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bemis

join:2008-07-18
Reading, MA
Reviews:
·Comcast

Advice for moving around in an attic w/ blown in cellulose

Anyone have any advice for moving around in an attic that has about 1-2' of that blown in cellulose insulation?

To make the challenge greater

- No floor boards, so it's strictly rafter-to-rafter stepping
- Low height/pitch roof--it's about 4' high from rafter to peak
- The center of the attic is occupied by a 3' tall rigid duct setup for the central a/c -- meaning I can only "walk" about 2' to the right or left of center of the roof, so I have about 3' of height at most ... and to get from one side of the duct to the other requires walking back down the entire length of the house.

It's a split level ranch and I've been helping the elderly occupant, my relative, with a few odds and ends around the house lately.

Yesterday it occurred to me that the central a/c filter has probably not been changed on a regular basis since her husband passed away about 20 years ago. The filter is located at the opposite end of the attic from the pull down steps of course!

She says that she's certain that no one has been up in the attic since the cellulose was added 5 years ago, and that no one has serviced the a/c in about 8 years, which is when she last had a no-cooling complaint... my guess is that 8 years ago is when the last filter put in finally clogged to the point that no air would pass through.

I went up to check the filter size yesterday and found that it took me a good 5-10 minutes to maneuver to the other side of the house and managed to plant my knee on a nail head at one point.

Does anyone have advice for moving around w/ that cellulose stuff? Or, how badly would the R-value be affected if I were to lay down some 2' side plywood planks to assist with crawling to the air exchanger?

I only expect to go up there about once per season to change the filter, but while I was up there I noticed that the evaporator drip pan was covered in matted cellulose dust and should be cleaned ... I also volunteered to run a cable to her kitchen, because her DTV converter for the kitchen only picks up 1-2 stations, and I know she loves to sit in the kitchen and watch TV.



cowboyro
Premium
join:2000-10-11
Shelton, CT

1 edit

I wouldn't expect the R-value to be affected negatively too much (may even increase it..) by placing some plywood over. Compressing the insulation usually reduces the R-value, but then you're adding some more insulation on top of it and you're reducing the convection loss...
Coincidentally I plan to add some plywood in my attic, right now I only have the fiberglass insulation in 80% of the attic... I'd be curious to see what others who have done it have to say. I plan on installing some temperature sensors in covered and uncovered parts of the ceiling and see how the temperature changes throughout the day.
Edit - if you're not compressing the insulation the R-value will definitely increase.



morbo
Complete Your Transaction

join:2002-01-22
00000
Reviews:
·Charter
reply to bemis

To answer your question, it does lower the R-value since you are compressing the material. It helps you maneuver so you need to do it no matter what, but if you decide to remove the planks afterward you should "fluff" the material to re-create the original situation.

Now, did you happen to get a picture of that 8 year old clogged a/c filter??? Would love to see it.


bemis

join:2008-07-18
Reading, MA
Reviews:
·Comcast

said by morbo:

Now, did you happen to get a picture of that 8 year old clogged a/c filter??? Would love to see it.
It's still in place--I didn't know what size I needed, so I went up and found a few old filters laying around which had the size marked. Now I have to buy some replacements and go back...

I'll have to bring a helper (or a cell phone) next time I go up there--I was up there about 10 mins before I heard my relative yelling my name in a panic--I was yelling back back to her, but since she's going deaf she couldn't hear me... when I got down I asked her why she was yelling for me, she said she couldn't hear me moving around up there and thought I passed out ... no kidding, you're nearly deaf! :-/


jack b
Gone Fishing
Premium,MVM
join:2000-09-08
Cape Cod
kudos:1
reply to bemis

Usually when an air handler is in an obscure location like you describe, filters would be installed behind a ceiling return louver grill to facilitate servicing. Making someone trek up into an attic crawl space for filter changing is absurd.
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Waterbug

join:2008-03-30
reply to bemis

Installing thin filters on the grills of the air return ducts will extend the life of the attic filter.



mityfowl
Premium
join:2000-11-06
Dallas, TX
reply to bemis

After you're done rooting around up there take a good shower


bemis

join:2008-07-18
Reading, MA
Reviews:
·Comcast
reply to morbo

said by morbo:

Now, did you happen to get a picture of that 8 year old clogged a/c filter??? Would love to see it.
I went up there last night to replace it--there are actually two 25x20 filters next to each other (in parallel). The one in the primary path was dirty, wasn't as dirty as I expected, nothing dramatic--it actually looked better then the filter my LL pulled out at my house when he was showing me around the day I moved in. The secondary path filter was not very dirty at all, I re-inserted it because I only brought one filter with me.

I guess the system probably stays quite clean on it's own--It's cooling only so only used a few months out of the year here in the north east plus she's got hardwood floors, no pets, lives alone and the intake is located in the ceiling of the hallway.

