Super Insulation:

 My adventures in Extreme Insulation


Here is how I've been super insulating my old house  with it's endless challanges, uniquness, variability, and really really tiny attics! 

Click here for the photo blog with commentary.

Rube Goldbergs' s exisiting attic Super Insulation / Deep Energy Retrofit.

  • Phase 1:  Two layers 2 inch foam 2 feet wide as walkway to work from, allow inspection and work without crushing insulation in years to come.  Cover with old celotex to keep insulation unharmed.
  • Phase 2:  Layer of Tyvek, accept no substitute, really, is it worth the risk?  Over the entire attic floor, over the 12 inches of existing insulation.  This will stop air movement up from below, via wind pressure and stack effect, the main mover of moisture.  Moisture should not condense on it (as a cold condensing surface), since 22 inches of insulation will be installed over it, keeping it on the 'warm side'.
  • Phase 3:  Retro - fitting the air / vapor barrier:  RAM batt insulation, rated for vapor barrier (it's a theory), between all rafters, at eaves, over exterior wall.  Yes, this will block air flow up from the eaves, such is life.  It's this or what?  Recall, I'm tapped out, can't hire someone to blow in insulation or rip everything out, apply spray poly U over top of ceiling.  Now take sheet of 1 inch foam, cut to size between roof rafters, spray foam around edges, and RAM down ontop of that matted batt insulation, push up against nails to lock in place (leave air gap between panel and roof sheathing.   Not done, now, foam up fold of Tyvek, lay against foam sheeting, RAMish batt insulation under to hold against bottom of foam.   Ta Da, air vapor barrier sealed from ext. wall to ext wall.
  • Phase 4:  Two layers 11 inch R22 batt insulation, unfaced, and rated for vapor barrier (as I said, it's a theory).  Lay seams off center.  Yeah, there might be some compacting, but I prefer two layers with off center joints to retard air flow.
  • Phase 5:  Loose laid plastic tarp to protect insulation from odd leak.
  • Phase 6:  Decon. mold then use fan fold foundation foam over bottom of rafters, foil side up, to retard summer heat, protect from nails, channel heat up to peak for venting, keep roof cooler in winter, cutting back melting snow and ice damming.
  • Phase 7:  Install new end gable vents as high up as possible.

DIY (Do It Yourself) Insulation - What else you need besides insulation 

So, what to use:

Rock Wool is best, Fiberglass is perfectly fine with a bit more care installing.

An air barrier, the defacto standard isTyvek

A ton of tape and sealant, rated for weather sealing.

A ton of good filter masks, gloves, and old clothes. 

Tools: utility knives, small saws, maybe a smoke pencil to find and seal all the air leaks in your house.  It's not cancer causing smoke so don't freak out, ok?  It's hardly any smoke at all. 

But, but, but, what do I do with all that.

Ahhhh, the Internet finally justifies it's existence.........

Experience for DIY'rs can be found at You Tube!  A million insulation and air sealing videos there for the viewing!  



Fuel Costs:

(actual to date, and projected for completing of super insualted attic and super insulated walls and the dream of a ground source heat pump)


Uninsulated:  300 gallons oil a week, $1,200 a week, $4,800 a month, oh about $25,000 a year (in todays dollars)

Insulated to 1980 standards:  300 gallons a month, $1,200 a month, oh about $6,000 a year.

With Frost Protected Shallow Foundation:  200 gallons a month, $800 a month, oh about $5,000 a year.

With Super Insulated and Air Sealed attic:  170 gallons a month, $680 a month, oh about $3,800 a year.

With Super Insulated Walls:  140 gallons a month, $560 a month, oh about $3,000 a year.

Total:  Deep Energy Retrofit (due to insulation):  140 gallons a month, approximately a 90% reduction, no only kidding, I couldn't take credit for ALL that reduction.  I've probably taken it from 300 to 150 gallons a month, 50% plus reduction!!!!!!

With a ground source heat pump and Heat Recovery Ventilator, I'd get to the equivalent of 50 gallons a month, a further 50% reduction, about 18% of the energy used to heat the house in 1980 (insulated to 1980 standards).


