Robin Jade Conde

PODCAST: Why Tessa hates T&G

Bill is thinking about installing a tongue & groove ceiling at his cabin, but Tessa and Reuben give his idea no love.

Tessa shares that air leakage and moisture getting into the attic can be prevented in multiple ways. However, the climate zone, amount of air leakage, humidity levels in the house, size of the attic space, and the volume of air in the attic are major factors in how the ceiling will perform.. One way to test the efficiency is by de-pressurizing the house and using an infrared camera to trace the air pathways back to the gaps. While Reuben shares that condensation issues are common among tongue and groove ceiling installations.

Reuben talks about some challenges in the use of fiberglass insulation and suggests the use of drywall for a consistent air barrier. They also talk about the use of spray foam, polyethylene sheeting, rockwool insulation, and guardrails.



The following is a transcription from an audio recording. Although the transcription is largely accurate, in some cases it may be slightly incomplete or contain minor inaccuracies due to inaudible passages or transcription errors.


Bill Oelrich: But, I need to pick a building science nerd’s brain for a while, ’cause if I have to decide at the cabin, what the heck to do with insulation in the Attic? Welcome everyone, you’re listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murray and Reuben Saltzman. As always, your three-legged stool, coming to you from the Northland. Talking all things houses, home inspections, and anything else that’s rattling around in our head. How’s it going, Reuben, Tess? Life good? 


Reuben Saltzman: I’m doing pretty well. Yeah.


Tessa Murray: I’m okay.


BO: Awesome.


RS: Got the rotted guards on my deck being replaced right now. I decided this is just a project that I did not have time for, and I’m hiring it out, so? 


TM: Wow. Is that the first for you, hiring out something that you could do? 


RS: I don’t hire out a lot. I do just about everything myself, Tess, but, I just decided I’m not gonna spend my time in the summer doing it. It’s just too much.


TM: Good for you.


RS: It’s gonna be a couple of days of work…


BO: Summer’s almost over, anyway.


RS: Exactly, gotta try to spend that time with the kids, if I’m not working on the house. I’ll share some photos when it’s done.


TM: Did you go with glass or just the wood? 


RS: Neither, went with aluminum. It’s kind of a middle of the road type of thing. I don’t want wood because I hate maintenance on a deck. Hate, hate, hate maintenance, and wood requires maintenance. I looked into the cable rail system and it was hideously expensive. I don’t know if prices have gone up on that stuff too, or if it’s always been expensive. I don’t know, but I mean, it was ridiculous to do cable rail. And glass was right up there, too. And what I’ve heard people say about glass is that it just… It’s always dirty. You gotta clean it and it does not give you what you’re looking for. So, I didn’t wanna do the glass either.


TM: Just curious what was the price range from wood to cable? 


RS: I didn’t even price out cable… ’cause I mean wood, because I don’t care. For the aluminum rail system, and this is where… It’s aluminum balusters, aluminum posts, top and bottom rails, everything is aluminum. Total cost was somewhere in the neighborhood of $5,000.


TM: Oh my gosh.


RS: I certainly could have gotten something fancy. I didn’t get any type of fancy shamnsy rails, it’s just your basic with a little curve and the spindles or something, or balusters and yeah, that was about $5,000. If I had gone with a cable rail system, it would have been somewhere in the neighborhood of $15,000 to $20,000 for materials.


TM: You’re kidding? 


BO: It’s insane, it’s ridiculous.


RS: I kid you not, Tess.


TM: Oh my gosh, that’s crazy.


RS: Yeah. And not only that, but, for my deck, there’s a number of areas where it doesn’t have right angles. It’s like, it goes off to a 45-degree angle, it comes out. And then another 45, straight, another 45, in. There was a bunch of 45s. And, on those cable rails, they don’t make posts that accept a 45. It’d be a matter of putting two posts, right next to each other, and it looks hideous. I saw pictures of it, and I just went, “Even if it was affordable, I wouldn’t do this.” Now, maybe there is a system out there where they do it and I don’t know about it, but I couldn’t find it, and my contractor said they don’t exist. So, it wouldn’t have looked good and it was expensive. Glass was in the same neighborhood.


