Bummed out about insulation cost

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Hi,
I'm back again, this time it's insulation. My house is 103 years old and never has been insulated. So I got a quote from a local company and I didn't realize it would be so expensive. If they blow it in from the outside, it costs $2300 but if they do it from the inside it's $1750. But then I have to pay a drywaller to fix the gazillion holes they will make because they only do the initial rough patch after they blow in the insulation. We're talking about a LOT of holes.
Then there's the attic. I got a quote for the recycled denim insulation up there and it was over $1,000. So I asked what it would cost to use the normal stuff (fiberglass pink stuff) and he said they don't use that because it's way less efficient than the recycled denim and plus it's not healthy to have around.
So I'm not just writing to whine. I have two questions.
1. Is it true that fiberglass is much less efficient than the recycled denim?
2. Someone told me that blown-in cellulose will settle in a few years and then I'll be right back where I started. The contractor said he'd give me a 15 year warranty, but he doesn't have one in writing--it's just his good word since "it's a family business". Could I have some comments on cellulose insulation in general and whether this is something I really need to just DO and stop whining about?
Thanks again in advance. This group is really helpful for me.
Best,
Lesley
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id go with the fiberglass in the attic, it will keep suspended better i think,,and wont burn. fiberglass is bad for your lungs so a mask is needed when working around it.. i had my 100 year old home walls blown in from the outside, they blew in fiberglass with a spray of latex at the nozzle to keep it from settleing .im in the louisville ky area and the co is innovations in insulation.it cost 480.00 but was 10 years ago ... look, what good is blowing something into your walls or attic that will settle ,,,or burn,,,or be food for some insect....in my mind its a waste of money. lucas
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Lesley wrote:

Have you been here yet: http://www.cellulose.org /
Did you GOOGLE: "cellulose settling" ?
Jim
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Wow, t hat is a great investment. Think how fat the payback will be. Over the life of the house, it would have paid for hte house many times already. At 2 bucks a gallon for oil, you can't do any better at a casino or the stock market. I'd jump on that NOW.
But then I have to pay a drywaller to fix the gazillion holes

Learn to do it yourself. It is really not a hard job at all. Spread some pre-mixed stuff from a can, sand, put on a primer. If you are plainning to paint or paper, not a big deal. If you just finished painting, it would be a PITA.

