Holey Moley

Our attic conversion, what can I say, it’s been an uphill climb. Ya think you’re ready to check something off the list and then BAM. There it is laughing you in the face again. Take our insulation, or our drywall, and now, our built-in. It just wasn’t quite ready to depart from it’s moment in the sun, so it decided to stick around a bit longer and become a problem child. Oye. See what I’m talking about?

Fixing Gaps with Trim

A bit too gappy don’t make Mary happy. Since we had so many other problem areas in this room, we really didn’t even notice all the jankiness on said bookcase until we started our final round of close up painting and started scratching our heads. Yes, that will not do.

Don’t believe me? How about a close up …

Adding Trim Around Bookcase

Mmmhhmmmm. Now that is a gap if I ever saw one 🙂 The good news was that we had a lot (a LOT) of spare pieces of wood left over from all the other constructing we’d been doing upstairs so we were able to repurpose a few pieces to help with our little problem.

For the gap above, we found some quarter round that we used in the bathroom.

Installing Quarter round trim

Well lookey there. By George, that pretty much fixes it! We still had to slap some white paint on it, but for the most part, the quarter round and some caulk fixed our first problem area.

On to the second.

Adding Trim to Bookcase

Whomp. Whomp. We fixed this section in no time flat with some extra trim as well. It still needs a bit of caulking to smooth out the lines, but it’s well on its way. It’s pretty tricky to get back there to paint, since your arm is at such an odd angle. This area will be choke-full of books and accessories, so those back angles will be harder to see any way. Or at least that’s what I’m telling my self. 😀

Adding Trim Around Carpet

Remember our closets? Now take a close look at the photo below. Do you see how the closet on the far left has some extra space up above. Believe you me, this was a big aaaahhhh sshhheeeetttt moment in the Sell household, cause quite frankly, your closet framing is not supposed to look like that. Not at all.

Adding closets to knee wall

Here is a close up shot of all that loveliness to refresh your memory. This photo was taken during our initial construction phase, but I think you get the idea. One of these things is not like the other …

Adjusting Bi-fold door

Truth be told, when you have an old house and old walls pretty much nothing is straight. So, you roll with it and you try to improvise enough so it looks like “character” and not like “jankiness”. Our solution? Some hunka hunka crown molding. No weenie stuff, chunkcalicous stuff. Go chunky, or go home.

Putting Crown on Top of Closets

Since the crown was so large, we were able to essentially bend it up toward the ceiling in order to cover up the problem child area. We used our nail gun to get the piece installed initially, but because we were twisting the wood up so much to cover our gapalicousness, we had to also come back through and screw a few spots in for added support. Not ideal, but we made sure to “sink” the screw in so we could come back through and cover everything up with caulk after.

Adding Crown Above Closet

Here is how the crown looked after the install. So. Much. Better. Not perfect, but waaayy better.

Adding Closets to Knee Wall

And here is another shot of the front before caulking and painting the top section.

Board and Batten on Doors

Even after we’d fit the crown as tight as possible to the ceiling, there was still a decent amount of caulking that had to be done to help fill that ginormous gap. You can see in the shot below that we still had an eighth of an inch or so that had to be caulked after the crown was installed.

Caulking Top of Trim

Our last trimming detail pre-carpet install was adding a section right along where the stair banister and the wall meet. This was uber easy – one cut at the base of the steps and another for the corners and we were ready to get these bad boys installed.

Adding Trim Around Stairs

Here is how the stair trim looked the night before our carpet installation. Umm yeah. That’s right. I just said CARPET INSTALLATION!! Stay tuned for the big old reveal on Friday!

Adding Trim to Top of Steps

Raise the Roof

So THIS, is what our attic looks like right now. Hella messy, but hella on. it’s. way. to being a legit room.