She was telling me about it and the entire system was apparently fabricated on-site with the exception of a few pre-bent pieces they brought up ... the various sections are attached to each other with leather sleeves to keep the vibrations of the motor from being transmitted--I have to admit, when it's running you'd never know--in fact all these years I've been going there I had no idea the blower was located over the living room ceiling. The system appears to be pretty much all original up there, the outdoor unit is 20 years old now.

The filters are located behind a sheet metal panel that is held in place with friction, you slide it out for access... unfortunately you've got to actually bend the filters to get them into the channel that way--I wonder if filters used to be constructed differently back in the 60s and didn't get creased when bent? There was no other way to get the filters in or out besides that panel.

The bad news-----I didn't think to turn the system on before changing the filter to verify it actually works, and when I tried to turn it on afterward it would not start--not even the blower. I didn't touch anything electrical up there, and even went back up and re-verified that the local power switch (for maintenance) was turned on and no wiring was visibly broken, also checked the fuses, they looked OK (yeah, the house still has screw in fuses)

The only way I can imagine this being connected to what I did is if I somehow broke the thermostat wire while moving around in the attic--I don't recall snagging my foot at any point or anything, but I also no that coincidences are rare and that she used the system earlier this season.

I didn't have tools with me to verify there is mains power or check the continuity of the t-stat wiring...

She's going to call a pro in to get it working again... I feel pretty bad, was trying to do a good deed here but possibly made things worse then they were. If the pro can't make it for a week I'll probably head back this weekend and re-trace my steps to see what I might have done.


Michail
Premium
join:2000-08-02
Boynton Beach, FL
kudos:1

That's really weird setup. Most of the time when the air handler is in the attic the filter is accessible from the ceiling. If not it should be possible to move the filtration layer to the intake grate.

I'd have thought that many years of no changes would have damaged the coils. My 3 month filters hardly make it to a month but I'm running 24x7.

Anyway, I kind of doubt you damaged anything.

Did you say that thing was from the 60s?


bemis

join:2008-07-18
Reading, MA
Reviews:
·Comcast

said by Michail:

Did you say that thing was from the 60s?
The area was developed in 1959, a builder put up several houses on an old farm field--theirs was one of the first finished homes, the air conditioning was installed immediately after the build was complete.

The duct work is absolutely original, and the main unit itself is almost indistinguishable from the other parts, so it's original in appearance as well--though it's certainly possible that components have been replaced over the years like the evaporator, control board, and blower motor? Maybe from new old stock?

The t-stat in the house is Carrier branded (separate stats for heat and air conditioning), and I noticed a Carrier sticker on the side of the evaporator as well.

The unit itself is all custom on-site bent sheet metal, so it's not a factory built cabinet that was installed and mated to the original ducts.

Not sure about the compressor outside--it was def. replaced at one point, but that was 20 years ago or so, possibly the evaporator was done at the same time to match them up?


the Grumble
Yep, I changed my name again -

join:2009-05-11
reply to bemis

The R-value lost from compression would be replaced by the wood.



morbo
Complete Your Transaction

join:2002-01-22
00000
Reviews:
·Charter

1 recommendation

said by the Grumble:

The R-value lost from compression would be replaced by the wood.
plywood R-value is low. something less than R-1. cellulose is like R-3 an inch.

bemis

join:2008-07-18
Reading, MA
Reviews:
·Comcast
reply to bemis

Just for the sake of closure on this topic--

The a/c is still broken...

...and I guess that the lack of plywood to crawl on is an issue for more then just me because the gas company (she apparently has a repair contract w/ them for the heat and her separate a/c system) would not go up there w/o a sub-floor, they said it's an OSHA regulation that they are not permitted to move around in attics that are rafters only.

We called another company that my dad used for his heat pump a while back and they seem to not care--they will be here this week hopefully and I will post some closure to the AC problem.

I did as much troubleshoot as I could--
* fuses for air handler and outdoor unit are verified good, and AC detector lit up when put near the romex in the attic
* re-made all the thermostat/control wire interconnects in the attic using beanies--they were previously just twists and covered in duct tape
* verified that jumping G-R or Y-R at the thermostat do not activate either unit

The thermostat has typical 3-conductor setup--G (blower?), Y (compressor?), R (voltage?)

The air handler has 2-conductors
The compressor has 3-conductors

I was unable to locate any low-voltage AC between any two wires of the 3-4 connections in the thermostat bundle up in the attic, so I assume that means the transformer is kaput or the wiring is damaged elsewhere (probably outside unit due to animals or nature)

Since the air handler only has 2 conductors going to it, and the compressor has 3, I assume the compressor is where the transformer is.

My dates for the system are off by 10 years--it was installed in 1969... but it's 100% original ... outdoor unit, air handler, etc... the only piece that has been replaced, and I mean ONLY piece, is the outside power cut off which was replaced ~10 years ago.

It's a Carrier system, the outdoor unit is labeled as model: 38GF004320

If I ever am in the market, they're the guys I'm going with.

Come this fall a buddy and I will be laying plywood up there to help with future service.