Saturday, May 28, 2016

Insulation - The Itch Factor

We've finished all the insulation in the bathroom and are moving on to drywall. Along the way, we've encountered more types of insulation than I even knew existed. And anytime I meet a new flavor of the stuff, I have one question: is it itchy? Lucky me, I now have firsthand experience.  And lucky you, now you'll know before you buy.

So, on a scale of zero to Scrub Until You're Pink, here are some of the forms of insulation I have touched recently.

Fiberglass Batts
Itch factor: Haz-mat 


When you think of insulation, this is probably what comes to mind. It looks like giant rectangles of paper-backed cotton candy. This is what was already in our walls when we opened them up.

After a little direct skin contact, it becomes clear that you've stumbled into one of those evil circuses where the cotton candy is made out of a million tiny knives.  It's hideously irritating to your skin (and eyes, and lungs, and soul). Avoid if at all possible, wear gear suitable for a CDC researcher during the zombie apocalypse if not.

Roxul GreenFiber Blown In 
Itch factor: low

This is what we used in the floor, because it could easily go around the new pipes and wires running through the joists spaces. Blown-in insulation is also handy if you're remodeling or insulating an attic or other hard-to-access space. We handled this stuff a LOT, because we laid it all in manually, without the blower. (Don't ask.) And I didn't feel the need to claw my skin off at the end of the day. I even started wearing short sleeves, although I did still use gloves. Makes sense - this product is made primarily of recycled cellulose.

Stone Wool / Mineral Wool Batts
Itch Factor: Slightly itchy

This is what we used in the walls. It feels denser than its similarly-shaped fiberglass cousins, which I think makes it easier to work with. Stone wool is apparently a "natural byproduct of volcanic activity," so I guess that means it's not made from ground-up sheep statues.  It is absolutely 100,000 times less itchy than fiberglass. But it's still a long-sleeves affair; it did get a little scratchy after a while.

Itch Factor: low

This one was an oops for us. We intended to use the mineral wool in both the walls and the ceiling. Then we started working and realized... the studs in the ceiling were further apart than we thought. Our insulation didn't fit. So we ran to the local builder supply store and bought whatever they had on hand, which turned out to be this stuff. It's made of sand and recycled glass bottles. It seemed a little less itchy than even the mineral wool, although that could be just because I didn't spend as much time working with it.

XPS (Extruded Polystyrene) Rigid Foam
Itch Factor: Zero

This is a rigid pink foam. We used it to insulate areas where we couldn't get a thick, fluffy batt to fit, like behind blocking or in tiny niches. It pretty much feels like working with a more rigid version of styrofoam; it definitely took me back to some middle-school poster projects. It has no itch at all (yay!) But be warned - it makes an awful fingernails-on-a-chalkboard sound when you cut it or wedge it in place. So I spent most of the foam phase of our project hiding my non-irritated skin downstairs with my fingers in my ears.

Great Stuff
Itch Factor: Zero

Okay, this one is a little misleading. It doesn't itch, true. But it's also highly toxic, very sticky, and nearly impossible to get off your skin. So you really, really, really don't want to get it on yourself.

It's also probably the most fun.

This is a spray-on product. You use it to fill in tiny gaps that don't get covered by your main insulation methods, like around windows and in corners. It goes on as a liquid, then expands to twice its size and solidifies.

Considering that we're talking about a tiny room here, I'm pretty amazed at all the types of insulation we've used. All I can say is, this room had better be #(@*&^!@(@!!!! warm.

Now excuse me, I need to go take yet another shower.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Law & Order: SVU (Special Vegetables Unit)

A murder has been committed.

The victim: My strawberry patch.

The clues:
  • Yesterday, the strawberry patch was lush, full of rapidly growing green foliage and oodles of little soon-to-be strawberries. Today, all the leaves are gone, and the corpses of tiny unripe fruits are strewn around with heartless abandon.

Exhibit A.

  • Evidence of munching was also discovered on the peas nearby.
Exhibit B.

Based on these photographs, police have created a rendering of what they believe the culprit may look like. If seen, please report to proper authorities immediately. We believe the perpetrator remains at large, and is likely to strike again.

