.  One of the things that they noticed is that we had almost no insulation in the attic.

No insulationYou can see the bare spot we had in the corner and those spots were all over the attic

Even without the energy audit, I knew that we were lacking insulation because the top floor was always freezing in the winter and blazing hot in the summer.  It got so bad in the summer, that we thought of moving our room to the basement to escape the heat.

I had seen videos of people blowing in insulation and thought that it was do-able especially since the energy audit company quoted us a hefty price for them to blow in the insulation.  The labor was a little over a thousand since our attic is so big.

I won’t go into all the details of how to blow in the insulation especially since there are such good tutorials online.  The one I found most helpful was this one.

The short of it is that it is a super messy job that requires two people.  One person blows in the insulation and the other feeds the hopper.  Walkie talkies are must for communication.

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This is the hopper

I chose to work with recycled insulation because it’s more environmentally friendly (super important) and also because I hate working with fiberglass. Even if I cover myself from head to toe, those annoying fibers get everywhere and make me feel like a cactus.  They also lodge in my throat and I end up coughing for hours afterward.  I’d rather pay a little more money to not feel like I was poisoning myself with fiberglass.

The insulation comes in packages that are easy to transport and aren’t heavy to lift in and out which was important to me since I mostly did that part myself.  The hopper is really heavy and it takes two people to lift it into and out of a vehicle, but it was free to use from Home Depot if you buy 10 or more packages of insulation.  I think I bought about 200 packages so they let me have it for a few days to finish my project.

InsulationThis is just a small sampling of the packages of insulation I used.  All these fit in my van (that’s right, I’m a master van packer!).

The insulation needs to be fed into the hopper and it goes through a long tube up to the place where you want it blown.  The kids, my husband, and a friend (thanks Donna!) helped with this while I blew.  The process of blowing was LONG because I wanted an R60 rating up there and that means I had to blow in 20 inches of insulation all over the attic.  Home Depot gives you measuring guides that you attach to the ceiling, but I found that a measuring tape worked much better.  I just measured every few minutes to make sure I was at 20 inches.  A thin stick with a mark at 20 inches would have actually worked even better.

Prep work was fairly straightforward.  The only thing that I had to do was to replace the cardboard rafter covers with styrofoam ones so that the insulation didn’t creep into the vents under the eaves.

Before and After Covers

The styrofoam covers were easy to install with my electric stapler.  I just had to remember not to put down the stapler pointing toward me since it has a sensitive trigger.  I almost got a staple to the arm that way.

I was also super grateful for the tetanus shot I had to get a couple years ago after a little incident involving a razor blade when building our treehouse because I got stabbed and scraped in the head numerous times by rusty nails poking out of the ceiling.  Wearing a hard hat is not a bad idea.

Gloves are also a must for splinters as well as a respirator so that you don’t breathe in the insulation.  The insulation dust goes EVERYWHERE and you don’t want it in your lungs!

Also, this might be a no-brainer, but don’t drink a lot before you head up to the “job site” since it’s a pain in the rear to stop and dust off to use the bathroom.  I learned that lesson the hard way and had to vacuum the path from the attic to the bathroom a few times.

By the time I was done with day 1 of the project, I looked like this:

Insulation HairI look like a snow princess… at least that’s what I told myself.  The kids said I looked like an old lady…  They’re mean.

My last piece of advice is that you have to be very clear communicating with your hopper loader.  At the very end of the job, I lowered the tube into my closet from the attic, and I told my hopper loader that we were done. He thought I said to turn on the hopper and this happened:

Closet DisasterDOH!  I spent an hour vacuuming all our clothes and shoes.  The insulation was everywhere!

Overall, despite the huge mess and cost (about $1,500), this project was a winner.  The first night we noticed the difference in how much warmer the top floor was than before the insulation.  We have a programmable thermostat and by the second night, I programmed it to be 4 degrees cooler at night because the first night we were sweltering.  It’s almost stuffy on the top floor whereas before it was drafty.

We now have to find a way to make the basement and main floor as comfortable as the top floor because there’s a 5 degree difference between the floors.  New windows on the main level are part of the solution, but that’s down the road.

By the way, there’s no “after” pic in this post because I couldn’t take it right after I was done since there were dust particles everywhere and you couldn’t see ANYTHING.  I sealed up the door with insulation on the sides and on top and trying to get up in the attic again would mean getting insulation all over my now clean clothes in the closet, so no pic!

