Insulating Walls - Worth it?

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General Disarray
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Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by General Disarray » Fri May 05, 2017 8:28 pm

I had an energy assessment of my home. This is a townhome with an HOA. The energy assessment technician recommended that the walls be insulated, as he found no insulation. The townhomes were built in 1986, and he was puzzled as to why there was no insulation, as there should be building codes in place that require insulation. (No wonder the place is so frigid in the colder months.) I just purchased the unit in summer 2016 and so was not aware of the insulation problem until I lived my first winter there ( I live in Massachusetts). MassSave will pay $2,000 and the out-of-pocket costs for me is $1,500.00. I think the cost is worth it if it will help keep my unit warmer/less frigid in the colder months. Problem is, the HOA is requiring a lot of documentation before they make a decision as to whether they will allow me to proceed.

The energy technician indicated that the process of blowing cellulose insulation would be "minimally invasive." It would require that they remove clapboards across the perimeter of the building, making a hole, blowing in the insulation, filling in the holes with either a foam or wood filler, and then re-installing the clapboard.

The HOA property manager is requesting the following from me:

1. Copy of the contractors estimate with details of the work.
2. Drawing or sketch of the proposed hole(s) location.
3. The square foot area of clapboard to be removed.
4. Copy of contractors’ insurance certificate (naming the condo association as an “Additional Insured”).

I wondered if any of the other owners have ever insulated their walls but the property manager replied that he does not believe that the owners have insulated from the exterior.

What are your thoughts about this? Is insulating the walls worth it if one lives in a community that has an HOA?

aerofreaky11
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by aerofreaky11 » Fri May 05, 2017 9:07 pm

If this is development wide... Suggest 'board' negotiate volume pricing and trusted contactor (bids) to allow other units to have a similar upgrade. We did this in my NYC condo with faulty HVAC valves. Ultimately, it was up to the owner to pay and decide it was worth it.

If the 'board' buys in, the requirements will be handled internally...

Dakotah
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by Dakotah » Fri May 05, 2017 9:13 pm

If you truly have no insulation on your external walls, then yes, absolutely do it. Not only for the comfort factor...but also due to the fact that it will likely pay for itself pretty quickly. Cellulose is also very good at providing noise reduction.

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Watty
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by Watty » Fri May 05, 2017 9:25 pm

General Disarray wrote:The energy assessment technician recommended that the walls be insulated, as he found no insulation. The townhomes were built in 1986, and he was puzzled as to why there was no insulation, as there should be building codes in place that require insulation.


That sounds very odd to me since people were pretty energy conscious by then, and it also sounds like none of the prior owners, or owners of other units have dealt with this. Just how did he find "no insulation" ?

It might be good get a second opinion on that.

You might also see if you can do some research and find out if the unit had major fire or water damage and had repairs that were incorrectly done.

Inframan4712
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by Inframan4712 » Fri May 05, 2017 9:29 pm

Assuming everything checks out, I would do it. Heck, once I paid $800 for some attic insulation over a colder/hotter room in a rental house, and I knew I would only be there for a year. But I wanted to be comfortable.

And it was totally worth it.

Teague
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by Teague » Fri May 05, 2017 11:27 pm

The "energy assessment technician," whatever that is, works for the company that is proposing to add insulation to your walls?
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HAL 9000
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by HAL 9000 » Fri May 05, 2017 11:33 pm

Sounds a little pricey to me for cellulose. I'm not a big fan of chemically treated newspaper for insulation. My neighbors had this done in Colorado to a 3 bedroom ranch with foam insulation about 7 years ago for a little over a couple grand. They recommend it and say its much quieter ta boot. Mike Homes recommends closed spray foam where you open up the walls from the inside and do it. Expensive but done right. If you use foam, make sure you know what it is, toxic vapors can be a problem so you want something green I think.
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Nate79
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by Nate79 » Sat May 06, 2017 12:05 am

Sounds strange to have no insulation in exterior walls in a newish construction. I would get a second opinion before wasting another second on wondering what to do.

wolf359
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by wolf359 » Sat May 06, 2017 7:52 am

Your HOA sounds really invasive. Most have no control over anything that is inside your property, hidden from view. Condo associations, yes, but townhouse or single family home HOAs, no. Inside-the-wall insulation doesn't require HOA approval in any HOA I've been in. Where's the line of demarcation between your property and common property? Does the HOA own and/or maintain the exterior wall of your house?

If nobody in the neighborhood has it, then the HOA should consider negotiating a neighborhood wide deal. It will improve property values and reduce expenses across the board.

For you individually, calculate the savings versus the cost. You should find the math tells you that this is a no-brainer, especially considering your winters.

