When it comes to getting the most effective insulation in place, not
only for your dream home, but for your ice-fishing shanty out on the
lake, your doghouse, your out-house, and that cat-house down by the
swamp and the railroad track where you been spending most of your
happy time anyway--it pays to take a few public-spirited things into
consideration . . .
As any fool would seem to know, hot air rises--and Lawd knows there be
plenty enough of it round these here cyber-parts to show the proof of
that. But not every fool is aware of the fact that heat and hot air
are two different things.
Heat is infra-red radiation, and as anyone familiar with the result of
infra-red photography can see, heat is light; it occupies a position
on the spectrum with all the other electro-magnetic wave-forms. In
view of this fact, it would be understood by at least a few half-way
perceptive fools that heat, as infra-red radiation does not require
air, water, cast iron or anything else to be propagated through space.
I came to be thinking on these matters as the result of a major
disappointment over some Styrofoam insulation I installed this year
under the floor of the master bedroom. Though the rest of the house is
heated by a cast iron wood stove, that bedroom is situated such that
not much heat migrates back to that part of the house, so we've been
heating that room with an electric space heater. The goal is to be
able to use that more sparingly.
Now as any fool knows, even a fool hates to be made a fool of,
especially by something like a 50 buck expenditure on foam insulation
that doesn't seem to be making the difference. It still gets very cold
down there near the floor--while most strangely, beneath that floor it
stays fairly warm all the time. It's not a basement but a cement block
walled "crawl space" running from a height at the entrance of about 5
feet where the house is built up over the slope of the ground--and
that's where the master bedroom is.
Some fools will insist that since the earth radiates warmth, this
accounts for all that warm air under the house in such an enclosed
space. If this were the case, then the same would hold true for that
garage size tool shed out there in the back yard--but it doesn't.
It's just so cold inside the shed as it is outside--and its built over
the same ground.
I kept saying to my sweet thing, "Sweet thing, it doesn't stand to
common sense--it's almost as if the heat from the house is going
through the floor into that space under the house!" We spent a
lot of money insulating that bedroom this year, including the bucks we
put down for those R-19 fiber-glass batts that are now installed above
the ceiling. Something plainly cock-eyed is going on here!
Enter the wood-stove . . .
Due to space considerations peculiar to our house, we had to install
the wood-stove a lot closer to the wall than is generally considered
safe. At closest proximity, a ridge of hot cast-iron is only 4 inches
from the painted dry-wall. To avoid danger of fire, I at first
installed a galvanized sheet metal shield behind the stove. On the
wall, it extended so high as the stove-pipe which stands too close as
well, about 7 inches.
I fired up the stove to see how this would work out. As any simple
fool such as myself would suppose; for safety's sake, it would be good
to provide plenty of buffer between the stove and the wall, so for the
shield, I had covered both sides of a three foot square sheet of
plywood to do the job. When the stove was good and hot, I put my hand
on that sheet metal, to find that it was cool to the touch--but the
air in front of it was highly heated. Fool that I am, I stood there
going, "Hot Damn! What is this?"
Not even the hot air flowing over the reflective face of that
galvanized sheet-steel was serving to warm it up. And what manner of
fool would it take not to notice the difference between the warmth of
the wall behind the stove pipe at its seven-inch distance, and the
reflective shield at 4 inches? Something started to penetrate the dim
shield of false knowledge that was installed in my head at school.
When it comes to infra-red radiation of heat, there is no up, down or
sideways about it, it will radiate in any direction as heat,
completely independent of any currents of hot and cold air, gravity or
anything else. Some of the heat radiating from that wood-stove does
of course serve to warm up the air, some goes into the furniture and
into the dry-wall. And that still posed a fire-hazard back there
behind the stove pipe.
I got an idea, quite an unconventional one, but figured what the hell,
it's only for the duration of the winter months, and not really giving
a hot fart what anybody might think of it anyway, I went ahead and
tried another experiment: I took a roll of my wife's ordinary
aluminum foil and stapled that to the wall behind the stove pipe.
