removing old attic insulation, ceiling drywall repair / replacement etc

(1) I've got some damage to ceiling drywall that has some cracks, water damage, a couple of holes. It's old drywall, don't know how old. Does this stuff ever need to be completely replaced, or is patching the way to go? And either way, the insulation over whatever part is opened up has to be removed first, right?
(2) Our attic insulation is pathetic! What is up there is loose fill - rock wool, I'm quite sure. No vapor barrier. Anyway it is just a complete mess up there. There are cedar shakes up there and all kinds of dirt and junk that go back 50 years or more. The AC guy rated our attic insulation as "R2". I would like to go up there and get that stuff out of there and clean up as well as I can. It seems that the standard approach is just to cover the old junk up with loose fill. But here's what I'm thinking ... get some of those thick plastic "contractor's bags" from Home Depot, just go up there with a big dustpan, and start scooping away, fill up those bags and haul them out. The loose fill isn't very high (R2 rating) so I'm thinking this might be doable. And then if I can manage it, use a ShopVac to get up as much as I can. All of this wearing a proper mask and clothing.
(3) The AC ducting is sheet metal, big old rectangular ducts on top of the ceiling joists, leaky as can be. Not well wrapped either. Huge stuff that really obstructs movement in the attic. Our air distribution is awful. There is a lever up there to move a duct damper and I can't even budge it anymore. I'm thinking that it would be good to replace the ducts. Maybe they don't have to be so darned big anymore. It seems that rigid ducting is still preferred over flex duct?
(4) We've got old cloth-insulated wiring up there, no grounding. I'd like to replace that too.
(5) So what is the proper sequence - clean up, repair ceiling sheet rock, electrical, new duct work?
Thanks for advice to a novice.
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spoon2001 wrote:

You might want to start by winning a lottery and buying a big bottle of Aspirin...
If the current attic insulation is of little value then cleaning it out completely and starting fresh is not unreasonable. Normally you just add on when you have useable but inadequate insulation, but if all you have is R2 or so now there is little value to save.
Your A/C ducting is going to largely be determined by your air handler. A high velocity system will give you nice small ducts, but will require an entire new air handler. Rigid duct is preferred because it has a smooth interior surface that restricts air flow less and collects dust less than the ridges in flex duct. The ducting should ideally be hung from the roof rafters with isolation mounts to reduce noise / vibration transmission. The ceiling structure will make a nice sounding board otherwise.
The cloth insulated wiring I'm assuming is deteriorating cloth insulated Romex and not single conductor knob and tube. Certainly replacing the cloth romex with new PVC insulated romex would be good and not terribly expensive if you're doing it yourself. The labor is far more significant a cost than a few thousand feet of romex.
The problem you'll encounter is the horizontal runs in the walls which you will not be able to readily replace without tearing out the walls. If you have access from the attic and basement to all walls in the house you could potentially abandon those horizontal runs in the walls and replace them with horizontal runs in the accessible attic and basement. This will cost you more in wire for the additional vertical distance needed, but may be offset by insurance savings since insurance companies are starting to charge higher premiums for houses with older electrical systems.
On the drywall issue it's just a tradeoff on the labor to patch / repair vs. install new. Sheetrock isn't that expensive so the labor costs will mostly determine this issue. The materials (sheetrock, compound, tape) will cost perhaps $0.50 / sq. ft. Either way you'll need to paint.
Don't forget to account for disposal costs. Getting rid of the old insulation, drywall, etc. isn't free and a dumpster is probably in order. You might be able to get a few $ for the wire and ductwork as scrap metal if you bring them to a recycling center. Also account for the logistics of trying to live in a construction zone.
Pete C. (about to do a major electrical overhaul myself)
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I'd say remove old insulation and garbage first, then have ducts redone/replaced as needed with caulk and insulation, install new wiring, install new insulation, and repair drywall last. For a cleaner smoother look it might be better in your case to just add another layer of drywall (3/8" or 1/2") to the existing.
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All good advice so far. After cleaning out the insulation, I'd call your usual heating contractor and have someone see if the duct size is logical, relative to the furnace you have. Might be a modern furnace that doesn't or can't work to its full potential with those huge ducts.
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