Snow Falling on Shingles

With winter coming on strong and the oil tank gauge showing lower and lower levels we have gone into insulation mode. EVERYTHING is viewed through the lens of "will this reduce heat loss?" "will this "adversely effect the structure?" "will this make us more comfortable?" The answer to most of these questions is to mindfully insulate. That doesn't mean go wild stuffing rafters full and blowing expanding foam into every hole…insulation is something that must be approached as a science. The risk of doing it wrong is all to often the slow accumulation of moisture in places impossible to see with rot to follow. Attics in particular are tricky because they are where all the accumulated humidity from showers, kitchens and respiration end up. If you pack the rafters full and then seal them what often ends up happening is moisture collecting under the roof sheathing with a whole lot of rot and a very expensive mess down the road. Their are two solutions to this. One is to leave the attic as unused space and ventilate it (old houses did not have to deal with it because they were so drafty that humidity rarely built up) the other option is to put in ventilation channels right against the bottom of the roof sheathing to allow the air to move under the insulation. Our favorite option for this is a product from Owens Corning called Raft-R-Mates. They are easy to staple up, cut and combine for custom lengths. 

Here they are in the middle attic, a much smaller project than the big attic which required about 170 sheets and over 1,500 staples.

With the air channels in we then had the complicated task of adding insulation. With new construction you simply purchase the insulation that matches the width of the rafters and either staple it in or use metal spring bars to hold it up. With a 300 year old farm house you don't have anything approaching modern spacing, the wood they were working with was much much stronger than modern options…. so you get creative. We opted to take tyvek wrap staple it up and then stuff the insulation in. It worked, but is a very trying process. 

Now, normally with insulation you feel the results more than see them, but we had a pleasant surprise after a little snowstorm. 

This is the view from the big attic looking west over the older portion of the house. That patch of snow on the north side is proof that the insulation works….we only did that portion of the north side before the health of our marriage vs. tyvek alignment became a consideration. Essentially what you are seeing is the insulation protecting the snow on the roof from the heat radiating from the house..that oh so expensive heat. Pretty nifty huh??

Solarium Ties

So the oldest portion of our personal Xanadu is slated to become a solarium like space with exposed beams, double height cathedral ceilings and lots of light. Upon closer inspection it became obvious that our future solarium was mimicking a somewhat inebriated lean, the architectural equivalent of hanging loose. At some point many years past when they installed the North facing dormer they did so by just cutting through the center rafter, lacking the parallel pressures to hold things in line our walls have started to push out. Not a huge amount, but it's probably good that the chimneys are there to serve as a supportive friend. We had an engineer come in to review our plans and to determine if taking out the floor (not beams) would exacerbate the issue, and whether our plan to use steel turnbuckles to pull everything back true would work. To our surprise he said forget about pulling things back, it would probably cause more problems and that all we needed to so was add some braces up high to hold things together as they currently stand. So with that in mind we found some age appropriate lumber (since the ties will be exposed) and installed them up high.  

Here you can see Graham's favorite tool, the Bostitch framing nailer and a couple of the ties. We measured the angle of the roof and cut the ties to match. We use the framing nailer to tack them in place.

Once the ties were in place we drilled pilot holes and then really tied them all together using long screws. We opted to use screws instead of just nails since they will be able to grip better and we expect the roof will flex a bit over the years. The rafters are all tree trunks dating back to the 1700's, amazing how well they have held up. We would love to leave them exposed, the need to have insulation trumped aesthetics this time around.

We Have Skylights!!!!

When we first visited the house the Realtor actually suggested we take down the oldest section of the house and just keep the front. Granted, there are valid arguments for that (no insulation, low ceilings, jam packed with ceramic cat trinkets), but we saw potential... or at least the glimmer of something.

Today we took the first step of that idea coming together, the solarium has glass. Not a lot of glass, really just three good sized skylights, but they make so much difference. On the inside we are opening up the ceiling to the attic (which is quite large) and creating a double height space which we hope will be bright and airy. A good spot to hang out next to a wood stove and feel cozy in the dead of winter; or on summer days, a nice place to open the double doors and let the breeze in.