A Week *Under* The Cabin

Finally after several years of dithering, we got the crawl space under the cabin insulated. The log cabin sits atop a stone wall in the front with the newer rear addition on a stone-faced block wall, with nary a lick of insulation to be found in the vicinity. Whether you are a physics purist determines if you think the cold was wicking in or the heat wicking out. One thing was evident always; the floors were cold all winter long regardless of how much we cranked up the wood stove. So the time had come to address the situation.

It was not straightforward.

For starters, I am not the most nimble fellow, on or off my feet, and the space underneath the living space was, well, close. I am not claustrophobic, I’m just large (notwithstanding my self image as a small man, due almost entirely to being a most enthusiastic basketball player as a kid. I was almost always the smallest guy in the game. Like Peter Follansbee my dream was to play power forward in the NBA but I definitely picked the wrong parents and stopped growing a foot too soon). Fortunately a chance remark to the fellow who grew up in this house 45 years ago yielded an excellent referral to Rick, a retired electrician/handyman who is a renowned spelunker.

After a few weeks of phone-tag we set the time to commence the project immediately after our week in Florida celebrating my Mom’s 102nd birthday. Being a spelunker Rick kept saying, “This project is going to be fun!” After a week under the house I wonder if he thought the same.

Our first task was to clean out the small amount of debris there, Rick uses a concrete-mixing tray hooked up to a rope for that, and then we got to work on lining all the surfaces — dirt floor and walls — with heavy duty plastic sheet. Have you ever tried maneuvering a hundred pounds of slick plastic sheet while on your belly? It’s less fun than it sounds.

Underneath the old log cabin the space was so tight I was of little help. Even Rick had to lose his winter jacket in order to fit. Once the plastic sheeting was in place he attached 3″ XPS foam panels I had salvaged years before (I used this insulation for my shop space and it worked magnificently). He was underneath while I was outside cutting the pieces to the dimensions he shouted out. All the seams were filled with sprayed polyurethane foam.

With the cabin space finished we moved to the newer addition where the space was comparatively capacious. The first task was to install a sump pump in a depression that was evidently created to hold water, it was in fact full of water when we specced out the project. Fortunately there was no water present during our week under the house.

The final day of the week-long project was tough for me standing outside cutting the foam sheets as a record breaking cold front was moving in. But then it was done.

The days immediately after the installation were record cold, with overnight wind chills in the -40 territory. Given that level of cold we could not adequately discern the efficacy of the insulation. That was followed by record-warm weather, so it has only been in the last fortnight when a “normal” weather pattern resumed that we could tell it was really making a difference.

I placed a dehumidifier and box fan in the space to get it really dry before I treat all the wood surfaces with borate salts solution, and once that dries we will dive back in and finish insulating the perimeter beam on top of the wall, from which the joists are hung.