Planning Poor Does Attic Insulation

Think of the hardest thing you have ever done in your life. Also, think of a time in your life when you have felt the hottest (temperature-wise).

DIY blown-in insulation is worse than everything you just imagined. It blows. (haha…ha…ha…)

Our home inspector had noted that the attic insulation was embarrassingly bereft; the A/C duct was completely uninsulated and exposed. We passed this off as something that we could do many years down the road. Besides, it’s not cheap, especially if you don’t do it yourself. Home Depot (HD from here on) charges $1 per square foot. It sounds cheap, but our humble home is 1,476 square feet, and it would cost us the dollar equivalent of that figure (plus tax) to have them do it for us.

And why have someone do for us what we can easily do ourselves??

Required materials: masks, protective eyewear, headlamps, long sleeves, and long pants!

As summer rolled around, our GRU bills began a steady climb towards $200 (and any GNV homeowner will tell you that this is actually very low for a summertime energy bill, thanks to Gainesville having the highest utility rates in the state). When our July bill showed that we owed $249.36 (1,168 kWh used), the attic-insulation project was moved to the front of the queue, but the price tag still deterred us.

In an effort to postpone, we began looking for inexpensive ways to improve our home’s efficiency. We updated the weather stripping on our exterior doors (<$20), and I started shutting my computer off when not in use (which not only saves energy but also keeps our office much cooler). Begrudgingly, we set the A/C to 80 during the day and used ceiling and floor fans to keep cool. (Kevin somehow agreed to this in exchange for the 72 degrees he insists on setting the thermostat to in the evening).

We were excited to learn that our efforts and suffering had paid off: our August bill was slightly lower ($205.82, 916 kWh used), even though the average daily temperature and rainfall numbers had remained the same.

Then, in September, HD advertised a deal: if we opened a store credit card, we could get 10% off any purchase. And because we are masochists with excellent credit, we decided to take the plunge and insulate the attic…in September…in Florida…in swampy Gainesville.

And did I mention that this task requires one to wear long sleeves and pants??

Our attic is very shallow, which is good (we didn’t need to buy a TON of insulation) and bad (it was extremely difficult to maneuver around). We estimated we would need 28 bags of the itch-free, recycled insulation, and at HD if you purchase 25 bags, you can rent the blown-in insulation machine for free. So that’s what we did.

This is what a Mazda Tribute full of insulation (and Carly) looks like.

During checkout, we were asked several times if we wanted to rent a truck to tow all the materials and the machine. But we declined, confident that we could fit everything in the back of my small  SUV. Indeed, it took only two trips (one with Kevin and the machine and one with just me and 28 bags of insulation) to bring everything home.

We had read reviews on HD’s website and knew that we would have to make some adjustments to the hose connected to the machine. Made from flexible plastic, the hose was not sturdy. This is great for maneuvering through a house and an attic if your attic is tall and allows you to stand and roam easily. However, it is not so great for shallow attics that require one to lie on her belly and slither through the rafters.

Our hose addition (minus the pole).

To make the hose work for us and reach the spaces where we could not crawl, we took an old Trader Joe’s coffee canister and duct-taped it on to the end of the hose. We then took a wooden pole we had removed when redoing our master-bedroom closet and duct-taped it to the end of the hose too. This allowed us to extend our reach and angle the end of the hose, controlling the direction of the flow of insulation.

We have two attic access points: one on the north side of our house in the laundry room and one on the south side of our house in the hallway. We decided to start at the laundry room, since it was close to the exterior side of the house where the machine would be. Since the laundry-room access point is the hardest to shimmy into (it’s right where the roof starts to slope, leaving not much room to crawl in, let alone maneuver), we agreed that I would start in the attic and Kevin would start on the machine.

Me, readying myself for round two in the attic.

At first, it was great. I was getting a breeze, the air was breathable, and the heat wasn’t too unbearable. After about 15 minutes, however, the dust from the insulation was so thick that I could no longer see. When I realized it wasn’t really necessary to use my eyes, I began aiming the hose randomly. This worked very well for about another 15 minutes, but then I needed a break. Kevin and I switched places.

I thought it would be better to be outside and work the machine, and while this job was definitely the lesser of the two evils, it was still evil. I had to cram tightly packed cubes of recycled material into an archaic machine and then use a meter stick to jam them down into a terrifying mechanism that would chop them up and shoot them through the hose. Despite being in the shade and the fresh air, I was still sweating my ass off and standing in a cloud of insulation dust.

Kevin working the machine.

Dragging the hose through the entire house to get to the other attic entrance. This exacerbated the dust issue.

What’s worse, once we moved to the other attic entrance, the insulation-stuffer had to constantly run down the hallway to the insulation-blower to make sure they weren’t dying. The machine was too loud for us to communicate using our voices, and the hose was too long to communicate using hose signals. Walkie-talkies would have been very helpful, but I’m not sure we would have understood each other over the roar of the machine and through the face masks we were wearing.

We continued like this for hours. Based on reviews we had read, we estimated we would need three to four hours. In reality, we took at least six. Eventually, I got so fatigued that I insisted Kevin be the insulation-blower permanently. Because he is such a gentleman, he obliged, but I checked on him every 5 minutes and brought him drink after drink. He also donned a headlamp, though it really didn’t help him to see through the dust storm.

The heat was extreme and stifling, despite Kevin lugging one of our portable fans into the attic to try to keep the air flowing. We both sweated so much that we changed our clothes and then sweated completely through those. Our lungs were thick with dust (our one downfall: not getting high-grade face masks), but we couldn’t breathe anyway, so it didn’t really matter. Our house was also covered in dust, even rooms that we didn’t enter and had closed off.

By the evening, we had finished, but our work was hardly over. We still had to drag the machine back to HD. When we returned home, we had the entire house to clean, because EVERYTHING was covered in a thick layer of dust. I would not be exaggerating too much if I said it looked like ground zero.

When our GRU bill arrived the next month, I was gripped by anxiety as I opened the email, fearing that we had gone through hell for nothing. But there it was, our amount owed: $183.95 (804 kWh used).  In October, our bill was $154.32 (579 kWh used), though it was 7 degrees cooler on average that month.

In all, we spent just under $400. I suppose we won’t know until next summer if it paid off. I’m eager to compare this year’s usage to last year’s.

Kevin, heading up for one of his final trips. (You can see we’re nearing dusk based on the darkness of the room at the end of the hall.)

A few weeks later, I found a cube of insulation that we had forgotten to return. Somehow, it had nestled itself among our things and we’d overlooked it. I returned it to HD, and the lady at the customer-service desk was the same one who had signed me up for the credit card and sold me the insulation. She looked at me in awe.

“You’re the first person I’ve ever met who actually did this themselves!” she gawked.

“Really?” I asked. I found this quite unbelievable, considering how cheaply it can be done by oneself.

“Yeah. Everyone else just uses our service!”

I beamed with pride. Yes, it sucked, and we probably have lung damage, and though we may have to do this project again in the future, it was undoubtedly worth the effort, considering we saved over $1,000 by doing it ourselves. (Though next time, we will probably splurge and use the AttiCat brand, which supposedly produces significantly less dust.)

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One thought on “Planning Poor Does Attic Insulation

  1. Downright courageous. You should be proud. keep it up in a few years you can be LEED certified, and your planning will definitely make you poor. I admire you tenacity and need you
    to come over to our house for the same. I’ll provide top of the line masks. Just think now even
    you all can be insulation installers. You saved big bucks because I hired an professional to do
    small guest house which was 1/2 the size and they charged about $700 and it wasn’t as thick.

    Liked by 1 person

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