Again, it stayed cool to the touch. Well, hot doggies! I removed
that bulky sheet-steel and plywood shield and stapled more aluminum to
the wall as a replacement, so that now runs from floor to ceiling
behind the stove--and it never takes on the least amount of heat.
That's what a fool like me has decided to call "insulation". And now,
as I turn my mind back to the problem of that cold air in the region
near the floor in the bedroom, I come to realize a few things, the
main one being this: forget about what *hot air*
does, as it always
goes up in its motion. Forget about air! Infra-red radiation, heat as
such, as waves or rays moves independent of the air, it goes down, it
goes up, and it goes sideways, but the main direction it's going to
move is toward any source of cold that would be drawing it.
Now don't ask a fool like me to explain just how or why a region of
lesser heat or 'cold' would act as a sort of magnet for infra-red
radiation. I am too foolish to have figured that out yet. I just
know from empirical observation of the facts from the master bedroom
that this is the case--from my cold bare feet, I am one fool who knows
what he's talking about here.
Standard home insulation in the form of fiberglass rolls and batts is
there primarily to interfere with, to block a movement of air--not
radiation. It can't do a simple fool thing about the propagation of
infra-red heat rays. That kind of insulation can trap air--but to
what purpose? How much air can be found to move through a three-
quarter inch thick sheet of tightly-packed gypsum wall-board?
Not enough to talk about. Heat radiation from the fire in a stove
will radiate to the air and into the walls, and from the air into the
walls. The heated dry-wall will radiate its heat into the fiber-glass
batting. All the while, cold air on the outside of the house is
drawing heat from the siding, the sheathing and the fiber-glass, and
there is nothing to stop that fiberglass from radiating its store of
infra-red energy, to heat the outside world.
So what earthly good, one well might wonder, is that fiberglass
insulation at all? If its purpose is to stop a flow of air, there are
certainly better, more solid materials suited to do that. If the idea
is to trap air and not just block it, Styrofoam would be the better
candidate because the structure is comprised of closed, impermeable
So, I am one fool whose mind is totally made up when it soon comes to
the job of building my own home on the land we are soon to buy. I
will not use fiberglass. I will use just two materials: Styrofoam
and aluminum foil.
If I can find the time for it this winter yet, I will go back down
there beneath the bedroom and staple to the face of all that brand new
blue Styrofoam, a single layer of Reynolds Wrap--and then we'll see
just how much of a fool a fool can be, when it comes to the
understanding that heat does not "rise", only hot air does that.
Heat, like all light can be efficiently reflected, and therefore
trapped to be preserved, kept from being drawn away toward any
direction of lesser heat, for example down in the basement, or in the
crawl-space beneath your average damned fool's home.
Heat is light, and like any other wave-length of light, it can be
reflected with very little loss of energy into the reflecting medium.
Like any other kind of light, heat goes right through glass. While
glass can stop the flow of heated air, it will at the same time rob
the air of its heat energy, due to the very low "specific heat" of
glass as a medium (among the coldest in the room) and being
transparent, infra-red radiation like any other sort of light, will
pass right through the glass--without heating the glass itself, same
as happens with foil reflection.
There is not much in a carpet or the boards of a floor to impede the
light that propagates at the infra-red end of the spectrum. True, some
of the heat energy will be dissipated into the carpet and flooring,
bringing heat into those media to be trapped and ever so inefficiently
stored. Wood and polyester fabric, despite whatever quantity of
silicates, are not glass and will not pass the infra-red energy on
without some appreciable loss: there will be molecules of elements in
the wood and in the organic compounds of the carpet that will absorb
and/or reflect heat energy, while the silicates (and whatever other
compounds I am too foolish to know about) will, like glass, allow the
heat radiation to pass through the carpet and the wood.
In short, infra-red radiation, as the form of light energy known as
"heat", does not find an impermeable barrier in wood and carpet, and
that is why it stays warm under my house in the winter. Heat can fall
right through your floor just as easily as it can rise through your
Have you ever heard of anything so foolish?
"Who Did the Dahlia?"