Radiant barriers and encapsulating the crawl space

Nirvana crawlspace "before"

Before: we bought a cottage with rot, and raccoon damage, and named it “Nirvana.” Raccoons had shredded this crawl space.

A lot has been written and researched about the use of radiant barrier technologies, but primarily these technologies are applied in southern climates, to reduce cooling costs.

We live in Maine in a smallish ( 700 sq feet including loft) renovated summer cottage sitting on posts in the heartlands of a sweet island community off the coast of Maine.

We used radiant barriers in a variety of ways that are proving real value to us in this northern maritime climate, which goes from screaming winds, torrential rains, blizzards, winter lows to -20F to highs of 98F in summer.

My goal was to hold heat inside the house, and also prevent rot.  There are several different ways that we lose  heat: via conduction, radiation, convection(ventilation). During our renovations, we sistered rafters on the roof/ceiling and added strapping to existing walls to add insulation and radiant vapor barriers, and reduce heat lost by ventilation (stopping air movement from warm to cold), conduction (direct transferral through a heated surface contact to cold surface,) and radiation (energy waves), but in a couple of areas we had only available a 4 inch wall cavity. To reduce heat loss by conduction, we installed Rocksl in areas we could work by hand, but we also had professionals come and blow in “Insulsafe” between ceiling rafters), inside of that we installed foil faced rigid board and taped as a reflective vapor barriers. This stops thermal bridging, or the cold places in old construction where cold studs  hit warm drywall and can cause moisture condensation inside the wall  (we also have Lunos E3 ventilators, to control the moisture ventilation while reducing heat loss) . I did a lot of research on the impacts of radiant heat loss, and how we could use a reflective barrier and an airspace to reflect heatwave energy back into our airspace.

Radiant heat loss and thermal bridging are especially important factors in thinner walls. In other words, once you have a 1 foot thick wall, don’t bother wasting your money on radiant barrier, but where you have a thinner wall, the radiant loss is most substantial.  So on the tricky renovation area where we were building on 4 inch stud walls, after filling those shallow cavities with rocksal we covered the walls and studs with 1.5 inch rigid board with reflective side facing indoors, and taped that to form a vapor barrier (it also stopped thermal bridging along the studs), then added strapping, and beadboard (sealed with a latex wash). A radiant barrier requires an airspace beside it to work, but it doesn’t have to be a big airspace, the space left by the strapping works great.

We use this sort of layering of insulation, but with much deeper wall cavities, everywhere else, with the radiant vapor barrier inside (towards the living space) on all the exterior walls and ceiling. We even installed tin ceiling in the peak of the house (just in case it helps reflect heat back).   All this is baqckground info for my main topic here, which is how  we were also skirting in and insulating the crawlspace. From outside to inside I used exterior plywood (+caulk), rocksall, 1 inch rigid board with reflective barrier facing in, for R28 and aiming to stop wind movement (ventilation) entirely in the crawlspace. No more windows in the crawl space!  So not much heat would be lost through conduction or convection/ventilation in the basement, but that is an area where we could lose heat through  heat radiation.

IMG_20141207_114921521 (1)

Nirvana Crawlspace “after.” I’ve almost finished sealing off the crawl space. The inside surfaces are now all completely dry, but I can see that some moisture is condensing underneath the first layer of plastic, against the dirt, and that’s where I want it!

About ventilation: This crawlspace started with lots of moisture, think “large puddle on rocks” and so sealing off the crawlspace from the elements involved thinking about how to  have better drainage and keeping the house high and dry. So we did some grading, which seems to have helped a lot, and we plan to install gutters to direct and collect rainwater off the roof. But also, the ground is naturally moist. Maybe I can’t stop that entirely, so I just wanted to seal that ground moisture out of the house. Ventilation is really not the best, most energy efficient way of protecting a house from basement moisture. Smart use of vapor barriers are the best way.

So after insulating the entire perimeter, I went around taped in a 6mm plastic floor, just draping it over the craggy maine island ground, overlapping seams by a good amount. I also went around poked some holes in low spots in the plastic, so that if water ever came in, it would have a way to get out. I found research that explains why it is fine to have lots of small holes in your crawlspace vapor barrier, but what you don’t want are any BIG “gusher” holes in your vapor barrier!  I taped the plastic carefully all around every post and all around the perimeter. Then on top of that plastic, I laid a “bubblepack ” style radiant barrier all over the floor of the crawlspace, (which immediately made for much more comfortable crawling), overlapping seams and I am still finishing taping this in. So this second layer on the ground is a reflective insulated vapor barrier on top of a plain plastic vapor barrier.

