Monday, December 2, 2013

Sealing up the Ceiling for Winter

My house came equipped with a whole house attic fan.


It's a wonderful thing in the summertime because in the evening you can open the windows, turn on the fan and pump all of the hot air out of the house and attic in a very short amount of time. It allowed me to get by without air conditioning for many years when I was still out at work during the heat of the day.

However, during the winter time, it's sort of like having a big, barely covered hole in my otherwise well insulated ceiling!


So each winter I try to come up with some sort of contraption to keep the drafts out and the heat in. Over the years I've had a whole pile of grandiose and elegant plans, including wooden frames holding bats of insulation, and hand made quilted covers, but I fear that laziness generally wins out and I end up just covering the thing with a layer or two of plastic and bubble wrap in an attempt to keep it a bit warmer in here.


But a few years ago I saw an advertisement for a cover that was made with a foil backed radiant heat barrier. They came either with magnets or Velcro and seemed like a nifty solution to the problem. The only thing was they cost $30-$100 and I sure as heck wasn't gonna spend that amount of money for some bubble wrap, tin foil and magnets or Velcro!


I attempted to make my own version using cut up hunks of advertising magnets that come with the phone book.


Alas, they weren't strong enough, so even with only a very light layer of insulation I ended up having to tape the thing in place to keep it from falling down.


So earlier this year I was looking through my sewing scrap drawer for something to repair a Velcro watchband and discovered that I still had a bunch of sticky backed Velcro leftover from the plastic cover I made for my old single pane sliding glass door (which leaked cold air like crazy) before I had it replaced a few years back.


I also had a bunch of space blankets and old quilts and stuff that I bought years ago when I had a bright idea that I would make insulated window covers for the whole house - a project that I gave up on after 3 days of cursing, 6 broken needles and a somewhat ugly falling out with my sewing machine netted me only one window covering.


Anyhow... since an arctic blast is supped to arrive tomorrow night giving us high temperatures in the teens for the rest of the week (that's HIGH temperatures around -10C for those of you who don't speak Farenheit) and lows of about -15F (that's -26C) I figured perhaps it was time to come up with a better solution.


So here's what I did.

I took an old blanket and cut 4 squares to the size of my fan opening. I loosely tacked them together to make a thick insulated pad.


Then I cut a piece of Mylar space blanket about 6 inches bigger than the pad and folded the corners securely around my pad.


I read online that for radiant heat barriers (like space blankets) to work effectively, you want one side of the blanket to be facing open air so that the heat doesn't conduct through it... so the space blanket side will face down.

Since I wanted something more sturdy to attach my Velcro to, I cut a piece of thick plastic sheeting to the size of the pad/fan and secured it all with plastic packing tape.

Then came the interesting part.


I wanted to make sure that my Velcro would attach firmly to the edge of the fan opening, so I had to find a way to remove 17 years worth of tape stickum from the surface before attempting to attach the Velcro tape.


This was the most difficult part of the entire project. I tried everything I could think of... rubbing alcohol, finger nail polish remover... nothing worked. I looked online and several places suggested using oil to remove it - but I figured if I did that I'd end up with a greasy mess and I'd never get the Velcro tape to stick.


Finally I tried good old fashioned soap & water with a make-shift plastic scrubber (made from one of those mesh bags that produce comes in) and a LOT of elbow grease.

I ended up with a very wet arm and a sore neck from working over my head, but after a few hours I finally got all of the gunk off! I think it was worth the effort because the Velcro tape stuck very nicely and I don't think it will come loose.


OK... so then I attached the other half of the Velcro to the plastic... which worked fantastically, except that I didn't have enough Velcro tape... Oh NOOOO!


Long story, but I had more of the "loop" side than I did of the "hook" side. But... I did have some regular Velcro leftover from the window shade project... only problem was that it wasn't the sticky backed variety so I had to figure out how to attach it to my plastic.

This, my friends, is easier said than done.