Our highly sophisticated garden intruder alarm seems to be broken, so we're taking advantage of some unexpectedly nice weather today to put up extra fencing.

Said highly sophisticated garden intruder alarm, neglecting her duties in favor of working on her tan.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Sub Rosa

Today, in things I never thought I'd get excited about...

You can now WALK AROUND in our bathroom. For months, we've had the floor completely open - just joists and the ceiling of the room below. That let us have total access for plumbing, electrical, air sealing, and insulation. When we needed to work in the room, we either balanced on the joists or moved around pieces of plywood.

Now all that big work is done, and it was time to close up the floor. For all the lead-up to this momentous occasion, it was a pretty quick job.

First we measured and cut the plywood, placing holes as needed for the plumbing.

Yes, she's in the Cone of Shame. She's fine! Just letting her paw heal after the Obsessive Licking Incident of Spring 2016.

Glue it down.

Then nail it in place. (My favorite part - smashy smashy!)

Partway through...

And done!

I could jump for joy! No, literally. I can actually jump up and down in the bathroom now without falling through the ceiling below.

It's the little things.

Saturday, May 7, 2016

Insular Thinking

With all the plumbing and electrical work inside the floor done, we're ready to insulate.

Brett is a green-product guru, so he knew right off the bat what we should use. No itchy fiberglass insulation for us! For the floor, we used a blown-in insulation made primarily from recycled cellulose. Much more eco-friendly, and definitely much safer and more comfortable to work with.

Glasses-fogging safety equipment still required. And knee pads. All the knee pads.

Normal humans would rent a blower to quickly and evenly fill the joist spaces with insulation. So naturally, we didn't.

At our first pass, we didn't buy enough to get the blower rental for free (though we underestimated and ultimately ended up with a lot more). Instead, we installed it by hand. It did take longer, but it was actually sort of fun. You just take a big handful of the insulation and fluff/separate it to an even texture, then toss it in the joist space until it's dense enough to be slightly springy. It's a repetitive task and mostly lets your mind wander. If there isn't already some kind of meditation using floor insulation, I'd like to propose one. Zen and the Art of Home Renovation, anyone?

As a reminder, this is what the floor looked like when we started.

Goal of the day: Nobody steps on a pipe.
 Hermione made sure to regularly inspect our process.

Somehow she knows not to walk in the joist spaces.

Sniffing them is okay, though.

 All done!

 Now we can start installing the sub-floor. Which means we will be able to ACTUALLY WALK AROUND in our bathroom. Yes, that is the kind of thing I get excited about these days. 

Lest you think we're done with insulation, though, the walls still await...

Dum dum DUMMMM

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Make your own Frozen Yogurt

It's finally warm enough to break out the ice cream maker!

We've been indulging our habit at the local fro-yo spot a little too frequently lately, so we decided to try making strawberry frozen yogurt. It was even easier than making ice cream, and it's delicious!
2 c vanilla yogurt (we used full fat)
1/2 c whole milk
1/4 c sugar
12 oz frozen strawberries


Puree the berries.

I promise what's in the blender is strawberries. Yeah. Strawberries.
 You can strain out the seeds at this point if you want to; we didn't.

Whisk the yogurt, milk, and sugar together until the sugar is dissolved.

Mix the berry puree into the yogurt base.

Turn the machine on, pour your mix into the spinning bowl, and let it freeze and mix until it's thick, about 20-30 minutes.

This recipe is adapted from the Very Berry Frozen Yogurt recipe in the recipe booklet that comes with your Cuisinart ice cream maker. But we made a few changes (full fat yogurt instead of lowfat, strawberries instead of mixed berries, not straining out the seeds) ... and maybe one of those is the reason why this mixture did not actually fit into the machine. It looked like it did at first, but by the end...

Messy but delicious.

Put the frozen yogurt into a container and pop it in the freezer for at least two hours. We found these fancypants ice cream containers on sale, and I have to say I really like them - the shape keeps the ice cream from forming too many ice crystals, it fits in the freezer really well, and it's easy to scoop.

Available at Williams-Sonoma.

Then enjoy the final result!

The cleanup crew celebrates with walkies.