Monday, March 21, 2011

An architect, an insulation guy and an insulation guy's cousin walk into a museum...

Somehow Daylights Savings Torture crept up on me again this year. The obvious thought here is that I should be able to keep track of a bi-annual event all by my big girl self. But I can’t...because I won’t. I prefer to live in denial, ruthlessly shutting down the rare occasion that reality seeks to intrude itself, like for example, the whole turning the clocks forward and back. Denial is such a powerful mindset for me that I will, for days afterwards, read the time as it used to be before daylight savings struck. It’s only being blessed with a short attention span and the passage of time, that I begin to accept the new reality of the clock’s time.

Denial is a really lovely place to live. I rarely venture outside of its borders.

Example: A grocery shopping trip with all four of my children.

Denial – I practically float on air as I push the cart around the store followed by my well-mannered, docile children who follow my every command without comment, and intuitively know the items I need from the shelves before I ask for them.

Reality – I shop with shoulders hunched, avoiding eye contact with fellow shoppers as I speed race my way through the grocery aisles, pausing periodically to locate my wandering 5 and 7-year olds, pick up my 2-year old’s shoes (which she has thrown into a display of crackers during a tantrum) and tell my 3-year old to stop gnawing on the corner of a cereal box.

I’m the President, Vice-President, Secretary and Treasurer of Denial and I welcome all within its comforting confines. And since I find denial so useful in my personal life, I’ve decided to include it in my work life. Take the Restoration project. No really, take it ‘cause I am sick of it. But since I already know that there are no takers anywhere for a project of this scope in this financial climate, I will instead retreat into denial.

About a week ago, the Director had some visitors to the museum: one of our architects, an insulation guy, and the insulation guy’s cousin. (I have no idea why the insulation guy’s cousin was there.  I also feel like that was a setup for a joke, you know - An architect, an insulation guy and an insulation guy's cousin walk into a museum.)

“Insulation did you say?” I said...when the Director sat down at the table in the Volunteer Room (aka my winter office) to give me the recap.

“Don’t get excited.” She warned.

Too late! I live in denial and by her mere utterance of the word “insulation”, my mind quickly became convinced that the restoration project is poised to begin the last part of phase 2. No matter if we’re still waiting for phase 1 to finish up and the first part of phase 2 (window restoration) to be completed. No matter that the Director tried to explain the reason for the visit was to get an estimate of how much the proposed insulation work will cost when it is time to put that phase of the work out to bid. No matter, no matter, no matter. I guess I just don’t have the appreciation for reality that so-called intellectuals have. Reality to me is the Debbie Downer of life. The only reality I am interested in is reality television thank you very much (MTV and Bravo). I don’t need any doses of it in my real life.

Despite the Director’s best efforts, it was a foregone conclusion that I was going to interpret everything she told me as an explanation of how the restoration project is moving right along and approaching the beginning of phase 3. So like any sensible Director, she drank two cups of coffee, sighed a lot and then proceeded to fill me in on the visit.

As I mentioned before, the Director claims that the visit was only to give the architects and the museum an idea of the cost of the insulation work ahead of us. That information will be useful during the bidding process for that phase. Whatever. I was much more interested to hear what the architect and the insulation guy had to say. (Not so much with the insulation guy’s cousin.) They went all through the house, checking it out and giving their opinion. Starting in the attic or garret as we call it, the insulation guy debated over the options for where the thermal barrier (insulation) could be placed. He initially suggested that the museum could get by with insulating the floor of the garret and not the ceiling. I was confused because in my mind I was envisioning rolls of that pink cotton-candy looking insulation lining the floor of the attic. That would make the space unusable I thought. The next words out of the Director’s mouth were to that effect. Insulating the floor of the garret would make the space unusable and also very cold. But it would save the museum money because insulating the floor of the garret would require less square footage of insulation than insulating the ceiling would. That made sense for about a moment until I began to factor in the other rooms of the attic.

