November has been harsh. We’ve had three hard freezes. That’s not supposed to happen yet! I’ve been throwing a duvet over the hive on the cold nights, hoping it helps some.
I wrapped up the beehive for the winter, with 2 inches of rigid styrofoam and roofing felt. I don’t love this. What did people do before plastics and tarpaper? There has to be another way. But anyway, I made the tri-fold foam into a three-sided box (the front doesn’t get foam), using the lap joints and taping it up with Tuck tape. Then I wrapped it all in the felt, stapling it on.
As I worked, a few sentry bees came rocketing out, angry. It was cold though, so these were suicide missions. They would come out, buzz around angrily, then land on something, and be too cold to get back into the hive. I picked one still bee body up off where it was clinging to a branch and placed it on the upper hive doorstep. Within a second, pffft! The bees threw the body back out. I guess that one was dead. I put another motionless bee on the doorstep. They pulled it into the hive! Maybe for a little bee cpr. I put two or three more bees back in when I finished, in case they weren’t dead yet.
I did the front last, because for a few minutes, the bees are entirely closed in, until you cut out their entrances out. They may not like that.
When I cut out the upper entrance, there were two bees sitting inside, looking out. Hello bees!
* highlights from hindsight, aka “Learn from our mistakes”: Prop the roof of the camper up before you get it spray foamed- it will solidly hold the form it is in when it’s sprayed. Also put the windows and roof vent in and mask them all off good with garbage bags, before spraying. See this post. Take foam off in little layered chunks instead of trying to make it smooth – see near end of this post.
There’s been progress on the camper front. After a long hiatus, we’ve got it painted inside (mostly).
This stage was delayed because in order to paint inside, we really needed to be able to pull everything out of the inside, and that meant having a roof to move everything into.
But at long last we did it. When we pulled all our stuff out we got to fix a few things, add some screws where strain had been showing, replace the floor underneath the bed, run new wires to the brakes, and a few other adjustments and improvements.
The big job was definitely carving the spray foam insulation. As we were advised, we got some bread knives from goodwill and went at it by hand. Whoowee, what a job. H.W. did the majority of the labour while I was fidgeting with other things, but what a task. Early on we surrendered the idea of making it look good, or smooth. That was out of the question.
Even flexible knives are hard to work when held in a curve, and that gets old over time. Then the blades lift little crumbs and chunks out of the foam.
It didn’t look very good, and it was tough sawing away, really tough to work with arms overhead for so long. We decided we’d be satisfied with more consistent headroom and taking down the major protrusions.
On the bright side, it improved greatly when it was painted.
The carving was long and hard and exhausting. All the crumbs of foam clung to us all over with static electricity and trailed us around like PigPen. It was a huge mess. We ruled out the sander early – it made an even finer, messier dust and didn’t have great results. The grit immediately filled with foam and was useless.
So it looked bad, and we let go of that and just beavered away at it until we couldn’t take it any more. H.W.’s thumb sustained some damage from flexing the knife all the time and had to have a day off. I emptied a couple cans of expanding foam in little voids, hidden cutouts, and burying the tail light wires into the wall. It acts like glue, really sealing the framing into the body of the camper. I also sealed the edge of the arborite sheet we laid down under the bed as floor with foam.
Next we painted, and things went from bad to worse. Rolling was out of the equation with the irregular surface so we dabbed and dabbed and dabbed with brushes. The foam and all the pores and gaps in it sucked it right up, so that we ran out of paint early and just barely were able to cover the visible areas, leaving orange in all the cupboard spaces. That was a really depressing stage. It’s one thing when you see results for hard work, and another when it takes longer and is harder than you expect and it doesn’t look good.
The rough foam prevented painting (cutting) a tight line against the wood trim around the windows, or the cupboards, or countertop, or anywhere. Ugh.
DAP to the rescue! I decided latex caulking is pretty much paint, only thicker. I caulked around all the windows, really pressing the tip into the foam and smearing it out into the painted area. We were using untinted paint and brilliant white caulk; this may not fly so well with coloured paint. The expanding foam out of the can, much less dense than the spray foam, accepts the caulking much better; it kind of permeates and impregnates the foam, hardening stiff. And once there’s a bead around the edge, it’s much easier to paint up to. So caulking saved the day, making clean transitions between foam and Corex and shelves, etc.
