Attic adventures #1: Insulation is where you find it

Something new, I’m going to be adding an occasional post about oddities and adventures in building science. Funny things do happen and I’ll be sharing them with you.

I’m a New Englander born and bred. Grew up on a farm and everything. I learned to admire the thriftiness and ingenuity of those old Yankee farmers. Never buy a new baler when you can put a working one together from the three broken ones behind the barn. Something thrown out is many things wasted.

That spirit continues. Sometimes it gets out of hand and you get a hoarder. Usually you find a clever old soul who has managed to repurpose stuff in a clever way and has come out way ahead. But sometimes…

Many years ago I was called to an old house in a small NH town that’s known for being a small NH town. Definitely Yankee territory. The house was a simple farm house, a rectangular shape, two stories and a steep, pitched roof. The complaint was high energy bills, so I went prepared to investigate.

Part of the problem was that the house had been converted to electric heat. Baseboard placed around the perimeter, cheap to install, expensive to operate. The previous owner who did this clearly wasn’t a good Yankee. The woman who owned it now was trying to find a way to lower the cost without a huge investment in a new heating system.

We started a walk through the house and I found that the walls weren’t well insulated and a few windows needed weatherstripping. This was my pre- thermal imaging days, so I had to do more poking into things, but an old house with holes in the walls is pretty easy. We got to the second floor and I asked how to get into the attic. “You’ll have to ask my son” I was told. “He’s the only one who goes up there, to insulate.”

That was interesting. She called her son, he lived down the road. “He’ll be along in a few minutes, he has to load his long ladder.”

The access was a cut down door that had been installed in the gable end of the house. The son had done it himself. Interesting! The ladder went up and so did I. I opened the door and shone my flashlight in and saw mattresses, mattresses everywhere. There were twins and doubles, kings, queens and every odd size you could imagine. They were placed, though not carefully, over the entire attic floor.

Unfortunately there were large gaps between the mattresses which made any insulating value useless. Worse, the mice, chipmunks, and squirrels were moving in. They chewed holes for nests, stored seeds and nuts, and, uh, eliminated. It was disgusting, not to mention an incipient health hazard.

It seems the son ran the local dump. He had gathered all the discarded mattresses over several months and placed them in his mother’s attic to “insulate” Clever, but I can’t give the guy any Yankee points. I suggested a hazardous waste company to remove and clean, although the son took on that task as well. I hope he wore a mask.

A professional insulation company did come in. They packed the walls with cellulose and blew several inches over the attic floor as well. They weatherstripped doors and windows and the homeowner is much happier.

Remember, a nice mattress  is great for a good nights sleep, but don’t share it with the squirrels.

About Buildinggeek

I love buildings. I love thinking about how they are made and how they work. I am a building geek. I love to talk about buildings too. Get in touch.

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