Terrific Broth

The life of two scientists, creating a small home, in big mountains

Attic Insulation – It is Happening!

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With winter settling in, we are keeping a close eye on our energy consumption. With below freezing temperature every night, our electricity and gas bill increased about 20% last month. We do have to heat the entire basement this month for our guest, so overall our little ranch still performed better than we thought it would be (thanks to our brand new furnace, new roof, and all the insulation Slav has done on the exterior). However, we knew that we could further improve our energy efficiency by adding insulation into our attic. 

How much do we need?

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According to our house inspection, our attic currently has 8″ fiberglass insulation, which gives us insulation value of R-19. The recommended roof insulation value for Denver homes is R49-R60, which means that we are significantly lacking attic insulation. This might be due to the different building codes when our house was builtin 1960s. It could also because the height of our attic. As you could see from the picture below when we replace our subroof, the 8″ fiberglass has already filled the space at the low points. There is only about a few inches height for additional insulation along each side.

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To take a better look ourselves, Slav and I took a trip to out attic together. It was my first time being inside the attic, so it was pretty exciting to me.

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In general, the attic and the insulation are in better shape than we expected. We have a solid 8″ loose filled fiberglass insulation throughout, even 10″ to a foot at some places. There is no mold, rot, or any additional damage we could see. And there is no trace of any animals.

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We both wear respirators and goggles that seal against our skin. They helped a lot when we crawled around to even out some thin spots.

Inspect the vents

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While we are up in the attic, we spent some time inspected the duct and pipes going through the attic. Because our kitchen and bathroom are all centrally located, all our vents are clustered in a small area in the middle of the house. As you could see from the picture above, from left to right, we have the old water heater vent (which is no longer in use since we installed a new tankless water heater), the main floor bathroom vent, a sewer vent (the copper pipe), and the kitchen fan. All the pipes comes up from the dry wall ceiling below, and any gaps between dry wall and pipes need to sealed to prevent heat loss.

Picking the Right Insulation Material

In order to insulation our attic as much as possible, we set out to find blown-in material that gives us the most R value per inch height. We settled on the all borate-treated blown-in cellulose from Green Fiber. The reason for choosing blow-in cellulose is four-fold: we have to use blown-in because how our roof trusses are built, and we want to use cellulose to cover the old fiberglass for health concerns. Cellulose also offers the highest fire retardation rating, and has better pest and moist control compared to fiberglass. The particular type of Green Fiber product we chose has the best fire-rating, noise reduction, moisture control, and does not contain any ammonium sulfate. Ammonium sulfate is often added as a fire retarder if the cellulose is not borate-treated, and it is extremely corrosive to almost all metal when combined with moisture. Since we have bath fans, kitchen vent, and electrical conduit in the attic, the all-borate mix just makes it safer.

According to this insulation calculator, we need 26 bag of this type of Green Fiber product to beef us our attic insulation to R49 and 36 bags for R60. We decided to order a pallet of 36 bags, and spare a few bags to insulate the northern wall in our garage. This wall separates our garage and the main floor kitchen, and therefore has a lot of heat loss and poor fire rating. Blowing the Green Fiber cellulose between the 2″ x 4″ studs will give this wall almost R15 insulation, which is comparable to batt insulation and much easier for retrofitting.

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There is a Xcel Energy rebate for adding insulation in Colorado, which grants 30% rebate off the purchase. But there is a catch – the insulation has to be installed by licensed contractors. Since we are doing it ourselves, we cannot claim this rebate. But if you are hiring it out, do not forget to claim your rebate!

The DIY preparation list

Blown-in insulation is a good DIY-project. It is relatively cheap, fast, requires team work, and offers instant gratification. With our pallet purchase, we can get free rental for a blowing machine from Home Depot for a day. We also scheduled the insulation to be delivered to our door for free, saved us the effort of strapping on a 5′ x 5′ x 8′ pallet on our trailer and unload.

Aside from the machine and material, we also need to install rafter vents in between the rafters. They will not only prevent loose insulation to fall into the soffit and block the vents, but also create channels for any moisture to vent out from roof ridge vents when we pile up loose insulation into the attic. Most of the rafter vents sold in local stores are made in styrofoam, which breaks easily during handling and installation. Since we are retrofitting an old attic with 4:12 roof pitch, we decided to pay a little more for PVC rafter vents. The ones we will be installing is 51″ long, which offers more than 16″ height from the attic floor. So it can vent above our estimated total 16″ loose insulation without clogging the build-in tunnels or soffit went.

An Surprising Discovery

Good things happen to hard-working people, I firmly believe that. Crawling around the attic floor in 8″ fiberglass paid off handsomely – we found that our kitchen soffit is completely hollow inside!