I don't know about denim at all. Fiberglass is now thought to have some microscopc fibers getting loose udner cartain circunstances and could pose a health hazard. This is mostly a concern with hot air heat where it can be circulated.
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Lesley,
1) As Edwin said, it would be wise to learn to do the drywall repairs yourself. With tax, you should be saving about $600, which covers a lot of drywall patch and sandpaper. I'd rather have the repaired holes on the inside of the house than on the outside. Is there any chance that the holes could be cover in some rooms in the house by installing crown molding? That is an easy and attractive way to cover the holes and it gives you access to the holes years from now if you want to examine the insulation or "top it off."
2) While you are at it, you could consider drilling those inside holes yourself and shooting in the insulation. I've never researched it, but I've always been under the impression that those who sell the blown-in insulation retail will generally loan you the equipment for blowing it in. The insulation itself is supposed to be fairly economical.
3) I'm guessing that you already know without asking what the value of a verbal guarantee is. Why would any contractor offer a guarantee but refuse to put it in writing? Yep - so that he can weasle out if there are problems later.
4) Regarding the attic. I have not done much current reading on insulation types. How about insulating it yourself? If you are really frugal, you can always collect the tons of styrofoam out on the curb each trash day, run it through a neighbors chipper shredder and toss it in your attic. :) Seriously, I've been tossing free styrofoam on top of the existing attic insulation for years. It is basically the same as the sheet- styrofoam insulation that wraps my home under my siding. But free.
Getting more conventional - the cost of the labor is considerable when paying to insulate the attic. Also, if you do it yourself, then you can do the super-caulking that should be done before tossing in the insulation. Few installers do this, and those that do it don't do an adequate job.
Good luck, Gideon
====== Lesley wrote:
I'm back again, this time it's insulation. My house is 103 years old and never has been insulated. So I got a quote from a local company and I didn't realize it would be so expensive. If they blow it in from the outside, it costs $2300 but if they do it from the inside it's $1750. But then I have to pay a drywaller to fix the gazillion holes they will make because they only do the initial rough patch after they blow in the insulation. We're talking about a LOT of holes.
Then there's the attic. I got a quote for the recycled denim insulation up there and it was over $1,000. So I asked what it would cost to use the normal stuff (fiberglass pink stuff) and he said they don't use that because it's way less efficient than the recycled denim and plus it's not healthy to have around.
So I'm not just writing to whine. I have two questions.
1. Is it true that fiberglass is much less efficient than the recycled denim?
2. Someone told me that blown-in cellulose will settle in a few years and then I'll be right back where I started. The contractor said he'd give me a 15 year warranty, but he doesn't have one in writing--it's just his good word since "it's a family business". Could I have some comments on cellulose insulation in general and whether this is something I really need to just DO and stop whining about?
Thanks again in advance. This group is really helpful for me.
Best,
Lesley
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I was an observer when a friend of mine did this same thing on an old house in Louisiana.
One hundred years ago, or even fifty, there were very few standards. There wasn't any inspections. People built things like they wanted, and there was little uniformity. They just did the best they could. Sometimes they were craftsmen, and sometimes, just DIYers with limited resources.
They removed MANY boards from the outside of the house. I guess you could best describe it as siding. When they did, they revealed many things that would have been invisible had they not removed the boards. They used different types of insulation. Pink stuff. Blown stuff that adhered to itself, then was trimmed off flush with the surface. This is so it would not fall down and compact. Blown in was used in the attic space.
Like horizontal cripples. The short boards that go inbetween studs. Where there is a cripple, if you make a hole above it, the insulation only fills only down to where the cripple is, then you have a hollow space. There were places that no amount of drilling of holes either inside or outside would have exposed what needed to be seen, properly accessed, and properly insulated. There are all sorts of pipes, and wires, and "stuff" that would keep blown in insulation from falling into just the right configuration to fill the space.
If you are going to spend $$$ to insulate your house, do it right. Remove the boards, or do whatever you need to do to be 102% sure that you insulate all the spaces. Leaving blank spots will leave you with a very poor job. And, without pulling a LOT of boards, leaving blank spots will be very easy. And for you as an owner to see those missed portions will be IMPOSSIBLE. You won't know how good a job you will be getting because you won't be able to see much of it.
You'll never know if you have gaps or not unless you can see in there.
Just MHO.
Steve
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What kind fo attic do you have? If you can do that yourself first, then do it. Then fix door seals and get double pane windows. Then insulate hot water pipes. After all of that is done, then decide if you really want to do the walls. The walls are the last thing you shoudl do because you might not need to do them, depending upon where you live. I live in Baltimore and have uninsulated walls, and it hardly makes any difference. Insulating the attic made a big difference. If you live someplace much colder than where I live then insulating the walls will make a difference, buy you didn't say where this house is.
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My father's house was built in the 50's. He hired guys to blow in insulation under his attic floor. Afterwards he pulled up blanks and found tons of empty spaces due to blocking. He made them come back and pick up most of the floor and do the job right. Fortunately it was a deal thru the utility company so they could not get out of it.

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If your house is 103 years old, you will not have drywall to fix. If you install the insulation from the inside, you will be repairing the plaster and lath. I cannot imagine how they will make "holes" in the plaster to blow the insulation into the walls, and then repair the holes.
In our old house, I opened one or two lath strips of plaster from near the top of walls, and then looked into the wall with a small mirror and light to see what kind of blockages were there. Then I used old loose-fill and new cellulose, dropped into the channels, periodically tamping it with a small piece of pipe on a string, and finally when it got to within reach, I used fiberglas to finish it off AND to block the areas above my hole which extended out into the ceilings.
The specifics varied depending on the walls and ceiling joist orientations, whether there were windows above/below involved, and many other things.
Subsequent work around window areas has revealed areas there which needed filling, and it also showed that after ten years or so there does not seem to be any settling. But the plaster/lath with keying probably holds the insulation in place.
I have learned to do fairly nice plaster work (with Gypsum and diamond white plasters in a two coat procedure). And I would note that doing WALLS makes a LOT of difference in both heating and noise!!
Lesley wrote:

--
Phil Munro Dept of Electrical & Computer Engin
mailto: snipped-for-privacy@cc.ysu.edu Youngstown State University
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Not to be picky, Steve, but there is no such thing as a horizontal cripple. A cripple stud is a vertical that goes between the window or door header and the top plate (upper cripple) or bottom plate and the window sill (lower cripple).
What you correctly describe as being a problem for insulating is called "fire blocking" or "nogging."
--
Doug Boulter

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wrote on 19 May 2005:

