Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Behind the Walls is the Energy Story for the Cottage

Bathroom wall - this room must have been freezing!!
Do you remember the demo day photos of this house?  The big story was the insulation - or lack thereof in some areas.  The ceiling had insulation installed upside down (with the vapor barrier on the outside), the bathroom had a combination of styrofoam and mattress padding, and the basement had nothing at all.
Ceiling insulation has vapor barrier backwards
They must have spent a lot of money heating this house or maybe they just lived with it cold.  But we want to change all that.  It's not easy to make a 101 year old house energy efficient, but our goal is to do just that.

So the first step was the heating & cooling plan.  We want the house to be warm and toasty in the winter, but also comfortable in the summer.  We know from our previous tenants that there was a lack of airflow on the 2nd floor in the summer months.  And with the fantastic breezes that come off the water, you really want to enjoy the fresh air on a nice day.  So we added an operable skylight to provide cross ventilation on the second floor.

But of course the real story in Maine is keeping a house warm in the winter.  Our solution?   Energy efficient heat pumps.  This is a first for us, but it really makes sense for this house.  Natural gas isn't available, so we couldn't install our usual hi-efficiency gas boiler.  But we knew that heat pumps are extremely energy efficient and since 75% of Maine's electricity comes from renewable sources, it's a good choice from an environmental perspective as well.  They provide heat in the winter and air conditioning on a sweltering summer day.

Spray foam on original basement walls
But to size the heat pumps, we need an insulation plan.  Insulating a house is a lot like keeping your body warm on a cold day.  You need your head and feet to be warm - it's the same with your house!  So we decided to use the highest R value insulation we could find - closed cell spray foam for the roof and the basement. The house will have a warm head and feet!

New foundation has spray foam insulation
Spray foam gives us the maximum R value we can have in our 'hot roof' (which means there is no attic space above the ceiling, it's our only option with the low ceilings we have in the original house and the sloped gambrel ceiling).
'Hot Roof' - insulation sprayed directly on the sloped ceiling of the gambrel roof

All that nasty old insulation came out - mouse poop and all!  And there was a LOT of mouse poop!

Each room is ready for a 'mini-split' unit
Even with that super insulation, we will need 2 compressors to ensure a warm/cool house.  And each room will get a 'mini split' air handler, which allows us to avoid installing duct work, which would be almost impossible in the old part of the house.

And remember the little bathroom, with almost no insulation? Well, we foamed it from top to bottom, so now it should be nice and warm!

We will be leaving the boiler in the basement, along with its spiffy blue hot water tank.  It's a great back-up for those super cold days, when heat pumps struggle to keep the house warm.   And it will also keep a bit of warmth in the basement, which will help keep the pipes in that bathroom crawl space from freezing.

Lastly, I should mention that the switch to heat pumps required us to upgrade the electrical service to the house.  We needed to move the old meter anyway, so this was a logical upgrade to make.  But if you're thinking about heat pumps, it's an important consideration.

We had our insulation inspection last week and all went well.  Woo hoo!  With our insulation and heat pump plan, this will be a nice, energy efficient home for the buyers.

Now it's on to drywall!!!  That's a huge milestone that will help it look like a real house.  I'll be sure and share photos of the rooms soon!

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Thursday, December 12, 2019

Christmas - Mid-century Style... Sort Of.....

Let me start by confessing - I'm a bit of a Christmas addict.   I love the lights and the glitter and the bright sparkle that it brings as the days grow shorter (sunset was at 4:04 today!).  Without it, I think the winter solstice would be so depressing.  So I tend to get carried away with decorating - some years, I'll decorate 5 different trees, to spread the holiday cheer.

But this year, as we approached the holiday season, I had visions of recreating the mid-century Christmas that my husband so fondly remembers.

His family must have been real trendsetters - they put up an oh-so-mod aluminum tree each year, complete with a color light wheel.  It came in a big box and each branch came in an individual paper sleeve - that was inserted in a hole on the trunk.  They only had one color ornament on the tree (he remembers they were blue, but that seems like an unusual choice, so maybe his color blind memory isn't quite right!!).

To provide color on that sea of reflective silver, you plugged in a color wheel light and it would spin and constantly change the tree color.  Ah mid-century, what a glamorous way to bathe your tree in shimmery light!