[Quick explanation here of the museum’s attic. It isn’t one big open loft. It has been divided into about three main rooms with two smaller side rooms off one of the main rooms. The biggest room is the main garret room. It is the greatest in height of all the attic spaces and it is unfinished. You can still see the roman numerals the builders marked the timber with 224 years ago. The two other main rooms are much smaller in size and height and they were finished to function as bedrooms for family members.]
As soon as the insulation guy went into these other rooms and saw the plaster and wallpaper on the walls he realized that the plan for insulating the floor would become complicated.

A view of one of the three main rooms.

A view of another one of the main rooms.

One of the two smaller side rooms.
Therefore he went back to the idea of insulating the roof. The museum is no stranger to this as at least the main garret currently has fiber glass insulation installed at the roof line. A visitor to this room today can see the big pink cotton-candy insulation hanging down from the ceiling. The bummer is that if the new insulation is installed at the roof line, most of the cool architectural details of the roof would be obscured. The insulation guy did suggest that a section of the roof line could be boxed out to keep an example of the architectural details exposed. Insulating at the roof line would be less complicated and allow for a more flexible use of the attic space in the future.

It's every cotton candy lovers dream! 

This picture was taken up at the roofline of the main garret room.  It's a little crawl space that you reach by a ladder staircase.  This is where the insulation guy found roman numerals written on the wood.  I tried to locate an example to show you all however a combination of a mild fear of heights and bad lighting made it hard to locate any roman numerals.  Trust me - the space only appears well-lit because of the camera's flash. 
Oh, and whether we were to insulate the roof or the floor – everything in the attic must be removed before work can be carried out. E-V-E-R-Y-T-H-I-N-G. And that’s a whole lot of things. Lots and lots of objects still remain in the attic despite the prodigious efforts of the past and present curators. (Hey Curator, you should definitely move in to denial with me. I guarantee you’ll enjoy life a lot more in here than out there.)

and oodles of objects to be removed.

As for the first and second floors of the house, the insulation guy felt that blowing dense pack cellulose insulation up and down in the walls by room and floor would work. He originally was concerned that the brick nogging in the walls would take in a lot of moisture which would have a negative impact on the insulation. However his concerns were alleviated when he noted that the house has wood siding. The wood siding will serve as a barrier between the elements (like wind driven rain) and the brick. Some of the walls on the first and second floors (for example, the north wall in the north parlor) have double layers of brick in the walls – which would make it impossible to blow in insulation. In cases where the double layers of brick exist, areas of air flow would be identified and insulation applied to obstruct the air flow.

The north wall of North Parlor. 

As for the basement – they didn’t need too long to look around before delivering the verdict that it would not be worthwhile to try and insulate the basement. Why? I’m not sure, but maybe the fact that it would be impossible to access the walls in many locations is the reason. The Orientation Room’s wall mounted exhibit would be damaged if it had to be removed to provide access to the wall behind it. The south kitchen has bead board walls and ceiling which, again, would be damaged by any attempts to get to the walls behind. As for the Furnace Room, Volunteer Room and Paper Storage Room (in which no paper is stored) – maybe they’re just too cramped and creepy to bother trying to insulate.

Paper Storage Room
(Shout out to the Program Assistant/Facilities Support Assistant who has worked tirelessly on cleaning and organizing this space and who also said that since the space does not actually hold paper, perhaps it would be a good idea to think of a different name for it.  Good luck with that catching on with the rest of the staff!) 
Volunteer Room (/my winter office/staff library/coffee time location/kitchen/etc.)

Many would laud the Director for her foresight and commitment to careful, thorough planning by having this pre-meeting to get an idea of what the costs will be for the work to be done. I prefer to interpret the results of her meeting as an official announcement that insulation work will begin in the next week or so and everyone in the house will once again be able to feel the tips of their fingers and toes.

It’s a beautiful day in de-ni-a-al, a beautiful day in de-ni-a-al…won’t you be my neighbor? (I’m talking to you Curator.)

1 comment:

  1. I really love your blog. It put a smile on my face. I also have children, and it feels like you were describing me at the food store with my kids! Anyway, about insulation, most people underestimate the value of insulation. I recently had new insulation installed in my attic, and it really made my home more energy efficient, not to mention it is a good investment. I did my research on my employer's site, McGraw-Hill Construction, and I'm very happy with the results. They have such valuable information for everyone. Check it out.