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jharkin
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by jharkin » Sat May 06, 2017 8:27 am

Mike Holmes is amusing to watch but dont get your building advice from him. His solution to even the most minor problem is rip it all out and start over. Sometimes that's appropriate, but often its overkill. Not everybody has unlimited budget. Plus its wasteful.

The only way to spray foam is to GUT the interior and then re-drywall everything. A LOT of work and expense that will never pay back in energy bill savings.

Blown in cellulose insulation is great stuff. Its the most environmentally friendly of all, works well, and it also makes a good air barrier (foam does also but fiberglass does not). It doesn't cause the itching of fiberglass and has minimal health risks. Unlike foam and fiberglass you dont have to wear a space suit when installing it so that should tell you something :) Its treated with boric acid which is a relatively benign (to humans) preservative that will prevent rot and bugs and makes it fire resistant.

I had my house insulated with blown in via mass save. It is very non intrusive, they remove a couple clapboards, cut a hole through the sheathing, blow in, plug the holes and then put the clapboard back up. Once you touch up the paint you cant tell it was done. If you want more detail send me a PM, I can give you more specifics over email and even share some pictures of what the result looked like. When I had mine done COnservations Services Group was the outfit that did the inspections and Anderson Insulation was the contractor that did the work. Anderson was great to deal with, some of the CSG inspectors had a bit of a 'tude, but they did make sure it was all done perfectly - for the after work inspection they use an IR camera to make sure their are no voids and they even brought Anderson back to fix a few things. In my case the work dropped my bill by 40% a year but I also had extensive attic insulation done.


This is a great read on Building Science about blown cellulose
https://buildingscience.com/documents/i ... t-be-dense

Buy and read this book if you are on the fence:
https://www.amazon.com/Insulate-Weather ... weatherize

I am shocked that 1986 construction didn't have insulation. Did they check the roof also? Insulating the walls will help but dont expect miracles, most of your heat loss is through the roof and air leaks so doing this may save 10-20% on the heat bill, tops.

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jabberwockOG
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by jabberwockOG » Sat May 06, 2017 8:47 am

There is some variance in the particulars from HOA to HOA but in general everything outside the drywall in your unit is typically owned as common area by the HOA. In many condo and townhouse situations with HOA you individually only own and control "from the drywall in" on your property. In other words you likely do not own the exterior walls, cladding/siding, or any exterior wall insulation (or for that matter the exterior wall framing) and therefore need HOA approval to modify. I like the suggestion that you address this with the HOA board as a material defect that the HOA should resolve especially if you can show that no insulation in exterior walls of your unit (or the entire building) is in violation of codes in effect when the unit was constructed.

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just frank
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by just frank » Sat May 06, 2017 10:06 am

I agree with @jharkin. Blown in cellulose is the best wall cavity retrofit system there is, bar none. Cheap, green (low embodied energy), non-toxic (no foam fumes or smell), and durable (if densepacked).

Loose blowing an attic is easy and is DIYable for that handy. Densepacking wall cavities is tricky to do right (leaving no gaps or holes), so you want to get an experienced outfit. Some places do an IR scan afterwards to verify they left no spaces anywhere.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by beardsworth » Sat May 06, 2017 10:19 am

jharkin wrote:The only way to spray foam is to GUT the interior and then re-drywall everything. A LOT of work and expense that will never pay back in energy bill savings.


jharkin, and/or anyone else who knows about this,

If a homeowner was replacing all of the exterior wood siding on a house, would it be possible to remove the old siding, remove existing fiberglass batt insulation in the walls, and then spray foam insulation into the walls from the outside, leaving the interior-facing sheetrock undisturbed, before installing the new exterior siding? Or must this always be (as the crime novels say) "an inside job," even if the siding is being temporarily removed?

Thanks.

killjoy2012
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by killjoy2012 » Sat May 06, 2017 10:56 am

jharkin wrote:Mike Holmes is amusing to watch but dont get your building advice from him. His solution to even the most minor problem is rip it all out and start over. Sometimes that's appropriate, but often its overkill. Not everybody has unlimited budget. Plus its wasteful.

...

It is very non intrusive, they remove a couple clapboards, cut a hole through the sheathing, blow in, plug the holes and then put the clapboard back up. Once you touch up the paint you cant tell it was done.


And how does the homeowner, or even the contractor, have any clue as to whether the entire wall cavity has been filled completely with the new insulation? What if there's a 2x4 horizontal wall brace 1/2 way down the wall? What if electrical wires, or water pipes, or vent lines, or HVAC runs, or anything else, keeps the insulation from blowing in properly bottom to top? And if any of the rooms are plastered, you might as well forget about this insulating method, as the lath and plaster inside the wall will likely keep the insulation from blowing in correctly.