Just imagine an endless sea of gray, puffy, warm cloudiness…

A Boring Old Post About Replacing Outlets…

This post is boring…  Seriously, replacing outlets is not exciting, but if you’ve ever wanted to save some cash by doing it yourself and not hiring an electrician then read on!

 

I don’t know why, but looking at cream/almond outlets in a room offends the eye.  It dates a room like nobody’s business and it’s so easy to replace them with nice, clean white outlets.

 

You can also make your house more energy-efficient by putting outlet insulation on the inside of the covers.  If you’ve ever taken off a cover on an outlet inside the house but on an exterior wall and put your hand over the outlet in the winter, you’ve felt the draft.  I recently got an energy audit on my house and the auditor said that installing outlet insulation is a cheap way to keep out cold air.

 

So here’s how to do it:

 

1.  Gather a few tools: a Phillips screwdriver, a normal sized flat head screwdriver, and (importantly) a little flat head screwdriver.  Go to your favorite hardware store and buy new outlets, outlet covers, and insulation for outlets (see pic below).  If possible, dismantle the outlet (see steps 3 and 4) so that you can bring it to the store to get the same exact style.

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Outlet insulation

2.  Turn off the electricity to the outlet you’re working on.  What I do is plug in a hair dryer so that I can hear when the electricity is for sure turned off when I flip the breaker.  You can also use a lamp to do the same thing (that’s what I did this time).

 

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Before flipping the breaker

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After flipping the breaker

3.  Unscrew the cover to the outlet.

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4.  Unscrew the two screws holding in the outlet.

 

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5.  Pull out the outlet.

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6.  Dismantle the wires going into the outlet.  They are typically found in little holes on the sides of the outlet or they are wrapped around a big screw on the side of the outlet.  If they are located in holes, then there is normally a small slit next to the hole that you need to stick a very small flat head screwdriver into to “release” the wire from the hole.  This is tricky because you need to push the screwdriver in as you are pulling the wire out.  If you have trouble with this, get someone to push the screwdriver or pull on the wire.  If the wire is wrapped around a screw, just take a flat head screw driver and loosen the screw and the wire should just pop right off.

 

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7.  Loosen the screw at the bottom of the outlet to release the neutral wire (the copper colored wire).

 

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8.  As you dismantle the wires be sure to bend them to where they go into the outlet.  As you can see from the below picture, I bent the wires to the same sides of where they were in the old outlet so that I know where they go in the new outlet.

 

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In this picture, I’m working with four wires and I bend them in the same way that they were found in the old outlet:

 

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9.  The old outlet should now be completely free of all the wires.  Take the new outlet and either shove the wires in the holes the same way they were in the old one, or, if the wires were folded around the screw, then take the wires (they should be bent into hooks) and hook them onto the screws in the same way as the old one.

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In my case, the wires were too big to go into the holes of the outlets I bought, so I had to bend the wires into hooks to hook onto the screw on the sides of the outlet.

 

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You can bend the wires by wrapping the wire around a screwdriver.  It’s a pain in the rear because the wires are thick, but I think it’s the easiest way to do it.

Then I hooked the wires onto the loosened screws on the side of the outlet then tightened the screws to that they had a good grip on the wires.  Be sure to also hook up the neutral wire on the bottom of the outlet.

 

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10. Shove the entire receptacle back into the hole and, using the screws that came with the new outlet, screw in the outlet on the top and bottom to fit into the outlet box (the plastic box around the outlet).  Now, this is important… sometimes the new screws that came with the new outlet are not long enough so in that case, use the old screws.  You won’t see them anyway.  Make sure that the outlet is sticking out from the wall a little, otherwise when you put the cover on, the outlet will either stick out too much or be too recessed.  You can adjust this by either loosening or tightening the screws on the top and bottom of the outlet.  You can also straighten from side to side by adjusting the same screws.

 

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11.   If the receptacle is on an outside wall (i.e. on a wall inside your house but the other side of the wall is outside) then take the insulation and push that onto the receptacle.

 

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9.  Screw the outlet cover on then test your outlet.  It should work!!!

 

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Notes:  When you pick out the new outlets, be sure to get outlets with big holes to push the wires into since just shoving the wires in the holes instead of around the screws is the easiest way to do it.  Sometimes outlet holes are too small for your wires so that you have to use the screw method, but bending those thick wires to fit around the screws are a pain in the rear, so be sure to really look hard for outlets with big holes.