Which brings up one of the points where comparing deep energy retrofits to previous conditions becomes fuzzy.  Due to high electric costs, I won't be paying just $200 a month, or $1,200 a year for heating.  It will be more like $400 a month and $2,400 a year.  However, my carbon footprint will be representative of 50 gallons a month.  This is why many convert all energy use to KWH, to compare apples to apples consistently.  That however generates false indicators also.  Origional heat for NE buildings was almost always oil and coal, so their carbon savings when switching to gas or ground source heat pumps is more significant that would be indicated by converting everything to KWH.


Construction / Retrofit / Our Old House Rehab Costs:

(actual to date, and projected for completing of super insualted attic and super insulated walls, along with dream of a ground source heat pump)


Uninsulated:  300 gallons oil a week, $1,200 a week, $4,800 a month, oh about $25,000 a year (in todays dollars)

Insulated to 1980 standards:  300 gallons a month, $1,200 a month, oh about $6,000 a year.

With Frost Protected Shallow Foundation:  $2,000 material, savings $1,000 a year, 2 yr payback.  If contracted work, $6,000 and 6 yr payback.

With Super Insulated and Air Sealed attic: $1,000,  savings $1,200 a year.   Yes, a one year payback.  If contracted work, $3,500 (including clearing attic, air sealing, ventilation, and hazard pay for nails in ceiling - ie, poor work site conditions), 3 yr pay back. 

With super insulated walls: $6,000 material, savings about $1,000 a year - math gets fuzzy here, all projected, 6 yr payback.  If contracted work, $10,000 - I believe labor will be lessened as siding is only being removed and reset, lots of cutting and fitting already done.  10 yr payback - this is pretty marginal payback really, but since I'll DIY, out of necessity, it's a slam dunk at 6 yrs.  However the high initial cost will mean it will take me 6 years to do this.

Total due to insulation:  $9,000 material, savings $3,000 a year, 3 year payback.  If contracted out, $20,000, and a 7 year payback.


Here gets fuzzy again.......

With a Ground Source Heat Pump and HRV, (Heat Recovery Ventilator):  $15,000 material and some labor, mostly to install and config heat pump and distribution pumps.  $600 a year savings (the pro who did the feasibility for a GSHP conversion quoted double that, $1,200 a year in savings, I'm cutting that in half due to press reports saying often costs end up higher - but if the pro was right, and he is THE pro for the Hudson Valley, then I'd have a 12 yr payback, not too shabby for a whole new system, and at worst I'd have a 25 year payback - acceptable as I plan to be there.   If contracted, $40,000, payback of 35 to 70 years.  This is why ground source heat pumps are not slam dunk solutions.  I'm a worst case scenario.  Entire heating distribution system also needs replacing to move to ground source heat pump AND the NE has really high electric costs.  Might it still make sense to contract out, maybe, it might make the resale value that much more.  Might it make sense in you were earning six figures and cared about the world, about your children, then, a slam dunk. 


Inflation, Fuel / Energy Escalation, and Discount Rate (Thats the return on investment you'd have made say..... betting on the horses, loaning it to your aunt's first cousin to start that LED bait shack in Rio...... etc.)

The above does not delve into future energy costs, possible alternate return on investments (less than 1% a yr passbook savings, less than 5% for you typical investor, only the top 10% who can invest big time see double digit investment growth - yes you know someone who gets...... really good returns, great, is he / she sharing that portfolio with you, are YOU getting those returns, are 1/2, 1/4, 1/8, 1 out of 100 people you know getting those returns (and mind you, surveys and studies have shown people lie MORE about how much money they make then how much sex they get).  This is all why I don't delve into future costs / returns.  I short cut it assuming they cancel each other out.  I know in reality, or 90% of the population, energy inflation will out pace any possible investment return they can get, but, I let that slide because insulation, retrofitting insulation, adding insulation, super insulation, etc almost always have good paybacks anyway.


See how the simple energy payback analysis degnerated into a philisophical / sociologic debate?  That's a big problem in green building and the sustainable industry overall.  Payback and analiysis are rarely slam dunks, and are often justifed only in multi - generational / society and world wide viewpoints. 


