Meat on its bones

2014-08-19 14.09.14

As I write this, a crew of able-bodied men is filling the walls of the house with blessed cellulose, bringer of R-value.

But who are they?

You’ve waited a long time for the adrenaline-pumping conclusion to this saga, faithful readers, so here it is. Last we talked on this topic, I was looking into what to stuff into the house to make it warmer during the winter, and who to turn to for the act of stuffing. Insulation turned out to be a complicated topic.

Cellulose was an environmentally friendly, effective-sounding choice, made from recycled plant matter.  Foam sounded okay if it wasn’t produced with any planet-killing HFCs. But I wasn’t sure what company would be able to help me out. I called up some of Paul Button’s recommendations, but we in South Berwick were out of their coverage area. (Even the border areas of Maine– i.e., “fake Maine”– can still scare off a New Hampshire-based contractor, it seems.)

Turning to a local business umbrella called the Green Alliance, I found that they had a listing for a company known as the Green Cocoon. Now, this double occurrence of “Green” was enough to assuage my liberal conscience, so I gave the ‘Cocoon a call. Visiting the house, the Cocoon said we should put foam insulation on the attic ceiling (rather than the attic floor, in case we wanted to use the attic for something cool), and on the basement ceiling (including the sill). They use foam partially made from soybeans, so that’s where the green part comes from. And they recommended cellulose for the walls of the house, as well.

Total package: $18,000. Oof.

We could potentially get up to $1500 back through a program called Efficiency Maine (a similar program may exist in your state). But Green Cocoon wasn’t a “registered vendor” or “approved vendor” or whatever Efficiency Maine was calling their little system. Dayum.

Jane gave me a nudge– mightn’t we want to get another estimate, just in case?

Well, a guy that I won’t name here, I called him up. He came by the house, seemed constantly worried that he was going to leave one of his belongings behind, spent a lot of time just staring at the house thoughtfully, and then later e-mailed me that he’d have to visit the house again before he could give an estimate. So… he was making the Green Cocoon look pretty good, but only through incompetence.

Jane says, maybe someone else, please?

We ended up unearthing two more names. One was through a stint we did volunteering as “guards” at some rich guy’s old house in South Berwick during the historical society’s annual Tours of Rich Guys’ Houses Day. (Yes, the tours included at least one house with no actual historical value, but still met the “owned by a rich guy” criterion.) A fellow volunteer mentioned that her husband owned an insulation outfit called Tight House. And walking Burleigh around the grounds of the academy across the street from our house revealed an insulation truck parked there. The academy had hired NorthEast Spray Insulation for work on one of their old buildings.

So we brought both companies around to do their estimates. Tight House, really an alias for one guy, recommended cellulose in the walls, a combination of cellulose and foam on the attic ceiling, and foam on the basement walls up to the sill (where the foundation walls meet the basement ceiling), but not the basement ceiling itself. Hmm. Estimate around $14-$16K. And the foam part would be done by a subcontractor.

NorthEast Spray Insulation recommended cellulose in the walls (a point on which everyone seemed to agree, then), a combination of cellulose and foam on the attic ceiling, and foam on the basement sill, not the ceiling. Maybe foam on the basement walls down the road, but not necessary right away, and not included in the following estimate: almost $19K. So that tops Green Cocoon’s estimate, and it’s actually for less work.

It was official: we’d have to pay out our asses to avoid freezing those same asses during the winter.

Green Cocoon had been in touch in the meantime. They desired our business so much that they actually went through the certification program to become an approved Efficiency Maine vendor. This gave me the warm fuzzies for the company, which also seemed to beat out the other two in terms of price value (in one case) and my own confidence in their work (in the other case). But lingering questions remained.

What was the deal with the basement, anyway? Green Cocoon had recommended insulating the ceiling (including the sill). The other companies recommended not insulating the ceiling, but rather just the sill and potentially the walls. Who was right? The U.S. Department of Energy seemed to agree with the latter: “Even in a house with an unconditioned basement, the basement is more connected to other living spaces than to the outside, which makes basement wall insulation preferable to ceiling insulation.”

Plus, what if the basement got too cold, cut off from the insulated part of the house?

I called Green Cocoon to talk about it. And we ended up decided to do just the sill in the basement. Plus, of course, the attic job and the walls job, but now we were looking at a total of $14K. Meaning only half my savings account instead of two-thirds of it. Progress! We inked the deal and I sent them half up front.

And now here I am, happily sitting in the house as Green Cocoon workers disfigure it from the outside, removing sections of vinyl siding, drilling through the old shingles underneath, and then squirting cellulose into the walls through a hose inserted into the circular holes. Early next month, they’ll do the foam job as phase 2.

2014-08-19 14.11.56

It’s late summer, but there’s been a bite in the air. I feel fall in my bones– can you? This time, though, the dread factor is at like 3 instead of 8 or 9. Because while the bite means fall, and fall means winter, and winter means COLD, I can now be sure that the house will be ready to handle it.

And no more frustrations this time with the local rip-off oil company, or smoke-outs from the cheap pellet stove. I’m going to sign on with a biofuels company and crank up the oil heat. I’m going to be warm, and I’m going to tell that janky-ass Home Depot pellet stove to go fuck itself.

So come on, winter, you icy bitch. I’ve got ya numbah.

(This concludes the insulation chapter of the Fool’s Errand. Perhaps I’ll write more about ways to improve one’s life and save one’s planet again later, but I’ll be getting back to a writing focus now.)

Author: Jeff Deck

Author and administrator of this site.