Greg MacLellan

January 31, 2009

Basement insulation

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 8:28 pm

The insulation was finally done, and it couldn’t have been soon enough. It’s amazing how expensive it is to heat a house with no insulation in the basement..

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m using a spray-in foam insulation (HeatLok, though I wasn’t looking for a particular brand when finding a contractor to do it, it’s just the one mine – Frontenac Foam Insulation – used). There are some great benefits to this stuff:

  • High R-value per inch (this stuff is around R-7 per inch – compare to fibre-glass batt insulation, at about R-2.5 per inch);
  • Doesn’t take up much space. I was able to use 2×4 framing, and only put the frame out about an inch from the cement wall. With fibre-glass or rigid insulation, I’d have to build out a thicker wall, possibly using 2×6’s, and effectively make the room a tiny bit smaller. When you don’t have a ton of space to begin with, losing 20 sqft is significant.
  • No vapour barrier required.
  • Easy to install. Well, aside from the fact I had a contractor do it for me, it’s easy to install on uneven walls because it just conforms to the wall shape. Since I had some parts of the cement sticking out farther from the frames when they poured it, as well as a brick/wood framed half wall at the front of the house (see pics below), it would have been very difficult to install rigid insulation, since if you leave air gaps between the insulation and the concrete, you can have moisture problems.

On the downside, it is quite a bit more expensive than other types of insulation, however, I hope to offset this with a grant from the eco-Energy Retrofit Program. Unfortunately, I had this done just days before the recently-announced federal renovation tax credit, so I can’t qualify for that.

It took them about 40 minutes to warm up the foam in the truck before starting (it was about -15°C out), and about 2.5 hours to install it all. They basically have a big truck with a tank full of foam in it, and a pump, and then a long hose coming inside to a spray gun, which mixes the components of the foam and I think uses compressed air to spray the foam onto the wall, where it then expands.

Here are some before/after pictures:

The front of my house has an overhang, and so they put foam all inside that as well.

Unfortunately, there was a bit of a draft in the far corner, where it was hard to get the nozzle in (they actually had to notch out a piece of the frame to get inside, which you can see in the pic below). Before they left, they mentioned that it might not have gotten all the way back, so they came back a few days later with a type of foam that expands more and actually filled all the headers in, and now there are no drafts and it is very warm.

The first foam they put in (blue) feels like hard styrofoam. The higher-expanding stuff (yellow) feels a lot squishier. As to be expected, this made a huge improvement in not only the basement temperature but in the overall house temperature, and my furnace runs a lot less often now. A bit unexpected, the basement is actually warmer than the main floor of the house now!

You can also see why I was trying to get anything that needed a hole outside done before the insulation (like the bathroom vent – compare to this picture); not that it is impossible now, it just means I would have to drill through an extra few inches of foam, and then seal it all back up again when I’m done.

January 29, 2009

Wiring, and the mysterious black tape

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 7:00 am

I have most of the wiring run, concentrating on the outside walls since it needs to be done before insulation. The laundry room has its own circuit (GFCI-protected), and there is also a light in the furnace room/closet. There are 8 plugs in the rec-room area (since I’ll be using it as my office space, I wanted lots of plugs), on two separate circuits. There is also another separate circuit for all the lights.

I also ran a new plug outside, as I did not have a plug in the back yard, and a new wire to the plug beside my driveway. The driveway plug has been unhooked since shortly after I moved in and found a scary/confusing contraption involving old NM wire, extension cord plugs, and a switch, branched off from another random circuit. I unfortunately didn’t take a picture of this, but I didn’t really want it hooked up (especially not when I had to get an electrical inspection done for insurance). The outside plugs are on their own dedicated circuit.

I have another outside plug on the front of the house which is tied into a circuit shared with a bedroom and some lights. I was going to run a new circuit for it, but the wires were routed in a way that made it impossible to fish a new wire through, and there was no way to legally put in a junction box to use the existing wires. In the end I decided it was not a big deal, so I just left it.

One of the last things I had to remove from the original basement were the plugs for the washer and dryer. Both of them were mounted on a piece of wood, directly on the cement foundation, so of course they had to be moved before the insulation could be sprayed in.

The wires for both of these old circuits were aluminum. I kept the dryer wire, and just ran it to a new insulated box, mounted lower down the wall (luckily there was a few extra feet up in the header area, for some reason). Aluminum is really not too bad to work with. The biggest thing is that all connections need to have an anti-oxidant paste applied to them, and they need to be connected using aluminum-rated parts. In this case I’m just using the old dryer plug, which is CO/ALR-rated. The picture here is me applying the paste before connecting the wires.

Once finished, I pulled the mounting boards off the wall and removed the old wire.


While I was removing the old washing machine wire, I came across a part of it that was covered by black tape, tucked up in the header above the window. I took the tape off, and found a cut with some exposed wiring (it’s just the ground, but even so..). You never know what you’re going to find, and had I never replaced this wire, I probably never would have noticed.

January 27, 2009

Bathroom vent

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 12:43 am

Since there is no window in the basement bathroom, I’m adding an exhaust vent to it. I’m using a 90 CFM fan which is rated at 0.5 somes (which is almost silent) – although I’m putting it through 3″ duct instead of 4″, which I believe drops the rating to 80 CFM (still more than enough) and makes it slightly louder.

Of course the exhaust air needs a place to go, so that meant adding a new vent. One thing I learned: big drill + putting a hole in the side of the house = extremely nervous girlfriend. I used a 3.25″ hole saw, which did the job nicely.

I used flexible duct, and some foil tape and clamps to keep everything together. It’s starting to get crowded in the electrical closet as you can see.

