Monday, April 26, 2010

The Importance of Air-Sealing

The Importance of Air Sealing
Green Architect

There is a reason the Obama administration recently rolled out it's 'Cash for Caulkers' program: air sealing the home is one of the most cost effective ways to increase energy efficiency. No matter how well your house is insulated, if there are cracks and gaps, the air you just paid to heat or cool will quickly be lost. But air sealing is easy and relatively cheap as long as you know what areas to attack with the caulk gun.

As the seasons change, cracks and gaps will open and close and allow unwanted air to infiltrate, conditioned air to pass and moisture to leak into the home. This can cause a number of problems such as mold, drafts, and heat loss in the winter or gain in the summer.

Leaks can be sealed with caulk, spray foam or even just weather stripping depending on the problem area. A good rule of thumb is to use caulk for cracks smaller than 1/4-inch, and foam for larger cracks and gaps, though each condition may vary. We'd recommend checking these areas in your home:


* Windows & Doors: Insulate around frame with a low expanding foam insulation, caulk at frame & drywall/trim intersection, consider adding storm windows to single pane units.
* Wall Penetrations (pipes, vents, exhausts, air intakes, etc): Caulk around the perimeter of all exterior wall penetrations.
* Trim: Caulk around the perimeter of trim, and trim/siding intersections.


* Windows & Doors: Caulk at frame & drywall/trim intersection, install weather stripping if needed, and add insulation and/or gaskets/weather stripping to attic access panels.
* Tubs & Showers: Caulk at shower/tub and wall intersection and around plumbing fixture perimeter.
* Outlets & Switches: Foam around perimeter of electrical box with low expanding foam, and install gaskets behind electrical plates.
* Lights: Caulk around light trim and use housing/cans that are labeled as insulated airtight fixtres.
* Trim: Caulk around trim.
* Pipes & Ductwork: Caulk any wall penetrations, wrap hot and cold water pipes with insulation, tape all duct joints and seams, and insulate ducts in any unconditioned spaces.
* Fireplaces: Keep damper closed (or install inflatable chimney balloon) when fireplace isn't being used, consider adding glass gasketed doors to fireplace opening when appropriate.
* Basements & Crawlspaces: Caulk or foam at the foundation wall & rim joist intersection and seal any cracks or joints in the foundation walls.

If you're unsure about where you need sealing, you can try the DIY method of inspecting your house with a lit incense stick — first turn off your HVAC and any running fans and close all windows and doors, then take the lit stick near any suspect leak, if the incense smoke is sucked in or blown away then you've confirmed your leak. Also, if you see any dirty spots on attic insulation, or dirt around any perimeter wall, door or window, then you very likely have a leak. An even better confirmation would be to get an energy audit, an auditor/inspector can do a number of tests and even use infrared cameras to detect leaks, moisture and air infiltration and inadequate insulation.

Most older homes will not have the issues of being too airtight, as there is always bound to be enough cracks and air leaks to keep a healthy level of fresh air circulation. If you are concerned with this issue, or are building a new tight home, you can install outside air intakes to be connected to your HVAC to bring in a steady exchange of new and stale air.

Air sealing your home will reduce your energy bills, increase the air quality of your home and decrease the maintenance required for associated air leak issues such as mold and rot. For more information visit:

* US Department of Energy
* Energy Star

Related: How To: Weatherize Your Home

(Images: Mother Nature Network, US EPA)

* Rachel Wray
* April 7, 2010 02:30PM

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Painting the Front Bedroom

Sandra was painting more of the walls in the front bedroom. The more we think about it, the more likely it is that we'll use the back bedroom as our bedroom. It's just further away from the street, and a lot more convenient. The only down side to it is that 9 foot sliding glass door.

Anywho, with the Sherwin Williams paint up, we started with the dark brown for the far wall.

My phone's camera is still giving me washed out pictures. I think it's time to pop out that screen.

The brown is Valspar eggshell from Lowe's . The coverage is horrible, compared to Sherwin Williams. You can literally see through it with just one coat, and when applying the second coat, the roller even removes some of the first coat! I've got two cans of paint from Lowe's, and they'll be the last two I ever get.

Another issue we found is that when applying Valspar with a roller brush, it leaves air bubbles everywhere! I initially believed that the air bubbles would pop or subside on their own, but they don't! Sandra had to manually pop every single tiny little air bubble! Such a pain in the butt!

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Repairing the Kitchen Ceiling (2)

I sanded down the kitchen ceiling and applied another layer of compound. This mixture was two parts plaster of paris, two parts 45, three parts water. I kept it somewhat watery because I used it to texture the area above the mantle also.