Adding Drywall To Attic

Since our attic has been looking like the photo below for the past oh, ya know, 4-months, it makes me want to do a flippin’ air bound somersault when I realize that the next attic projects will consist of fun things like painting, and carpet installation and bed linens – and not – oh, insulation! 😀

Raising Ceiling in Attic

But, I’ve had a few people emailing me asking about how we insulated the top portion of the attic (above the ceiling), so I wanted to show y’all a comprehensive play by play to help anyone that might be looking to try the same type of project. I know, yet another post about insulating yo timbers. Due to the amount of emails I’ve been getting on this one though, I’d venture to say that we’re not the only household trying to tackle making their space a bit more cozy.

The awesome part about all of this, is that we’re actually able to exceed the code regulated insulation value for our ceiling, which means our space should be deliciously toasty for our frigid Michigan winter’s. When your future forecast looks like this, extra insulation makes me extra happy.

Weather in Ann Arbor

After insulating all of the walls and roof deck, we were still left with the top triangle of our ceiling, which is where the most heat escapes from (hot air rises…). Since our rafters are only a few inches deep, we really thought we’d never be able to get anywhere close to code unless we used spray foam. We were pleasantly surprised though to see that with a bit of ingenuity and a lot of time and patience, we were able to get the desired level of insulation for our zone. Sweetness.

Insulation for Zone 5

Each step of the insulation process got a bit easier, and this one was really just a matter of creating a base for the fiberglass to sit on, and loading the insulation up onto the landing we created. Since we had extra foam around from our wall insulation process, we used that as the bottom section for the fiberglass to rest on.

For the pot lights we had scattered throughout our ceiling, we had to cut out a small opening for the foam to fit snugly on top of each light.

Insulating around a pot light

Once we would get the foam pieces up, we had a good floor for all of the fiberglass to sit on top of. Since we had enough room to accommodate it, we purchased R-30 fiberglass to sit on top of the R-5 foam – with the walls, that brings our R-value up to at least R-52 and up to R-54 in some sections. Holla holla give me a dolla.

You can see Jay in the photo below, putting some of the R-30 fiberglass up into the cavity above the foam board.

How to Insulate Around Pot Light

One VERY important thing to note when insulating around pot lights, is that you may have to build a structure around the light, in order to prevent the risk of fire. Pot lights get hot, foam is flammable, not a good combo.

Since we had extra drywall around, and didn’t want to let any scrapes go to waste, we opted to build a box to go around our lights in order to prevent anything that might be prone to catching fire from touching the light boxes. The boxes we built were about 8″ square – just large enough to pop right over the top of the pot light fixture.

Insulating Around Pot Light

This is how the box looked after it was installed above the pot light. Nothing fancy, but you can see that it definitely provides a barrier that prevents anything flammable from touching a light that could potentially get too hot, and cause a fire.

How to Insulate Attic

After we came back through to close the other side up with foam, this is what our ceiling looked like pre-drywall.

How to Insulate Around Pot Lights

Overall, we are SO happy that we were able to get as much insulation as we did in the space. Our last house also had a finished attic, but the amount of insulation was in no way sufficient and we were freezing our badonkadonks off morning noon and night. We don’t even have the heat pumping up there yet, and I can already tell that the insulation we added is going to make a huge difference.

Here is a side view shot of how each layer of insulation looked before we added our drywall. Nice and toasty my friends.

How to property insulate attic

For all you newer blog readers, you can read about our other insulating adventures here (and here).

Insulation Man

So you know how I said we were going to spray foam our attic? Ignore everything I said cause we did a total 180. 😉 So here is the scoop. Last Wednesday, we were supposed to have spray foam installed (notice, past tense). On Tuesday, I made the mistake of doing some extra research on the stuff that scared the be-jesus out of me. Namely spray foam can kill you. Ok, I kid, I kid.

The biggest red flags for me were that this stuff has tons of off-gassing that is super dangerous if you’re exposed to levels that are too high (this thread, in particular fa-reaked me out). Some people have reported neurological issues and anyone exposed to too high a level can develop a sensitivity where any type of foam product can set them into an asthma attack. Foam that might be in say, your pillow. Yeah, no good. The installer tried to calm all our fears, but at the end of the day, I just couldn’t wrap my head around the potential issues down the line that might result from unsafe levels of the gas. Since this room will be our bedroom, it seemed important that we were not gassing our selves to sleep each night.

