Thursday, 25 April 2013

It's Raining Terribleness

That title is not far from the truth when you're experiencing the take-down of insulation. This post is going to be long, because it was an epic project that takes many words to fully describe. 

Of the projects we've tackled so far, here'd be the top 3 worst:

3. Sanding Drywall when Patching Walls - So Dusty, this is a tie with Buying Closet Supplies
2. Patching the Ceiling - So Impossible
1. Taking down insulation - Everything Evil in the World

Mind you, we haven't done that much yet, but this was terrible, awful, horrible, the pits. 

Here's the basic rundown:

We decided to tackle this one without the help of family/friends just because it was a small space which didn't allow for much more than two people. Also, we knew it was going to be a frustrating job and didn't want to lash out at loved ones. We didn't know what we were doing, but sort of hashed it out in the week leading up to it and came up with the method we ended up using.

The Gear

  • Long Sleeved Shirts
  • Masks
  • Safety Goggles
  • Pants
  • Socks
  • Shoes
  • Hoodies (added later)
  • Huge Garbage Bags
  • Scissors
  • Shovel & Dust Pan
  • Step Ladder
  • Tarp
You can't see it, but we're still smiling.
Once we were dressed and ready, we went into the bathroom with enthusiasm. This died very quickly. 

The horrors!

The Method

Team Member A would stand on ladder and gently pull vapour barrier down in chosen region. Team Member B stands with garbage bag opened, attempting to catch the majority of fallen debris. 

We also had a tarp spread across the ground to prevent grossness from falling through to the basement and provide ease of cleanup. 

This actually worked surprisingly well, most went into bags and saved us some clean up time, the rest landed in eyes and hair. We took turns being person A and person B, with myself being A for the most part because I sucked so bad at B, I'd always look down and close my eyes because I hate stuff falling at my face, which didn't provide the best catching accuracy. 

No, this is not a "Before" photo. This was AFTER we cleaned most of the wood shavings up.

The Twists

That method will hopefully run smoothly for most people, and it did for us too except for a few twists that really threw our method off track.

First: When we were about halfway through the sawdust insulation removal, we noticed a build up of white powder in the section of insulation that had been bulging below the joist when we had taken down the ceiling a while back. I was concerned about it, and so we did some research online before going on to that section. 

Our best guess is that it was sodium flouride, which has been added to sawdust insulation to help with fire protection and deter intruders of the rodent variety. It's toxic if ingested, but didn't seem too worrisome if inhaled and we were wearing masks. Taking that section down was the worst, the powder seemed to be really heavy, a cloud of dust would make it so we couldn't see at all so we'd quickly get out and close the door to wait for it to settle so we could go back in and keep going. 

The breakdown, from bottom to top: drywall (already gone), vapour barrier, wood shaving insulation (mixed with suspected sodium fluoride), batts of fiberglass insulation, blown fiberglass insulation.

Second: After the sawdust insulation, there were batts. This part was tricky, because they run perpendicular to the joists, with blown insulation on top, so it was pretty hard to gain control. We wore hoodies tightened to just allow a hole to see, which made it really hard to breath and really, really hot. We were close to giving up at this point because we'd been working for hours, were tired, and it was really hard. We made it about 3/4 of the way, and Philip finished up the second day while I dealt with strep throat (still dealing with it, but close to normal-ish today). 

Ready for action!

"Should-ing" On Ourselves

Our pre-marital counselor taught us this term, and it's cleverness has stuck with us. (Read it out loud if it doesn't make sense.) There are a couple of things that we should have done during this project, having 20/20 hindsight. We'll share them here so that you can implement them if you ever do a similar project.
  1. Wear closed goggles. Sawdust is not fun to get in your eyes, we both put eye drops in the next two days and had swollen eyes from dust getting behind our glasses.
  2. Wrap your hair (or cut it all off first). If you have more hair than Philip's buzz cut, wrap it with a plastic bag. I had to shampoo three times and still had saw dust in my hair. I probably had over 100 pieces tangled in my pony-tailed hair - doesn't make for a refreshing after hard work shower. 
  3. Have a good imagination. The only way to get through the blown insulation shower that comes with taking down insulation is to be Team Member B and imagine that it's non-edible cotton candy falling, it makes the experience almost gleeful. Philip was up on the ladder disgusted by how much fluff was falling down and under my mask I had a huge smile just because of how much pink was falling all around me. 
  4. Be prepared for mystery substances. Wear a respirator or check ahead of time if there are any questionable things, or give yourself enough time to back away and get a professional when there is a weird white dust that might kill you. We probably could have seen that white dust ahead and looked into it, instead of having a last minute panic attack that could lead to a spousal dispute. 
  5. Wallpaper something before tackling this project. That, or pre-schedule a marital counselling session. You'll need to be as strong as ever with your spouse before showering your marriage in toxic substances, sawdust, and fiberglass. 

What's Next

Now that we've got our insulation out, here are the next couple of things that need to happen:
  1. Put up new vapour barrier
  2. Drywall the ceiling
  3. Have new insulation blown in
Have you taken down insulation recently? Did you love it as much as we did?


  1. It's implied in the title, but I don't know if we appropriately communicated what it's like to stand at the top of a stepladder...
    look up at a batt of insulation...
    see the mountain of pink fiberglass fluff...
    know that you have to pull it down...
    know that when you pull, you're opening the floodgates on your head...
    know that despite your best efforts at protecting yourself, the dust, fiberglass, and mystery substances are going to get everywhere...
    know that you're creating a massive mess that you have to clean up...
    and then grab the batt tight and pull.

    It sounds like a thrill ride, but I'd compare it more to bracing yourself when your car is sliding on ice and you know you're going to get in a low speed collision. The pre-collision terror is almost as bad as the aftermath.

  2. I've taken down nasty insulation before. It was a horrible experience of godawful itching misery, but still only a 3 on a scale of one to 10. Yours, as described above, was a solid 7, and could only surpassed adding: dead critters falling on you = 8, live critters falling on you = 9, or the mumified remains of a diseased pirate, full of live critters and their excrement falling on you = 10. Great post.

    1. Ha that's hilarious. If a live animal had fallen on me I would have quit right then and sold the place. No coming back from that!