The Cross House

Wanna Meet My Attic?

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The Cross House has five levels. The lower four are heated/cooled. The top-most level (#5) is the attic. It comprises this room (much larger than it appears in the image) which has standing room. There are three gables shooting off from it (north, east, and south). The south gable has head room; the other two do not. You are looking west.

 

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Terrifyingly, at some point there was a significant fire in the attic. This may have happened in the 1960s. The previous owner, Bob, painted the charred wood.

 

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On the left you can see how the sheathing boards have been replaced. Most of the sheathing on the south roof was replaced. To do so, all the 1920s diamond cementitious roof tiles would have been removed, then reinstalled. As the clip onto each other this would not have been too difficult.

 

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The fire was not severe on the west side.

 

The fourth level is heated/cooled by this forced air unit in the attic.
The fourth level is heated/cooled by this forced air unit in the attic. A problem is that the HOT air of the attic causes condensation UNDER the unit, which is destroying the ceiling below. My plan is to relocate the unit to the fourth level. Also note the debris. EEK!

 

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More EEK! This kind of stuff really freaks me out. I have managed to eradicate all of this on the first four levels.

 

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When I purchased the house it had a new 3-zone AC system. This is good. However, ALL the ductwork was this kind of flexible stuff. This is bad. Very bad, for such ducting is stunningly inefficient as it causes turbulence inside the duct, making it MUCH harder to push air through. I have already replaced all the flexible ducting on the first four levels with rigid ducting. This makes my conditioned air MUCH happier.

 

In short?

The attic is a mess. As it is not a priority item I have ignored it even though I occasionally can hear it calling out to me: Clean me! Cleeeeeeeeeeeeen me! Cruelly, I have ignored these plaintive pleas.

I do however have a plan:

  1. Heat/cool the attic, and use it as storage.
  2. Access is currently by a dropdown stair, and it is awkward and dangerous at the top. Replace this with good stationary stair in better location.
  3. Relocate heating/cooling unit to floor below.
  4. Rethink insulation. There is currently a lot of insulation in the floor. It seems that new thinking on the subject says that this whole approach is wrong. Rather, I need to have the underside of the roof sprayed with closed-cell foam. This will keep the attic from getting super hot. Then, from what I gather, I should remove the floor insulation. The point is that if it is 95 degrees outside, and 150 degrees in the attic, then the AC on the fourth floor is working extra hard to compensate for the super-hot attic radiating all that heat. Well, that does make sense. In short, the idea is to prevent the attic from getting super hot. NOTE: I am just learning about all this. Please feel free to comment!
  5. Replace all flexible ducting with rigid. Relocate all ducting to perimeter of attic rather than snaking cross the floor.
  6. Install floor throughout!
  7. When all of the above is completed, clean, baby, clean!

 

 

 

 

19 Responses to Wanna Meet My Attic?

  1. From what I know or have been told, the attic should be kept as close as possible to the outside temperature, thus the need for insulation on the floor. This also means the attic must be vented somehow, thus the need for those (ugly) roof vents you see on so many houses. Never heard about spraying the underside of the roof with foam, although I suspect that would keep a lot of the heat out.

    • It seems that in new houses the underside of the roof in insulated. Again, this is a new approach.

      And because I plan to use the attic, having it heated/cooled will be necessary. So, it will not be a normal attic, but useable space.

      • One thing to consider is how the roofing will react to the decreased ventilation and increased heat. Some research shows increased incidences of rot in the sheathing and lower shingle lifespan when the underside of the sheathing is sprayed, I’m sure you could find evidence pointing to the opposite too. All you can do is lots of research and use your best judgement.

  2. Wait, you mean you don’t just let your stuff bake up there like everyone else does?

    I did some reading a while ago about how to do insulation for flat roofs, cathedral ceilings, and unvented attics. I’ve forgotten a lot of the building science stuff as I made all those decisions for my house about 3 years ago – and had the insulation installed during the polar vortex of 2014. That was fun.

    Anyways, I read that some people create insulated attics by building a channel right under the roof sheathing above the insulation and thanks to the slope of the roof venting it with both ridge and soffit vents. Before we disregard this option, I’ll suggest punching these little guys into your cornices just to mess with you.

    The good news is that I think that because spray foam is impermeable, it does work to use it to create an unvented attic without creating the usual moisture problems. I’ll read up on this and get back to you at some point if you want me to. Also, I think that because spray foam is really flammable it might be a good idea at that point to put up fire rated drywall in the attic.

    We just put some good furniture up into my parents’ unconditioned attic. Hopefully it doesn’t get too wrecked. My cousin may be happy to have the stuff in 8 years when she finishes college.

