Seal It Up

by Heather Rae
for cleantechblog.com

The basement in my 1880 house is a combination of ledge and dirt floor. In the 24′ by 34′ footprint, where once there was a brick cistern, there is now a heating oil tank. The copper plumbing undulated, making repairs expensive. I’ve had the copper replaced with a clean, organized PEX system with individual hot and cold shut offs for each facility. Previous owners had installed a horizontal furnace with a maze of leaky ducts; these metal tubes commanded most of the remaining subterranean real estate. I ripped out the furnace and the ducts and patched the holes in the floor from the supplies and returns (but there remains lots of carpentry repair on the first floor pine and maple floors).
Cleaned up, the basement was ready for air sealant and vapor barrier. (Air infiltration and moisture contribute to heat loss.) Whatever cash was left in the “renovation pot” (not much) would go to this measure before the Monitor and fuel pump still sitting in their boxes would be installed. Closed cell foam is more expensive than alternatives like fiberglass batts, but batts can’t begin to perform like foam: not in blocking air infiltration, not in creating a clean result. Charlie Huntington of I&S Insulation says that foam is growing ever more popular in his business.
This week, Charlie’s crew laid down a clean mat of 60mil EPDM (rubber). I tend to get joyful fulfillment from neatness…and the prospect of a warmer house; this was no exception. Not only will the closed cell foam block air infiltration, but it will provide an R value of 6-7 per inch. We were going with three inches. With a shop vac, I sucked debris and cobwebs from the tops of the rock foundation and the above-ground brick. The installers suited up in full body protective gear (no, this isn’t a low-VOC material). They waited for the liquid to reach the right temperature and began to spray a clean, flat coat of foam on the brick down to the rock foundation and up into the rim joists. They foamed along the perimeter of the EPDM, sealing off the ground from the rest of the house. They foamed around all projections like the chimneys and supports. The new basement is an incredible transformation from where it began eight months ago. A picture of a very similar install is on the I&S Insulation website.

Other Goings on This Week
The vote is in this morning: the proposed IGCC coal plant in Wiscasset, Maine has been defeated. As it should be. The “Say No to Coal” campaign was swift and loud. (Google, lobstermen protest wiscasset coal). Nothing added up on this project: not the shipping of coal, not the finances of the developer, not the claims to emissions reductions or access to water or sequestration of carbon. Its one upside: reduced taxes for Wiscasset residents for a plant located on the town’s periphery, at the site of a the defunct Maine Yankee nuclear plant, nearer Westport Island…and not Wiscasset which claims the title, “Maine’s Prettiest Village.”

Heather Rae, contributor to cleantechblog.com, manages a ‘whole house’ home performance program in Maine and serves on the board of Maine Interfaith Power & Light. In 2006, she built a biobus and drove it from Colorado to Maine. In 2007, she began renovation of an 1880 farmhouse using building science and green building principles.

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