Now, imagine presenting the above to a client, and lets say, doing your best to get someone you know can afford it, to go that last mile, stretch and to do the right thing, even though at BEST they'd need to own the building for their entire lives, or bet they'd recoup expenses via. a higher sales price.  Ekkkk?  Yeah, but start thinking about it now will prepare you to DO IT and make it happen.


** Why don't I like foam?  Well, it's made from oil, rockwool has the same aged low temperature R ratings (yes foams 'magically high' R values are based on new material, at optimum testing temperature - SURPRISE.  Click here for more on why I'm not fond of foam.  Yet, if it works for you, go with it, it's a million times better than not insulating!


***  Side effect of DER's with additions, whirlpool spas, gourmet kitchens - many of these energy retrofits use just as much energy, as they are bigger and have more energy consuming equipment in them.  I believe National Gas (as in natural gas) has a great demo project that subsidizes the costs of deep energy retrofits.  Sounds great!  Then why are the all 6 figure projects which over 1/2 of home owners can't even dream of.  To prove if you gut and rebuild you can make it just like new?  No secret there!  It's almost like they don't want to prove you can do a deep energy retrofit for an economical sum of money, with a reasonable payback.  Sound silly?  The gas industry is desperately trying to convince everyone to let Frack for gas everywhere, who want to build gas import / export terminals off the East Coast.  So, the more energy used, the more desperate we are for cheap gas, the more we let them drill.  Still silly?  Remember, Detroit bought out all the communter light rail in the country after WWII, so they could close 'em and sell busses to replace them. 


Edit below



Green Building Design:

Oil Embargos 


Green Building Design


I started my career in alternative energy, the only component of Green Building, Green Architecture, or Green Anything that existed at the time.  Even organic food was just emerging to challenge better living through chemistry!


When the world dropped the energy ball big time, I spent my years helping maintain and grow public sector buildings, government, health and educational.  I may not have been helping solve the worlds biggest problem, energy use, but, I was still helping people, while helping myself.


Now photovoltaic, wind generators, co-generation, conservation, super - insulation, recycling, re-use, life cycle costing, daylight, embedded energy, embedded carbon, carbon  credits, water retainage, grey water recycling, VOC's, and even  air filtration are just a small part of  Green Building Design.


The world is now ready to go Green! 


I've been using the down time imposed by this economic downturn to brush up my skills.  I found the most comprehensive Green education available short of returning to university full time, which is the Green Building Certificate program at Cooper Union in New York City.


Check out the course and subject listings in the right sidebar and click for some of the more interesting factoids and projects from Cooper Union's course work.



A Generation of Environmentalism:  

A quick refresher


Our leap to Green Buildings



A long time ago in an era long forgotten....................



There were the many energy crises of the 1970's.   Embargos, under supply, and the energy industries first flirting with growth through lobbiest manipulated regulation.   All contributed to the peoples growing sense of panic over energy, the stable staple of American growth and Americans comfort.


Emboldened by the success of citizen activism that ended America's proxy warfare and that had just started to force the biggest polluters to clean up their act, people whole heartedly threw their support behind alternative energy to ease the shortages, stabilize energy supplies, and yes, just to do the right thing.


Which is when I entered the  architectural profession through the back door.  While still in college working on my architectural degree, I did what is now called interning for several years (I was even paid) at THE engineering firm for alternative energy, Dubin Bloome Associates.


It was a heady time.  It didn't last long.  The energy industry and the countries that sat on much of the accessible oil at the time saw the writing on the wall, behave or loose market share.  We then had decades of stable energy (read oil) prices during which alternative energy was dropped  like a hot rock, especially by the US Gov't.  Luckily, environmental advocates kept at the low hanging fruit, the polluters, and for all the pollution that still exists, it is but a fraction of what it would have been without the huge efforts people have made to force industry, cities and people themselves to clean up.


Fast forward to the 21st Century, the age of Chaos and Change so far.