  3. The fire probably happened way before the 1920’s roofing was put on. Here’s a link to show that roof fires were really common at the turn of the century. Here we had two major fires roll through town in the late 1800’s and nearly every roof on every house that is a century plus old has this damage. Because roofing material was wood/shake, embers would fall and ignite the roofs. How they were able to put them out with buckets and hand pumps is an amazing feat!

    As far as spray foaming the attic, I am still not convinced on spray foam. I know that if it isn’t applied right it can leak formaldehyde, it’s extremely flammable, and off gasses in a fire. I have also dealt with a fair number of upholstered furniture from the days foam was a popular stuffing and it has all crumbled to a horrible dust after a half a century.

    • Thanks, Jason!

      I agree that roof fires were once common.

      But, I talked with two people who recall a fire in the attic during the 1960s when the house was used as a sorority. That two non-related people had the same story makes me think it might be true.

      The previous owner also set the house on fire, and this burned through the SE corner of the roof. One of his guys was using a heat gun on some trim on the fourth level.

      This is why heat guns are FORBIDDEN at the Cross House.

      • Ah! I see, I wonder if there is an interesting story behind that fire…Sorority and 1960’s….are good indications there may be. lol

        I remember reading about the heat gun incident. I still can’t believe people use heat guns to strip wood work, not even for the fire issues but even the scorch marks it leaves on the wood!

        Ever try one of those The Silent Paint Remover’s? I really want to play with one but I just don’t know if the entry fee is worth it…

        • A silent paint remover?

          Never heard of it! So I did a Google search.

          Ahh! An infrared paint remover! And I have heard of these. My neighbor has one and swears by it.

          In the future, if I strip the paint off the miles of beadboard on level four, I planned to use an infrared stripper.

          • Yeah, they say the ones from Sweden(The Silent Paint Remover) work better then the knock offs.

            Just seeing the video’s make me want to swear by it to, at least the “science” behind it seems to hold true and the less lead dust I put in the air is always nice.

            Of course paint removal, decorating and choosing kitchen cabinet for my project may not be in the cards for another decade.

      • YIKES!! Now I feel stupid. I used a heat gun on all the kitchen woodwork in my 1897 house. Hmmmm….there was no fire and no scorch marks. I wore a mask but the smell was beyond horrible. Probably ’cause it was lead paint. Oh well, I’m 60 now and not dead from it.

        Also….I restored all the rest of the woodwork AND huge 8-foot, 5-panel doors–all were UN-painted with original varnish–with 3M Safe Stripper. I did the work inside, during winter. Non explosive, smell reminded me of grade-school paste. More time consuming but I was able to redo the doors where they hung. Safe Stripper would be great for wood that can’t be taken down.

        LOVE YOUR HOUSE!!!

  4. A few years ago I had the crawl space sealed and the attic insulated. Heat and a/c are pulled into the crawl space to keep it dry. The single split unit on the second floor of my story and a half brick Cape Cod can keep the attic side cooled or heated.
    Same concept on a whole ‘nothr scale.

  5. Insulating the floor of an attic separates it from the rooms below it. The attic then needs to be vented to prevent moisture build up.
    Spray foaming, using a closed-cell foam, on the underside of the roof sheeting will turn the attic into an insulated space at it will need to be temperature controlled – and consequently humidity controlled – just like the rest of the house.
    Insulating the underside of the roof with batt insulation (Roxull or fibreglass) will require baffling for venting, and vapour barrier.

    Spray foam does off-gas as it’s curing, but that should only take about 24 hours, and no one should be in the home during that time. A reputable contractor will take all the required safety measures. They would also install the product properly so that it functions properly.

    If you insulate the attic space, that furnace unit should ok to be left where it is. But I would still want a condensate tray under it.

    • “A reputable contractor will take all the required safety measures.” That’s what they want you to believe. Even the best people make mistakes, sometimes very serious mistakes that can make a house unlivable. I would not take that chance with The Grand Old Lady. The horror stories people tell on youtube of this stuff gone wrong really are nightmare material.

  6. We had condensation trays put in under our units on the third floor. The trays really do a good job catching the condensation. But, this summer one of the pumps in the tray stopped working. The tray filled up, and started dripping onto the second floor. Not the end of the world, but. . . If I could do it again, I would use a direct drain connected to the tray to get the water out, and not mess with the pumps.

    • Routine maintenance should include ensuring those drains are not clogged. Any fuzzball that lands on the tray will inevitably get lodged in the drain tube.

      One place where I worked had air conditioning in the shop. One of the units was above my bay. The drain tube would clog up, and when the tray filled with water it would suddenly bend just enough to dump cold water on me.

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