Saturday, October 9, 2010

Insulating Beautifully

While anything that adds to the comfort and energy efficiency of my house is beautiful, there really are different kinds of beauty. There's the kind that's functional and adds immeasurably to one's life (Ah! What a beautiful piece of machinery!), and then, there's the kind that's pleasing to the eye (What a beautiful sunset!).

Sometimes, it's both.

One of our biggest goals for the past few years has been to increase the efficiency of our household. Bringing the numbers down has become our favorite game. We're constantly challenging ourselves and each other to see how low we can go - and it's with everything: kilowatts used, miles driven, water usage, discretionary spending.

Sometimes, though, the needs conflict. For instance, to lower our overall water usage, we had to invest in rainbarrels, which increased our discretionary spending for that month.

Of course, when it comes to bringing the numbers down, I'd rather increase our discretionary spending for a one-time expenditure and have it result in a smaller monthly payment, because if our goal is to, eventually, achieve some sort of self-sufficiency (which means quitting outside jobs), we need to reduce our monthly bills.

Remodeling Big Little Sister's room has been on the to do list for several years, but has been tabled over and over again by those little things that crop up. We've known about some issues in that room for a long time. We had an energy audit a few years ago. Really, what we had was not an "energy audit" as much as it was a guy with an infrared camera telling us where there was heat loss in our house, and one of the areas that showed a significant loss was in the walls in Big Little Sister's room.

We've been talking for a long time about what we want to do. I want to take advantage of the lack of insulation in the walls and build a cold closet in there, but that would take away from the small space that she already has, and so we won't be doing that. I also plan to pull up the carpeting (not just from that room, but from that room *first*) and replace it with something that can be maintained with a broom and a mop.

We don't have the cash to pull up the carpet and replace it AND insulate all of the walls, and since our heat is already free, the bigger savings, over time, will be to replace the carpet (so that we won't need to use electricity vacuuming and shampooing the rug).

But we want the room to be comfortable.

And so I devised a different solution than tearing out all of the walls and adding insulation.

There was a time when beautiful tapestries were the *only* insulation, and it's a shame that they fell out of favor, because ... isn't it gorgeous?

This tapestry is actually a blanket that my uncle purchased for me when I was ten. It's too small for me to use as a blanket on my own bed, and my girls have down comforters which they prefer. It just seemed a shame to keep it tucked away in a closet. Big Little Sister liked the idea of the tapestry on the wall in her room, and I think it looks awesome with the paint color she chose.

When we get the carpet removed and the floors refinished, this room will look amazing, and the tapestry will help keep it warmer.

What I'm most proud of, though, is that I didn't have to buy something to find a solution. It was right there under my nose all of the time, and I love when I'm able to fix a problem using what we already have.


  1. Hm. Now my wall decor of mainly quilts doesn't seem so goofy!

  2. I guess I would call it "Capitol Expenditure" instead of discretionary expenditure. It is an investment that provides a return in lower costs overall.

    As for insulation. We went to Green Building Supply in Portland a few years ago and got some insulation that was made of old denim jeans. It is so nice to work with because it is not itchy and it is repurposed.

    As for the floors. You could pull up the carpeting and paint and shellac the subfloor. We were just in a house today where they did this and it looked pretty good as an alternative until you can put something else in.

  3. Kaye - What do you mean "goofy?" *grin*

    I think quilts are beautiful as wall decorations :). Many are works of art, same as any painting or photograph.

  4. Fleecenik - I've heard good things about Green Building Supply, and they carry a brand of floor stain that I was interested in checking out.

    I considered what you recommend with painting and sealing the subfloor, and we still may do that. All I know is that the carpet has to go ... and the sooner, the better ;).

  5. We have a stash of quilts for that purpose and intended to make window quilts, too. I'll be waiting until we look at 5th wheels before deciding what to keep. Not sure just how much remodeling we'll be able to do but want to make sure it's super-insulated, giving us the (financial) option to power with solar if need be.

    On a side note, a friend in Phoenix found out the tapestries/quilts on the walls sadly do not work to keep hot weather out. Had I discovered it back then, I would have recommended the Reflectix insulation instead. In the windows, it makes a huge difference for cold or heat.

  6. Maybe keep the carpeting? It's insulation on the floor.

    That picture makes her room look huge, by the way.

  7. Chile - I'm hoping to make window quilts, too, but for now, it's just the blanket on the wall.

    FARf, no-can-do on keeping the carpeting. Rugs, yes, carpets no. The primary reason is that a rug over hardwood or tile is much easier to maintain (think rag rug, which I can make out of old clothes, virtually for free) and will provide some of the same insulative properties as a wall-to-wall carpet without any of the maintenance costs (like vacuuming and shampooing). The thing is, if our goal is to be self-sufficient with regard to our energy usage (and we're generating our own power), we can't afford to squander any of our electricity on things that don't enrich our lives. Vacuuming, in no way, enriches my life :). Big Little Sister's bedroom dimensions are 21' x 7'. It's very long and narrow.

  8. I have to echo Chile's recommendation of Reflectix. I've used it for so many things, I can't even count them anymore! I insulate my windows every winter with it (check out my blog, hopefully I gave it a decent tag like winterizing or something). It folds up or rolls up very nicely and compactly to put away for summer. I cut a piece just larger than the flattened box I stuff in my windows each night (some windows never see the light of day all winter long, like on the north side of the house) and duct tape it to the box (just near the corners is sufficient).

    For $40/$50 a LARGE roll, you could likely do that entire wall, Wendy. Just cut out a hole for the window and tack the stuff up near the ceiling every few feet with a thin picture hanging nail..not hammered all the way in so it's easy to remove come spring, fold up and tuck away somewhere to reuse! Then you can hang the tapestries over the reflectix. Newspaper art would go nicely over it, too. The ideas are endless!