Perhaps change for the better!  Not only are people embracing alternative energy, we are so environmentally sensitive new lingo and organizations pop up daily - Energy Star, BPI, NYSERDA, Rocky Mountain Institute, HERS, LEED, RESNET, and a thousand more, along with putting Eco or Green infront of just about anything Eco - Architecture, Green Building are my favorites, all to help define what we want the new environment movement to be about, and how to bring about the Green World we want.


Energy Retro - fit: 

A living workshop for Eco - Architecture and Green Building nestled in the Catskill Mountains of New York State.

                            28% Heating Reduction

                            30% Energy Reduction

Not modeled - documented billing!!


My own experiences retrofitting an old country house in New York State's Catskill Mountains for energy efficiency shows how hard it is when you don't have a ton of cash on hand for the work.  For better or worse, the other big change in the 21st Century is wage stagnation and for so many of us, close brushes with poverty.  

Thinking outside the box, utilizing energy conservation ideas ANY DIY could do, and putting in at least two months sweat equity, mostly 3 day weekends, I have cut heating costs by very nearly 30% in two years. 

That is 30% from a house that was rehabilitated and energy retrofitted to industry standards in the late 1980's.  The exterior walls and attics have insulation already, the walls a poorly sealed layer of tyvek, topped with vinyl insulation and good grade vinyl windows.

I'm not stopping. 

I am aiming for a 50% energy reduction - mostly heating (oil)- before switching the house over to a ground source heat pump heating and cooling system.

I am hardly done insulating, and need to finish the frost proof shallow foundation, reducing air infiltration - mostly at the attic perimter, super - insulating the attic to R-50.  

I'm going to enclose the porch to create a solar thermal tempered zone wrapping around the building, from tests with simple plastic sheeting, even on a partly cloudy winter day the temperature is a good 20 degrees higher.  There is a trick to solar energy, it's diffuse, low grade, and easy to collect and use as such.  It's HARD to turn it into a 24 x 7 high temperature energy source, which is what industry has been trying.  Oh, and a solar porch will cut down wind pressure thus air infiltration also. 

I MUST put in an energy recovering exhaust system, our dog is getting a bit old and creating some indoor air quality issues, luckily, HRV'S now recover more energy than they use - bonus for me - lower mold etc. in house too (I have a little alergy to mold). 

Yes, at least another 40 days hard labor.


Some folks might see my efforts as bad news, so much time, all my monies after living expenses, for what?  For me it affirms that people and buildings can EASILY cut energy use, and improve our quality of life and our home environment.  If  a cash strapped DIY'r can do it, then it's a cinch for new buildings as well as retro - fits and rehabilitations of existing buildings!




Add to page following keys:


GSHP FPSF NYS New York State,

Frost proof shallow foundation, ground source heat pump

Alternative Energy Conservation Job Search Resume ground source heat pump frost protected shallow foundation bathroom catskill mountains catskills



Foam Insulatio
Super - Insulation
Nothing is that easy.

Click Here

For a ton of information on wrapping your building in foam.
Insulation - 
How Much Is Enough
Quick answers to your insulation questions


What is Superinsulation? 
  Attic insulation over R60, wall insulation over R40 (About double code in NYS)
When do you want to superinsulate?
  New construction - All - Typically super insulation adds a bit more than 10% to new building costs.
  Existing construction - Up to a 10 yr payback or when the emotional benefit of related work makes it "worth it".

Experiences w/

Old House Rehab


It is saving me the $40,000 or so it would cost to underpin the house, install a foundation and insulate it.  Nor would this have addressed the rim joist, a major source of heat loss.


For those concerned with vermin and bugs, termites, etc. in the skirt.  I've had one element in 3 yrs, in a vermin and bug heavy area, with only a few spiders taking up residence.  I suspect in addtion to being pretty well sealed, it's dry and foodless.


We have noticed that we no longer have ants invading the kitchen every spring, and flies infesting the area outside the kitchen in the summer.  There might even be fewer mice.


In addition, the boxout is a great ledge for planters at a real easy height to maintain, with the plants and flowers visible from inside.


I'm going to try some parsely and carrots that we can't grow in the garden, the moles keep eating them.


(Click Here For More)