Bill Sitkin says, "At the heart of recycling, for me, is a great love for this planet and the awesome natural systems that support life here. I have always been a 'dumpster diver' and developed a used building materials and deconstruction business known as The ReStore in Crestone, Colorado. I look forward to your questions on anything about recycling materials or deconstructing buildings."

Questions and Answers

Q: I'm working on finishing a one room pine cabin. I'm pretty much set on everything but (there is always a but), I was wondering if you knew of something I could use for insulation that is really cheap and/or free, and not that gross pink insulation. The cabin is located in the Maine woods. So far no one I've talked to has any ideas. If you have any suggestions, I would love to know.

A: (Kelly) If the cabin is designed with cavities in the walls, then these cavities can be filled with various forms of insulation, beside the standard fiberglass batts that you mention. One common insulating material is cellulose, which is basically paper pulp with borax or something added to make it more fireproof. This can be blown into the cavities through small holes, which are later plugged. This material is more often used to blow into attic spaces, and there are companies in most localities that can drive to your house with a big truck that is equipped to do the job. Another insulation material that is more old-fashioned is sawdust, which can be mixed with lime powder to make it more resistant to insects and fungi. I suppose that this could also be blown into the walls if you had the right equipment. More expensive insulation would be rigid foam boards that can be installed before the interior wall material is attached.

Q: I am remodeling a room that was built as a cold storage room in the 70's. The walls are built with 12" thick hollow cement blocks. The exterior is finished with furring strips and paneling, and the interior side of the blocks are painted with tar-like black paint and covered with 2 layers of 2" expanded polystyrene boards. I would like to know:
1) Should I keep the polystyrene insulation or replace it?

A: (Kelly) If you are going to use this space as a residence, then you will want it to be insulated. Even though such insulation is better placed on the outside of the concrete blocks, given the circumstances, I would tend to leave it inside and cover the interior walls with something.

2) If I keep it, how can I attach drywall to the polystyrene?

One way to do this is to attach "sleepers" (say 1X4's running vertically where the sheetrock seems would be, sol that the sheetrock can be attached to this). The sleepers themselves can be attached to the block behind the insulation with long screws or lag bolts (with recessed heads), or anchoring bolts if you drill into the voids of the blocks. The way to do this is drill holes in the block and either use the bolts with the little spring-loaded wing nuts, or sink lead or plastic screw anchors.

3) Should I fill the voids in the cement block with insulation? if so, what kind?

I wouldn't bother with this, since the air itself is good insulation and the places where the masonry is solid would keep the whole block wall from being very efficient.

Q: Should I staple a vapor barrier to the sleepers before putting up the drywall?

A: (Kelly) If you are in a rather cold climate, then a vapor barrier on the inside is a good idea to keep warm moist air from condensing somewhere in the wall system. It might be that the tar-like substance that you mention would serve this function...I don't know.

Q: I'm finding that if you want to go green and still live in your old home, in the city, your options for ideas dries up very quickly. I'm looking for those creative and innovative people who can help people like me recycle/reuse their old home. Have any recommendations?

A: Your first step would be a visit to your building inspector to see what you can and can't do in your county as far as going green.  No sense in replacing that exterior wall with strawbale if your county does not include strawbale in its code.  Next is to find a green consultant in your area to begin finding out what is possible within your budget.  You may want to work toward a 1, 5 and 10 year plan and set your priorities accordingly.  There are varying shades of green and it is very important to make a plan before you begin. 


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