So we decided to develop our own strategy for sealing off the space. After lots (and lots!) of discussion, we decided on the following tactic.

How to Insulate Conditioned Attic

First, a quick disclaimer. Jay and I did TONS of research on the best way to insulate our conditioned attic, and one tried and true theme that we found was that there is really no consensus on how to best insulate. Well, I mean everyone agrees that higher r-value = more comfort and lower energy bills, but your method to getting there is the debatable point. It was super frustrating and eventually we just started beating to our own drum and came up with our own solution (above).

Since we were not proceeding with spray foam, which would have created a hot roof where no venting is required, we decided to use a 1″ piece of foam to create our baffle to allow air flow. That foam did two things, first it created air tight conditions for the fiberglass, and second it had r-value, vs. the plastic sheathing that is typically used. Rock.

How to use foam board to insulate attic

To create the 1″ of air flow required, we simply cut some small pieces of foam, and glued them directly onto the roof deck, like the photo above. Then, we came through with the foam and attached it to the spacers. Now getting the foam into the cavity, that was one hairy beast. We wanted the fit to be tight, so we had to really work at getting each piece in. By we, I mean Jay, since the sound of styrofoam is a painful torture device for me – like nails on a chalk board, man – I would fly out of that room screaming every time he popped one of these babies in. I cringe just thinking about it.

After we got each piece of foam in, we came back through and used HVAC tape (sticky, sticky stuff) to seal each seam between the roof deck and the foam board. Time consuming, tiring, but effective.

Using Foam Board to Insulate Attic

Just installing the foam took us 2 days. 2 FULL days, and that didn’t include a few sections over the stair well that we were unable to reach and will have to come back to later. Now we felt good about installing this initial barrier since it effectively made the space pretty stinking air tight, and with insulation air leakage is enemy #1. But in all honesty, this was extremely tiring. Totally worth it, but every night we would practically crawl into bed.

Another fun detail – since we were venting the roof, we had to install holes for air circulation on the outer edge of the roof. Our roof had previously been unvented (that’s bad), so we had to come through and pre-cut holes for a soffit vent to be added post insulation install. I think this was Jay’s favorite part (not). Super dirty and time consuming to cut each hole. We had to go outside for each one to test with a light to make sure all systems were go, and verify that a sufficient hole was cut.

How to install soffit vents

After we had all the foam up, we came back through with our fiber-glass to fill the rest of the cavity. This combination let us achieve R-18 in all the walls as our base layer. Spray foam would have gotten us R-21, so we were pretty close to the same effective R-value with just these two layers.

How to Insulate Attic Walls

Since I had read all the perils on fiber-glass where many industry experts essentially noted that many people don’t install the product right, thus vastly reducing the R-value on the product, we were super diligent to make sure this part of the install went as close to perfect as possible. The things we were trying to avoid with the fiber-glass, were.

  1. Bunching, scrunching etc.
  2. Leaving any gaps
  3. Not using canned foam around light fixture, holes, etc.

Basically, it’s really easy to be sloppy with fiber-glass, but taking the extra time to do it right will ensure a much better long-run effectiveness of the product. We tried to be super persnickety on this step, and hopefully it pays off in the long term. How to Insulate Attic

When I was sleuthing into the pros and cons of fiber-glass, I also stumbled across this product, which essentially creates a thermal radiation barrier. Even though it’s super thin, this layer has an R-value of 5-16, depending on the installation technique. Since neither of the home improvement stores had this product in stock, we had to order it online, so we are still waiting on this in order to put in our final layer. When we do get it, we will essentially wrap the entire room in this stuff. Space age. Robot room. Glass castle. It’s going d-o-w-n.

Now, before we got the wrap installed in the room, we took this as an opportunity to spec out the joint and check for any air leaks. Let me introduce you to my little friend. Mr. Flir.