Yes, that method is the least invasive, easiest & cheapest. It's also way less than 100% effective due to all of the reasons listed above. Personally, I'd either do it right... or don't do it. Doing it twice is a lot more expensive than doing it once correctly.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by killjoy2012 » Sat May 06, 2017 10:58 am

beardsworth wrote:If a homeowner was replacing all of the exterior wood siding on a house, would it be possible to remove the old siding, remove existing fiberglass batt insulation in the walls, and then spray foam insulation into the walls from the outside, leaving the interior-facing sheetrock undisturbed, before installing the new exterior siding? Or must this always be (as the crime novels say) "an inside job," even if the siding is being temporarily removed?


Yes, as long as you're willing to re-do the complete exterior of the home - sheathing, house wrap, and siding. And I would still expect a few minor nail pops inside.

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jharkin
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by jharkin » Sat May 06, 2017 11:12 am

beardsworth wrote:
jharkin wrote:The only way to spray foam is to GUT the interior and then re-drywall everything. A LOT of work and expense that will never pay back in energy bill savings.


jharkin, and/or anyone else who knows about this,

If a homeowner was replacing all of the exterior wood siding on a house, would it be possible to remove the old siding, remove existing fiberglass batt insulation in the walls, and then spray foam insulation into the walls from the outside, leaving the interior-facing sheetrock undisturbed, before installing the new exterior siding? Or must this always be (as the crime novels say) "an inside job," even if the siding is being temporarily removed?

Thanks.


To do it from the outside you would have to remove the siding and all the trim, remove the exterior casings of windows and doors, remove any flashing and housewrap AND remove the sheathing plywood. Nobody is going to do that.

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jharkin
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by jharkin » Sat May 06, 2017 11:18 am

killjoy2012 wrote:
And how does the homeowner, or even the contractor, have any clue as to whether the entire wall cavity has been filled completely with the new insulation? What if there's a 2x4 horizontal wall brace 1/2 way down the wall? What if electrical wires, or water pipes, or vent lines, or HVAC runs, or anything else, keeps the insulation from blowing in properly bottom to top? And if any of the rooms are plastered, you might as well forget about this insulating method, as the lath and plaster inside the wall will likely keep the insulation from blowing in correctly.

Yes, that method is the least invasive, easiest & cheapest. It's also way less than 100% effective due to all of the reasons listed above. Personally, I'd either do it right... or don't do it. Doing it twice is a lot more expensive than doing it once correctly.


Read my post above completely. They use an infrared camera to verify that all cavities are filled.

Its NOT less than 100% effective, it actually works really well. The loose insulation easily flows around wires and pipes, and when there are dividers that is dealt with by locating and adding another hole to blow in. The default method they use involves removing two clapboards and making two holes in each bay, one at the top and one at the bottom to ensure a complete fill.

My house is 200 years old and most of the first floor is lathe and plaster. I can attest that they filled those cavities right up no problem. In fact far more old houses with plaster get blown in insulation than sheetrocked houses (by the time sheetrock was dominant - post 1950 - most houses had at least some wall insulation in the original construction and are not candidates for blown in)

I'm basing this not on 2nd hand anecdotes and TV shows, but from first hand experience with this work and reading the technical briefs of professionals. Again, I strongly suggest reading this article. https://buildingscience.com/documents/i ... t-be-dense These people are recognized experts in this field...

Foam is popular because HGTV, Mike Holmes and even TOH heavily promote it. Its a good option in new construction or if you where going to gut for other reasons, but its not the end all be all best solution in every situation.
Last edited by jharkin on Sat May 06, 2017 11:54 am, edited 1 time in total.

Jack FFR1846
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by Jack FFR1846 » Sat May 06, 2017 11:26 am

That era was the height of the boom in Massachusetts. In my town, the building inspector was eventually removed because he signed off all inspections in his office and didn't visit sites because so much construction was going on. Because of this, extremely shoddy construction happened. We know of one house where the entire garage and slab sank several feet because nothing was properly prepped before pouring the garage footings. So there's the long description why a mid 80's Mass building doesn't have insulation vs my first Mass house, built in 1963 which does.

Absolutely insulate.
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by HAL 9000 » Sat May 06, 2017 12:02 pm

The foam my neighbors used was from the exterior and was injected green foam. The problem is air pockets can form. You can see this with a FLIR camera before/after. I don't like cellulose/paper because of mold and moisture which might be a problem in Massachusetts. Also, that's what Mike Holmes recommends to "do it right" - so yes take it with a grain of salt. I usually "do it good enough"
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Pajamas
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by Pajamas » Sat May 06, 2017 12:07 pm

I agree that you should bring the issue to the HOA board and ask that the entire complex get an energy assessment to determine the overall situation and perhaps address the problem on a group basis. You want as much information as possible before making any decision. If the HOA refuses to participate in an overall assessment, then you already have as much information as you will get and can then proceed individually.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by JGoneRiding » Sat May 06, 2017 12:21 pm

killjoy2012 wrote:
jharkin wrote:Mike Holmes is amusing to watch but dont get your building advice from him. His solution to even the most minor problem is rip it all out and start over. Sometimes that's appropriate, but often its overkill. Not everybody has unlimited budget. Plus its wasteful.

