This is part of an ongoing series where we learn about, implement and share projects that improve the energy efficiencies of our homes.
We are learning a lot about energy efficiency these days and we really like it. (Nerd love, Seattle style). We’re planning multiple, simple upgrades to our homes which are highly effective, low-cost, and in most cases, easy.
Mary Jean started the process, unwittingly, by hiring an efficiency engineer to evaluate her home as part of her kitchen upgrade. Much of what she learned she is sharing with us. One of the most surprising discoveries is that upgrading single pane windows to double pane may not necessarily be the best bang for your buck. Interesting. Please don’t misunderstand me, new thermal windows are a significant upgrade and worth doing for many reasons, however, if your budget is limited, there are plenty of other things you can do that may improve your situation significantly. Insulating, caulking, and stopping leaks appear to be the low-cost, high return projects. With this in mind the three of us took a look at the basement garage of my 1920’s home.
“Why bother with the garage?”, a reasonable question – well, its location beneath the office made it a prime suspect for the cold air that seeps into that room. In addition a 15 foot long heating duct that serves the upstairs bedrooms (that are always cold) runs the length of that icy garage. The more we inspected, the more leaks we found – a somewhat similar feeling to your eyes adjusting to a dimly lit room – aha! leaks and gaps everywhere, not to mention the dilapidated, cranky garage door. What started as a plan to simply insulate the heating duct quickly grew to include a new garage door, sealing gaps/gaping holes, and duct insulation. Thank goodness I have 2 good-natured and willing friends because this was NOT a beautiful project. It involved multiple trips to the hardware store, creative problem solving, awkward access and a frigid garage – how fun is that –
First up, a useable and safe garage door was (over) due. After a bit of research we settled on a simple, insulated steel door with raised panels – nothing fancy as we wanted it to fade into the siding, plus, not everything needs to be a “statement” as super-tempting as those Craftsman style doors were.
Next, onto the gaps and cut-outs for plumbing/vents. There were so many, and they seemed to multiply even as we worked – our one day project stretched to three. (See note below for my husband’s “Reliable Project Estimator Formula”) The large holes were a bit tricky, sometimes we screwed rigid insulation over the entire hole and then sprayed foam around the joints, other times we simply stuffed rigid insulation into the opening as best we could and filled the gaps with spray foam. It doesn’t have to be pretty and frankly rarely is… For long, narrow joints the foam backer rod worked great – it comes in different thicknesses and is very easy to use – you simply press it into place and tear or cut it off – you can then seal over it with foam or caulk.
Four uncooperative cans of spray foam later we felt like we had attacked most of the problem – and this is just a one car garage! See my rather long note below about working with spray foam, it is truly nasty stuff if you use it wrong.
Final upgrade, the heating vent and unit. We bought water heater insulation blankets for this project – it has a more durable vinyl exterior (vs. paper), plus I didn’t have the head height for a thicker insulation, and it was what Ace Hardware had on the shelf when I went there. We cut it to fit with a pair of scissors and wore long gloves to reduce the itchiness factor of fiberglass. 1/2″ staples were recommended for attaching it to the ceiling and worked well. Vinyl tape covers the joints. This project went quickly and given that we could feel a tremendous heat difference on the uninsulated vent from one end of the garage to the other, I’m convinced our results will be fantastic. Now, if only I could persuade our overly large Bustopher Jones kitty to get off the heater vent in the bedroom…
This turned out to be a great project, ugly as it is. The garage is shockingly warm as well as the rooms above it, and I still have two good friends, whom I owe a huge debt of gratitude! We learned a few odd things along the way that may be useful if you decide to tackle this yourself:
- If our project were bigger we would invest in serious 3-M re-usable masks when working with insulation.
- A foam cutting tool is a wonderful invention – eliminating the millions of statically charged bits of insulation a saw or knife creates.
- Garage Doors
- The R-value of garage doors is not always reliable (never, perhaps?)
- Garage door exterior locks are easy to pick
- Remote control garage door openers can be used to break into your house
- As a temporary safety measure on our old door, we drilled a hole through the track and hung a padlock near the roller. On the new door we have a lock on the track, no exterior lock/handle and no automatic opener (cars don’t fit in this garage anyway!)
- Spray foam (ie: Great Stuff) expands wildly and gets everywhere – no matter what – so plan accordingly:
- Foam is unbelievably sticky – it will NOT wash off anything – not clothes, skin, surfaces, hair. Last resort, let it dry and try to peel it off (good luck with that).
- ALWAYS wear eye protection. ALWAYS. ALWAYS. ALWAYS.
- Disposable gloves are a must for me. I have a box full.
- Use an entire can at once, it does not keep. Not even for 15 minutes.
- Have lots of rags handy as it oozes out of the nozzle when you’re not looking (Sneaky Stuff), obviously, don’t set the can down on anything nice…
- “Low expansion” foam for doors and windows is a tad (not much) easier to work with and is meant to lower the risk of deforming your frames from the foam pressure (be careful!)
- And lastly – “Brian’s Reliable Project Estimator Formula”:
- Estimate your project length, multiply this number by two
- Increase the above result to next time increment.
- Example: Think your project will be 2 days (you optimist, you)? Multiply by 2 = 4, go to the next time increment, your project will be 4 weeks. Engineers love this joke. I promise.
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