The outside vent and the fan itself both have dampers built-in, so I’m hoping I won’t have any issues with cold air coming down. I’ve checked on a couple of cold, windy day’s we’ve had lately, and can’t feel anything so it looks promising. In my old apartment, the exhaust fan either had no damper (or it was broken), and it was very awful during the winter to feel the -20 degree air blowing on you (right above the toilet) first thing in the morning.

January 26, 2009

Interior framing

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 12:42 am

I’ve been getting behind with my blogging, so I’m going to try and post a few entries to catch up to where I actually am with the renovations process. I didn’t get too much done over the holidays, but I am still making decent progress. It’s a bit sad to think that I could probably do what I’ve done in two or three weeks working full-time, but such is life, and having a full-time job that allows me to pay for all of this.

The next step after the exterior framing and sub-floor is doing the interior walls. I built these walls on top of the sub-floor for a couple of reasons: the main being that I don’t have to worry about moisture issues, and the other being that it’s easier to anchor them to the sub-floor than the concrete (and the subfloor is well anchored, to prevent any bouncy/uneven spots – I used about 8 tapcons per 4×8 sheet).

The wall running down the center has a jack post in the middle of it, and this posed a minor issue as the post isn’t quite centered with the wall. As you can see in this photo (showing from the front/rec-room side), the wall is flush with the beam above, and the post is recessed in the wall (though centered in the actual beam).

The post is actually sticking out of the wall on the back (laundry room) side, so to deal with this, I added some left over pieces of 2×4’s flat on their side, which will bring the drywall out over top of the post. The part of the wall directly between the laundry room and rec-room will end up being a bit thicker (4.5″, or 5.5″ with drywall) than normal, but the jack post will be completely hidden. The overhang from the main beam above is hidden beside the main HVAC ducts, which are all boxed in together.


Another thing I had to deal with was the placement of the central vacuum cleaner. Below you can see the diagram of the approximate layout at this point, and an older picture (from before the sub-floor) which shows the existing central vac location (in the floor plan, the vac is the red circle).

In case it’s not clear, the central vac is basically directly in front of where the toilet will go, which would make things quite crowded in the bathroom. I re-routed all the pipes going to the vacuum, and actually made things simpler because there are not pipes going all over the place now (the pictures were too hard to comprehend, so I didn’t bother posting them). I know it looks a bit crazy here, but trust me, this is much neater than it was before.

While I was messing with vacuum pipes and had the PVC glue out, I also added another hookup in the basement.

Below is the final layout, showing the new location of the vacuum, and all the interior walls framed and complete.

January 9, 2009

New Windows

Filed under: Renovations — groogs @ 10:07 pm

One of the reasons we bought this house (as opposed to some of the other similar places in the area) was because most of the windows had been replaced within the last few years. There are 4 windows that haven’t been replaced: 3 in the basement, and one in the upstairs bathroom.

The old windows were fairly typical of 1970’s construction, by which I mean, pretty horrible. Basically they’re just two panes of glass that slide up against each other, and two layers of these so there is an air space in between. When I had a blower door test (basically causes negative pressure in the house) done as part of my energy audit, the draft coming through the basement windows felt like a fan.

I’m just replacing the basement windows for now, and I’ll wait until the spring (and I’m done renovating the basement) before I do the upstairs bathroom window. There are two fairly large windows on the front (50″ x 24″), and a 40″ x 24″ window in the laundry room area (which I haven’t actually replaced yet). I took advantage of a relatively warm weekend to do the front windows, but now it’s bitterly cold again, so I’ll wait for a while to replace the back window. The new windows are Energy Star PVC windows I ordered from Rona.

I basically had to destory the old frames to get them out – there were about 8 4″-long nails holding each one in, and they were pretty solid. This made a bit of a mess on the outside house wrap (I’m not sure if it’s considered a vapour barrier or not?).

I decided it seemed a bit weird to just leave the windows sitting directly on the 2×4 framing, and a vapour/air gap in between, so I took some 12″ wide vapour barrier and used it around the frame, sealing it to the outside house wrap as best as I could. I should probably mention I have never installed windows before, so I’m not really sure if that’s a normal thing to do or not, but it seemed logical.

I put a bead of silicon caulking down along the bottom edge (on top of the vapour barrier, and placed the window on top of it, and then used some long screws to fasten the window in. I should mention, the window came with its own screws, which ended up being completely terrible. They were philips head, and not a very good grip. After trying to put the 3rd one in, and stripping the heads on all of them, I gave up, and used some long robertson deck screws I had instead, which also ended up sinking into the frame better. They had supplied some caps to cover the screw heads with, and aside from the fact they didn’t actually fit their screws very well, the screws wouldn’t sink all the way in (at least not without stripping the heads), so the cap would float above and look very dumb. I got all but one of the original screws back out again, but I think it will work OK (I just hope I never have to remove it for any reason!).

On the outside, I used some solid PVC trim from Home Depot. I have some 1.75″ x 1″ rectangular stuff to cover the big gaps, and 3/4″ inside round to trim out the edges. I highly recommend going this route – it’s ready to install, white (but paintable), and very easy to work with. I used a couple of screws to hold the big pieces in, and then put the inside round around the edges (covering the screw holes), and used some white exterior caulk to seal everything. In person, it looks better than the camera makes it look in these pictures.

I used some expanding foam to seal up the gap on the inside, and that’s it. There is absolutely no draft from the windows now at all, and they look much better – from both the inside and the outside.

The back window is going to be a bit different. For one, I’m replacing it with a shorter window (18″ instead of 24″, to allow room for the ceiling in the laundry room) so I’ll have to fill out the extra 6″. It’s also mounted in the poured concrete foundation, so 3 sides of the window are going to be touching the concrete. My plan is basically just to use tapcons to mount it, trim the outside, and then fill it up with foam. I’ll do a post on it later once I’m finished.