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Insulating cold front upstairs bedroom

I have a very nagging issue with the cold drafty floor in front upstairs bedroom of my house built in 1969.

This is a 4-bedroom split-level house. There are about 60 houses in my comunity, half of them have the same design.

On a cold chilly night, the draft comes from the built-in closet in the corner of the bedroom. I have to stuff the closet with sofa pillows to somewhat mitigate to cold spreading across the floor.

I borrowed the IR camera from a friend and verified the source of air leaks -- the corner of the closet from floor to the ceiling, and the outside corner of the T-intersection that forms the frame of the closet's door.

I called the insulation company, they came out and insulated the basement, both attics (split-level). They also listened to my grievances over the cold drafty cantilevered bedroom and suggested to insulate the exterior walls and the closet of the bedroom. They drilled 2" holes in the walls and filled the space between joists with Insulsmart foam.

Also, they ripped open the cantilever's soffit panels, cut through the plywood, and thus gained the access to the subflooring of the bedroom. The old insulation was all sc****d and cleaned up. Then they installed 2" rigid board foamulars, sprayed over with closed cell urethane foam, and filled the void with R-19 faced fiberglass batts. The plywood and the soffit was restored to its original location.

There was the air duct that comes out along the bedroom ceiling right into the cantilever, makes an upward turn and feeds the hot air into the register of the upstairs bedroom. They sprayed the duct with the same closed cell foam.

All of that made very little difference to the cold drafty condition of the upstairs bedroom. On any given windy day, the temperature in the bedroom is 1F-1.5F degrees lower then the rest of the house. The air flow from the register (there are 2 in the room) is adequate. And the ceiling and wall are pretty well insulated now.

Which leads me to believe that the air leakage that is still present causes the room to cool down much faster then it should.

I went back to the insulation company and their explanation was that most likely the corners of my house are built in an conventional three-stud (2" x 6") formation that leaves the isolated gap (or cavity) which is impossible to get to and insulate. Same goes for the T-intersection that form the closet.

They also pointed out that another potential source of air leak might be the gap left between the underflooring of the bedroom and the rim joist.

I suggested we can pry enough closet drywall open, gain access to the studs, drill through 2"x6" studs and fill the three-stud void with foam. To that I got no reply from the insulation company.

In addition, while doing the cantilever work they managed to dislodge (or cut) the electrical wire that runs along the exterior wall and now my bedroom does not have any electricity (not even the ceiling light). Surely they deny any wrongdoing on their part.

The board would not let me post any links or images untill I score at least 10 posts. I rehashed this posting with some snapshots in my blog:

vladislav-grinchenko [dot] blogspot [dot] com

Here are my questions:

1. Is there a way to validate that the corners are really built with three-stud formation that leaves the gap tunnel?

2. What would be the best way to remedy the problem with that room? Is there a way out?

This is 15% of my house' living space and I really would like to make it useful.

Any advice would be highly appreciated.

Re: Insulating cold front upstairs bedroom

If you can borrow that thermal camera again, that would be the very first step. With it you should be able to see precisely where the cold is entering.

The corner is a non issue, yes there is a void but that is not where you are loosing any heat, or at least not very much. In the corner, you have a very tiny surface area to pick up heat from the room, therefore, it can't loose very much. You could insulate this corner as you have suggested, but you will be disappointed with the results.

The space behind the T for the closet wall should be insulated. Not may builders bother with the three stud configuration with this intersection any more. It really is not needed unless the interior wall is a load bearing wall and I doubt this one is.

The intersection of the sill plate to the floor is a place that air can infiltrate. You should be able to remove the base boards and caulk this seam without much trouble.

But there are design issues here that you can't do much about. You have a room that is partially cantilevered out and that means that it has more exterior surface area compared to interior volume than the rest of the house. That alone means it will cool down faster when the heater cycles off.

Add to that a closet on the exterior wall that does not have a source of heat inside it. It is going to get really cold in there. If you have kitchen cabinets against an exterior wall, You will find that the air temperature inside these cabinets is much lower than the room temperature. Same principle.

To solve this, you might need to add supplemental heat to this room in the form of an electric baseboard heater or portable electric heater. Of course, that means finding the break in the wire, but first, try to get that thermal camera so you know exactly what you are dealing with.

Re: Insulating cold front upstairs bedroom

keith3267, thank you very much for your explanation. This is most likely the route I would have to take. I will post the IR camera images a bit later.

Re: Insulating cold front upstairs bedroom

Something else to consider is to use the thermal camera on the outside of the house as well. If you do see a vertical stripe of heat loss, it might be easier to remove the siding in a few spots and drill into the cavity and fill from the outside.

If your siding is some kind of lap siding, like clapboards, you might remove the one at the intersection of the floor and the rim joist and caulk that seam from the outside as well as from the inside. Then will you not only block any infiltration, you will have any voids in this seam filled with dead air that will insulate.

Also shoot the attic to see if there are any heat columns coming up from around plumbing vents or any other penetrations in the attic insulation. This could significantly cut your heating bills, far more effective than just blindly adding more insulation.

Re: Insulating cold front upstairs bedroom

keith3267, I took IR camera pics both from the inside the house and from outside. They appear at the bottom of my blog entry, under "Test-Out" section. Thanks again for your time and advice.

Re: Insulating cold front upstairs bedroom

The picture of the outside of the house kinda tells part of the story. You will notice that the exterior walls of the closet are blue, meaning they are cold and are not radiating much heat. Combine that with the inside picture showing blue also just means that the closet is getting very cold and that is because it does not have a heat source.

No matter how well insulated, the temperature in this space will always be somewhere between the temperatures of the adjoining spaces, one of those being the outdoors. Stuffing those pillows against the wall only makes the wall colder, but it should make the closet a little warmer.

The cold under the interior wall at the intersection with the exterior wall may partially come from the closet as well as from outdoors.

It looks like you still have the subfloor exposed. If that is still the case, you can caulk that bottom seam with the floor without even pulling up the baseboard. I would start with that.

A house built in 1969 should have had insulation in the walls, maybe only R-7 but there should have been some. If there is any insulation already in the wall, then your insulation contractor had no business drilling 2" holes and spraying foam in there. That is not only ineffective, it also makes it much harder to go back and fix it right. But as I have said in other posts here, if you already have insulation in the wall, it really does not help much to add more, the savings will be disappointing.

The cantilevered floor job also looks kind of disturbing to me. If I understand you correctly, they sprayed the closed cell foam under the subfloor and then put R-19 fiberglass, vapor barrier down (to the cold side). They should have used unfaced batts. If they did not foam the underside of the subfloor, then the faced batts should have gone in with the vapor barrier up (toward the warm side)

You have vinyl siding so it is easy to remove a few rows and get to the voids from the outside instead of tearing up your interior walls again.

As for the wiring problem, if the insulation contractor wont take responsibility for their actions, and judging by the quality of their workmanship from your photos, I doubt they will, the best route to fix this is to call an electrician. They can find where the wire is live and trace it to the break, which will probably be right under one of the holes they drilled. Fixing it will probably mean a larger hole in the wall that will have to be patched.

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