My Attic: Crumbling Chimneys, No Insulation, No Ventilation, & Squirrels

Oh Bother. Things have been going really well in the attic, but it’s depressing how awful it is right now. It is really a pitiful attic. Let me give you the picture tour! The first thing you’ll see when you climb through the as-of-yet temporary scuttle hole is our chimney!

Chimney is probably not the right word.. there’s no fireplace, it just exhausts the furnace from the basement. But you’ll notice in this picture that half of it is missing! Yes, 3 sides of our chimney have crumbled away. Half the bricks you see here are just sort of stacked there, not actually holding anything up. I’m not actually sure why it hasn’t fallen yet, but it’s been like this for at least the past year, and from the looks of things, it’s probably been several years. I’ve been meaning to fix it for a long time, but I don’t know squat about masonry, and our attic is filthy disgusting, so I just haven’t done it yet. But now that we’re whipping our attic into shape (as part of our hallway painting project, obviously) this is a high-priority item. This will be fixed no later than Christmas.
Next you’ll take a look around and you’ll think, “This is one of the filthiest attics I’ve ever seen!” You’d be right.
Look left:
Look right:
There are a few things to notice in these photos. First, we’ve got pretty much no insulation. Those attic floor joists you’re looking at – those are 2×4’s. And notice that they’re anywhere from 1/4 to 3/4 exposed. That means we’ve got between 1 and 3 inches of this nasty rock wool / newspaper mixture. According to internet sources like Colorado Energy, loose fill rock wool has an insulating value of about 3.5/inch, which means our attic has a hefty R-3.5 to R-10.5. According to Simply Insulate, we should have between R-49 and R-60. So we’re a little underinsulated to say the least. And there is absolutely no ventilation between the soffits & the attic space because the sloped ceilings are stuffed full of rock wool, which apparently is a bad thing.
Next you’ll wonder what all that garbage wood is on top of the insulation? It’s garbage wood. Probably left over from a past roofing project gone wrong.
Last, you’ll wonder what those pipes are in there. Pipes in the attic? WTF? They’re old galvanized steel gas pipes that used to feed the overhead gas lamps in the bedrooms. We’ll be cutting those out, just to get them out of the way.
Also, all the existing insulation reeks of squirrel pee, those bastards.

Take a good look around, friends. Soon enough all this nasty insulation (& squirrel carcasses) will be gone, replaced with new insulation. Probably won’t make much headway on that ventilation issue, though… (frown).

13 comments to My Attic: Crumbling Chimneys, No Insulation, No Ventilation, & Squirrels

  • Wow, looks like you've found a project for yourself. Have you figured out how the squirrels have been getting into your attic?

  • Yea – the squirrels and I did some major battling earlier this summer. Blood was shed. The bastards just chew right through the faschia. Turns out, all of my soffits/faschia are in really poor shape. I've eradicated them from the attic for now, but it's only by using an awkward combination of chicken wire & spray foam to patch all the holes. Replacing all the soffits & faschia is my top priority project come spring…

  • Kat

    This makes me a little bit worried about what is going on in our attic. But for now we don't know, so I'm going to try and remain blissfully ignorant and finish all the projects we've got going.