...

It is very non intrusive, they remove a couple clapboards, cut a hole through the sheathing, blow in, plug the holes and then put the clapboard back up. Once you touch up the paint you cant tell it was done.


And how does the homeowner, or even the contractor, have any clue as to whether the entire wall cavity has been filled completely with the new insulation? What if there's a 2x4 horizontal wall brace 1/2 way down the wall? What if electrical wires, or water pipes, or vent lines, or HVAC runs, or anything else, keeps the insulation from blowing in properly bottom to top? And if any of the rooms are plastered, you might as well forget about this insulating method, as the lath and plaster inside the wall will likely keep the insulation from blowing in correctly.

Yes, that method is the least invasive, easiest & cheapest. It's also way less than 100% effective due to all of the reasons listed above. Personally, I'd either do it right... or don't do it. Doing it twice is a lot more expensive than doing it once correctly.


Age of home and these tiny little things called cameras. They are amaxing and can be stuck and snaked anywhere you want to look! Including from your anus all the way to your oral nasal cavity!

There is no way a house this age had lathe and plaster. But if for some bizare reason you thought it might it could easily be confirmed not to.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by jharkin » Sat May 06, 2017 12:40 pm

HAL 9000 wrote:The foam my neighbors used was from the exterior and was injected green foam. The problem is air pockets can form. You can see this with a FLIR camera before/after. I don't like cellulose/paper because of mold and moisture which might be a problem in Massachusetts. Also, that's what Mike Holmes recommends to "do it right" - so yes take it with a grain of salt. I usually "do it good enough"


Mold and moisture are dealt with by verifying that proper vapor barriers and ventilation are in place and any sources of exterior moisture penetration are eliminated. The inspectors who plan for this work are experienced in dealing with these situations and will recommend accordingly if the situation is not appropriate.

Again, I strongly suggest everyone who wonders about this topic to read that Building science technical brief I linked or pick up that book I mentioned up thread. All these issues are addressed, and they also provide information on situations where spray foam is more appropriate.

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just frank
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by just frank » Sat May 06, 2017 2:16 pm

@jharkin is right. An experienced cellulose installer can 'feel' wires and go around them, not get hung up on lath, and if there is framing blocking the cavity, will note where it is, and then drill a new 2" hole in the sheathing under the blockage to fill there.

The cellulose is treated with Sulfate or Borate salts (legally required to be >20% by weight). This is both a fire retardant and prevents bug nesting and mold formation. Unless there is outside water getting into the cavity all the time, no problems at all.

There are millions of houses in the US that were built without insulation, and millions of them have been retrofit with dense cellulose without any problems. (Whereas foam retrofits have some % of bad problems with odors, outgassing or foam shrinkage) The major exceptions are stone houses and houses with brick exteriors....in the latter the facing is never water tight, and wind-driven rain can run down the interior side of the brick, so it must have an airspace.

The Holmes advice is just like saying 'my check engine light came on', so I decided to replace the entire engine to make sure it was fixed. Its fixed alright....but only at a ridiculous an unnecessary cost. Sprayfoam is the most expensive insulation there is, and in a cavity wall the thermal bridging by the studs largely defeats its higher effectiveness. Like then opting to upgrade the engine in your corolla with an expensive sport-car engine. Makes for fun TV, but wouldn't want to pay for it.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by Nate79 » Sat May 06, 2017 2:33 pm

killjoy2012 wrote:
jharkin wrote:Mike Holmes is amusing to watch but dont get your building advice from him. His solution to even the most minor problem is rip it all out and start over. Sometimes that's appropriate, but often its overkill. Not everybody has unlimited budget. Plus its wasteful.

...

It is very non intrusive, they remove a couple clapboards, cut a hole through the sheathing, blow in, plug the holes and then put the clapboard back up. Once you touch up the paint you cant tell it was done.


And how does the homeowner, or even the contractor, have any clue as to whether the entire wall cavity has been filled completely with the new insulation? What if there's a 2x4 horizontal wall brace 1/2 way down the wall? What if electrical wires, or water pipes, or vent lines, or HVAC runs, or anything else, keeps the insulation from blowing in properly bottom to top? And if any of the rooms are plastered, you might as well forget about this insulating method, as the lath and plaster inside the wall will likely keep the insulation from blowing in correctly.

