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Been a Bit Slow
On the writing side, anyhow...
It’s been a busy month. Not in writing, obviously I have been remiss on that, the reason being it has been really busy in other regards. Over the holidayswe bought a house, and January was filled with the usual moving 5 people worth of stuff into a fairly small place and trying to get it all squirrelled away. At the same time my job was becoming ever more busy and frustrating, with me at odds with my managers over how they were trying to sweep the project problems under the rug in the face of the business users’ seeing what they were getting and being very unhappy. As you might imagine I don’t much like being told “If anyone asks you a question, ask us what our preferred answer is before you say anything, instead of telling the truth you naughty boy.”
Then, just as things were coming to an ugly head, I suddenly got a new job offer with a different company!
The transition has been a big one. New sort of company (sales to distributors and customers instead of B2B like I am used to), new roles (business side with direct reports instead of project side), and a billion fiddly bits to learn. It’s been good, much less infuriating than the last job, everyone is nice and over all competent, but it is also busier; I think if I had wanted to I could have gotten away with maybe 10 hours a week of actual work at my last place, which would be more than most people seemed to do.
On top of that, this house man… the bonus bedroom (in the attic amongst the rafters) needed some serious insulation. As in, it had zero, outside of a few rotted out fiberglass batts laying over the top. The last few months of winter the little girls were sleeping in ~55 degree temps, which, due to apparently having a polar bear in their ancestry somewhere, was just fine by them. However, summer is coming and with it attic temps of 115+, and that wasn’t going to work. So right after starting the new job I decided to take advantage of the cooler spring temperatures and start tearing down drywall to put up new insulation before rebuilding the room.
First it was crawling behind the knee walls to put in some batts sealed up with radiant barriers. That wasn’t fun; the air quality is horrific due to ancient fiber glass and mummified bits of animals, the temps were still around 100 degrees in the space while I was slowly building a hot box to work in, and squeezing a 6’ body into a 4.5 foot high triangle for hours on end involves a lot of squats.
Then came pulling down the ceiling of the room to put in insultation between the ceiling and the roof decking, as well as installing a gable fan to blow some of the hot air out. Some time with a hammer and bar after work on Friday to open that up, some clean up and that weekend my dad would come down and help me put in insulation and dry wall. Should be done quick!
Have you ever started a project and then thought to yourself “I have made a terrible mistake”?
See, I was expecting drywall. Old stuff from the ‘50’s or whatever, sure, but the standard layer of drywall. Oh no. What I had was three layers, one of cement board, one of plaster board, and sandwiched between them actual bloody cement! In places this architectural BLT was over an inch thick. Taking it down required throwing the head of an 8 lb sledge into the ceiling like it was a spear and I was trying to stab an elephant’s belly. A few hours of that to punch holes and pull down 3-5 lb blocks of cement board from over head, and I had an ankle deep mess of masonry and fiberglass to clean up. After another hour bagging nasty crap, I had hardly made a dent.
I was starting to wonder how soon one could claim insurance for "accidental fire" and not immediately look guilty.
Fortunately, the next morning ol’ Pap was up bright and early, and after hugging the girls he and I spent the morning getting the old crap bagged up while my wife carried them outside. By afternoon we were ready to cut foam boards.
See, the issue with insulating a bonus room like this is that while the knee walls (the short vertical bits) can be insulated normally, the ceiling is a problem. You have two parts, the normal horizontal ceiling with empty space above it, and the angled ceiling built on the rafters and only as much space as the rafters are thick. You need to maintain some air space between the insulation and the roof deck so air can circulate, so even with 2x6” rafters you have about 4” of insulation space.
With fiberglass batts 4” gets you maybe R-13. Not too bad for walls, but a little meagre for a ceiling. Two layers of 2” foam board, however, gets you R-20, and the benefit of a hard surface channel for air to flow past, not to mention you can expanding foam it to the rafters for added air seal.