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Do you know what it means? That means that the only reason the kitchen soffit is there, is for the upper cabinet to be mounted at a lower height. It also means that we can remove the soffit completely and build cabinets up! The best part of renovating this house so far has been demos – carpet (here and here), walls, and ceilings. And now I get to simplify the kitchen and adding more storage by demo the soffit? This just become the task I am most-looking forward to in the kitchen!

A couple months earlier, we did drill a couple holes into the soffit and use our awesome little endoscope to probe what was in it. When we saw fiberglass, it really confused us. We also could not figure out what else might be hidden in the soffit. And now we know – it is just insulation falling down from the attic!

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To make the future demo process easier, we decided to close the soffit up from the attic. It will create a floor to support the insulation. Before we nail down a piece of board, we decided to scoop up the insulation in the soffit and put them back to the attic. We did not have to do that, but I am so glad we did – because we found this!

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Below the existing insulation, the kitchen fan vent is completely detached. There is no tape and the alignment is waaay off. The pipes were replaced by our roofer back to September, so obviously they did not do it right. Oh well. We overall liked our new roof and think the roofers did a good job installing it. But this particular part is a bit disappointing.

There is nothing tape and the Great Stuff cannot fix.

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The Plan

So here is our handy to-do list before beefing up our attic insulation:

1. Order the insulation material
2. Seal air gaps, realign and tape-secure the kitchen vent
3. Scoop the insulation out of the kitchen soffit and close the top
4. Even out the existing insulation
5. Lay down ethernet cables for future use
6. Install rafter vents
7. Prepare the garage wall for blown-in
8. Book the machine and it will be the Blow day!

 

A Beginner Minimalist

creat more consume less

On Holidays

I adore Christmas. Growing up in China and now living in the U.S., Christmas is the holiday that resembles Chinese New Year the closest – week-long break from school, cold air and warm blanket, comfort food, and hot tea. Christmas traditions spark joy and holiday spirits in me just like Chinese New Year does, even through they are celebrated very differently.

Christmas has carols, lights and a tree, whereas Chinese New year is celebrated with red lanterns, hand-cut window grilles, couplets flanking the front door, and lots and lots of fireworks. The biggest difference between how American and Chinese celebrate their holidays, is the gift giving. Chinese holidays involve no gift. There was not even birthday gifts (yes, you heard it right). Holidays in China are celebrated by the whole family gathering around and having a nice meal together. So understandably, even after 12 years living in the States, I still have a hard time choosing and receiving gifts, both of which give me lots of anxiety.

But nevertheless, the holiday shopping season comes in stronger and stronger force every year. As soon as we took the last bite of the Thanksgiving turkey, this world is all about shopping for Christmas. All the sudden, headlines like “10 gift every husband wants”, “must-haves in 2018 for empty-nesters”, even “the complete gift guide for all the people on your list” are all over the internet. Do I really need to buy gifts for all my girlfriends? What about co-workers? Does Slav really need a cigar box with his name carved on it? And I am supposed to gift myself now? OMG. I feel anxious just to type these words!

On Consumerism

The gift shopping and receiving is especially hard for me because I practice minimalism. I am not a minimalist by the strict sense – I do not have a sterile apartment or a capsule wardrobe. But I do follow two self-imposed rules when it comes to possessions:

1. Only keep things we actively use or strongly appreciated; and

2. Never buy a thing we do not need/use, just because “everyone else has it” or because other people/ads tell me that I “should have it”. 

These rules are simple, but they take some will-power to follow through. When my parents visited me from China, they were shocked that I, a Chinese woman who eats rice almost everyday, did not own a rice cooker. Their disbelief was so strong that it made me question myself for a brief moment. I was almost convinced that I should go out and buy one. But I soon remembered, we had not had a rick cooker for 7 years! We cook rice perfectly using a regular soup pot. The expectations of following social norms was so strong, that convincing my parents not to buy a rice cooker for me was unpleasant, grinding, and totally made me look like an unreasonable and stubborn bitch. (And when my mother-in-law visited, despite my protest, she just bought one and put it on my counter. Oops.)

We now live in a world that we are expected to own certain things, such as a standard mixer in the kitchen, a big TV in the living room, and a guest bedroom that remains unused 350 days a year. We own them not because we actually need them, but rather “we should have them”. Slav and I have decided that we shouldn’t. We shouldn’t pay for things we don’t use. We shouldn’t live our lives for anyone’s expectations. Therefore, we do not have a TV or a sofa. What we do have, is over 1500 physical books and a big vinyl collection. Because those are what we use and what we love.

