At long last, insulating the porch ceiling

Porch roof/ceilingAbout ten months ago, I was trying to figure out the best way to insulate the ceiling of our upstairs sleeping porch.

Our upstairs sleeping porch was once just a porch, so it has no attic space. After tearing down the old dropped ceiling and pulled out the old insulation, all that’s left between our heads and the elements are the joists, beadboard roof sheathing, 2″ foam insulation, and the roof membrane.

I just can’t figure out the best way to insulate this space before putting in the new ceiling. That’s my dilemma. So to my partners in renovation and other skilled experts: how would you fill this with insulation and a ceiling?

In that post, I was mulling three similar options for insulating the space that involved some combination of either rigid foamboard or normal fiberglass. I was constrained by the shallow depth of the joists and also the fact that I didn’t know if I should leave space for air to circulate.

On that count, our house is a little unconventional compared to a typical single family home because the vent soffits on the outside don’t actually connect to this space, and this space doesn’t connect to the attic space. So the typical practice of having a soffit vent under the roofline that feeds cooler air into the attic and then vents out at the highest point to let hot air escape isn’t really applicable here.

I had a few people recommend spray foam insulation, so I called a local group (Northern VA Spray Foam, I think) and got the most helpful guy on the phone. After describing my situation and the limited square footage, he was honest enough to tell me he’d be charging me way too much money to bring his $100,000 spray truck out here just to insulate this one room. He let me know about some incredibly useful home kits that I could buy and use to do the same thing myself at a fraction of the cost. (He would’ve charged me somewhere close to $1500-2000, possibly more, I can’t recall.)

I found the Touch’N'Seal closed cell polyurethane kits from Conservation Mart online. At about $600, I could cut the price in half or more by doing it myself. I ordered the 600 sf kit and it arrived the day we left for Charlottesville.

Spray foam insulation

Before I could insulate, I needed to do some prep work.

I scraped the beadboard paneling to provide a nice uniform surface for the foam. A lot of the paint (multiple coats, of course!) looked like they’d been facing the sun and not the interior for years. Cracked, peeling, baked-looking. I didn’t scrape everything down to bare wood but used the Bahco carbide scraper to get the worst of the cracked stuff off. Then I went over the surface with the wire brush to get it as dust free as possible. That took 2-3 grueling hours on Sunday night, culminating in total exhaustion and the sleep of babes.

Porch ceiling before insulation

Yesterday, I rushed home after work so I could do the actual spraying before the sun went down. Before I could start, I had to unwire the single, sad light bulb in the center of the room and pull the wiring out of the joists and then do the same thing for the vent fan in the bathroom. (For some reason, whomever installed the exhaust fan decided to run the electrical out from the attic through the brick back of the house, into the porch, and then back through the brick to wire the fan in, instead of going straight down inside the brick wall to the fan. Classic.)

Then I covered the new closets, the Ikea wardrobes, and the desk still sitting on the porch with plastic. After that, you hook up the gun and hoses to the cans, purge the system to get the stuff flowing, and then put a nozzle on the gun and go to town. Thankfully, the makers of Touch’N'Seal have a bevy of instructional videos available online to teach you how to spray and handle the kit. (Once again, what would we do without the internet and youtube?)

It was off to the races after that.

Insulating the ceiling
First coat of spray foamDSC_0009

I started at one end, worked my way all the way across the porch, and then went back over to fill in any gaps and just coat the space with additional thickness until I ran out of foam. I wanted to fill the entire space between the beadboard and the future ceiling for maximum insulation, though it ended up only about 2/3 full. I’m glad I ordered the double-size kit for 600 sf — otherwise it would have been a really thin coating.

Best part of the job? Space suit!!!

Halfway finished

And just so you don’t worry, Rachel wasn’t standing in the porch taking these with no mask (or space suit!) on. She was in the bedroom, shooting through the window. Just in case. :)

It was far more tiring than I ever thought it would be, and took probably an hour and a half from the time I first started spraying. I had to keep my neck and head craned upwards the whole time, and the goggles were constantly getting fogged up and covered in spray, making it impossible to see. And it was hot. When I unzipped the suit, my t-shirt was drenched from the neck almost all the way down.

But I finished the insulation and it looked great this morning.

Sleeping porch south ceiling after insulation
Insulation full between the joists
Porch ceiling insulated

Rachel also took some video of me during the spraying.

Things I learned

The warnings from the manufacturers about this stuff making a mess and taping over anything you don’t want covered in excess spray are legit. I ran out of plastic after I covered the closets and the wardrobes, and didn’t do anything for the floor since it’s going to be covered over soon. (It’s already covered in paint and drywall compound.) When I got done, there was tons of excess spray on the tops of the walls and some on the windows. Fortunately, the walls scraped clean easily with a paint scraper after it cured. And I’m not worried about the windows — glass always easily scrapes clean — but it’s also on the wood frames and sashes that I haven’t painted yet. I scraped some of it off last night but the nooks and crannies are more difficult to get clean. Means that I’ll be spending a couple unnecessary hours cleaning the windows.

It’s also all over the floor. Though the floor will get replaced, it makes for a tacky mess walking around out there. I’m either going to pull the linoleum up or take a pass at scraping it lightly to get the worst of it off. But this stuff is messy, no doubt. If you’re working in a finished room with these kits, you’ll need to seriously cover every square inch of anything you don’t want to ruin or clean later.

Making a giant mess
Messy foam flying through the air, sticking to bathroom window.

Spray foam mess
The cans were covered in the foam afterward. Extrapolate this look to the entire floor and that’s about what the floor looks like today.

Now that this insulation is done, though, I’ve finished the last major thing that’s my responsibility on the porch, other than a few details. I’m going to get an electrician in here ASAP to run new wiring and add several boxes for new ceiling fixtures. And then I’m probably going to pay someone to drywall the ceiling (I hate ceilings) or possibly install beadboard. And then the carpet.

The finish line is in sight!

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