  • OK, mind if I chime in as the insulation expert for just a moment, friend?
    I'm sorry your attic smells like pee. In most retrofits, we just go over what's there, but if you're willing to pull/vac the insulation out, then you might find a more pleasant outcome.
    Now, as far as the R-Value goes, I really think an R-49 will be more than sufficient. The DOE just came out with those guidelines about R-Values, but looking at manufacturer guidelines, a total R-value of 49 in the ceiling will be the most cost-effective route. With an R-60, even in the harsh Minn climate, would probably only give you a negligable benefit for way more cost– kind of the Law of Diminishing Returns. Plus, there's a lot of lobbying pressure and marketing going on to tap into the "new" green movement. Insulation is pretty green all around– the way its manufactured as well as improving energy efficiency.
    Depending on what product you decide to use, you'll need either 13 or 18 inches of blown insulation (for cellulose and fiberglass, respectively). Also, depending on the square footage of your attic, you might actually save money by hiring an insulation subcontractor. I'm proud of you and your wife for being so hands-on, but there is a lot of convenience in having someone come in and do this in half a day rather than rounding up the materials, getting the hang of the eqipment, buying the right amount of product, returning the equipment, etc. Also, your local big-box store may only rent cellulose equipment and not fiberglass. Cellulose has a lot of environmental appeal because of its recycled content, but keep in mind fiberglass is about 10 cents cheaper per square foot, and is still made with about 35% recycled material. You may be tempted to use batted insulation, but it will be much more labor intensive, expensive, and you'll run the risk of falling through your sheetrock.
    Anyway, if you really are planning on getting this done before Christmas, I'd suggest making it a high priority chronologically speaking, especially if you really are taking the existing insulation out. You don't want to sacrifice that envelope during the most expensive months to heat your house.

  • Kat, do you at least have an attic access panel? That's more than we had….

    Rachel, I'm glad you commented. I was hoping you would. We considered just insulating over the top, but darn that pee smell is awful, and I'm the kind of guy that likes to rip stuff out… so It's all going. I also think an R-49 will be more than sufficient (especially since this attic area only represents about half of our roof area – and the other half is still only gonna be about an R-10 or so… I've been reading up on all the different types of insulation lately.

    Question: do you get as excited about soffit to ridge ventilation as some of these web pages?

    I'm not going to tell you what I think we've decided to do, though. You won't like it. We're hoping to have it all wrapped up by Sunday evening, though! Yay for fast turnaround!

  • Reuben I would go with a R-44 rating that is more then enough insulation. Next is the chimney they had to do it with brick because of firecode.
    Last is the bricks They are not to replace they might not match 100% but its the attic. Looks like you might have to do some tuckpointing on that chimney you call. If you need help give me a shout.

  • AS far as the pee smell you can use a product called house wash. Or bleech with water. The best way do this is a paint sprayer and get it nice and wet throw fans up there and no more smell. If you need some equipment let me know. The insulation is easy set depth sticks get a suit and have your wife just feed the hopper it will only take an hour or two. Marnards gives you blower I think for a certain amont of insulation. Like Rachel said cellulose is the way to go. I have had nothing but good feedback from home owners.

  • Actually, I guess I'm only the insulation princess, because I don't know much about the soffits, but I'll ask my brother about it.
    And if you say you're gonna go with poly-urethane foam, then I will think you're a tool. The only way to waste more money on insulation would be to use those cotton batts made out of recycled denim. Yuppies love the idea until they hear how expensive it is.

  • Curtis, thanks for the tips – I think removing the old insulation took care of the pee smell. Actually, I think most of the insulation we removed was fairly decent stuff, there were just a few pockets that were really nasty – but we'd never be able to find those pockets without just removing everything. I may have to bring you on as an independent consultant for this chimney repair…

    Rachel, I'm not going to tell you our insulating strategy, but I will say that it's an experimental solution, and that I've ordered 400 cans of GREAT STUFF spray foam. They should be delivered Saturday! Yippee!

  • About soffits I know when i frame new houses or remodel old there have air damns I think that is what they are called. They are inserts that run along you pitch of your roof "inside' Its is hard to explain but it take the soffit and tunnals it up. I will draw you a pic on sun

  • I just hope it's fireproof. 😉

  • Curtis, I know what you're talking about – they're plastic tray thingy's that you can put the insulation right up against and it will keep an air channel open. It's probably what I need, but I don't think I can install them without removing the ceiling & existing insulation from the sloped part of the roof – and that's not really an option right now…

  • Anonymous

    Make sure you put some baffles in before you start putting in the new insulation..I need to improve the R-value in my attic as well..I have yet to venture up there though.