Q: We have a cottage built in 1935, and we want to insulate the walls and possibly the floor. Some contractors say I have to remove the siding, install fiberglass batts, then replace the siding with new material. Another said I could drill holes in the siding and put in foam insulation. Another wants to use treated shredded newspaper. I would be most grateful for your opinion. –Lucy D.

A: If the siding is in generally good condition, having retrofit insulation blown into the walls is your most cost-effective option. On the downside, blowing in insulation requires that a series of holes be drilled in the siding — one at the top of each stud cavity. These holes then need to filled and painted or otherwise covered, and I have seen some installations where poor workmanship left these holes very poorly concealed.

Some other concerns with retrofit insulation include damage to old electrical wiring in the walls, especially an older type of wiring called knob-and-tube, which may be present in a house of your age. If the interior wall covering — plaster, drywall, etc. — is in poor condition, the pressure of the insulation being blown into the walls can sometimes cause additional damage.

Both of the materials you mention — foam and cellulose (the shredded newspaper) — are common for retrofit applications. Foam has a higher R-value per inch and expands nicely to completely fill the cavities so it offers better insulation properties, but can also release gasses into the home for a short period of time, can shrink over time, and the pressure of the expanding foam can sometimes cause damage. Cellulose has very good insulating properties and should be less expensive than foam, but it weighs more than foam and can settle somewhat over time. Those are the pros and cons, but either material should work fine — again depending on the condition of your walls and your electrical wiring.

Please be aware that there are a number of potential problems associated with injecting insulation into blind wall cavities, including the wiring issues mentioned above, as well as potential moisture-trapping problems. I would strongly suggest that your first step be to contact your local utility company. Have them send an energy conservation representative out to your house and discuss the various options with you, so you can get an unbiased opinion prior to contracting with specific companies. Your utility should also be able to point out any potential problems, as well as helping you out with recommendations of contractors. They can also do a heat loss calculation to help you decide if the payback would make installing floor insulation a worthwhile expense to undertake.

When you select the contractor, make sure they are properly licensed and bonded, and that you get references from people in your area that they have done work for.

Q: We had our sidewalk replaced last summer. They had to rip it up and redo it the first time because of a problem with the cement. Now the sidewalk is banked wrong, and we have a large puddle by the front door. Can they fix it, or do we have to have it torn out and redone again? –Reba E.

A: Without seeing the actual installation it is difficult to say for sure, but typically doing any type of retrofit or repair in the circumstances you describe is not going to be effective. In my opinion, when you pay a contractor to do work on your home you have the right to expect that it be done to certain accepted standards of workmanship. If that was not done, you should insist that it be torn out and redone properly. 

I am always in favor of giving a contractor the opportunity to make a job right. However, since the contractor has already been given one opportunity to make the repairs and did not do it correctly, you may also have the right to cancel your contract, have another contractor redo the installation, and deduct the cost of the second contractor’s work from the bill you received from the first contractor. If this becomes an issue, I would suggest that you seek specific guidance from the contractor’s board.

Q: How does metal roofing hold up hail and high winds? –Martin A.

A: Hail and heavy winds can wreck havoc on any type of roofing. With metal roofing, hail can cause widespread denting that is virtually impossible to repair, and the overall surface area of the sheets, which is quite large compared to other types of roofing, is definitely susceptible to wind lifting. There is not much you can do about the hail, but there are alternative fastening methods to make the sheets more wind resistant, so be sure and discuss this with your roofing contractor.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paul2887@hughes.net.

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