(My) Super Insulation:

Adventures in Extreme Insulation


Here is how I've been super insulating my old house (doubling + typical R's- Click Here for why THIS is super insulation) with it's endless challanges, uniquness, variability, and really really tiny attics! 

Here is how I'm going to try super insulated retro fitting walls!  At the 7000 DD at the house, should be a 4 yr payback for a DIY project using panel siding, not lap, shingle or vinyl. (Click Here)


In a nutshell (found lots of those the squirrels left behind) it went like this .....
The nitty gritty dusty sweaty details....

Before (Click Here)

Eaves (Click Here)

Start to Finish (long loading) (Click Here) 

Air Barrier (Click Here) 

After (Click Here) 


Superinsulation -
  What IS Super Insulation 


I have found a performance definition defining Super Insulated Buildings as those that require no more than 3 BTU per Square Foot per Degree Day in supplemental heating. 

Which is a GREAT standard! 

(For a more detailed take on what is super insulation, click here.)

It’s clear, concise, calculable, and verifiable.

Performance guidelines allows designers and builders design creativity and the incentive to find new, healthier, more ecological and economical solutions.  

“What is Super Insulation” has changed over the years including:
  1. Requiring foam between framing and siding (foam has much more embedded energy and carbon than alternatives, and is thus the least ecological insulating material.  In addition there are landfill issues, it often traps moisture which rots the structure and creates mold, , and is a tremendous

    The answer hazard to firemen in all but the smallest of fires.  Foam also looses the most insulating value over time).

  2. When invented in the 70’s, it was 6 inch studs framing, or double / offset 2x4 stud framing for either 8 or 12 inch walls stuffed with fiberglass or cellulose (Quality control was a big issue).

  3. Now a days it's mostly a prescriptive R40 walls, R60 roof, along with underground foam.  This usually translates to 2x4 walls 6 inches of foam (R40 new, R33 aged) and a roof system allowing for at best ½ of the 2 feet of insulation at the eaves (Which is obviously being gamed and ignored.  Why, 2 feet is a challenge when designing the elevations and another 2 inches of foam creates attachment and cost issues).

No matter the definition, there is a disconnect between super insulation's definition and how it's done.  Higher R comes at little cost if you are already building.  Yet, not just developers but average home owners already stretched financially balk jump at shaving a few thousand (Especially when told that “last inch” won’t pay back for 20 years – while not mentioning the increase in sales value). 


No matter how great I think the Geeky 3BTU per SF per DD is great, it’s not verifiable using Res Check or Com Check, the default (and free) programs most used by governments.  You’ll need to move on to software suitable and complex enough for mega – projects.  This translates to hiring another consultant or a lot of fee to training and retaining the skills in house.


Which leads me to (hold your breath, I'm going to use a dirty word in this day and age) a compromise..... an definition of superinsulation accessible to non – professionals.  We need non – professionals to want, to demand super insulation as their number one building requirement, as super insulation is the cheapest, surest way to reduce building energy use and carbon footprint.  Until everyone can wrap their head around it, get on board with it, feel good, or even “superior” to others knowing, or boasting their building is Super Insulated, superinsulation will not be widely used.


An easily understood definition of what is superinsulation would be

double code requirements for all envelope elements if the code also limits allowable areas of glazing.  Of course many jurisdications only adopt the ICC ECC, which for residential has no glazing limits, but it will.


Naysayers will say I aim too low. 

No, I aim too high.

Over 30 years after identifying conservation as a no brainer first step in cutting energy use, half our building stock isn't even minimally insulated. 

While the name game rages, superinsulation, deep energy retrofit, passive haus, HERs, LEED, and others, conservation has never made it into the mass consciousness. 

Photo Blog: 

Super Insulation Work Underway: 

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.



Edit below:
If you are going to be ripping off the inside or outside of your building, slather on insulation, and put up whole new inside or outside wall surfaces.   If this is an exciting idea, just check to see if you are getting even a 20 yr payback, as you  might not be so excited when done, you see your energy bills, and relize it's going to take 20, or more yearrs.