TM: I had no idea it was that expensive. That’s crazy.


RS: Me neither. [laughter]


TM: I always think a new deck would be anywhere from 10 to 20 grand, typically, on a house. You don’t think about the guard rail being that price.


RS: Guards are expensive, and Tessa, I’m giving you the price for materials. I’m not giving you the installed cost.


TM: Oh my gosh.


RS: This is the materials alone.


BO: 2021’s a different world, in construction.


RS: It sure is.


BO: And I’m learning this first hand, and I’m not complaining, it was just shocking on some of the costs of some of the things. And that’s really what I wanted to talk about today. I loved the guard rail conversation, because I got quoted a really, pretty aggressive price as well, and we can get into that, if you care to, later. But, I need to pick a building science nerd’s brain for a while, ’cause I have to decide, at the cabin, what the heck to do with insulation in the Attic? And let me set this up for anybody who doesn’t care. You can go find something else to do. Sorry, I’m stealing Tessa for the next 25 minutes.


RS: Alright, I’m gonna go get some lunch. I’m just gonna move myself. [laughter]


BO: So, here’s what we got going on. Everybody knows, if you listen to this podcast, you know my wife and I are building this cabin. Way up North, it’s gonna be great. We are shell’s up, roof’s on, waiting for siding and windows to get in. But, we’re deciding what to do for the ceiling. And we want it to be wood. And that means it’s either gonna be tongue and groove of some nature, or maybe beaded plywood, or something else that looks like my wife wants it to look. And the material I’d like the most is like three inch wide boards that you have to nail up, through, twice, through each of these boards. It is tongue and groove, but, you still wanna throw at least a couple of nails in it. So, typically you would put poly up and then just put your sheetrock up, or, drywall, put your insulation in, and you’d finish your drywall, and you have this nice flat ceiling. Or, maybe you’d like texture on it, whatever. But, because we’re doing wood, it’s gonna be a veneer, over the top of it.


BO: So, Tessa, here’s my question. If I use spray foam, I know I’m gonna get the perfect seal. We’ll have no air leaking, no matter what. And I could nail seven billion nails through this bead-board and nobody would care, ’cause I would still have a good seal. But, if I use poly as my vapor barrier, and I put up drywall, and then I go over the drywall with this thin veneer, and shoot all these nails, am I compromising the seal, the tightness of this building? And, do I have to be concerned about moisture, now, potentially moving from the conditioned area up into my Attic? 


TM: That’s a complicated question. How do I wanna answer that? I’d say there’s a lot of variables and depending on how it’s installed. Penetrations you have, how many you have, where they’re located, the type of Attic design… You know where I’m going with this? It depends.


RS: Well can I start giving you some details? 


TM: Yes, please give me more details. The more details the better, but I was just gonna say, you mentioned one thing about if you do closed-cell spray foam on the Attic lid, then it’ll be perfect. You won’t have to worry about any air leaks or any moisture getting into the Attic. And in a perfect world, that’s true, but in reality it’s… A spray foam is only as good as its applicator, whoever installs it, and I’ve seen spray foam installed imperfectly, where if you’ve got trusses and they’re spraying around the truss and you’ve got penetrations coming through and they’re spraying around that. They can miss things, and you can still be left with gaps in the spray foam, or penetration areas that can still lead to issues with moisture in an Attic and air leakage.


BO: So in that situation, just to make sure it is perfect, what I think I heard you just say is the applicator has to spray over the trusses, so it’s a continuous vapor barrier? Or is it good enough to just fill in the gaps in between the trusses? 


TM: Yeah, I guess. Again, hate to say this, you’re gonna have to… This isn’t gonna be annoying, but it depend. A lot of times, if you can hit that truss kind of from different angles. If you can picture kind of like a wagon wheel, how all the spokes come into the center, think of a truss being like that. And sometimes you can even get air leakage in between those spokes in the truss framing itself. And so to spray foam in between every little section of that truss is really labor-intensive and it doesn’t always happen, and depending on the climate zone you’re in and the amount of air leakage you have, humidity loads in the house, the size of the Attic space, the volume of air in the Attic, it can all… I mean, that may be a problem or it may not be with all those variables.


