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Mary in PA's Journal Entries

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Posted by Mary in PA on 8/18/2010

As plumbing rough-in was wrapping up, we started on the foundation insulation. This was a DIY task, too – and to tell you the truth, I don’t know who we could have hired to do it. I think the foundation insulation is a little like the driveway geotextile we put in earlier. While the excavator agreed the geo was a great idea for a quality driveway, he also admitted that “we don’t touch the stuff”. (And indeed putting it down was a bit of a physical effort.). Similarly, the foundation insulation is an ‘upgrade’ that we knew we wanted, seemed well within our abilities, and so we decided to do the work for it.


The first step was selecting the correct type of rigid-foam insulation and the desired thickness. I settled on 2” of XPS, which will give us about R-10. I tried to find a good deal on the XPS via a building-materials auction or even a purchase of recycled foam pulled from the demolition of a building – but to no avail. Then in the middle of last winter, when I was reviewing our weekly email from the big-box store, I was pleasantly surprised to find it on sale. We needed a good bit to do the foundation wall and under-slab perimeter… which led to the next issue. If I buy it way ahead of time, where will I store it? It’s not heavy, but very bulky – and frankly our 1,440-sq-ft house was at that time already holding our geotextile rolls, scrounged doors and windows, plumbing supplies, impromptu O-Bs headquarters office, and just couldn’t accommodate the XPS too. Fortunately we know a nice guy with some commercial warehouse space to spare and he graciously let us stow the material there for the several months between our purchase and use. Thanks, guy!


We weren’t entirely sure how to attach the XPS to the walls, because it needed to survive being backfilled without shifting around or getting dirt behind it. Based on some advice from an on-line construction forum, we decided to attach it with very liberal amounts of a caulk-like adhesive and then use mechanical fasteners. We had to experiment a bit on some spare block before we felt comfortable that the fasteners would work without risk of cracking the block wall. I had an idea to make a jig that I could use to create a standard measurement for the height relative to the block, but I wasn’t sure how best to build it. Fortunately, John was able to quickly make the perfect thing from scraps on-site. He’s really good at this stuff and it worked like a charm.


I put up the insulation over two long days while John was at work, and then he put in the fasteners during the evenings. I have to say, I was excruciatingly slow at doing this task. I’m just not accustomed to this type of work (I’ve spent the past 20+ yrs behind a computer screen in an air-conditioned office). For example, I would get the adhesive on the foam board and be ready to smash it into place, only to realize I hadn’t moved the jig down from the previous gluing sequence. Just silly stuff like not keeping my tools close by or misplacing the knife I needed to open the next caulk container – it really takes a toll on the clock… and on my feet with all those inefficient trips back and forth across the building site.


And unfortunately after the first few panels were glued on, a heavy downpour came along and popped them loose. It seems the adhesive really needs to cure to hold them on there. And the foam needed to be tightly braced against the wall during the entire curing time. My first attempts at bracing were somewhat comical, using any spare thing on site to wedge between the rigid foam and the dirt building pad. I know this all sounds like common sense, but if you’ve never done it before… and you're working alone… well you just have to figure it out as best you can. I guess it is a version of ‘construction kindergarten’. As the day progressed, my bracing got better until I had it down to a simple piece of rebar crammed into the dirt pad and wedged up against a 24” wooden stake placed flat against the foam board. It worked great. Pity I didn’t have a photo of the last set of foam boards all nicely braced against the block wall. But I was way too hot, tired and dirty to do much documenting!


To be safe, and because I didn’t want to redo any of this work again, I covered the whole kit and caboodle with plastic sheeting left over from the foundation trenching to protect it from pop-up thunderstorms.


It takes up a lot of space!
Go ahead, laugh. Bracing 101.
John's quick jig rests on top of the wall, stakes provide a 2" offset down the wall for height of foam.
Two walls done, two to go...
All done and protected from the rain.

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