On Managing Possessions

A couple years ago I decided to dress with less. Even though I was not aiming to make a 50-piece wardrobe, I did get rid of a lot of pieces. A lot of pieces I held onto just because I had the space. It was surprisingly easy once I set my mind on it. A trick I used for pieces I payed a lot for, or pieces I hoped to wear (but never would), was to put these items into a big bag and tossed it in the trunk of my car. After driving around with them for weeks, I did not miss them at all. So I donated them the next time I passed the PTA. It is a good trick to get rid of things we think we would need without the fear of regret. When I have a hard time to let it go, I always ask myself, “Will another person need, want, or appreciate it more than me?” 

After moving into this house, we do face the need of furnishing the space. Slav and I decided to do it slowly – so instead of going out to buy a bedroom set, a sofa and an entertainment center, a dining set, we bought a storage bed, a dining table, and two chairs – the minimal requirement for living comfortably. We want to learn what we actually need, and what will look good in the house. Six months later, we did not feel that we need anything more, and I love how our 850 sqft ranch feels spacious and cozy at the same time.

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The surprising side effect of my minimalism practice, is how much I started to appreciate the few things we own. I have only one decorative item on my desk, which is this mouse sculpture. We saw it in the thrift shop for $20, which was not cheap. But I adore it. I work with mice everyday and have scarified hundreds, if not thousands of them for research. I would like to have something to remind me their contribution to science and medicine. Looking at it brings me a sense of responsibility and gratitude towards my work.

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Similarly, this Buddha sculpture is the only decoration in my bedroom. It is a cheap find for $2 in the grocery store discount bin, but it reminds me the Chinese teachings I grew up with. I see it every morning when I get off the bed, when this Buddha head is bathed in the morning rays. It makes me feel calm, acceptance, and grace. It also reminds me the suffering the humanity faces, and brings a sense of responsibility of making the world better, which fuels my day.

On Free Time

The most unexpected gift my minimalism gives me, is free time. With smaller house to clean, few dishes to put away, few appliance to maintain, Slav and I have very little chores to do. We are able to focus on things that are important to us: health, hobbies, our dogs, and lots of time for each other. Each day, we spend hours in the evenings to relax and just talk. Through these talks, we learn about each other’s past, passion, and preferences. It helps us every step along the way to realign our priorities as a couple. In fact, that is how we decided to move to Colorado together!

A rule in Chinese ink painting is called “liu bai”, meaning “leave some space unoccupied”, based on the believe that imagination and creativity rises from unoccupied space/time/mind. I find it is very true. By leaving our house most unoccupied, we come up with creative ideas for the space. By leaving our time unoccupied, we discover what we do and do not care about so we can set our priorities. For me, practicing minimalism is all about to reassessing priorities. I apply it to material things, but also to how I spend my time and energy. What do I want to accomplish the most today, this week, and this year? Where should I spend my money/time/attention that is the most valuable to my family, my community, and the society? I set my intentions in the mornings, then just focus on giving it 100%. By the end of the day, successful or not, there is no guilt, no worry, and I am not overwhelmed. Living with intentions helps me to let trivial things go, and focus on making progress on things truly matter to me. 

Being a minimalist may be hard, but practice minimalism is simple. Do you agree? What is your own way of practicing minimalism?

First Christmas at Ranch and the Six-Month Tour!

Hi friends! In a couple days, we would have moved into our ranch for six months! I would not say “time flies” because we really packed these six months with renovations and DIYs. But I am so glad we did what we have done for the house. I recently talked to a neighbor who has been watching our renovation from her windows. When our roofer put down the first row of roof shingles, she was so happy with the color we picked out and let out a big sigh of relief! Haha, I did not know that we are running a real-time renovation show here! Although we were not renovating for anyone else but ourselves, getting thumbs-up from our neighbors is surely a nice thing and very encouraging.

I made a really quick tour to show you what the ranch looks like at its six-month mark, including our humble Christmas decor. I am beyond excited about the first holiday season in our ranch, and it is just as exciting to look back at how much we have accomplished since June. So if you are free the next 8 minutes, click on the tour and let me walk (and talk) you through our little ranch!

For those of you who could not watch the videos, you can get a pretty good idea of our journey from the before-and-after photos below.

The curb appeal and front entry

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Lots has happened since the first week after we moved in. We have since –

Replaced our leaky, 20 year-old roof (here, here, here, and here)
Installed new gutter
Painted the trims, soffit and fascia
Demo-ed the front porch and patio
Replaced the front storm door, painted the front door, and dressed up the front entries with decorative quarter round
Corrected the drainage issues by demoing the flower bed and laying down drainage rocks
Replaced rusty window wells
Cleaned up exterior wires and patched all the cracks and nail holes

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This is our front door today, a far cry from the front entry we inherited.