TM: And so one thing that a good insulation company could do, to make sure that they don’t have any of these misses, once they’ve applied the foam, is to do like a blower door test where they de-pressurize the house. And you need some sort of temperature difference between inside and outside when you do this test. So let’s just say it’s cold outside and warm in the house, you do this de-pressurization of the house, and what you do is you pull in all the air from the outside, from the Attic into the house, and you can use an infrared camera to then scan the ceiling from the inside of the house to look for these cold spots of where the air is being pulled in through these cracks and these gaps. And sometimes it’s pretty tricky because air will follow a pathway, and so you can see cold spots, but you might have to actually trace that pathway back to a gap in the truss or an penetration that’s a little ways away from that.


TM: So it’s a little bit of testing and diagnostics, and when I worked for a company that did a lot of insulation work like that, we had installers that knew what they were doing, had years of experience, were really good at it, but I would always find places where they’d have to go back and re-spray. So…


BO: Okay. How do you feel about tongue and groove being nailed on a ceiling? Every… And nail holes all over the place.


RS: Hate it. Wait what was that, Tess? 


TM: Reuben, just yes.


RS: I couldn’t help myself.


TM: Any time you’ve got a product that could potentially create holes in the ceiling and you’ve got a house located in a cold climate where any little penetration can lead to moisture problems in an Attic, it’s not a good idea. It’s risky, it’s risky. In my mind.


RS: Yeah, I can say I have personally done single-item inspections for people who have moisture problems. I mean, crazy condensation issues where during really cold months of the year, they’ve got water dripping out of their ceiling all over the place. And it’s on these tongue and groove installations. And the issue is that there’s no way to perfectly seal it and they got copious amounts of moisture getting up inside that space. It freezes and then it warms up and then it leaks back out and they think the roof is leaking, but it’s just a problem you end up having with that tongue and groove. I’ve seen it so many times that it just makes me worried as all get out about having leaks.


TM: Me too. And actually to that point, Reuben. I’ve seen so many as well, I don’t think there’s a single tongue and groove ceiling I’ve seen that doesn’t have water stains on it. And not from roof leaks, it’s from condensation in the Attic, melting and dripping back down. And actually, when I worked for this insulation company years ago, I remember one of the houses that we worked on. We got called out to people that had lived there for a while, had replaced their roof, I think two times already because of this issue, and the people they would call out would say, “Yeah, it’s gotta be a roof leak.” They tried replacing it twice, didn’t fix the problem, and they just didn’t know what to do, and they called us out and did a lot of testing and figured out, it’s because you’ve got this tongue and groove ceiling. All of this moisture in your house is leaking up into the Attic, condensing on the other side of the roof deck, frosting up and then melting when it warms up, and dripping back down.


TM: It’s to the point where whenever I’m inspecting a house that has that tongue and groove ceiling usually, it’s a comment I’ll put in the report about, even if it’s summer time or we’re not seeing anything, just kind of a almost like an informational statement, is that these ceilings, you can have issues with moisture in the Attic with this. Try to reduce your humidity levels in the house. Make sure you’re using exhaust fans in the house, like bath fans when you’re showering, exhaust fans in the kitchen when you’re cooking to try and reduce that humidity level. And if you have problems down the road, this is not going to be achieved or an easy fix, ’cause a lot of times these houses with the tongue and groove ceilings have very small Attic spaces or no Attic, accessible Attic space at all.


RS: Yes. Yeah.


TM: So, in order to air seal those leaks, it means taking the tongue and groove ceiling down and working on it from that way, or taking the roof off and sealing the Attic. So it’s not like you can physically crawl into that Attic space and seal these bypasses.


BO: Well, I’m not feeling great about my choices.