Yes, that method is the least invasive, easiest & cheapest. It's also way less than 100% effective due to all of the reasons listed above. Personally, I'd either do it right... or don't do it. Doing it twice is a lot more expensive than doing it once correctly.


This is only true for an incompetent contractor. Mostly irrelevant for everyone else.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by jambadoc » Sat May 06, 2017 2:35 pm

jharkin wrote:To do it from the outside you would have to remove the siding and all the trim, remove the exterior casings of windows and doors, remove any flashing and housewrap AND remove the sheathing plywood. Nobody is going to do that.


Not to mention if it rains while your whole house is uncovered to the back of the Sheetrock it will essentially destroy your house.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by Watty » Sat May 06, 2017 4:41 pm

Jack FFR1846 wrote:That era was the height of the boom in Massachusetts. In my town, the building inspector was eventually removed because he signed off all inspections in his office and didn't visit sites because so much construction was going on. Because of this, extremely shoddy construction happened. We know of one house where the entire garage and slab sank several feet because nothing was properly prepped before pouring the garage footings. So there's the long description why a mid 80's Mass building doesn't have insulation vs my first Mass house, built in 1963 which does.

Absolutely insulate.


Read this post again.

That explains a lot.

General Disarray wrote:The HOA property manager is requesting the following from me:

1. Copy of the contractors estimate with details of the work.
2. Drawing or sketch of the proposed hole(s) location.
3. The square foot area of clapboard to be removed.
4. Copy of contractors’ insurance certificate (naming the condo association as an “Additional Insured”).


The requirements the HOA asked for are not a big deal and really just four pieces of paper. I would just ask the contractor to provide the needed paperwork as part of the contract with them. They are likely very used to dealing with things like this and can print them off of email them with no problem.

Sometimes it is easier to jump through the hoop(especially if the contractor does the jumping :D) than to try to figure out or argue if they are really necessary or not.

One thing you might do though is ask the contractor for a referral fee if other owners see what you are doing and ask you about it and ask for the name of your contractor.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by General Disarray » Thu May 25, 2017 10:56 am

Thank you to everyone's comments and suggestions. The HOA rejected my request to blow in insulation from the exterior walls. I posed the option of allowing them to select the contractor and have unit owners pay out of pocket for the insulation, but it looks like that also is a no go.

The walls are apparently concrete, but the energy auditor insisted it was not and said that concrete walls are primarily for commercial buildings. He thinks the walls are more sheetrock.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by iamlucky13 » Thu May 25, 2017 12:59 pm

General Disarray wrote:Thank you to everyone's comments and suggestions. The HOA rejected my request to blow in insulation from the exterior walls. I posed the option of allowing them to select the contractor and have unit owners pay out of pocket for the insulation, but it looks like that also is a no go.

The walls are apparently concrete, but the energy auditor insisted it was not and said that concrete walls are primarily for commercial buildings. He thinks the walls are more sheetrock.
I'm not clear what you're describing. Are you saying the exterior walls are concrete, with lap siding on top of it, and the HOA rejected the proposal due to concerns about integrity of the concrete?

Or are you saying the interior sheething is some kind of concrete panel or mesh and spray cement, so installing insulation via the interior walls, out of site of the HOA, is not an option?
just frank wrote: Sprayfoam is the most expensive insulation there is, and in a cavity wall the thermal bridging by the studs largely defeats its higher effectiveness. Like then opting to upgrade the engine in your corolla with an expensive sport-car engine. Makes for fun TV, but wouldn't want to pay for it.
Jumping back a couple weeks in the discussion, I want to clarify something for anybody referencing this thread down the road. I agree that the expense of retrofitting spray foam into existing construction is out of line with the value provided, and it's extremely disruptive to use of the house while it's going on. The time to do spray foam is during new construction or during a complete gutting remodel when the sheetrock is removed anyways.

That said, while thermal bridging by the studs limits the overall effectiveness, similar applies to all insulation types, and closed cell foam does result in a significantly better effective R-value than other insulation types, both due to its own insulating effect and the fact that it can significantly reduce air infiltration.

In new construction, there are several reference designs for stud arrangements (if I remember right, they're incorporated in the residential energy code as pre-approved) to minimize thermal bridging for framed walls, especially at wall corners and by windows where extra studs are used.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by Beach » Thu May 25, 2017 4:34 pm

Any thoughts about selling and moving? Who knows what other corners they cut...

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by gtaylor » Thu May 25, 2017 4:45 pm

Hi, I've done this twice recently, in Massachusetts via MassSave, including in a condo situation.

For the condo one, the siding could not be removed because it is asbestos, however the subsidized program was happy to install very deep blown cellulose in the attic (and air seal the attic). This made a considerable difference, although rumors of air sealing being a complete fix for ice dams are greatly overblown...

