Saturday, August 1, 2009

Moldy Mission Creep

My goal: open up the blocked channels to allow airflow. The channels were each defined by two ends, one in the attic and one at the soffit vents leading outside, and 4 sides: the roof on top, the sheetrock of the ceiling on the bottom, and two wooden rafters. They were completely filled with insulation.
My plan: Clear the channel, slide in a baffle along the top, staple the baffle in place against the roof, then slide the insulation back in place. The difference: with the baffle in place pressing down on the insulation, the air could flow in through the soffit vents then pass above the insulation and into the attic.
Note: A baffle is an inexpensive piece of plastic or styrofoam that is shaped to create an airspace. Mine look something like 4 foot long rectangles with 2" edges sticking down along the sides, but open at the ends to allow the air to flow through.
Here's a cross-section looking down the long (open) axis of a baffle that I've added radiant barrier to (more on that project that later). It's about 4 ft x 2ft x 2 inches.

Of course, opening up the blocked channels leading from the attic down the slope to the soffit vents a good 8 feet away entailed removing the insulation. At this step, I noticed that a lot of the insulation that I was removing was infested with a good amount of dark colored junk, almost certainly mold. I live in a humid climate, and mold is certainly not unusual. However, recalling that discretion was sometimes the better part of valor, and I decided to replace the insulation with new stuff. Much of my reading on attics detailed how improper ventilation creates good conditions for mold growth.
I was now entering the phase that many of you engineers out there may recognize: mission creep (or for you software folks, feature creep). That is, the point at which you start to decide that some new activity that touches on your original activity really should get done.
In this case, the mission creep added new steps for each channel to be cleared. Each channel now required:
  1. Surveying the channel to see if there was room for my body in front of it
  2. Clearing space from the blow-in insulation for my movable flooring
  3. Putting in movable flooring to work off of
  4. Reaching far down the channel for the old insulation (with my handy-dandy broom handles to assist in compression and grabbing; otherwise the insulation would just tear and not move)
  5. Removing (and plastic bagging for safety) the old insulation
  6. Creating a double-length-baffle (the store baffles were too short; I had to staple two overlapping to get the length and strength required to put them down the channel).
  7. Sliding and stapling the baffle in place against the underside of the roof.
  8. Unrolling, measuring, and cutting new insulation
  9. Stuffing the new insulation down the channel (involving the broom handles and creative vocabulary as the insulation snagged on roofing stapes, large splinters, and stray pieces of plywood lining the channel)
  10. Removing the temporary flooring
  11. Restoring the blow-in insulation underneath me as best I could
I performed this 11-step dance for a number of work sessions in the attic, often getting only a single channel done due to the difficulty of doing _anything_ useful in the tight space. After a time, I had completed about 8 channels. There was a nice reward on each channel, verifying for me that my plan was working even in the early spring weather: as I removed the old insulation on every single channel, I felt a tangible breeze of fresh outside air blowing into my face, feeling almost like it had been waiting patiently for years trying to get in and save me some energy. After sweating and maneuvering for many minutes, this small reward was a blessing.*
Now I had cleared all the channels that I could physically get to in the attic. It still wasn't enough, but it was a help.

* Again, Efficiency Man recommends that you hire a trained professional for extensive attic work, for reasons of comfort and safety. If you must do the work yourself, protect your lungs with a mask rated for insulation, and your skin with a good covering.

Next: A ray of intake inspiration

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