FLIR Camera

This little guy tells you everything you need to know. All the secrets of your room. The spots where old man winter comes to sneak in. Now, if you don’t have a husband that happens to have a flir camera at work to give you infared images of where all your heat is sneaking out of yo house, the best way to get all of this information is to get an energy audit. Around our place, that sets you back around $100, but it also gives you lots of important deets on your house, like where all your air is leaking out. When you’re paying to heat your house, you generally want to avoid having vast quantities of it sneak out of cracks and crevices.

Since we’ve already had an energy audit done on our house, we skipped it the second time around and just used the camera as a way to fine tune the install and avoid any air leaks. It’s always best to do this along with a blower door test, since that essentially exaggerates any holes you might have by literally blowing all your air out of your house, but we had a pretty good baseline understanding of our problem areas from the first time around, so we nixed it.

FLIR Camera

Now, one major advantage of skipping the spray foam and going the DIY route, was that it saved us many, many dollars. Like $2,000. That is a whole lot of cash-ola. Our final quote, for 3″ of spray foam in the roof (R-21) and 2″ in the walls (R-14) was $3,400. With our more conventional route, we will get R-23 in the roof (R-53 in the top section, above the ceiling) and R-18 in the walls. The spray foam would have, most likely, been a bit more air tight then our DIY route, but I think we did a pretty darn good job of sealing this guy off. After scanning over the room with the camera, we used a can of great stuff spray foam to seal off any leaky areas. Like this.

How to seal air leaks in insulation

At $7 a can, we were able to just buy a few of these, and use them where needed, vs. spray foaming the entire roof cavity. Money well spent.

Great Stuff Spray Foam Insulation

After we bought the 1″ foam board, the fiberglass insulation and the foil radiant barrier, we were at under $1,200 for all our supplies. Here is the break down for you:

  1. 800 sq. feet of foam board: $375
  2. 1,000 sq. feet of fiberglass bats: $400
  3. 3 cans of spray foam: $15
  4. 3 rolls of HVAC Tape: $30
  5. Thermal foil barrier: $340

Now that doesn’t include all the blood (Jay got the worst splinter of his life, I think he thought he was going to die), sweat (it gets hot up there) and tears (I may have shed 1, or 2.) that went into this beast. I’d add an extra $100 for a nice dinner, kinda help to ease the pain a bit. 😉 But even including the nice dinner, we are a cool $2,000 below what we were quoted for spray foam. And that was the cheapest quote. As George Bailey would say – hot dog. Hot diggety dog.

As for Jay, I think he is exceedingly happy to not be sporting this guy anymore. Cheers, dear husband. May you always be warm and toasty in your new, insulated attic.

How to Safely Install FIberglass

If you’re looking to do a similar project, here are the items you’ll need:

Skylight Skybright

Something we noticed pretty much out of the gate on this Master Attic retreat o’ ours is that this room is DARK. Like lights are on full blast and you’re looking for the switch. It’s got two wee little windows that cap off each end, and although they’re nice to have a cross breeze blowing upstairs, they really aren’t sufficient by themselves to light up the space the way we’d like it to be lit up. So instead of going out and buying 52 CFL’s, we decided to cut a hole in the roof. Piece of cake. Problem solved.

Installing Skylight in Attic

Now, normally we’d consider tackling this little bad boy ourselves, but a few small details held us back. First, Jay has an immense (immense) fear of being on the roof. I mean, it’s bad. Mostly because all I can muster up the will power to do is laugh at him, and he’s like, I’m going to DIE why are you laughing you lunatic! And second, it involved cutting through some of the structural trusses on the roof and since we didn’t want the walls above us to come caving in one night while we are peacefully slumbering, we figured that this one was best left up to the pros.

So we did the normal round of inquiries via craigslist and came back with a quote for $750 to pop two bad boys into the roof. Not awful, also not amazing. So we had a little pow wow over our dinner one night and decided that for a few hundred bucks, we wanted the natural light that the space was currently lacking so we decided to go for it. Get er done.

Installing Attic Skylight

Lucky for us, our local lumber yard actually had two of the skylights we had our eye on in stock. They even price matched the Home Depot ticket price, so it brought the total out of pocket cost down $40 bucks. Cool beans, yo.