This sealed the moist air (and dirt) out of our little house.Then  I ran a dehumidifier in the closed crawl space to suck trapped moisture from that crawl space, and it got steadily getting dryer and dryer in there, and now I haven’t run the dehumidifier for a few weeks, but the crawlspace is staying very warm and dry. I will probably run the dehumidifier down there in spring rainy season.  It’s pretty amazing. It’s as though the entire house is encased in a reflective plastic bag. It’s cozy!Our feet are happy with the comfortable floor of this little house, as the radiant/reflective barrier is turning the still air of our crawl space into a radiant heat reflector! We’re not exactly using the earth mass to store heat, but we are using the crawlspace itself to reflect heat back into the house.

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Stubborn Dogs


Do you have a stubborn dog? The reason I ask is because so many people tell me they have a stubborn dog. I also hear about dogs who are lazy, not toy driven or not interested in food, aggressive, protective, hate the crate or are just not very smart. And there is almost always one very good reason why you are having this issue with your dog.

You taught the dog to be that way. Or in the case of a rescue dog, someone else taught the dog to be that way. You can teach the dog to behave differently. Your behaviors can help or hurt the dog as he tries to adapt to your environment.

If you want a well-behaved, well-trained dog, your very first mission is to understand your dog. People assign dogs all sorts of emotions and motives that belong entirely in the human world and really have nothing to do with dogs. Stubbornness is not a dog thing. Unfortunately, stubbornness is a human thing (I can hear some of you stubbornly arguing with me right now!). Laziness is also a human thing. If you tried to explain the concept of stubbornness or laziness to a dog, they would look at you like you are insane. Because that is human thinking, not dog thought. Dogs don’t look at some dog laying there in the dust and think, that dog should get a job. They don’t resist doing what you want because they are stupid or stubborn, but I hate to tell ya, they don’t do what you want because you haven’t conditioned them to perform the behavior you need!

It might not be your fault entirely that your dog is behaving the way they are (or aren’t). Maybe you don’t know yet how to teach an animal this new behavior. Maybe you adopted a dog with learning challenges. Dogs aren’t naturally adapted to many modern human habitats, and maybe part of your behavior problems is that you haven’t created the right habitat for the dog. Most of my beginning students arrive with this notion, that they have a stubborn dog but your dog is not stubborn. Your dog is not stupid.

Dogs do what works.

If barking, clawing or destroying something means you will open a door, that’s largely why the dog is barking, clawing, or destroying something. If ignoring you leads to this wild fun off-leash adventure through the neighborhood, hey, that’s smart thinking on the dog’s part. If your dog runs around barking out windows, why aren’t you gating the dogs away from the windows?
Dogs are partly big jokers. The other part is, they are big partiers. They also like to sleep. Everything is pretty fun and funny to mentally healthy dogs. Dogs play a lot. Life is mostly a game, although for some dogs, sometimes life is an awesome horror movie and they are like kids screaming on roller coaster, it’s scary, but also they choose to get on the ride again and again! Wheeee!!!Life is sniffing around and finding stuff, and with some boring owners, sniffing around the owner is not very worthwhile so they focus their attention and interests and place the focus of their behaviors elsewhere. But sometimes it is kinda entertaining and fun to play a joke on the owner. Owners make lots of loud noises and wave their arms and scream, that’s kinda funny to watch.

You are your dog’s Guru. Your dog WANTS, and often desperately wants, to make you laugh and play. But you can be incredibly difficult to train. It seems like you can be stubborn and not that smart. You always changing your mind and sending out confusing and conflicting signals. You not only don’t send clear signals, but miss clear messages your dog is trying to give you! I first posted this with a video here that I put up in response to a woman who said her dog “loves” his shock collar. Yeah, ahuh, just like we all “love” getting shots at the doctor’s office. Maybe there is a kinky dog out there that actually does “love” getting shocked, but pain is pain. Dogs don’t love it. Don’t be stupid and stubborn about that. But I’m taking that one down and replacing it with a video example of a dog who really could come across to human beings as “stubborn.” He was a rescued Houdini who had been rehomed multiple times with severe weather and noise anxiety and an ability to bust out of anywhere. You can see how he was learning to accept confinement with the help of a stubborn human.

We often misunderstand dogs. We can use what our dogs want to strengthen (reinforce) behaviors in our dogs. Punishment is tricky, it can sometimes happen accidentally and can unfortunately weaken desirable behaviors in our dogs. And humans can have stubborn beliefs regarding reinforcement (ie: “Do I have to use food?”) and punishment (“I have to tell him he is a bad dog.”) If you are stubbornly doing the right thing and avoiding the wrong thing, stubbornness can work to your advantage.

So the first commandment of dog training: Know Thy Own Dog! To be continued….

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Should you let your dog sniff another dog?