I tried every kind of glue that I could find... including epoxy, all purpose cement, super glue, hot glue gun... even good old Elmer's. But nothing worked. Finally in desperation I tried some double sided foam mounting tape and... success!


So here's my finished product with the Velcro finally stuck in place. I ran out of double sided tape, so I had to cut some foam mounting squares in half and piece them in place, but it worked just fine.


And here it is installed.


I have to admit that it looks a tad bit droopier and more space-station-esque than I had imagined it.


But the house definitely feels warmer and less drafty, so hopefully it will serve its purpose.

I think if I were to do it over again I might try to find something lighter for the insulation... maybe a hunk of foam, or a bunch of bubble wrap or something like that. I might also try to attach it to the Mylar and plastic coverings so it wouldn't have such a tendency to droop.


Although, given the struggle I had finding anything that would stick to the plastic this may be as good as it gets.

But it seems to be functional, and hey, the price was right, so I'm happy!


Maybe some day I'll get around to touching up the paint where it got damaged over the years... but I'm not gonna hold my breath for that one.



So what have you been doing to get ready for winter?




38 comments :

  1. Brr, -10C as a high is flipping freezing! Being a (large) island, we don't get winter temperatures that cold. (It may also have something to do with the gulf/jet streams...). In any case, it's not even got below freezing very much so far (which is unusually mild, actually).
    So, my preparations for winter have been...err...finding my hat and gloves! I have also given the chicken coop and patio a good clean, because it needed doing, but also because it is hard to clean them at all if it snows

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    1. Yup... they're now saying that we'll have 6-8 inches of snow over the next few days, then a high of 7 on Thursday, which is close to -14C... On Monday it's supposed to "warm up" to highs right around freezing for a few days and then we get another round of sub zero stuff. Brrrrrr...

      And get this, it was 62 today! (16.5C) I'm not ready for this sort of weather! At least CatMan and I went for a nice bike ride today - I don't think I'll be seeing much of my bike for the next few weeks!

      Sigh.

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    2. We are just about to have our first big storm of the winter...but there probably won't be much snow- winds and costal flooding is predicted.

      I did get the gutters cleaned out yesterday (by the window cleaner- some of our gutters are hard to reach!) so hopefully we won't get water coming in due to blocked gutters. I have mould in some rooms at the moment... I may need to turn the heating up..hmm!

      I don't envy you all of the cold and snow- at least when it snows here it is fairly novel and fun!

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    3. I don't really mind the snow... at least once I stop fighting the idea and embrace it. Here in Denver our snow comes in the form of big storms, which is kinda fun - especially since the sun generally comes out afterwards and it's gorgeous! When I lived in Norway and upstate NY it was just cold, and dark, and gray and drizzled snow and sleet all winter long - that was much worse.

      I got my gutters cleaned out over the weekend - just in the nick of time! I really HATE being up on the ladder though, so I'm thinking about getting this stuff that's like foam that you cram into the gutters. It's supposed to let the water in and keep the leaves out. If it works it would be totally worth it!

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    4. Snow with sun is great...it's when it becomes compacted into ice that it stops being fun, especially if coupled with grey miserable days. I really hate ice- I am in permanent fear of breaking a limb!

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    5. I am with you there! One year we had back to back snowstorms in December - each one left about a foot of snow, and for some reason they didn't plow the side streets. The sun didn't come out for a few weeks, and it just all compacted into ice... it was HORRIBLE. There were deep ruts in the ice and I couldn't get my car out for two weeks! I remember seeing a school bus hopelessly stuck in the ruts. UG!

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  2. And just think, you get to take it all down next Spring and wrestle with it all over again come next winter! Ain't life fun? I do hope it works. That's the trouble, you can make a house fit for summer or for winter, but not both. In the UK we have a cold spell coming in the next few days but not as bad as yours thank goodness. Once it gets down to 0 degrees Centigrade, that is when I start to feel cold. I cannot imagine a high of -10 I must say. Good luck! I hope you have lots of stores and kitty food laid in.