BO: So here’s where I’m leaning heavily right now the material we want on the ceiling is actually beaded plywood. It’s like a southern yellow beaded plywood that’s got that groove that goes down at every inch and a half, my wife loves that appearance. And that’s only a 3A stick material, so it’s not carrying the weight of insulation, and it is probably not something that, that material can do on its own. But in having conversations with the contractor, he’s like, “We could put this one layer up, two feet on center and yes it’s not gonna carry the load, but if we spray foam that spray foam is actually gonna prevent that from sinking or sagging under the weight of the insulation, and it’s gonna give us the seal although it might not be 100% perfect,” it’s certainly gonna be much better than the tongue and groove scenario you guys just talked about and so I’m starting to lean heavily that way because I can use one less layer of material and it’s kind of a one and done sort of thing. And we only have literally one, two, three, four, five, penetrations in this entire ceiling lid and those are all light boxes, so we should be able to seal around that pretty well and there’s no funky framing or anything that would get you crazy.


BO: It’s a flat lid. Per Tessa’s instructions, we got rid of the vault that we were going to do and it’s completely flat and I think we’ve got a fighting chance to get this thing sealed up pretty tight. Obviously polyethylene is a more cost-effective vapor barrier as compared to closed-cell spray foam but I get that I eliminate a layer of material that labor to put that material up and I get the benefit of that good structural support that the closed-cells are adding.


TM: And we’ll just back up a second. You don’t need poly. I’ll just clarify this if you’ve got closed-cell spray foam because closed-cell spray foam applied it what is it like an inch and a half two inches consistently is your both your air barrier and your vapor barrier and so you don’t need poly ’cause then you’ve got a double vapor barrier, plus the spray foam can adhere like it should to the back of the substrate if you’ve got poly. So you’re eliminating the poly if you use the spray foam and you’re adding some structural rigidity right? And you can blow insulation in on top of that and achieve the required R-value you want, and which is cheaper than just doing the whole lid and spray foam but would you still use sheetrock vendor would you just put up the tongue and groove and spray right to the back of that? 


BO: Yeah, so that’s four by eight sheets of plywood that would be stapled right to the bottom of the trusses, closed-cell spray foam applied to the back of the plywood. No vapor barrier like you said, no double vapor barrier, and that’s it, and we would call it a day. Then they would come in and spray the remainder in fiberglass on top of that, and I’m feeling like that’s a pretty good application in a fairly extreme climate, and so the question… My next question for you, Tessa, is that though how do you put the wall poly? Does that wall poly actually go up to the lid, and cover a little bit before you put up the ply? So do I have to insulate the walls before I do the lid? 


TM: Well what kind of insulation are you planning on putting in the walls? 


BO: Just your standard fiberglass, whatever the code requirement is now for two by six wall.


TM: Is that R-20 or R-21 though? I don’t remember.


BO: I don’t know. It’s white insulation. It’s not pink or yellow like it used to be.


TM: Okay. Okay. So you’re gonna do fiberglass and Poly in the exterior walls with plywood staple or stapled to the bottom of the trusses for the ceiling right.


BO: Right.


TM: Yeah that is a detail you’ll have to pay attention to, and I think you can get creative with how you do it, and you just need to have some sort of consistent air barrier and ideally consistent vapor barrier, without poly ties in to the closed-cell spray foam, so that you don’t have a little gap there at that exterior wall top plate.


BO: If I’m hearing what you’re saying just go up and maybe six inches on to the trusses then put up your plywood then they spray foam it and then you’ve got an actual… The spray foam is adhering to the back of the poly for just a little bit around the perimeter of the house. Does that sound like a good idea? The experts are gonna do it, I’m not doing it I’m just trying to understand how they should do it.


TM: I think… Yeah I think you’ve kind of articulated it well just some sort of however you do it as long as the spray foam ties into that poly vapor barrier so you don’t have a gap.


BO: And does spray foam adhere to poly? 


TM: It does.


BO: It does.


