Letters to the Editor

Clarifications about Efficient Attics

Great June issue. I distributed a number of pages to my staff to read, including “Attics: Easy Energy Efficiency,” by Steve Easley. However, I added a few corrections and comments to it. Steve gets it mostly right, but there are instances where things fall short: the recessed-light and unvented attic assembly solutions.

The metal cover for the recessed light keeps insulation away from the housing and, by sealing it to the drywall, some air-sealing occurs. The requirement to achieve minimum R-38 on all sides of the recessed light is missing. The diagram shows no insulation over the top of the metal cover nor does it show additional insulation on the side to maintain the required insulation levels. 

The unvented attic assembly is mostly described right, and I am glad it is included. The way the connection to the floor was described was a little convoluted, but I think I understood his meaning: Apply the high-density foam to the connection point where roof deck meets floor sheathing and spray back from the soffits into the conditioned portion of the room but do not spray the entire floor of the attic. Right? Second, the application of a 1/2-inch layer of high-density foam to the surface of framing members in contact with the roof deck is great. The only problem I saw was the absence of a continuous vapor retarder with this solution. If a 2 1/2-inch layer of high-density foam is applied to the framing members, then the permeability requirement would be met; but 1/2 inch does not achieve that level, and an additional step of applying the appropriate vapor retarder would have to be met.
Michael Anschel, Otogawa-Anschel Design-Build LLC, Minneapolis

Thank you for your comments. Unfortunately, the magazine has space limits; I would have loved to include more graphics. Instead, I referenced the U.S. Department of Energy’s Building America Best Practice Series on page 54. These guides give specific instructions.

The graphic on page 50 shows Tenmat’s proprietary can-light cover compared to a typically exposed can light. It was not meant to be a recommendation for insulating. All can lights need appropriate clearance between the fixture and cover. Then R-38 should be installed over the approved cover. Can lights also need to be air-sealed to the attic floor.
In nonvented attics, the connection of the foam from the roof sheathing onto the floor of the attic should go out about 6 inches.

The second part of your question addresses permeability of closed-cell foam. Two inches of closed-cell spray foam has a perm rating of 1 or less. Local codes vary so always follow the codes. However, it is my opinion that you do not need a vapor retarder to cover the roof framing members except in really cold climates. The R-value of a 2 by 4 is roughly 4.38, plus R-1 for the roof deck and shingles, and 3.25 for the 1/2 inch of closed-cell spray foam. Total R-value is just more than 8. I find it unlikely you would get much condensation on the foam at the trusses or rafters.
Steve Easley

RRP = Russian Roulette

I’d like to respond to Peter Lawton’s column in the June issue, page 26. Lawton brings up points of which I agree, but I must point out several of which I have questions of trust, especially when it comes to EPA.

The flavor of Lawton’s article hints remodelers who are skeptical of RRP are being “less than professional” or perhaps “not cut out to be in business in the first place.” This is an underhanded insult to those of us who have been in this business for decades.

Lawton says we should see penalties imposed on those in noncompliance as EPA meeting its objective to protect people from the hazards of lead dust. Given the arbitrary and enormous fines, it’s clear EPA’s objectives are to extract money from the remodeling industry and nothing more. Lawton fails to convince me that taking on the remodel of a pre-1978 home would be worth the financial risk I now face even if I am EPA-certified and making every attempt at compliance with the RRP rule. Why would I risk everything I’ve amassed during 30 plus years of business on someone else’s problem? So I can come across as a better professional? Are you kidding? I’ve still not heard a legitimate argument to sway me in favor of this rule.

The reality is most homeowners have no idea this rule is the law of the land. When I explain it, their response is, “To hell with EPA; this is my property, not EPA’s!” I am compelled to refuse certain projects if I cannot undertake them without being in violation. On others, the homeowner agrees to perform demolition and material removal.

In his article, Lawton advises a contractor named Steve whom I feel he is encouraging to play Russian roulette with his business. It’s too easy to tell someone else to take on this risk. Although Lawton may feel he is doing a great job in lead-safe certification training, I feel he is throwing a lot of business owners under the bus.
Bill Wine, Historic Restorations LLC, Woodstock, Va.

Thanks for taking the time to comment. I spent 35 years as a design-build remodeler in Massachusetts. I implemented lead-safe practices in our projects immediately after learning about the medical facts of lead poisoning. I was driven by my obligation to protect my crews and not by EPA. Did I lose work because of this? Absolutely. Did that change my convictions? Never. Did I win projects because of how I conducted business? Absolutely. Always? I never lost money not working for the wrong client.

If you don’t feel there is enough profit on a job, no one is forcing you to take on the project. Lead is one of many items we make airborne while working that could affect the health of our clients and crew. We should be educated about these items before we cause problems for anyone. Do we really need Big Brother to make us do what is right? You or I might not need to be overseen, but history shows us there are many who have proven they cannot be trusted. Ignorance is not an acceptable excuse when the consequences of our actions have such potentially dangerous results.

Here’s a thought: What if we completely eliminate the civil right to sue us, RRP and OSHA regulations, insurance and licensing requirements, and simply expect all projects to have a dust-clearance examination at the end to prove the customers are safe? All contractors would be trusted to contain their dust and take care of their crews how they see fit. We wouldn’t need EPA or OSHA and there wouldn’t be illegal contractors taking our work away because we would all finally be on the same playing field. I can dream, can’t I?
Peter Lawton