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    1. Actually... if all goes as planned, it will be really easy to take down and put up again - that's the point of the Velcro. I guess we'll have to wait until then to see if it works out that way or not! :-)

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  3. We have a ceiling fan covered with one of the store made covers that works well. We got it last year when we put more insulation in the attic among other things to help save energy use. The great thing is that we got a very good rebate from the state for all of our work, so it didn't cost that much in the long run.

    Next time you might try Goo Gone for sticky stuff removal. It's made to remove adhesives and has a lot of other uses. We use it all the time.

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    1. Hmmmm... Goo Gone. I'll have to give it a try!

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  4. Love your solution! My in-laws have the same thing, BUT it's in their attached garage and they are in AZ, so bringing in too much cold air is rarely an issue. As for us, I have the electric blanket on our bed and am frantically searching for a good winter coat. The weather here has been insane...80 one day 40's two days later. I am surprised how much colder it gets in central TX over central AZ. I actually have to buy winter clothes! I've actually devised a system where I wear leggings, knee-high socks, and jeans over it along with like five layers of tops to keep me warm enough. I did find great winter coats at Savers for the boys. One is actually a $180 ski jacket that I got for $7. It doesn't look heavy or bulky, but apparently does the job well.

    I hope you stay warm--I'm pretty sure I'd freeze!

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    1. Ha! At Thanksgiving my cousin (who isn't really my cousin - long story) anyhow, she and I were talking about winterizing etc. She is REALLY hard core. She keeps her thermostat at 47 degrees! Anyhow, I was shuddering at the thought and she started telling me about how she wears 2-3 layers of long underwear with regular pants and sometimes even ski pants on top... yadda yadda yadda. Anyhow, she claims that warm legs are the secret. And since she works on the ski patrol, I guess she would know! :-)

      Sounds like you got a deal on your son's jacket! Good luck finding one for yourself - a good one makes a HUGE difference!

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    2. I love this story! My husband thinks I'm crazy for keeping the heat around 58-59° when we're home and 54° when we're away or sleeping. (And I kept it cooler when he was away last winter!) It does take some getting used to, so I turn it up to a blazing 65° when we have visitors. :)

      What a creative attic fan cover idea! When we were house hunting a few years ago, I accidentally turned one on (I thought it was the hall light switch) and scared myself silly. It was LOUD!

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    3. Lordy! I have to admit, I think you're a bit crazy too. Maybe you and my cousin should be roommates. :-)

      One year, before I replaced the furnace, I tried keeping the thermostat really low - "low" meaning that I set it at 60 during the night and 65 during the day, and I was MISERABLE! My nose ran constantly, my toes were numb most of the time, I had to wear 3-4 layers, plus use a jacket, blanket and hot water bottle... OY!

      I think I calculated that I saved a grand total of about $75 for all of my suffering that winter, so in the end I decided it just wasn't worth the trouble. Are you really comfortable at that temperature?

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    4. I probably am crazy :)

      Everyone's body is different and it does take about a month to get used to. I'm usually good with a sweater and fleece, long johns and pj pants, and slippers. I think 2 layers is reasonable. My work is pretty chilly so that helps - not going from 60° to 80° every day. I actually read a National Geographic article about a group of people who live on the north coast of Russia (way past the Arctic Circle) and one of the men said he's only experienced a temperature above freezing a few times and it makes him sweat!

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    5. I keep our thermostat at about 54F for daytime, but most of the time (night and middle of the day) I keep it at about 46F. I am occasionally a bit chilly (mostly when getting out of bed in the morning!) but once I have moved about a bit, I am ok. I am definitely a warm person though- and I find most people's houses too hot. It might help that I am a knitter though, and happily wear giant wooly jumpers all the time :)

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    6. Polar Bears! I am surrounded by Polar Bears! Actually Amanda, I think you may be on to something with the "what you're used to" thing. I've always had a theory that since I was born in Hawaii my body is always longing for the tropics! :-)

      Anyhow, I am quite impressed with you guys!