What we didn’t expect was how the look of the painted foam would change. The parts that really looked good after painting were where I had taken slices out of the foam in layers, sometimes it made a herringbone pattern. This was largely my work, as I’d gotten lazy and was just trying to take down the material and not make it fancy, hacking chunks out. Painted, that looks kind of cool, almost like rock. I suggest tackling foam in this way from the beginning. There’s going to be texture one way or another.
Slicing layer after layer is an easier motion to make, too. Slice in and snap off the chunk of foam.
After that, it was just reinstalling the Corex/Coroplast we’d unscrewed to paint around, putting the doors back on,and reloading all our stuff. The whole event was about five days.
It doesn’t look bad. It’s much brighter with all the white, the curtains look sharp, and there’s more clearance everywhere. The painted foam is sealed, no longer crumbly. Inside closets where the foam was cut down and not painted, it sheds crumbs at a regular rate. Someday I’d like to seal all that in with paint too.
There are still touchups and more caulking to do, because we didn’t have the luxury of time to really finish the minutiae, but the big things are done, and importantly, we shouldn’t have to dismantle the camper again, or even move out of it wholesale.
It’s sort of adobe like, or like stucco. It’s a cozy natural texture.
Spray foam day! Over a year after initially inquiring about the qualities of this soy-based spray-on insulation typically used for sealing basement walls, I finally had the guy over to spray my camper.
The contractor came with a big self-contained work trailer with his compressor/engine/miles of hose and drums of product. He fired it up- it was very noisy, sounded diesel, and took some time to prepare. I was too tired to get nosy but I gathered that there was compressed air, then the liquid product that must be pumped or pressurized somehow, delivered in two hoses and mixed at the gun as it’s sprayed on the walls.
A third hose is supplied air to his breathing apparatus. He suited up and got into his breathing mask, dragged all the hoses from the trailer to the camper, and began. He knelt on the floor and did systematic side to side passes with the gun, occasionally doing a depth check by stabbing it with a screwdriver. He sprayed over the walls and wheel wells and ceiling until it was all one puffy peach coloured surface. It didn’t take very long. It had no smell, inert as soon as it dried (almost instantly). Continue reading Camper gets cozy: spray foam insulation→
Before the camper could be insulated, there was some work to be done.
First, it needed to be dug out of the snow. I almost got my truck stuck in the axle deep mud hiding under the dense old snow. (This was March), the shoulder season of melt water almost flowing underneath heavy snow . Plus it rained mid-mission, so it was absolutely the worst timing for excavating the camper.
The original interior surface layer was a sort of textured beige vinyl with a quarter inch of foam backing glued on to the fiberglass surface. A whole quarter inch of “insulation”, wow! Either time or the heat or the original glue had that layer so stubbornly adhered to the fiberglass that when I was tearing it off originally, only the vinyl came off like wallpaper, leaving the meat of the foam behind, which is black.
So I had to finish scraping out the vestiges of black foam with a drywall knife. Sometimes it would come away in satisfying chunks, sometimes only in crumbs (which had a great knack for finding cuffs and collars. At any rate, it was tedious, slow, and tiring. A never ending task. Naturally, the overhead stuff was the most difficult, probably baked on by 40 years of sun.
Next, the fiberglass repair. This was my first experience with fiberglass resin, and I have to say it put me over the edge. I used to think Acoustiseal was bad, and wire fencing worse. Now, what I wish on my worst enemies is that they will someday have to do overhead fiberglass resin repairs.
I got as much of the sub floor down as I could without tackling all the tricky compound slope sleepers I’m going to have to deal with where there’s a concrete pad, and got the poly all up. Finally, the space of the barn I’m claiming looks defined, and the envelope is almost complete. The walls have that stuffed sofa look they have after vapour barrier and before drywall. Most importantly, there’s enough space closed up to move all my stuff into before I go to Iceland.