Thanks for the heads up. I am not a carpenter. That is why I included the description of horizontal boards that go inbetween studs.
Now, if it has to do with welding, I could probably give you the correct term.
Steve
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When blown-in cellulose was a new thing, there were settling issues. They have since been solved, and settling shouldn't be a problem if the people putting the stuff in are at all competent.
*MY* biggest issue with it is that it's dusty, and it appears to KEEP producing dust more or less forever. Possibly your insulation contractor has a satisfactory answer for that problem. My house was done by hacks, before I bought it. *I* think they ought to spray some sort of foam-compound in a layer all over the attic first, to seal the area, then blow in the cellulose, and finally spray something over the top of the cellulose to encapsulate it, but I don't know of anyone that does that.
If the people drilling the holes from the inside are careful about going in a straight line, you can cover most of the holes with crown or picture molding. *AFTER* plugging them.
If batt-insulation is just thrown into the attic space in a hurry, it will leave voids and gaps that seriously compromise it's effectiveness. If you're careful when you put it in, you can prevent/fill those voids and gaps, but that takes longer, and therefore isn't cost effective if you're paying for the labor. blown-in tends to fill nooks and crannies by itself, which means it goes a GREAT deal faster, and hence is cheaper.
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My understanding of blown in cellulose is a bit different. There is the plain old run-of-the-mill cellulose without any binder in it that *will* settle if you blow it into a wall cavity. This is the type of insulation that is recommended for attic floors, because when it settles, you just lose a little overall R-value due to the thinner layer of insulation. That's different than when it settles in a wall and then leaves a portion of wall uninsulated. Remeber that insulation is performing two tasks, one is that is reduces conduction (as measured by R-value), but to a certain extent it is also an air barrier, as it slows down air currents that carry away your expensively heated indoor air.
The other type of blown in cellulose that I am aware of has a binder mixed in that you add water as it is sprayed in to activate the binder, and it basically glues the whole mess to the walls and to itself, so there is no settling issue. This works well for new construction where it can be sprayed into open wall cavities, then you let it dry, and then you can go ahead and put up drywall or whatever. The problem for existing construction is that if you spray the wet mess into a wall cavity, it never dries out and you get mold, the wall rots, etc. So my understanding is that this is not recommended for retrofit. Which if this is all true, then leaves out blown in cellulose as a good retrofit wall insulation. Of course an insulation contractor will tell you that it's no problem, he does it all the time and its no problem. I'm not sure about denim, but I believe cellulose has a slightly higher R-value than fiberglass.
Ken
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If you're careful when you put it in, you can

I have trouble with your statement:

"tends"
Does that mean it gets 90% of the nooks and crannies?
80%?
From what I saw of the job being done, if the siding hadn't been taken off, it would have "tended" go fill about 60% of the nooks and crannies.
If I'm paying for it, and want it done right, 100% is the only acceptable number.
STeve
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The fiberglass stuff is only dangerous if you're in contact with it and you don't wear a breather mask. And, if you need to be in INTIMATE contact with it, like moving it out of the way to run wires or something, you should plan on dumping your clothes into the washing machine with COLD WATER immediately afterward. Don't go laying around on the furniture in those clothes.
But, properly selected and installed, it's not a problem.
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Thanks everyone for all of your responses. It's a lot of information to take in. I have a lot to think about.
Lesley
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They even have it now encased in plastic. Its not too bad at all.
Tom
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why can't they do it from the attic and drill down they should be able to do this for most areas except the bottom of windows?
You could do the attic yourself with blown cellulose the big box stores sell the stuff and rent you the blower for free?
Check with your energy company see if they have any grants or rebates for insulating your home?
you don't mention the size of the home 1 vs. 2 stories etc?
Wayne

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wayne wrote:

Access to wall plate may be quite limited, for one. Primary reason would probably be that the wall cavities in these old houses tend to be full of blocking and who knows what else....of course, that's a potential problem as someone else has pointed out even w/ only one or two holes/cavity.
I've thought if one were stuck w/ such a problem, one way to attack it might be to do the initial fill, then use an infrared camera to find the large heat sink path areas and then attack them...
...

This is a most excellent suggestion!
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If you're talking about blown-in fiberglass, there were some studies a few years back that suggested that loose fiberglass lost most of its insulating properties due to air movement ("convective heat loss" Do a web search). Blown-in denim/cotton has about the same insulating value as blown-in cellulose, better than fiberglass by up to 30%.
If you're talking about properly fitted fiberglass batts, the answer is no, denim is not much more efficient.
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Doug Boulter

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