The area above the stove in the kitchen looks done. This is after two days of drying. I had been spraying it with water to keep it moist while I used a putty knife to smooth it out. I'm guessing all that water in addition to the rain is keeping it from drying too quickly. The cool thing is that you can't even see the seams anymore! I feathered out the edges about 6 inches on all sides.

Paint Removal - Front Shelf

That nasty looking bookshelf that was built into the wall recess in the living room has to have something done to it. I've decided to get rid of the paint, and try to varnish the wood. I know this sounds like a great idea. I think it'll look something kind of awesome when it's done, but how do I go about achieving this?

The idea came to me as I waited for Sherwin-Williams to finish mixing my paint. I thought of how ugly that thing was, and I knew I wanted to change it. I could paint it, but the color would just be a bit difficult, since I would possibly have to introduce another color to the living room. Sherwin-Williams had some paint removal chemicals, but I wanted to check Home Depot. SW was notoriously expensive for everything, and if I could get the same thing as Home Depot for less - why not.

I ended up getting the "green," earth and people friendly paint remover. It required a thick application with about 24 hours curing time.

The two pieces of wood from the garage seem like poor subjects for this project. I may need to get better quality wood for it. The existing wood was stripped well, and looks really nice.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Plaster Bubbles?

In keeping with tradition, I forgot to take a picture before I started. The plaster beneath the front bedroom's west window had a bubble right underneath it that was roughly one inch high by 18 inches across. It was maybe 1/32 of an inch deep. I cut it out with the utility knife and applied joint compound to refill the void. One application of joint compound filled it well.

Repairing the Laundry Room Ceiling (2)

The hole in the laundry room ceiling is pretty confusing. Not only is it oddly shaped, but it has a beam and two walls around it. I decided to screw down a piece of plywood above the hole, and cut to fit some purple board into the hole. This hole was really deep, so the 5/8 inch purple board fit well here.

I wanted to make sure this was sealed well, so before putting in the purple board, I puttied the edges of the holes to close up all the gaps. I also put joint compound on the backside of the purple board before screwing it to the piece of wood. Satisfied that it was all there, I used the rest of the joint compound for the edges and screw holes.

Saturday, April 17, 2010


We painted most of the front bedroom today. Three walls will be this tan color, the ceiling will be lighter, the base boards and crown molding will be white, and the west wall will be a dark brown. The curtains in this room will be a dark brown as well.

This is the first color on the walls!

I masked off the center parts of the doors. I wanted to paint them so they'd be similar to the older homes with the really nicely detailed doors. The inside will probably become tan.

The SW paint covers very well, evens out nicely, and there are very few drips. It makes me wonder how bad the others are!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Craigslist>Free (Part 9)

Picked up some shelves today from Nicole. Her husband got moved up to Colorado Springs for work, so they're packing up and leaving. The shelves are really nice! She said my post was the most "normal" one, so she figured I'd be the best candidate!

Monday, April 12, 2010

Repairing the Kitchen

I sanded down the ceiling and applied another layer of joint compound.

The wall behind the stove got the same treatment. I think this wall is done!

This hole of death is not getting closed. It still looms there, mocking me.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Mantle Bump

Sandra was cleaning down the walls, and she kept staring at this giant lump of plaster in the middle of the wall above the mantle. She asked how I felt about it, and I agreed that this cancerous tumor should be excavated. With the grinder, I tried to even out the plaster. As I got down the the wall's level, I discovered that the plaster had in fact cracked, and instead of actually fixing it, someone just put a mound of hot mud over it!

This would not do! I chipped out the hole and filled it with joint compound mixed with plaster of paris.

Laundry Room Cabinets

Sandra thinks the laundry room cabinets need to be more like shelves. She's been reading all these design blogs, and it's a minimalist thing, I guess. I agreed with it somewhat, and let her be in charge of the project. She'll be removing the cabinet doors to the bottom cabinet, sanding it down, and refinishing it somehow.

Here's how it looks now:

She ended up removing the doors, but I forgot to take a picture of it without the doors. I'll do so and upload one. The hinges were painted over, so she had to chisel the paint out in order to get to the screws to remove them. She filled the screw holes with wood bondo.

Living Room Shelves

The ugly front book shelf got some new shelves cut for it today. It was kind of a pain in the ass to cut the 1/2 inch notches for the top shelves. They're not the prettiest, but it's done, and it fits.

Reapiring the Kitchen Wall

I sanded and applied another layer of joint compound over the drywall tape. One more layer should do it!

Repairing the Kitchen Ceiling

I finally decided to close up the holes in the kitchen ceiling. Today, we were at the house from roughly 9 AM to 9 PM. We did get a lot done, though.