So previous to starting this project from hell I had built a sort of hot wire table cutter for slicing up 2”x4’x8’ foam boards into ~14.5” chunks to fit between the studs. Fortunately I had the foresight to make the distance from the wall guide to the wire highly adjustable, as the rafters ranged from 14.25-14.75” on the angled parts of the ceiling. Spending an hour slicing foam on the back porch made for a nice break from the very hot attic space.
That took us to Sunday, and our first problem forcing a change in plans: the ceiling beams for the horizontal segment were 2x3’s, and could not hold two 2” thick pieces of foam in place. So I would improvise over the next week, getting a continuous 4’ wide layer of radiant barrier up there and stapled to the edges, and then putting in some more fiberglass batts under it. Not ideal, but what can you do.
“It’s better than it was, at least” was rapidly becoming the theme of the project.
The next problem hit midweek: the dormer section had 2x4 ceiling joists, but as I discovered after cutting up a lot of foam boardsthe joists are not parallel. Whomever built the dormer did so putting in rafters and joists with gaps up to +/-1.5" on either end. All those nice parallel foam boards aren't going in there without a lot of cutting... so it was more batts, this time with two layers of foam sitting on top of them in the dormer space, because what the hell else am I going to do with them?
Better than it was before, at least.
Still, four to five hours a day every day after work got that done in time for the next weekend, when Pap was coming up to help me hang drywall. That’s when we discovered exactly why there were so many layers before: there is not a single straight stick of wood in the entire bloody space.
Hanging drywall is never exactly fun, but usually you can rely on straight lines, so you cut your boards, hoist them up and drill them in, expecting they will be roughly aligned with the other straight boards. Nope. All wavy, all the time, and much like the dormer rafters the distance between the edges might drift plus or minus an inch or so over the length of the board. Sometimes both.
It was exhausting. Part of the blame lies with me not bothering to rent a hoist to hold the sheets in place while we screwed them in, but most of the sheets were on lower angled ceilings (easier!) and hell, I am pretty strong and my dad is damned tough for a septuagenarian, so we can just muscle our way through the handful on horizontal surfaces. Well… yea, but that didn’t take into account the process was really
Hoist board over head
Damned thing doesn’t fit
Mark where cuts need to be and lower board
Cut and hoist back over head
Damned thing still doesn’t fit
Repeat steps 1-5 three to four more times
Needless to say my shoulders are still sore, and it took longer, much longer, than anticipated. It got done, however, and the first layer of mud went up to start trying to hide the requisite multitude of sins.
So now I am writing this during lunch, staring down the barrel of another week of sanding and mudding after work, trying to generate flat, smooth surfaces out of what is effectively a pile of random timbers.
On the plus side, between the insulation and the attic fan I installed, the difference is amazing. About a 30 degree difference between the outer attic and the room, in fact. Now muscle cramps while working are just due to exertion and not massive dehydration. So hooray for a job that was probably worth doing, especially since getting someone to do a job only 75% as complete was going to run over $10,000. I still have probably two weeks of mudding, cleanup and painting ahead of me, but there is light at the end of the tunnel, and a solid reward in terms of not being miserable to condition that room.
As I recover, expect some more blacksmithing projects (I made a few things between Christmas eve and now), as well as some essays on prudence and other virtues. With any luck this will be the last giant home improvement project I undertake until the workshop gets built and I frame out the inside of it, and that won’t be a “spend every free minute here” sort of project. Unless it turns out to be a lot of fun, that is… in which case I will document it more completely.
Thanks for reading, and for all your patience with me, everyone!
Yes, going back that far…
Medieval weapons training has been remarkably useful around the home for me, oddly enough.
In fact, that would prove to be the case everywhere. You know how normally a 2x4 stud wall has little 14.5” horizontal fire blocks here and there? They stop fire from shooting up the space in the walls and also make for convenient guides to ensure all the studs are the same distance apart. Yea… totally absent in any of the construction here.
At about 50$ for a 4x8 piece I might add…