TM: It can stick to it. Yeah but that’s tough because you’ve gotta have that tight 90-degree finished look on the ceiling where the wood will intersect the poly, so I have to leave some extra poly at the top so it can tie into the spray foam I guess. I don’t know, we’re getting into the weaves or weeds, we’re probably losing all of anyone that did care to listen to this podcast is now probably gone. [chuckle]


BO: Yes, but my problems are being solved so I’m being very selfish right now…


TM: I have seen where spray foam kind of shrinks and expands a little bit and it is exothermic so when it’s first applied it expands but then it cools down and it shrinks a little bit. So a word of warning, I have seen where it’s applied to the back of a ceiling, in between trusses and all of a sudden, it’ll actually kind of suck that sheet rock up and shrink and you’ll get these cups in the ceiling from it. Reuben, have you ever seen that before, in a house? 


RS: Yeah I’ve seen that happen.


TM: Yeah. So I was just thinking, if you’re installing it right up against that, the wood ceiling and there’s extreme temperatures and however thick you’re applying it, that’s one thing that you might have to look out for.


BO: Great, thanks. All the anxiety was gone and now I’ve got a little uncertainty back in the equation.


TM: You talk to a building scientist to increase your anxiety, not to put you at ease, I guess.




BO: I was gonna bring up the next thing. My walls are actually gonna have shiplap on them, 6-inch wide shiplap, so I’m gonna have a bunch of nail holes going through that poly as well.


TM: Oh no. The more holes you put through poly, the riskier that wall assembly is, with having moisture get in there.


RS: Yeah, how often do we see unfinished basements, where you’ve got mold growing behind the poly, and then right behind the poly, you got fiberglass insulation? And it’s the result of a million little staple holes in that stuff. None of those are ever airtight. And once you finish it all off, and you have the drywall covering over all of it, that drywall acts like a huge air barrier. That’s not the intention of it, but in reality, it acts like it. And we’re not nearly as concerned once you get those walls all covered with drywall. Yeah, with what you’re describing, with the tongue and groove or the bead boards or whatever you said, sorry, shiplap, that is not a continuous seal. Hope we’re helping your anxiety, Bill.


BO: Yeah, it’s awesome. Well, okay. We don’t tend to spend a ton of time in the winter, up there. This is gonna be used sporadically in the winter, and it will have an air exchanger. And so, environmentally, am I gonna not be…


RS: It’s helpful.


BO: Yeah, it’s gonna help.


RS: Yeah, definitely.


TM: Yeah, less of a moisture load on that house is a good thing.


RS: Yeah.


BO: No showers when we go in the winter, is what you’re saying. [laughter] No, boiling. The…


RS: I didn’t hear that. I didn’t hear that. You don’t need to go nuts, Bill.


BO: And there’s gonna be a wood-stove. So that’ll dry the hell out of this place, too.


TM: Yeah, yeah.


RS: Yeah, it will.


TM: It will. Definitely. But you know, you’ll need… It’s a good thing you’ve got an air exchanger ’cause if you’re talking about doing a really airtight house with this spray foam laid, any moisture you generate in there, is gonna need some sort of mechanical ventilation to get it out.


BO: Okay. Well…


TM: Unless it just uses all the holes that you create in the walls, to escape. I don’t know.


BO: Great. That’s awesome. It feels like it’s very hard to make a tight house in Minnesota, if you want it to look any… In a way, cool, right? 


TM: Sheetrock does a good job, though. I think…


BO: It’s so boring, Tessa. It’s just so boring.


TM: Like Reuben said, it creates an air barrier. You’ve got all the seams that are taped, so it’s consistent. It only gets tricky when you start putting some sort of system on top of poly, that is not airtight, and then you punch holes in poly. It’s a pretty delicate system, when you think about it. We’ve got this layer of plastic that has to be 100% perfect, sealed to perfection, cocked, adhered to the framing, no holes in it. And if we do that right, we don’t have to worry about it. But how often does that happen? 


BO: What if? What if you put a dab of caulk behind every hole you’re gonna nail? Here comes my shiplap, dabba, dabba, dabba, dabba. Bang, bang, bang, bang. Now what? Am I helping myself? 