We opted to go with the brand Velux. After shopping around a bit, the distributors basically told us this is as good as it gets for glass holes in your ceiling. In Ann Arbor, they have a code that you have to buy the special upgraded glass, which I guess prevents the stuff from shattering over your face if a tree limb falls in the middle in the night. Since we live in Tree City USA (literally, Ann Arbors nickname), that is a good thing.

Also, the only way that Velux will warranty the seal on the window, is if you agree to buy their flashing kit as well, which is an extra $70 dolla billz. Oye. Good news, it provides a 10-year warranty against leaking, no matter who installs the unit. Bottom line, they sound pretty confident in their product to we were willing to fork over a few extra dollars.

Velux Skylight Review

In the attic, we knew that we wanted to bump the right side of the wall out so that we had a bit more room as you walk around in the space up there. To get the room ready for both the spray foam, and the skylight install, we opted to remove some of the wall that was previously running down this side of the attic. Since this was the back side of the house, we decided that popping up the sky lights on this side made the most sense (least visible from the street, nice view of the tree canopy outside, etc). Once the room is finished, this wall will be a big old built-in, stretching from one side of the room to the other. Lots of storage!

Knee Wall in Attic

Here is a shot of how the room looks the morning after the skylights were installed, hello sunshine!! The room faces east, so we get lots of morning rays, should help to motivate us out of bed each morning. 😉

  Velux Skylights Pricing

In addition to the 10-year warranty on the skylights, we also have a 10-year warranty on the work done by our roofer. Sa-weet! He even took a birds-eye view of the skylights before he left the job site. The skylights are a tad higher up on the roof than I thought they would be, but overall I think they look mighty fine.

Velux Skylights in Attic

A few things we learned along the way with this one. First, there are many parts of the installation process that we would feel comfortable doing ourselves. Jay helped the installer for most of the process, and learned that he can definitely do the interior work in the future, i.e. cutting the window holes, but that he just doesn’t feel comfortable getting his booty up on the roof. If we decided to do something like this on any future houses, we think we’d do the cutting portion ourselves, to trim back the costs a bit. Live and learn.

Installing Skylights in Attic

For now, were pretty happy with all the extra light that comes pouring into this room post install. It’s really just an incredible difference. It’s kind of hard to tell on the pictures, but the difference is so noticeable in person. Long term, I’m pretty pumped to have these little babies up in the attic space. Pretty sure the orange tabby will be pleased with this new development – virtual bird hunting just got a whole lot better. 😉 When everything is said and done, we are hoping to have the back wall look like this.

  Skylights Over Built In

So, ya wan’t us to spill the beans and tell you how much this home renovation set us back? We were able to snag the skylights for $222, with a price match to Home Depot at our local lumber yard and we found a roof installer on craigslist that was willing to pop these guys in for $750, including a 10-year warranty. With the flashing kits, the total cost for installation for (2) skylights was $1,372. Not cheap, my friend. For comparison though, we found quotes as high as $2,500 for just installation when we were shopping, so keeping a grand in my pocket always makes me a happy camper. 😉

Spray Foam Shoppin’

As a northern girl, born and raised in the mitten, it really doesn’t make sense that I hate the cold like I do. Being the frugalista little cheapo I am, I also hate running our heater any higher than 64 in the winter. Snicker. No seriously, we keep the house at 64 throughout winter and it makes me want to punch people because I’m so cold. When we both got legit, real people jobs, we actually decided to bump up the heat from 62 to 64 in the winter. Hiiiggghhh rollllaas! So anyway, this combination of cheapness and coldness leaves me sad inside.

So when we got all serious about tackling this master retreat, we decided that spray foam was the only answer to our insulation whoas. For some reference, our last house had a finished attic that was poorly insulated and it SUCKED. It was comfortable for like 30 days out of the year. The rest were either incredibly too hot, or incredibly too cold. No good, mi amigo. So when this came into my life, I was all about it.