Voila, floor! A marble won’t sit at rest anywhere on it, but it’s smooth, and what a difference. Yes, I can frame partitions and my windows/doors on real floor! I also laid the floor in the loft, with the gorgeous blushing cedar I got for $1.30/bd ft, so beautiful it aches. We’re so lucky to have such lovely local wood. Too good for the barn. Turns out the loft floor tapers, losing 3” over 12’, so I couldn’t set up my chop and go, but it didn’t take too long.
What a relief it is to be working in the cool of the insulated barn. Can actually get a full day’s work done, without working a split shift. Even wrestling vapour barrier over my head, the giant uncooperative sheet draping on me like a deranged plastic wedding train, is not so bad when it’s 10 degrees cooler than it is outside. It’s hard to judge the efficacy of the Roxul yet because there’s so much space shared with the uninsulated part of the barn, but there’s a big climate difference in a few steps.
Today I really noticed the sound muffling quality of the rockwool. I thought that it was only raining on the other part of the roof for a few moments. Really. But obviously, I could only hear it from the other side of the barn. We’ve been having a blessed series of afternoon thunderstorms that are grand and exciting, and hose down the hot earth after cruelly blistering days of sun. I don’t like summer. Too hot.
Now I can’t wait to move in, to sleep in a real bed- my real bed, for the first time in ten months. It won’t be the first time I’ve moved in and slept under vapour barrier. Or no vapour barrier. Or no insulation, even. In February.
I didn’t set out to “build green”, by any means. I wouldn’t put that label on it, although I do have an overall ethic of building as healthy and low-impact as I can. I have an ethic of saving money that supersedes even that. It’s just turning out that I’m doing better than I expected, kinda by accident. Cheap and green can be congruent.
So far, the off-gassing, plastic, chemical, clearcut-sourced shit I’ve installed: the polyethylene vapour barrier, the plywood sub-floor (which will probably double as the floor-floor), and the fire retardants in the cellulose.
So far, to my eco-credit:
The insulation. Roxul is billed as an environmental choice, basically because there are just so many rocks out there. I suspect that the energy it takes to shred rocks into insulation is tremendous, though, and I’m not sure how it stacks up against fiberglass at the end of the day. I must do more research.
The pallet floor. Reused, removed from the garbage cycle, and repurposed as an alternative to concrete. Compared to pouring a slab of the worst kind of emission-heavy building material out there, my pallets earn me a little carbon-offset halo. Not to mention ‘crete is an oxygen sink, and sucks to walk on. Continue reading Accidentally green.→
In the trend of using construction materials in unconventional applications, today I filled my pallet floor with blow-in insulation.
When I went with my glorious pallets, I figured all that air space was a pretty good start, but it would be nice to have something I could pour in for some R-value. Perlite and vermiculite were considered, but vetoed because of their admirable (in other contexts) properties of absorbing moisture and holding it. That’s all I need, for my floor to suck moisture out of the very air and then hold it there, like a miser.
I called my beloved lumber supply store, where no staff member has mocked or scorned me for anything I’ve ever asked them advice about, in ten whole years. Not even a smirk. For all I’ve got up to in a decade, that’s saying something. And I still get treated with universal respect there; sometimes I’m even greeted with effusions of delight when I show up after a long absence (I have been bear-hugged by yard guys), so they apparently don’t compare notes and mock me when I leave, either. They should get a medal. Continue reading This insulation blows→
I can’t say enough about how much I love working with this insulation. That’s something I thought I’d never say. What I love most is the way the batts hold their shape. Having batts fold down and gently flop on your head sounds like a small thing, but it’s about the most annoying thing ever. And if the stud cavities aren’t the perfect size, then fiberglass is doing that, all the time. But this Roxul is so thick and rigid that it never flops. You do have to cut very accurately, but it’s easier to cut straighter.
Supposedly it’s more environmentally friendly, too.
I feel it in my throat and lungs, although it doesn’t seem especially dusty, and it doesn’t itch NEARly as much as fiberglass. I’m working with it here in 30-35 degree weather, not only that but in the peak of the two story barn, where I swear it’s hitting 45 and up. Not that I want to roll around in the stuff but fiberglass in this heat would be hell on earth, and the Roxul is really not that bad.