For the house, it was a single story cottage with no wall insulation and minimal attic insulation. Having done the full retrofit insulation in walls and attic, plus air sealing, plus new windows on our own, the difference is huge. That house is *tight*, something I never would have thought for a 1950s building of that sort.

Also, our condo did have everything outside the drywall as "common". But in order to get the MassSave rebate / subsidized pricing, the actual contract(s) and execution are all between the individual property owners and masssave and the contractor. So in our case, the two upstairs units individually paid the MassSave price to one contractor who came and did the work all at once. Then the unit owners were reimbursed by the association.

If your siding is clapboards, they pop off one or two all the way around, drill 6 inch holes in the sheathing, blow/pack it in, then put it all back together. They even squirted a little caulk in the cracks. A round of touch up painting is all that was needed.

Your association should get their heads out of their artichokes and cooperate; proper insulation at a massively subsidized cost will break even in a small number of years and can only add value as units are sold.

For the folks wondering about contractor salesmanship, this state program features independent energy audit firms which measure and inspect, then produce a standardized bid for all the needed work (as justifiable by specific cost/energy saving thresholds). Many contractors are in the program and will honor this pricing. The program sends around a followup inspector afterwards to verify that all the work was done to spec.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by Easy Rhino » Thu May 25, 2017 5:14 pm

A few years ago we had insulation blown in our walls, there was non previously. It made a big different in comfort especially around the perimenter. (and that was in San diego!)

I also wonder why the unit didn't have any insulation in the walls. There's also a chance that it's just your unit, maybe there was a renovation years ago where the drywall was redone, and they never put insulation back in.

I don't understand what your HOA is saying about concrete. Concrete is not a typical building material for houses.

Regarding the blown in cellulose, I thought it was fine, a few notes.

The contractor offered to drill from the outside or the inside. We chose the outside because we didn't want to rearrange our house while the project was going on. however, these outside holes were in stucco (think thin cement on top of lath and tar paper), so it had to be plugged and then stucco patched, and then the whole exterior had to be repainted. If we had done it inside, then it was just drywall patching and repainting. We should have done interior in ourcase.

We had a whole at the top and the bottom, because each wall has a brace in the middle. A few walls had additional cross braces, so those got four holes.

One oopsie was that they drilled into a recessed soap dish in our walk in shower tile wall. They tried to measure to avoid it, but missed. They replaced the soap dish.

Regarding moisture, our cellulose was fireproofed with ammonium sulfate and boric acid. Later on, we had a leak in a shower which was putting water into the walls. The cellulose absorbed lots of water and it seemed to "liberate" the ammonia and made the walls stink in a hard to locate way. We had to remove all the affected insulation. the good news was that there was no mold... the cellulose sort of worked as a sponge. The bad news was the stink. i'd be tempted to go with a boric acid only approach if it was available (then again, if it didn't stink we might not have discovered the leak).

General Disarray
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by General Disarray » Fri May 26, 2017 6:00 am

iamlucky13 wrote: I'm not clear what you're describing. Are you saying the exterior walls are concrete, with lap siding on top of it, and the HOA rejected the proposal due to concerns about integrity of the concrete?

Or are you saying the interior sheething is some kind of concrete panel or mesh and spray cement, so installing insulation via the interior walls, out of site of the HOA, is not an option?
I skimmed the HOA master policy and it looks like the walls might be pour-in concrete foundation wall.

My unit is three levels, with level 1 a finished basement. That room, curiously, is the warmest in the winter and the coolest in the summer. The upper (3rd) level are the bedrooms and two bathrooms, and the master bedroom and master bath is absolutely frigid in the colder months.

I briefly chatted with a neighbor who was out walking. Her unit apparently is also very cold, and she lives on a one-level bungalow type of unit. An HOA board member I bumped into said another neighbor blew in insulation from the inside, so I guess that is what I would have to do, but I'm not sure how efficient that is compared to blowing insulation from the outside.

barnaclebob
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by barnaclebob » Fri May 26, 2017 8:01 am

Easy Rhino wrote: Regarding moisture, our cellulose was fireproofed with ammonium sulfate and boric acid. Later on, we had a leak in a shower which was putting water into the walls. The cellulose absorbed lots of water and it seemed to "liberate" the ammonia and made the walls stink in a hard to locate way. We had to remove all the affected insulation. the good news was that there was no mold... the cellulose sort of worked as a sponge. The bad news was the stink. i'd be tempted to go with a boric acid only approach if it was available (then again, if it didn't stink we might not have discovered the leak).
This sounds like a feature, not a detriment to me. Get ammonia smell in your house? Now you know you have a slow leak instead of it destroying much of the area with mold or rot.

wilked
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by wilked » Fri May 26, 2017 8:18 am

What town in Mass?

