When we last left the Smurf room, it was looking a little naked:
With the lathe and plaster gone, all that separated us from the outside world was one layer each of wood and brick. Terrifying. We were pretty lucky — the wood in our 130-year old house is really well-preserved. We don’t have to replace the wood, but we do have a little crack situation:
We went upstairs early on Sunday morning to start insulating the Smurf room and found a bunch of gaps around our window sills. We could see the sunlight pouring in through the cracks. Yipes.
It’s hard for us to imagine that people have lived in this house for 130 years without proper insulation. Or maybe we’re just wusses. We couldn’t live like that. Our area of Pennsylvania gets cold in the winter. Not the-barren-arctic-tundra-of-Minnesota level of cold that Bradley grew up with, but still colder than New York City. So once the walls were stripped bare, we wanted to make sure they were properly sealed up once and for all.
We stocked up on fiberglass insulation and foam insulation. The foam insulation comes in a few different kinds — we picked up a couple of cans each of window & door foam and gap & crack foam. Then we got to work sealing up all the cracks around our windows:
Is it weird that I craved a Starbucks latte with whipped cream the entire time we sprayed insulation?
Not that I have the luxury of a Starbucks on every street corner anymore. The nearest one is 9.8 miles away. The second nearest? 16.3 miles. Good news for both my wallet and my thighs. Bad news for the Dunkin Donuts a few blocks away, where I will make demands the likes of which they have never experienced.
Some sweet, small-town kid is going to the suffer the wrath of an early morning Starbucks-deprived part-time New Yorker. My Manhattan glare and a “WHAT DO YOU MEAN YOU CAN’T MAKE ME AN EXTRA FOAMY GRANDE SKINNY VANILLA LATTE WITH 2 PUMPS OF SUGAR-FREE VANILLA??” Or, more likely, he will try not to laugh in my face as I beg him for a shot of whipped cream on my plain old coffee with skim milk, no sugar.
Jabba came running at the sound of the spray foam, probably also thinking it was something food-related:
We’re simpatico like that, always thinking with our tummies. She stood in the middle of the room and cocked her head side to side with every spray. Then she found a sunny patch and fell asleep for 6 hours. That dog leads a rough life, I tell ya.
After we sealed up all the spots around our windows, we foamed the big gaps in between the wood slats. Some of these gaps were so big, we could stick our fingers through and touch the brick on the other side.
The foam went from being soft and tacky to dry and hard in about 15 minutes. After that, we brought out the fiberglass. We decided to go with a formaldehyde-free brand:
In all honesty, we don’t know if the formaldehyde-containing insulation is really, truly bad for our health. The white stuff claims to be better for the house’s air quality, but I work in advertising and I know a thing or two about jazzing up a statistic. I’m equal parts skeptical and cynical. At any rate, the formaldehyde-free stuff wasn’t any pricier than the regular stuff, so we decided to get it. We plan on living here for a while, so we figured we might as well go with the stuff that doesn’t have any cancer-causing ingredients. Better safe than sorry.
Bradley put up the first strip of insulation to show me how it’s done. First he placed the insulation between the studs and made sure it was tightly butted up against the ceiling:
Then he unfolded the sides so the paper sat on top of the studs:
That’s my thumb, not Bradley’s. I wasn’t joking about giving up manicures until this house renovation stuff is over. I’d rather have dirt under my fingernails and a few hangnails than deal with chipped polish. I’m an all-or-nothing kinda girl. Besides, I Googled the nearest place to get a mani/pedi, and lets just say it would be easier to get an extra foamy grande skinny vanilla latte with 2 shots of sugar-free vanilla.
Next, Bradley started at the top and stapled the paper to the stud, making sure to pull it tightly to avoid wrinkles and gaps:
Once he got to the bottom, Bradley lined a spare piece of wood across the insulation and flattened it out. Then he used a knife to cut through the paper and insulation:
And he stapled across the bottom:
The final product was a wall segment with an R-value of 13:
Our area recommends an R-value between 13 to 15, so this is enough for the walls. We have a tendency to go overboard, though — why do it when you can overdo it? — so we came up with a way to sneak in a little extra R-value. We’ll get to that in a minute.