So I set out to find a mid-century tree.  I looked on e-bay, but most of the trees looked like they had seen way too much wear and tear over the years.  I looked for reproductions, but they were all 5 feet tall - which would look pretty silly with our tall ceilings.  Finally in desperation, I found a large silver tree and ordered it.  Richard wouldn't get the joy of sliding each branch out of its wrapper, but it promised 10 minutes of assembly time, which he loved. ( He still bemoans the years I tried to create a Hallmark style Christmas, which included getting lost on the drive to the tree farm, sawing the tree down with their rusty saw and the spider nest that we discovered as we set it up in the living room (yes, there was a lot of screaming!) Not quite what the holiday movies promised!).

Once we had the sparkly silver tree, I tried to find a color wheel.  But there were similar challenges with that as well.  I was worried about the old wiring on the vintage ones.  And the new ones all had terrible reviews - problems with overheating, wheels not turning, etc.  So I finally resorted to colored twinkle lights with white wires, to make them less noticeable.

And the thing I was most excited about from my own childhood?  Pulling out my parents Shiny Brite ornaments that I've dragged all over the country in our many moves.  I used to have a couple of boxes, but they're taken some abuse over the years and now I have one solitary box.

 Aren't they cool?  They paid a whopping 98 cents for them and would be amazed that they're still in use 60 years later.  But since I didn't have a lot of them, I wanted to add a few more ornaments, so was delighted to discover Shiny Brite ornaments at West Elm.  Who knew they still made them, but the price is a bit higher!

But while I love the Shiny Brites,  I also wanted to include ornaments from our own family - the ones the kids made and some special ones we've collected over the years.  So I combined them all!
Can you guess which are the vintage vs new ornaments?
Made by Katie - age 3
Is it a true mid-century Christmas tree - nope!  But with so many memories tied to it, it's still pretty special!
PS - doesn't the new siding look fantastic???

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Wednesday, December 4, 2019

The Tiniest Bathroom - is Also the Grossest Bathroom

Every old house has at least one gross project - and the winner for this project is the little bathroom on the first floor.

It’s really tiny – 5.5 x 5.5 feet – and has a shower, toilet and sink!  That means there isn’t much room for people J  It’s not part of the original house, it’s more like an appendage that got added later.  It juts out from the side of the house with a crawl space below it.

Bathroom addition 
In all honesty, we should just get rid of it.  But a first floor bathroom is a pretty nice feature and if anyone ever wanted to use the adjacent office as a bedroom (maybe for a parent that needs first floor living), having an adjoining bathroom would be a real plus.

So, it will stay.  It just needs a major facelift and, as we quickly discovered, some infrastructure work as well.

The challenge with a bathroom above a crawl space in Maine is keeping the pipes from freezing in the winter.  I had assumed that they did a really good job insulating the room when they built it, but we quickly discovered that was not the case.  The only insulation we found in the walls was 1” of Styrofoam, which has a negligible R value. The pipes in here must have frozen a lot!

And last week we finally opened up the crawl space below the room.  Well that turned out to be an adventure!  Behind the sheathing, we discovered the same 1 inch of Styrofoam.  But behind that was a foam mattress pad!!!  Cut up into pieces, it had been shoved up against the walls, along with bags of old clothes and other junk (including lots of rodent nests). I guess the pipes kept freezing and they just filled the space with whatever they had on hand.

None of us really wanted to go crawling around in that, so Rich grabbed a shovel and started to dig it out– only to have a mouse come flying out at him!!!  

Mattress Foam Padding, bags of old clothes and lots of mouse nests
Once we stopped laughing, we realized it needed some serious attention.  So we dug down around the perimeter and installed metal hardware cloth (I feel like an expert on this stuff after dealing with the squirrel problem at my own house!) all around.  It will keep mice from coming in, even if they dig.  And then we added new sheathing.
On the inside, we sealed the floor with 10 mil plastic as a vapor barrier. Next, we will have the walls foamed with closed cell spray insulation.  This will not only keep the pipes nice and warm – but mice don’t like to chew through spray foam!

For the ‘beautification’ part of the bathroom, there is also a lot of work to be done! I found this tiny little vanity – so at long last this little room with have a bit of storage space.  I love the blue, in person it’s a bit more of a navy and really looks lovely.

This shower will get a new white base and I’ve been searching for some sort of ‘wow’ tile to use in the shower stall.  We’re adding a recessed light in there, with a glass door, so it needs to be pretty!  I really like these glass octagons.  They shimmer like water in the light.

For the floor, I love this white marble mosaic.  A bit contemporary and a bit traditional at the same time!

The room will also get a new square window, to match the others on the house.  So farewell to the contact paper covered one that’s in there today!

Insulation is scheduled this week, so we're making nice progress.  Hopefully we won't have any more gross discoveries at this point and the mice have found a nice new home!
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