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The living room did not change much after we ripped off the wall-to-wall carpet and set up a dining table under the big picture window. We have been slowly adding plants to our home, and hung a cow art collection which really brings color into the living space.

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We still do not have a sofa (oops), but we are content with just two armchairs and do not feel the need for anything bigger yet. You can usually find Roxie on one of the arm chairs and Charlie on the dog bed in front of Slav’s vinyl collection.

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Christmas Decor and new LED lights

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We got our Christmas decor up this past week. Like the past years, we celebrate Christmas with a humble pre-lit tree in our living room, an artificial wreath on the front door, and minimal decor dotted in each room.

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The cute salt and pepper shaker:

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For the exterior, we ordered all brand-new LED string lights and wrapped them around the two trees in the front yard (this one) and our holiday wreath (this one). They do cost more, but I expect them to last longer. Since this LED string light can switch from the christmassy tri-colors to warm white color, we also plan to use them between the holiday seasons.

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The pine tree in the front yard

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The tree outside of Slav’s office

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From 5pm to midnight, our house looks like this from the street:

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Our view from the dinner table:

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The bed, bath, and beyond

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Our bedroom has not changed since we ripped off the carpet and first set it up. The main floor bath got a good scrub with all new caulking, but the total overhaul is still yet to happen. We are over-analyzers and it usually takes us a long time to commit to a final design. So the master suite plan will be simmering for months to come. However, we did develop a solid plan for Slav’s office, the second (and bigger) bedroom on the main floor. We plan to tackle the office as soon as the new year ball drops – so stay toned, friends!

The kitchen

The room in which we did start making changes is the kitchen. We removed the cabinets over the fridge soon after we moved in, replaced all the old caulking, and recently relocated and modified the sideboard.

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The old cabinets are still rocking on the other side of the kitchen, and believe or not, we are currently using half of these cabinet (some of them are just too gross to us). Since these cabinets will not be reused in the new kitchen, we will be play with them to get some ideas for the best layout for the future kitchen. It will be a fun project to fiddle with with some eggnog latte this Christmas.

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The garage

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Our garage is easily my favorite place in the house – the other close contender is the garden shed we completed overhauled (links below). I found myself visiting the garage for no obvious reason, but to admire how organized and clean it is. Can you blame me when this is the before? Does anyone else do it? Please let me know that I am not the only one crazy about a garage.

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In the garage, we have –

Added more outlets to the workbench wall
Resurfaced the end wall
Created a paint storage
DIY-ed a ski rack and adding a mud-area
Replaced the weather stripping on garage door and dressed it up with decorative quarter rounds
Put up pegboards and tool organization 
Decided to demo the old garage ceiling

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The yard

Here are two short videos showing you the side and back yard. They are a couple minutes each.

This yard is certainly a big factor that sold us on the house. And we are glad that we made the right decision. Roxie and Charlie spent most of their awaking hours in the yard, running, playing, chasing squirrels, and sunbathing. Slav replaced the old storm door with a new one and added a doggy door, and I set up an automatic water station for the pups at the back. Keeping our pups content is an important priority for us. Do you know that up to 30% of millennials purchase proprieties for their pets? I can totally relate.

When it is too hot outside, you can find Roxie and Charlie lounging behind the shed. Oh the shed, it is probably the most finished in the house, because it is rebuilt with 99% new material. We demo-ed it to the studs, rebuilt the walls back up, painted it, trimmed around, organized garden tools inside, and added finishing touches to it after the roof replacement and extension. We also added compost bins to the back of the shed (here and here).

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The biggest project we have done to the backyard is replacing the old back patio (here, here, here, and here). Along with the back patio build, we replaced the old window wells and laid down drainage rocks. We also updated backyard lighting here and there.

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The utility

Before we bought the ranch, I did not know how much the hidden cost of a property can be – utility upgrades, insulation, landscaping, all costs lots of $$ that we were not really prepared for. The reason that you have not seem many new furniture and finished on the main floor, is that we have spent every single penny on the new electrical panel, more outlets, a brand new furnace and central cooling system, the tankless water heater, a set of washer and dryer, which led to the expansion of our utility room in the basement. Along with the back patio and a new roof, we have pumped over $20000 into the ranch house in cash. But we knew it is well worth the warmth, comfort, and security we are enjoying in our little ranch. And the effort we put in to this house will be rewarded. When money is tight, we balance these big expenses with small upgrades here and there. But our love and attention for the ranch has never worn off a bit.

Here you have it, our six-month house tour and our first Christmas season in the ranch. We’ve been sipping eggnog under the tree and talk about our plans for the ranch house in 2018, which we will share with you on the blog soon. I hope you enjoy a peaceful and happy holiday at the comfort of your own home.  And thank you so much for supporting us during 2017!

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