In the meantime, we re-used the R-13 fiberglass insulation we found in the house:
Reduce, reuse, re-insulate:
While I took over insulating with the new rolls, Bradley went to work sealing up the tighter spots where the full strip of batting wouldn’t fit. He removed the reclaimed insulation from its paper backing, and stuffed it in the smaller spots.
He covered the loose insulation with vapor barrier, and taped the plastic to the surrounding paper:
My insulating skills were pretty fantastic as well:
The paper is pulled tight and sits flush against the floors. Each strip of batting was gently tucked into place and all gaps filled with spare insulation or foam. And you better believe all of my staples were perfectly aligned in a row, 2 inches apart, OCD style. It’s nice to know that if I ever get sick of the art direction scene, I can go be a master insulator instead. If there is such a thing as a master insulator. Insulation Director. Chief Insulator. …I’d better just stick to advertising till I figure out a better title.
Now, back to that R-value business. We could have gone with insulation with a higher R-value, but we didn’t for 2 reasons.
- We’re cheap. We weren’t ready to shell out the dough for a costly spray insulation.
- We didn’t want to lose any more space in this room.
Yes, spray insulation is the best thing since sliced bread and it saves a ton of money over time. But it’s also very pricey. We have a pay-for-our-renovations-in-cash policy, and spending that kind of moolah right now just isn’t going to work for us. Not when we have a bajillion other things to renovate.
We could have just gotten thicker fiberglass insulation, but then it would be thicker than our studs. This means we would have had to build out our walls to be 6″ thick. The Smurf room is already teeny-weeny, and we didn’t want it to shrink any further. Plus we were feeling a little lazy. Framing walls is a lot of work.
The solution we came up with is to use a styrofoam insulation on top of our fiberglass insulation:
At a mere 1″ thick, these aluminum-faced sheets of insulation pack a serious punch. Each sheet adds an R-value of 6, so together with the fiberglass batting, we get an R-value of 19. Above and beyond the 13-15 that’s recommended for our area.
Added bonus: the aluminum-faced insulation is super easy to work with! We loved how lightweight it is. It was easy to carry from the garage, through the house and up the stairs to the cutting workstation in the guest bedroom.
We used a boxcutter and a makeshift ruler to score the full sheet. Then we snapped the sheet along the cut and sliced through the other side:
We also use a sheetrock saw to easily cut outlet holes:
Once the sheet was cut to the right size, we popped it in place right on top of the fiberglass insulation:
Bradley used his foot to gently nudge the sheet into place. Then I used grip-cap nails to nail the sheet to the stud:
Regular nails have the potential of damaging the foam. Grip-caps have a plastic ring around them that keeps the nail from going right through the foam:
The cap sits almost flush with the foam, but doesn’t rip the aluminum around it.
We did have a couple of incidents where the hammer missed the nail and ripped a hole in the aluminum. And by we I actually mean me. And by missed the nail I actually mean completely missed it by at least 2 inches because I was too busy freaking out about a wasp trying to get in through a window. Whoopsie doodle. Butterfingers.
That problem giant hole was easily fixable. We used a metallic tape to bandage up our boo-boos:
Right around this point, my photography got a little dodgy. Shiny metal is hard to photograph, y’all. And I’m still teaching my camera who’s boss. Go with the flow here.
Once we reached a corner, we used the metallic tape to seal the crack:
With Bradley cutting and setting sheets and me nailing and taping them, we had the entire room covered in metallic insulation. We were on fire.
And then we were on fire. As in melting. It was a 90-degree day and we had all of the windows open in the Smurf room, so we weren’t exactly freezing up there to begin with. But with the added metallic insulation, the sun reflected off of every surface in the room and we had ourselves a nice little sweatbox. It must have been over 100 degrees in the room. We were drenched in sweat and dehydrated by the time we were done.