Cost for Spray Foam

Doesn’t look like much, but this guy is going to keep our upstairs nice and toasty (and, if you remember, we like things nice and toasty). Well this guy and a few of his friends 😉

After we ripped out all the old insulation (man, it still hurts to say that), we were able to get a better idea of the overall layout of the space, and a feel for how we wanted everything to flow. Since spray foam more or less seals your electrical work inside of the wall, we wanted to make sure we had a clear idea of what our needs would be, so we wouldn’t have to go back and dig through the freshly minted spray foam, compromising our air tight seal. So, in addition to scouting out potential installers, we had to do lots of research on our end to make sure everything was planned out and ready to go.

Using Spray Foam Insulation

In the past few weeks, we’ve been learning more about insulation than I ever thought possible 😉 After chatting with a few installers, we knew that we would want 3 inches (minimum) in the ceiling and that on the walls, we would be looking at around 2 inches. Spray foam has an R value of 7.2 per inch. Fiber-glass is 2.25. BIG difference. I found this chart helpful for determining different R-values of insulation materials, for reference. The bottom line, fiber glass just wasn’t going to cut it if we wanted a nice and toasty retreat.

R-Value of Fiber Glass


R Value of Spray Foam

So with the 3 inches we were pegging for, that would give us an R-Value of just over 20, vs. ummm 6.75. Yes. Much better.

And the icing on the cake, at least according to the installers, is that our effective R-Value will actually be over 30, since spray foam is also a wind and vapor barrier, which helps you get an even better seal. If your house isn’t effectively sealed, the fiber-glass insulation will actually work even worse than the already dismal 2.25 R-value. Since most old houses are not totally sealed, most “normal” insulation (aka fiberglass) doesn’t even meet the crap-o-la R-value it has. Bummer.

Oh, and one more perk. We’re raising the roof, err, ceiling. Same thing, right?

How to Hot Roof Attic

By spray foaming our attic space, we’ll be able to install a hot roof, which means you don’t need any ventilation, thus freeing up lots o’ space, which will basically let us have more head room in our joint. I’m cool with that. We’ll actually gain about a foot of air above us, giving us just under 8 foot tall ceilings. Wootie wootie tootie fruitie.

So why doesn’t everyone use spray foam, one might ask. We’ll my friends, cause it turns out this fine material cost some extra simoleons. I few more than I care to spend, honestly.

How Much Does Spray Foam Cost

The first quote we got, from the Insulation Man, gave us a variety of options. For the 3″ we wanted in the ceiling, and 2″ in the walls, we’d be looking at $3,450, which ain’t cheap. For 2″, we would be looking at $2,400. Both mucho dolla.

Our next quote we got came in even higher. Dagger.

Cost to Install Spray Foam

Overall, they wanted just shy of 5 grand to insulate the house with spray foam. Wham bam alcazam. Do they think I go by Dr. Mary, or something. Holy Moly.

And our final quote came from a Green Specialist in town, who only installs green spray foam (less off gassing), and she wanted like $6-7 for 3″ thick/foot, which is like $8,000. Nope. Just ain’t going to happen.

After hemming and hawing on this one, we’ve decided to go with the first installer that came by because they were able to provide the most references for their work, and quite frankly, they are the cheapest and I don’t have a money tree in my back yard. In complete honesty, our main concern with this home improvement really wasn’t the ROI, it was the comfort we are hoping it will bring to the space. After living in a house with pretty shoddy insulation, it’s kind of been bumped to the top of our list for all our homes, now, and in the future. Sure, it going to set us back 3 grand, but it’s also going to (hopefully) make the house pretty stinkin’ efficient (many home owners see their bills cut in HALF), comfortable, and greenie green.

If it DOES cut our bills in half, we’d actually be looking at an ROI of about 4 years, since our savings would be around $700 annually. We are in no way depending on that though, and really look at this more as an investment in our happiness factor vs. our save me mo’ money factor. Plus, we are doing a good chunk of the rest of the attic ourselves, so even though we are paying a bit extra here for a top of the line product, I think we’ll be able to make the whole attic conversion pretty economical when it’s all said and done. Here’s to hoping! 😉