A Luminous Halo

"Life is not a series of gig lamps symmetrically arranged; life is a luminous halo, a semi-transparent envelope surrounding us from the beginning of consciousness to the end." --Virginia Woolf

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Location: Springfield, Massachusetts, United States

Smith ’69, Purdue ’75. Anarchist; agnostic. Writer. Steward of the Pascal Emory house, an 1871 Second-Empire Victorian; of Sylvie, a 1974 Mercedes-Benz 450SL; and of Taz, a purebred Cockador who sets the standard for her breed. Happy enough for the present in Massachusetts, but always looking East.

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

A Blanket for the Emory House

Two years ago, I had an energy audit. The auditor determined that the first two stories of the front section of my house had no insulation. The third floor and the kitchen/loft had been remodeled in the eighties, and fiberglass insulation sandwiched between the outside walls and the new sheetrock. But everywhere the original plaster remained, there was no wall insulation at all. He recommended blowing in insulation as the single most effective step I could take towards reducing my heating costs for this Victorian monstrosity.

The utility companies were at that time picking up one-third of the cost of these energy-saving improvements. I signed a contract to have the work done, but through a series of bureaucratic screwups, it didn't happen and didn't happen. Two heating seasons came and went while I tried to solve the problem of excessive heat loss by keeping the inside of the house at approximately the same temperature as the outdoors.

So when I got a call last week from an insulation company, telling me I was next on the list, I was overjoyed. It was already hitting the 70's on nice days, and I was getting broker by the hour, but I didn't dare put it off for fear of being plunged into two more heating seasons' worth of Kafkaesque telephone exchanges. And meanwhile, the utility companies had upped their burden of the cost to a half, so that, although the total cost of the project had gone up a bit in two years, my share had actually gone down.

In order to insert the insulation, a few clapboards are removed from each section of the house, near the top, middle, and bottom of the wall. Holes are drilled and later plugged back up with wood. Once the clapboards are nailed back in place, the holes are invisible. On sections like the triple window bays on the Emory House where there are no clapboards, the plugs would be visible, but I opted to insulate those portions nevertheless because they seem to be a major source of heat loss. And once I have $15,000 I don't know what to do with, I'll have the house painted and the plugs will be pretty well camouflaged.

The insulation is made of fire-treated recycled newspaper. The chemical treatment makes the material offensive to insects and rodents. It packs together like a dry sponge once it's blown in, so that if the inside wall is opened up, insulation is probably is not going to flow out the hole and all over the living room.

I noticed after they had been working for a couple of hours that bits of gray fuzz were showing up on the stairway leading to the third floor. The young and cheerful contractor explained that the insulation will find any crack. He offered to clean up inside, but I don't want him doing that. I mean, he's welcome to come over any other day and vacuum if that floats his boat, but I can't wait till they've finished to check every spot in my house for traces of insulation. I want to know exactly where all those thousands of $$$ of natural gas have been escaping from since I took up residence here.



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