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  5. Hey Cat, good solution to your problem. And thanks for the reminder. I need to get out the window quilt for the one really old window. It's a sliding patio door. I took a queen-size polyester quilt, attached small plastic drapery rings to the top edge, and cup hooks to the frame around the slider, and just hang it up. It's easy enough to "open" partially, by unhooking a couple of rings, to let light in during the day.

    Stay warm!

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    1. Ooo... that sounds like a great solution! Replacing the old single pane sliding glass door with an energy efficient double paned model made a HUGE difference, but I kept the plastic covering that I made before I got the new one just for those REALLY cold days. I think I may be putting it up again for a while!

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  6. I love it! We don't do any winterizing here but I've seen some pretty creative use of clear plastic to cover up old windows. It might be worth it in some of our rooms, as they're just old single panes.

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    1. I have single pane windows too - but at least I've got storm windows, even if they are from the neolithic era. I used to have that shrink wrap plastic on all of my windows and at really made a big difference - but that was before the adorable, yet challenging, Smoky Bear Kitty came into my life and decided that they must have been put there for the sole purpose of giving him something to destroy. Oy!

      I keep thinking that maybe I could construct some sort of removable plastic covered frame that could be installed between the window and the storm window... because that way he could still see out, and wouldn't be able to destroy them!

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  7. Like Live & Learn said, try Goo Gone. Its fabulous on many things. I had to take off the sticky from vinyl lettering off of windows, and I just sprayed on the windows, in small areas, and using a razor in a holder, it came off beautifully.
    We are bracing for the cold temps also. They were talking here around -20 F tonight wind chills and most of the week with the winds blowing 30-40 mph winds. Got as much as we could get done outside and the rest is
    history.
    Your cover looks pretty darn good to me. You are pretty good at tactical items.
    Stay warm. I am trying to cut out quilt fabric for blocks. Its hard to do when you have cats laying on your work table.
    Take care

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    1. Holy Moly! As bad as it gets here, I think it gets much, MUCH worse out on the plains. We at least get the benefit of the warm chinook winds coming off the mountains before each big storm.

      And I so totally understand the challenge of working on a project with kitties. "Whatcha doin' Mom? - Is this tape measure a toy for me to pounce on? Ooooo.... lots of fun things to pounce on!" Anyhow, good luck with your project and stay warm... the snow is starting to fall here already.

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  8. Your posts are so darn entertaining! We have been gradually upgrading our home (new windows a few years ago, etc.) so we don't go through the winterizing struggles like we used to, but I can relate! We had a warm autumn until a couple of weeks ago, when the temps were getting into the teens at night--I couldn't take it with regular sheets anymore and put on the flannel sheets! I sleep better in cool temps, but slipping into a warm bed makes it so much easier to relax!

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    1. Ha! I totally agree about cooler temps at night - I can't sleep if I'm too hot. But if I'm cold when I go to bed there's just no way I can sleep. I think this may be how I developed the habit of taking a bedtime bath in the winter time.

      New windows would be soooo wonderful. Once again it's the whole life disruption thing that keeps me from seriously considering it.

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    2. Honestly, that was one of the easiest home projects. We (well, the installers!) did our house in 2 sections--bedroom/kitchen/dining area windows first, which took one day. The following year we did basement windows (one day) and our insanely huge front picture window (one day). It's more "do-able" in terms of life disruption and it makes such a difference in both keeping the house warm and blocking outside noise. Kitchen and bathroom renovations? Yeah, major disruption. Windows? Not so much.

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    3. Interesting idea to do them piecemeal rather than all at once. That might make it more bearable. Still, I think I have a very low "disruption tolerance threshold" when it comes to this sort of thing.