The hole in the ceiling above the stove was a bit hard to get. The back of the ceiling around the hole wasn't even. I cut a piece of plywood to place behind the hole, but it was not sitting flush. I ended up going upstairs and using some extra pieces of wood to apply pressure on the plywood from the top, so I could secure it to the existing ceiling. Thank you, MacGuyver!

With the wood secured, I attached a 1/2 inch piece of green board, cut to fit.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Repairing the Kitchen

We spent about 4 hours at the house today. Sandra taped the living room floor and primered the walls and ceiling. She's been getting pretty good coverage with the primer. We need to hurry up and get the wall color so she can keep moving forward.

I worked on the kitchen and laundry room holes again.

In the laundry room, I used plywood secured behind the drywall to provide a backing for the plaster. I filled the hole with 3 parts 45 and 1 part Plaster of Paris. I've found that this mixture dries within 10 minutes, is easy to work with at the beginning, and hardens really well.

The holes behind the stove weren't that big, but because it was behind the stove, I wanted to use the water proof drywall instead of just plaster.

I drilled plywood behind these, just like the ceiling. The drywall was cut pretty much to fit exactly into the holes. I secured the drywall with two screws in the center of each piece. The plaster was a 50/50 mix of 45 and Plaster of Paris. The 45 makes it easier to work with, and the Plaster of Paris dries hard as hell. Drywall tape was placed over the whole area since it was so small. I'll have to lightly plaster over it tomorrow to hide the tape and completely seal it off.

The big hole in the ceiling above also received the same treatment. I used a skill saw to cut the plywood, and the green board was left over from the bathroom cutouts. There's less then 1/8 inch gap all the way around. I'm going to putty and tape this one tomorrow.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Repairing the Laundry Room Ceiling

The holes in the back bedroom were now dry enough to texture. I used my 45/Plaster of Paris mixture and a roller to apply texture to the back walls. The back bedroom is now done and ready for paint! Too bad we're using it to store tools...

Remember when my sister's contractors cut holes in my ceiling? Since I finished closing up the holes and texturing the walls in the back bedroom, the kitchen was the newest project.

Today, I cut and secured plywood behind the holes. Since this whole area opened up directly into Michelle's kitchen, I decided to completely cover the holes with the plywood.

I had to cut this hole in the laundry room bigger, since the plaster was already separated from the lathe, and the area around it was sagging.

I had to cut the lathe as well, since it was the end of a piece.
I forgot to take pictures of the holes in the kitchen with just the wood in it, but it looked pretty much the same. There's one hole that hasn't been closed yet. It's the one above the fridge. Michelle's gas line hasn't been secured yet, so I'll let them take care of that before I close up that hole.

I couldn't use the pieces of drywall that had been up previously (the ones cut out when the hoes were created), because they were just regular drywall! The cut outs had already begun to grow mold, so I've tossed them out.

Sandra finished applying primer in the front room.

Monday, April 5, 2010


Gil and Lan picked up the green board today. We delivered it to the house and left. I visited the opthomologist earlier, and I'm still super far sighted.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Flippin Switches!

Somebody please remind Sandra to remind me that if I think something's going to be simple, but I've never actually done it before, we're looking at 2 hours, not 15 minutes!

The plate of switches in the hallway controls the porch light (left), doorway light (center), and hallway light (right). All of them down means they're all off. All of them up means they're all on. The problem is that the doorway light is a three way switch that has the motion sensor on the bottom. If the top switch is off, then the auto feature of the motion sensor doesn't work. So, I decided to turn the center switch upside down! Simple, right?

I removed the wall plate, noticed that the right screws were a bit tight. Odd, but kept going. I unscrewed the center switch, rotated it 90 degrees, and the light turned off! Crap! Was it the wiring? I checked the wires, and they were all secured. After rotating it back and forth a few times, I think there's got to be something inside the switch which keeps it from working when upside down. Like a mercury sensor or something. But, from all my twisting, one of the old wires cracked! Great. I had to unscrew the connection, strip the wire, then reconnect it. Not bad, but I didn't feel like removing the other switch (right). I reconnected it, rotated the center switch, and the left side wire snapped! This kept happening until some of the wiring was too short to be used! I ended up replacing the two connecting wires (they ran power into the other two switches) as well as using a new three way switch for the center. I installed it as needed (on is down, off is up). Perfect.

Now to screw everything back in place... In trying to put everything back, I found that some of the screws were stripped and had to be replaced. Good thing there was a bucket of electrical stuff in the garage! I salvaged some screws from there, and put everything back into the wall. As I secured the plate, I discovered something else! The switches weren't even! I had to screw in the bottom right first, then top left to get everything askew in just the right way, so I could secure the wall plate. 2 hours down, and finally it all works. Time to go to Target!