RS: That sounds impossible. If you’re gonna do something crazy like that, I’d say, put some three eighth inch drywall over all of your walls. And don’t worry about the little details on mudding and taping, just make it look however you want it to look, ’cause it’s all gonna be covered. You’re not gonna have to spend any time sanding it. It seems like that would be a much better option. Although it’s certainly overkill, you might be the first person to ever do that. But I feel like Tessa and I are like attorneys. You go to a business attorney, and you’re like, “Hey, I got this in mind. I wanna do this.” And their answer is always, “No.” They’re the biggest wet rags. They say no to everything. And if everybody just listened to attorneys, we would never get anything done. I’m a firm believer in that. It’s like, you appreciate the attorneys, they’re right about a lot of stuff, but you gotta take some risks. And if you leave it up to Tessa, you’re never gonna get this thing done, Bill.


TM: It’s true. Yeah, you’re right on, Reuben. We’re just telling you all your potential liabilities. But the reality is, you gotta build a house, you want it to look a certain way. And so you make these decisions, and it’s probably gonna be fine. Yeah, I like your idea, Reuben, about the sheet rock. You can just put up that three eight sheet rock behind the shiplap, just to create some sort of, kind of consistent air barrier. It doesn’t have to look perfect or be mudded perfectly, but it’ll definitely help reduce all those little pathways of potential air leakage.


BO: What if? What if we just use closed cell spray foam in the stud cavity? You wouldn’t fill them full. Would you… ’cause you don’t need that much, right? That would be way overkill.


TM: Yeah, it’s expensive, number one, and number two, if you’re spraying it into the wall cavity, it’s gonna adhere to the back of the wall sheathing, the exterior wall sheathing. And you would need to fill up that cavity all the way, and then whatever you put on the top of that wall cavity, if you’re just gonna do… You don’t wanna have a double vapor barrier, so you don’t wanna do closed cell, and then poly over top of it. I don’t know if you’re required up north, to do something like a smart vapor barrier, but the trouble is, then you’ve got this like tongue and groove or shiplap that’s applied over the top of the studs there, and if you have a little gap between that and the spray foam, then you can have a space for condensation and moisture to form as well. Ideally, you want your air barrier and your vapor barrier to be in contact, in alignment, consistent, and continuous.


BO: What I’m hearing you say is, don’t insulate it, don’t go up there in the winter time, and just keep it simple.


TM: Well that’s why old houses… Reuben and I, we talk about this, and Reuben, you’ve got that class you’ve created on old houses but… That we teach for real estate agents, continuing education, but we talk about just the difference between old houses and new houses, and how old houses, you didn’t have to worry about wall sheathing rotted out and mold growing everywhere, because those houses didn’t have insulation, and they were so leaky, that all the heat just moving through the wall cavities and through the Attic would dry out any moisture. And so, those houses were very, very durable. But the trade-off is, you’ve got this house that’s really leaky and not very comfortable and really expensive to heat and cool. That’s the trade-off. You can have a cabin that’s well-insulated, comfortable, not expensive to heat, or cool, if you’re going to cool it, but then the more insulation you put in, the more airtight you make it, the more risk you have, with durability issues and the more impact just a tiny little air leak can have on that… On those materials.


BO: I’m gonna tell them to stop building, just stop, we’re not moving forward.


RS: Just can the whole project. Forget it, we’re gonna get a tent. Yeah.


BO: Going back to the camper.


RS: Were you thinking about doing some of this work yourself, Bill, if it was gonna be fiberglass insulation? 


BO: No, not really, just because fiberglass doesn’t agree too much with me. But this is… I’m not sure that this is the best way to look at it, but I like people who do this on a regular basis because I think they’ll do it better than me, who thinks they know what they’re doing and can probably only mess it up. So I like to trust the professionals when it comes to these kinds of things.