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    4. I wonder if you could notice an opportunity to house sit for a local friend when they leave town and then have your windows replaced at that time. (House sitting might not work with cats, though.)

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    5. Yes, it's the cats that are the real issue, especially since Sputty is sick. I'm trying to minimize disruptions as much as possible at the moment. At some point when I have healthy cats who can handle it, I might just move into the basement for a few months and do a whole bunch of work at once - windows, floors, bathroom, kitchen, etc.

      I actually have some friends who moved into a rental house for a few months while the remodeled. At the time I thought they were crazy... now... not so much!

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    6. Heh. I've recommended that my parents buy a used travel trailer and put it in their back yard to live in while they re-do their house (preferably knock the whole thing down and start over--bad foundation, etc.), and then re-sell the trailer for the same price when they're done.

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    7. Not a bad idea... is it warm enough there to live in a travel trailer?

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    8. Oh, true, you might need extra insulation of some kind. (My parents live in Dallas--it doesn't often get super cold but it can get pretty hot. Insulation is good either way.)

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  9. My son has one of those whole house attic fans. It was wonderful the week he moved in and we painted every room in the house. When I was down there for Thanksgiving they shared with me that their master bedroom is freezing and thought it was because it was built over the garage. The garage is insulated, although after looking it over I thought it needed more but never thought about their attic fan. I will have to see if they want to cover it and get their measurements as they don't yet have a sewing machine.

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    1. If the attic fan's in the bedroom it would make a HUGE difference to cover it. If you're gonna make something be sure to use at least one layer of either plastic or Mylar or something that won't let the wind through.

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  10. Your attic fan cover looks like the cover of my attic door, which was commercially made. So I bet you'll be happy with it. To get ready for winter, I just crank up the heat :) When we're home we keep it at 20 (68) and if we are totally inert we give it a blast of 21 (70) sometimes. And I still wear 2 layers!

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    1. Hmmm... I'm oddly comforted to know that something I made bears a vague resemblance to something commercially made. Anyhow, when CatMan's here I generally do crank up the heat, but somehow I feel guilty doing it when it's just me and the felions. Now there's some interesting psychology for you!

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  11. I also have a whole house attic fan! I never thought to cover it up in winter because I live somewhere hot, but clearly that's a good idea.

    And I agree, advertising magnets stink. I actually buy sheets of good (but not awesome) magnet at a craft store. (You can buy it in sheets or strips.) I mostly put it on the backs of scrabble letters to make refrigerator crosswords (this is my usual housewarming gift). Also, I put cool stickers on magnets to turn them from stickers into fridge magnets.

    I normally recommend alcohol for stickiness removal, but I see you already tried that. When that doesn't work, my boyfriend tries lighter fluid. I'm glad soap and scrubbing worked!

    To get ready for winter I have planted a tree. Crazy, eh? In hot places, it's better to plant trees in the fall so they can get established over winter and be more likely to survive the harsh summer. Our city sometimes gives away shade trees, and we got offered one this year, so we accepted it. (Red oak!!) Of course it came during the week we were out of town. The weather was warm when we left, freezing when we returned. The first thing we did--before even bringing in all our luggage from the car--was to plant the tree and get it well watered.

    Also, I turned on the heat. I managed never to do that last year, but I regretted it one week (don't remember how cold it got). It was 53 degrees in the house, so I set the thermostat for 60. I'm still using my shivering muscles, though.

    I also need to switch the drawers for my long-sleeved solid t-shirts and short-sleeved solid t-shirts so the long-sleeved ones are more accessible. And sometimes I take down the kitchen and/or bathroom curtains to let more light in during the months when it won't lead to more sweating.

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    1. Switching the wardrobe around... this is an art I have yet to master. It would make so much sense though... put the summer clothes in storage during the winter and vice versa... I just can't seem to get organized enough to do it!

      I LOVE that you planted a tree! I have a big honey locust shade tree in the backyard and it makes a HUGE difference in terms of keeping it cool during the summer!

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