Insulating for Your Old House


Deep Energy Retrofit

What Other Super Insulation am I doing:

  1. Frost Proof Shallow Foundation:  Why do it this way:  Conc. apron stops insects and vermin from digging up into insulation and termites from infesting wood.  Aluminum skirting fully bonded from concrete to wood with MBR flashing cement stops termites from infesting wood and water from contacting wood, just about forever.  Termites trails and other tells will be visible on aluminum facing.  Ice and Water shield from aluminum facing over ground foam, along with the foam will shed water 3 - 4 feet away from building, creating a dry zone that will discourage insects, termites, and vermin, along with reduce soil conduction and heat loss to earth.  Why not do it right?  Money.  $3,000 of material so far vs. $20,000 to $30,000 to hire GC to install proper foundation system and regrade around building for proper ground clearances.     Click here for more.
  2. Attic:  Ah, the attics.  Retrofit in super insulation without resorting to problematic and expensive foams, re-roofing or putting in a new top floor ceiling.  I am installing an air barrier in warm side of assembly to stop wind driven and stack effect infiltration / air movement, spray foam and sealed to foam panels in turn spray foam sealed to dense packed batt rammed into the tiny wedge of space over wall top plates - creating a top plate to top plate continuous air barrier that with the ceiling below will retard over 90% of water vapor.  Top with R - 30 batts in crossed layers. 
  3. Eaves:  Like my waist, a problem area.  Someday I'll lay ladders up the eaves and rebuild them from the outside to include a built in gutter with solar defrosting and some nice trim detail.  Way too much work and money "just" for the pay back, but, the synergies will make it well worth it

What am I not doing: 

  1. Walls:  Pretty standard from rip the outside off upgrade the parents did in the 80's.  Nope didn't listen when I said "Super Insulate".  Sometimes you can't teach an old dog new tricks.  I've yet to find a cost effective way to upgrade the walls or windows given my lack of cash, everything is over 10 years.
  2. Floor (over 12 - 3 inch crawl space):  Can't and wouldn't if I could, as the earth connection is the ultimate backup heat supply in the winter.  When it's 10 - 20 outside, the earth is pumping nearly 30,000 btu per hour into the house, enough to keep it at about 40 degrees.  Yes we have a backup generator, and use it a few times a year.  Frozen pipes can and do cause tens of thousands in damage, just not worth it, especially since my energy saving efforts have already cut energy use 50% and I am closing in on ASHRAE 90-1 energy performance (Which is about 5 btu per HDD/CDD range and I'm at 6.5 or so).

What other energy improvements

  1. Solar Porch:  No, not a sun porch, sun room, solarium, etc..  The purpose will be to generate heat 3/4 of the year, not human comfort.  However, in cold weather, it will be human comfortable, and welcome and healthily sunny activity space.  It will also make a dandy clothes drying room even when you couldn't normally hang out the wash.  Ggenerated heat to be ducted to the crawlspace to warm under the house.  It will cut heat losses at the exterior walls enclosed as well as air infiltration.   Not typically an element in super insulating or a Deep Energy Retrofit but think of it as super ACTIVE insulation!

Mitagating Circumstances: 


The challanges I face and have addressed in customizing the best industry ideas to save energy are:
  1. Top plate(s) / band / rim joists all transmit heat and create nice air channels between them. 
  2. No rim / band joist, then you lack the depth for adequate depth insulation to prevent a hot spot that will melt snow and create an ice dam. 
  3. No room at eaves to work complicated by the added thrill of 100 years of shingle nails, quite a few old square ones, so, laying flat out reaching blind into that mass of knucles cutters while trying to caulk and fit in foam sheets and baffles in the tiny eave space (1 inch) isn't going to happen.  Nothing like an old house, eh?
  4. No evidence of any water / moisture build up at eaves - insulation dry.  No evidence of roof leaks (100% WR Grace Ice and Water Shield on Roof).
  5. Insects, termites, carpenter ants and vermin.
  6. Money.
  7. Time.


What would be the best way to retrofit to save energy? 
That would be what a professional would recommend, knowing you can, and should, sue them if they get it wrong.  In this case, a deep energy retrofit ripping off walls, roof, putting in basement and real crawlspace, and while you're 100G in debt, go another 100G and get the new kitchen, spa, and great room with fireplace. 
Foam Insulatio
Super - Insulation
Nothing is that easy.

Click Here

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

What is Superinsulation? 


Depends.  Some say it's attic insulation over R60, wall insulation over R40 (About double code in NYS).  Others say it's a building using around 3 BTU per SF per DD in supplemental heating.
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)