Even after the sun went down, the room stayed warm. We noticed that if we stood really close to the insulation, we could feel our own body heat bounce back. In a nutshell, we discovered that the metallic insulation works really, really well. Too well. We were overheating, and couldn’t wait to get the sheetrock up on the walls.
The next day, we turned our attention to this:
That, I’m sorry to say, is the Smurf room ceiling. It’s textured. And hideous. The ceiling is so low (under 8 feet) that you can see every crusty detail. Since I work from home and the Smurf room will be my office, we knew we had to either demolish the ceiling or cover it up. Otherwise I’ll never get any work done. I’ll just sit in the office and stare at the ceiling all day, wishing I could sledgehammer it to smithereens.
It was a now-or-never moment because we had to sheetrock the ceiling before we could sheetrock the walls. The walls will help take some of the weight off of the ceiling sheetrock — that’s why the ceiling comes first.
So we went for it:
Getting the sheetrock up was pretty easy. Bradley grabbed one side and I grabbed the other. We lifted the sheetrock up over us and balanced it on our heads while I grabbed my homemade T-bar:
Then Bradley stepped up on an upside-down bucket and we both pushed the sheetrock up to the ceiling. I used the T-bar to hold my side of the ceiling up while Bradley put screws through the sheetrock right up through the plaster and lathe ceiling. He did his side first and then my side. I got a little break for my arms and shoulders while he finished putting up screws. Then we did it all over again with a new piece of sheetrock.
Putting up a ceiling isn’t a particularly hard job, but we wouldn’t recommend doing it alone. Or if you’re not strong enough to hold weight up over your head for 5+ minutes at a time. We would also recommend using a T-bar that is as tall as your ceilings. Ours was only about 4 feet tall, so I basically had to hold it up using arm and shoulder strength. All of my gym-time was totally put to work that day. It’s obviously not impossible to do, but we still wouldn’t recommend it for big rooms — better to have a T-bar that goes all way way from the ceiling to the floor.
My favorite part of the new ceiling process was covering up this gross looking hole where a light will someday hang:
Ta-da! It instantly felt cleaner. Or at least less grody.
One thing worth mentioning is that we staggered our sheetrock. So one sheet would butt up against the right wall, and the next sheet would butt up against the left wall.
This is in case the ceiling ever sags or a seam ever pops. It won’t rip the sheetrock all the way across the length of the room — it’ll just rip until the seam ends. This makes life way easier in case we ever have to repair our ceiling.
Once we had the big sheets up, we went back and added in smaller pieces of sheetrock to the gaps along the left and right walls:
When we were finished, the ceilings looked like this:
We were super proud of our tight seams. They’ll be easy to tape and mud over, and we love it when things are easy. We also love how clean the ceiling-meets-brick area looks now:
We don’t even need a corner bead to clean up the edge because the cut is so perfectly straight.
The whole room feels so fresh and clean without the 4 Smurf-blue walls. It feels bigger, sunnier, more modern.
And definitely less Smurf-y.
We still have to sheetrock the closet and the one remaining blue wall. We also need to replace all 3 windows in the Smurf room with new double-pane low-E windows. After that, it’s just a matter of taping, mudding and getting the walls and ceiling ready to paint. We’re pretty geeked about that last part. Why? Because we’re going to spray paint our walls with our new Graco spray gun!
Get excited, peeps. We are!
What we learned from our insulation adventure:
- Those leathery old ladies who tan with reflectors are onto something. Bradley and I got a little color while insulating the Smurf room!
- We found that the formaldehyde-free fiberglass insulation didn’t make our skin super itchy like the pink stuff did. Either way, it’s probably a good idea to wear long sleeves while handling the batting.
- It took 4 full cans of spray foam insulation for us to seal up an 8.5′x15′ room. And that’s the smallest one in our house. Better buy stock in Great Stuff pronto — we have a lot of insulating to do.