It does seem extremely unlikely that they could have built this town home in New England within the last 30 years and not have insulated it. Like almost unfathable unlikely

MassSave used a FLIR (infrared) camera to make its assessment. These cameras rely on temperature difference to work (i.e. It needs to be colder or warmer outside can inside). This is why they are less accurate during spring and fall. Assuming you had this done in spring apply a little uncertainty factor to the conclusion.

There's one way to know for certain - make a hole in an exterior wall and look. Doesn't need to be a big hole, say 2 inches. Start small and careful so you avoid any wires. Pick a spot that is out of the way (probably low to the ground, perhaps behind a curtained area or in corner).

Once you have the hole shine a flashlight in and take a look.
Here is what it should likely look like behind the drywall

http://www.energyvanguard.com/sites/def ... k=UueEWwnV

If you can reach your finger in and feel nothing but another hard surface (exterior siding) roughly 3 inches away, you have no insulation.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by wilked » Fri May 26, 2017 8:19 am

Oh ya and a wall patch is an easy job. YouTube it if needed. Hopefully you have leftover paint to match

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by iamlucky13 » Fri May 26, 2017 2:00 pm

wilked wrote:It does seem extremely unlikely that they could have built this town home in New England within the last 30 years and not have insulated it. Like almost unfathable unlikely
Why unfathomable? Some people are willing to violate far more serious laws than the energy code to get rich, and while most code inspectors take integrity seriously, due to either corruption, laziness, or incompetence, some stuff does get through. Visiting the InterNACHI forums you find some interesting stuff from time to time.
General Disarray wrote:I skimmed the HOA master policy and it looks like the walls might be pour-in concrete foundation wall.
Is there somebody on the HOA board who can provide more information? I'd think some of the architectural documents would have been kept on record somewhere. Have you tried to look up county property tax records? In my area, they are online include details about construction type.

Have you pulled any outlet covers off and tried to inspect through the gap between the junction box and the drywall?

Efficiency of insulation blown in from the inside should not be different. I'm not sure if there might be different considerations with respect to vapor barriers or other moisture control for concrete walls compared to framed walls.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by michaeljc70 » Fri May 26, 2017 2:20 pm

iamlucky13 wrote:
wilked wrote:It does seem extremely unlikely that they could have built this town home in New England within the last 30 years and not have insulated it. Like almost unfathable unlikely
Why unfathomable? Some people are willing to violate far more serious laws than the energy code to get rich, and while most code inspectors take integrity seriously, due to either corruption, laziness, or incompetence, some stuff does get through. Visiting the InterNACHI forums you find some interesting stuff from time to time.
General Disarray wrote:I skimmed the HOA master policy and it looks like the walls might be pour-in concrete foundation wall.
Is there somebody on the HOA board who can provide more information? I'd think some of the architectural documents would have been kept on record somewhere. Have you tried to look up county property tax records? In my area, they are online include details about construction type.

Have you pulled any outlet covers off and tried to inspect through the gap between the junction box and the drywall?

Efficiency of insulation blown in from the inside should not be different. I'm not sure if there might be different considerations with respect to vapor barriers or other moisture control for concrete walls compared to framed walls.
Of course tradespeople/contractors cut corners sometimes. That is why you have a home inspection and get copies of utility bills. My inspector used an infrared camera even though I bought in the summer and pointed out any insulation deficiencies.

I would just have the insulation blown in from the inside in this case.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by Bengineer » Sun May 28, 2017 12:44 pm

wilked wrote:...
There's one way to know for certain - make a hole in an exterior wall and look. Doesn't need to be a big hole, say 2 inches. Start small and careful so you avoid any wires. Pick a spot that is out of the way (probably low to the ground, perhaps behind a curtained area or in corner).

Once you have the hole shine a flashlight in and take a look.
Here is what it should likely look like behind the drywall

http://www.energyvanguard.com/sites/def ... k=UueEWwnV

If you can reach your finger in and feel nothing but another hard surface (exterior siding) roughly 3 inches away, you have no insulation.
You can make a hole in the sheetrock large enough to peer into, but you could also find a spot between the studs in the middle of an exterior wall and drill maybe a 1/4" hole through the sheetrock. If the bit comes out with fiberglass on it, the wall is insulated. Sticking a wire with a hook on the end into the hole and pulling it out will confirm. If it freely goes in and you can feel it tap the outside sheathing and freely flop it around, you've got no insulation, at least at that point. I'd probably do it on each exterior wall. Easy to spackle and paint over.

A borescope for example, something like this one would be the geeky way to go about it and cheap enough these days to "get one just because I want to". There are a zillion in the < $50 range with every kind of interface.