RS: That’s good. Fiberglass is nasty stuff. I was saying before the show, I did a lot of remodeling and… When growing up, I was the demo guy for my dad. My dad was a general contractor, and if there was stuff where he could bring me on the job when I was 10, 11, 12, whatever, I’d come along and I’d do it. Now I know, I did a fair amount of demolition, pulling out fiberglass insulation, and he’d always be like, “Reuben, put your mask on.” And then as soon as he’d leave the room, I’d take my mask off because I hated wearing it. I breathed in a lot of fiberglass insulation dust, whatever you want to call it, whatever that stuff that gets in the air, and at this point, I am super allergic to it. If I go inside an Attic, I have to put my mask on. Even if I’m just popping my head up there, I got to have my mask on. Otherwise, when I come down, I’m gonna be sneezing for the next four hours, eyes watering, nose running. It’s bad. So I mean, I don’t know what the current science says about the hazard level of fiberglass insulation, but I don’t care. It’s hazardous. [laughter]


TM: Yeah, it bothers my lungs too, and I don’t sneeze, but I will be coughing the rest of the inspection. I’ll get this tickle in my throat. It irritates my lungs, and if it gets on my skin, I get a rash from it too. So I like to wear gloves, and if I’m gonna be digging, I’ll put on long sleeves.


RS: Mm-hmm, yep, smart.


BO: I remember one time, when I was a kid, I put a handful of fiberglass insulation into my pocket and then I walked around all day. I was like, at the end of the day, I’m like, “Why does my leg itch so much?” And it was this strange… I’ve never forgotten how irritating that little ball of fiberglass in my pocket. It was like, “Here’s little Billy, at age five,” and he’s like, “What’s this? Oh, boom, here,” and, “What’s wrong with your leg?” “I have this in my pocket.” “Oh, you moron. Get rid of that.”


TM: Do you remember why you were carrying around insulation in your pocket? 


BO: Well, I’m sure there was some unfinished project at my house. My dad wasn’t known to finish things. He was about a 95 percenter. Do the basement and leave the last three pieces of trim for somebody else to put up ten years later. Who knows, it was probably one of those unfinished projects, and I found some insulation there.


RS: Well, that’s what boys do, they put things in their pockets. I know, when I was little, my mom always tells the story about one time she was doing my laundry, and she pulled a frog out of my pocket.




TM: Oh my gosh, that’s so funny. Well, you know what, at our company picnic the other day, I saw Lucy had collected a whole jar of frogs.


RS: Oh, yeah. Yeah, that’s her jam. She loves frogs.


TM: At least she’s not putting them in her pockets.


RS: Exactly. Yeah, she’s a little more careful with them. I’m sure that frog my mom pulled out of my pocket was not breathing afterwards.


TM: Oh, gosh. [laughter]


BO: Yes. Do you check pockets before you throw your kid’s clothes into the washer? 


RS: I don’t do my kid’s laundry. Usually, my… No, that’s not true. I do it, but I’ve never checked their pockets. No. I check my own, and I do that because I have washed few client’s checks. I’ve put a few through the wash, and that’s super embarrassing. It’s like, “How unprofessional is this person?” And then I got to take a picture of their balled-up check or what’s left of it, like, “Hey, I am so sorry. But here’s the money you paid me.” Oh my goodness, that’s embarrassing. And it’s terrible that I’m admitting it’s happened more than once. It has happened more than once.


TM: You know, I think you told me that story, Reuben, when I was in training, and I… Yes, I made sure I check my pockets, and I did find checks in my pocket, that I forgot about, caught them before they went through the wash. But it can easily happen, for sure.


RS: Yes, yes so easy.


BO: Okay. Well, decision time is happening. I’m gonna have to tell this contractor what we’re doing, and I bought 30 sheets of this beadboard plywood already, because I need to stain it and varnish it because obviously, we don’t want to do that when it’s already installed. So probably just going to eat it and worry about the degradation later, years from now, and…


RS: You know what, Bill, it’s gonna be fine. You’ll be fine. It’s no big deal.


TM: I can see in your eyes, Bill, there’s this look of just dread, terror. I am so sorry. You’re not gonna be able to sleep tonight, are you? 


BO: Probably not. But there’s other things on my mind.


TM: Oh, man.


BO: But no, Tessa, see, I love having these conversations where you completely put me at ease, you have all the answers. It’s always completely straightforward. And there’s no gray in your life. And so…


TM: It’s a simple, clear pathway forward, isn’t it? 


BO: Yes.


TM: Yeah.


BO: Reuben, I have a question.


