the approachable architect podcast

insulation, hoo, what is it good for?

let me start by playing catch-up on the westbourne project. it is an existing two story home and is currently undergoing an extensive remodel. the interior was completely gutted down to the studs and the owners graciously donated much of the interior to the reuse people.

we provided the architectural design services and are also providing construction services as well, which makes for a cohesive “green” project for everyone involved.

we began construction in the middle of july. I originally designed the home to be “green” but I wasn’t aware we could qualify for the LEED for homes program because I thought only new homes could qualify. however, because of the extensive renovation and the green steps I had already implemented into the design, the project qualified and we are now participating in the program.

we’ve reframed much of the interior and completely opened up the ground floor to include a much larger kitchen and dining area that opens to the backyard via a 12′-0 wide sliding door system that allows the dining area to flow outside.

we’ve also installed all new doors and windows and a “cool roof” that will aid in limiting heat gain from the sun’s rays. we’ve spent the last month patching and repairing the existing stucco as well. tomorrow we will be having most of the structure sprayed with a natural chemical called borate that termites really don’t like, so they won’t be coming around for dinner anymore.

we are now getting ready to install the insulation, the topic of my post. it’s amazing to me that the most older homes circa 1950, in the los angeles area never had insulation installed in the walls. the old walls  typically consist of a 1″ layer of interior plaster, 3 1/2 inches of air space and another 1″ of stucco material. that’s not much between you and mother nature when you go to sleep at night, especially if your bed is up against an exterior wall.

in the 60’s they began putting insulation in the walls in the los angeles area and the choice has always been a batt fiberglass insulation, the pink itchy scratchy stuff that you see in home depot in giant rolls, the ones with the pin panther on it. they still use it today but there are better alternatives that will do a much better job at sealing the exterior envelope (which should be the goal of any insulation job).

for the exterior walls on our project, we will first seal and caulk around all the doors and windows and fill all holes and gaps, any place that the outdoors could get in and vica versa. we then need to install a mesh netting on the interior of all the exterior walls. then we will use  a loose fill made of 85% recycled newspaper (it’s treated to be fire retardant) made by greenfiber and blow it in the walls. this process will completely seal the exterior envelope to leed standards.

for the interior walls, we have been considering a formaldehyde free fiberglass batt insulation made by johns manville and the now hip and trendy, recycled blue jean or cotton insulation made by bonded logic. we decided yesterday to use the batt insulation manufactured by johns manville, a company known for its formaldehyde free insulation products because it is a less expensive option. the cotton insulation is a great product but is difficult to work with and costs 2-3 times as much as the batt insulation.

properly insulating your home is one of the most important things you can do when remodelling your home. make sure your architect and contractor are aware of the different insulation types and conscious of your budget. all too aften, architects aren’t as informed as they should be about insulation and  builders just “do it the way we’ve always done it”. it may be up to you to educate your team.

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