Side note: The underground part of your basement is warmer in winter and cooler in summer because the "outside" temperature is the year round underground temperature of 50-60 degrees vs the air temperature.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by wilked » Mon Jun 19, 2017 11:52 am

So what happened...?

United2008
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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by United2008 » Mon Jun 19, 2017 1:04 pm

jharkin wrote:Mike Holmes is amusing to watch but dont get your building advice from him. His solution to even the most minor problem is rip it all out and start over. Sometimes that's appropriate, but often its overkill. Not everybody has unlimited budget. Plus its wasteful.

The only way to spray foam is to GUT the interior and then re-drywall everything. A LOT of work and expense that will never pay back in energy bill savings.

Blown in cellulose insulation is great stuff. Its the most environmentally friendly of all, works well, and it also makes a good air barrier (foam does also but fiberglass does not). It doesn't cause the itching of fiberglass and has minimal health risks. Unlike foam and fiberglass you dont have to wear a space suit when installing it so that should tell you something :) Its treated with boric acid which is a relatively benign (to humans) preservative that will prevent rot and bugs and makes it fire resistant.

I had my house insulated with blown in via mass save. It is very non intrusive, they remove a couple clapboards, cut a hole through the sheathing, blow in, plug the holes and then put the clapboard back up. Once you touch up the paint you cant tell it was done. If you want more detail send me a PM, I can give you more specifics over email and even share some pictures of what the result looked like. When I had mine done COnservations Services Group was the outfit that did the inspections and Anderson Insulation was the contractor that did the work. Anderson was great to deal with, some of the CSG inspectors had a bit of a 'tude, but they did make sure it was all done perfectly - for the after work inspection they use an IR camera to make sure their are no voids and they even brought Anderson back to fix a few things. In my case the work dropped my bill by 40% a year but I also had extensive attic insulation done.


This is a great read on Building Science about blown cellulose
https://buildingscience.com/documents/i ... t-be-dense

Buy and read this book if you are on the fence:
https://www.amazon.com/Insulate-Weather ... weatherize

I am shocked that 1986 construction didn't have insulation. Did they check the roof also? Insulating the walls will help but dont expect miracles, most of your heat loss is through the roof and air leaks so doing this may save 10-20% on the heat bill, tops.
What was the impact of the wall insulation on exterior noise? I believe our exterior walls are currently insulated with old fiberglass batts that are probably disintegrated by now (likely the original, 1955 or so). Thanks.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by General Disarray » Mon Jun 19, 2017 1:29 pm

(Non)update: I contacted the company that originally did the energy assessment and let the guy know that the HOA said I cannot insulate from the outside, and wanted to know the cost of insulating from the inside walls. He said his company cannot insulate from the inside, as the company does not have a solution to retro-fit insulation or a vapor barrier. He suggest that I hire someone that specializes in foam insulation.

For now, I will hold off.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by lthenderson » Mon Jun 19, 2017 1:30 pm

jambadoc wrote:
jharkin wrote:To do it from the outside you would have to remove the siding and all the trim, remove the exterior casings of windows and doors, remove any flashing and housewrap AND remove the sheathing plywood. Nobody is going to do that.
Not to mention if it rains while your whole house is uncovered to the back of the Sheetrock it will essentially destroy your house.
Not to mention the sheathing that is removed is also the only things protecting your homes shear forces collapsing the entire structure.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by jharkin » Mon Jun 19, 2017 5:45 pm

United2008 wrote:
What was the impact of the wall insulation on exterior noise? I believe our exterior walls are currently insulated with old fiberglass batts that are probably disintegrated by now (likely the original, 1955 or so). Thanks.
It been so long now that i cant remember if I noticed a significant difference from the insulation... If there was it was not huge.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by BruDude » Tue Jun 20, 2017 2:32 am

FWIW I live in a desert climate and had my air conditioning serviced recently and I asked the tech about blowing insulation in. He basically said it's a waste of money if you aren't going to live in the house for 10+ years since you won't recoup it fast enough and it's not going to make a big enough difference in this climate to be worth it from the "cooler in the house" perspective. He recommended doing solar film or solar window shades instead for a lot less money even though it wasn't a service he could provide.

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Re: Insulating Walls - Worth it?

Post by wilked » Tue Jun 20, 2017 9:10 am

General Disarray wrote:(Non)update: I contacted the company that originally did the energy assessment and let the guy know that the HOA said I cannot insulate from the outside, and wanted to know the cost of insulating from the inside walls. He said his company cannot insulate from the inside, as the company does not have a solution to retro-fit insulation or a vapor barrier. He suggest that I hire someone that specializes in foam insulation.

For now, I will hold off.
If there is truly no insulation, and in Massachusetts, you will be bleeding money in energy costs come winter

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