TM: Glad I could make your life a little easier.




BO: Reuben, when you were demoing for your dad, back in the day, did you ever take tongue and groove off the wall? 


RS: No.


BO: To find just terrible rot back there? 


RS: No. It… What we did most of was, lath and plaster.


BO: So there was no insulation in any of these homes? 


RS: Oh, there was insulation. I did my share of putting up the insulation, taking down newer stuff, but typical that lath and plaster was… I think it was rock wall we’d mostly deal with, behind the walls.


BO: Tessa, is that popular now, rock wall? 


TM: You know, I don’t think it is very popular. But I know, in the building science world, a lot of building scientists like it because it’s durable, it… You don’t have to worry about microbial growth in it. I think it’s a great product. You just don’t see a lot of it.


BO: Gotcha. So let’s circle back to where we started. The guardrails at Reuben’s deck. We need a bunch of guardrail at our place too. It’s by the lake, so we put up a deck, it’s not a big deck, but it still needs a guard and it goes all the way around the house. I was quoted $35 to $150 per lineal foot, for guardrails. And the glass and the cable systems were some of the most expensive.


TM: Wow, $100 per lineal foot. How many lineal feet do you have? 


BO: Close to 200, maybe 150.


RS: Wow.


TM: Ouch.


BO: It’s just a walkway deck that goes around our house, it’s 26 feet down this side, and 26 feet across there, and then we’ve got stairs to a landing platform, and then we have more stairs. So it’s gonna be really super cool, when you’re sitting on the deck, I just didn’t… We didn’t want all that wood, we wanted something that was a little more low-profile so you could see through it, see the water. And it was like, “Oh, hello.”


TM: That’s crazy.


BO: So… But what are you gonna do? It’s 2021 and apparently, that’s just the way it is.


TM: I’ve got a question for you, up in where your cabin is at, are there a lot of… Are there inspectors that come out and check your cabin at every phase? 


BO: No, no. The contractors all build to code, the plumbers install the code, the electrician is… As I understand, it’s really the only one who’s gonna be inspected by the state electrical inspector. But everybody just… All of their bids is, we do it to code.


TM: Just wondering, who’s checking on those things? Do they get checked on? 


BO: There’s a lot of things going on, there’s a lot of projects going on up there, and there’s limited staff and I’m just not even sure there’s enough at the county or the city or whosever the jurisdiction have an authority to get out there and do all these inspectings. So I think the contractors go to school and go to continuing ed, and the plumbers do the same, and the electricians do the same. And they know what they have to do and they do what they’re supposed to do.


RS: We’d have to get Andy on the show again, and he could explain it to us, but I’ll muddle through it. My understanding is, once you get outside of the metro area, people just decide whether they’re going to have code compliance inspections or not. And if they don’t have inspections, you’re still required to do everything to code, but there’s nobody checking on it, that’s it…


TM: Right. Nobody is working at it.


BO: They just can’t afford to do it…


BO: But I’m loving the fact that this project is… It’s more than 50% done, and we’re marching towards a finish line. So I can’t wait to get everybody up there sometime and chase after some walleyes.


RS: Can’t wait.


TM: Yes.


BO: We’ll get the snowmobile out. Reuben, you can bring your snowmobiles and there’s only 18,000 miles of trail up there, if you wanna go for a ride.


TM: Oh my gosh.


RS: I’m ready. Winter can’t come fast enough.


TM: Do some ice fishing.


BO: Everybody around the country, who listens that… That doesn’t understand where we live, it’s like, “You people are crazy.” It’s August, and we’re asking for winter.




RS: I know. There is fun stuff to do.


BO: Well, should we wrap this one? 


RS: Sounds good.


BO: Alright. Tessa, thank you again for just planting an enormous amount of uncertainty in my mind. I’m glad we had this conversation. And for everybody else, you’ve been listening to Structure Talk, a Structure Tech presentation. My name is Bill Oelrich, alongside Tessa Murry, the always full of exact answers, Building Scientist on our team, and Reuben Saltzman, otherwise known as The Professor. Thank you for listening. We’ll catch you next time.