When people are out walking their dogs, they often get surprised by their canine’s social interactions. Just now, my two dogs were laying on a sidewalk focused on me, and a man walking his golden retriever must have thought, “those dogs look safe,” so he let his dog sniff my resting dogs. Pretty quickly Tigerlily was snarling and Bee was stepping on Tigerlily, telling her, “Hey! Don’t cause trouble!” I don’t know why I was apologizing but the guy with the cheerful golden retriever was looking as though I owed him an apology. So let me get this complaint against the friendly golden retrievers of the world off my chest.

I don’t care how friendly you are. It is rude to sniff strangers without their permission.

Dogs use pretty much the same social rules we use as human beings. You wouldn’t go up and shake hands with some stranger reading a book or taking a nap, and you shouldn’t let your dog do that either. In fact, you would never approach a complete stranger and expect to interact with a stranger the same way you interact with an old friend. We don’t touch or pester strangers, and neither should your dog.

When I am crossing the sidewalk, I don’t try to touch or shake hands with the people passing me, and I don’t let my kids run up to strangers and hug them either. If human beings would encourage dogs to follow the same social rules we use between humans, there would be fewer mistakes. Dogs, like humans, can take a little while to warm up and get to know each other. Their interactions should begin at a polite and proper distance, only gradually, over several meetings and interactions, get to the point where they are hugging, aka, sniffing each other.

Some dogs are overly friendly. Some human children are also overly friendly. But if an overly friendly man ran up to you out of nowhere and put his hand on your head, you would probably react with a shriek and a leap too. Teach your overly friendly or curious dogs that they won’t be able to sniff every dog they see. If you are teaching your dog that they will be able to sniff, jump on, play with or run with every dog or person they pass, that is not teaching your dog good social skills. When dogs practice ignoring other dogs (and also humans) that is practicing good social skills. Never allow your dog to approach another dog without getting permission from the other dog, and the other dog’s handler too!

Dog introductions should always happen from a polite distance. When dogs are relaxed around each other from a distance, and responding to handler cues, then maybe they can be trusted to some closer contact. But both dogs and both handlers should be agreeable to the contact. If one or both of the dogs are excited and not responding to cues from a distance, don’t allow closer contact. Just as humans need personal space, so do dogs. Give the dogs more time to get to know each other from a distance and respect every dog’s personal space the same way that we respect human personal space. 635

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Seven ways to prevent “surprise aggression” with your dog

People kill people a LOT more often than dogs kill people.

But dogs do bite, they accidentally scare people, they make mistakes. And sometimes, about 8 times a year in the U.S., they kill. Beyond the obvious (confine your dog, don’t let them run wild) or the things you probably could have done but it’s too late now (such as choose a beagle instead of a mastiff), here are some things you can do now to help prevent accidents.

1. Give your dog lots of opportunities to blow off steam with physical exertion. Fenced in yard, dog park, on dragged long line(only when he is alone, can’t do that around other dogs, or anywhere animals could tangle together), dog daycare, vigorous games of tug, sports training: if your dog is showing anxiety and building up steam, you really need to find safer places and ways of letting him run and socialize. Walks aren’t enough.

sweet old dog sleeping

Even a sweet old dog can make a mistake if a toddler trips over her.

2. Give your dog plenty of time alone to rest and recover from social interactions, don’t allow social opportunities to go on for hours. Put the dog away during all the excitement of arrivals and departures, let him come out and visit for 1/2 hour, then he can chew on his bone in his crate while you party on.

3. Use positive reinforcement, rather than punishment, to teach dogs. Dogs don’t like being choked or pronged or kicked. Punishment stresses animals and makes their behavior much less predictable than dogs trained using reinforcement.

A ten minute visit is great! Quit while you're ahead! The dog shouldn't be forced to have a LONNNGGG visit.

4. Choose natural food with 20% protein, not super high protein crazy-making formulas. Dogs evolved on human garbage. Dogs are more relaxed on lower-protein diets.

Children are walking a dog in a crowd

It's never a good idea to have untrained children walking a dog! They can frustrate the dog and they can't control the dog. It's amazing accidents don't happen more often.

5. Be aware of the times your dog gets “frustrated” and focus your training and management plans on reducing frustration. Give your dog a nap when life is busy. I usually crate my busy dogs from about 11 am til 1 pm. Dogs need naps. Don’t let your dog get over-tired, as tired dogs make mistakes.

Many people misunderstand canine facial and body language.

Dog training classes help people understand canine body language and facial expressions.

6. Evaluate your expectations of your dog and yourself. Why do you have a dog? What do you want from your dog? Are your expectations reasonable?

7. Is your dog giving you some warning signs? I’ve conditioned dogs to relax and accept wire basket muzzles, and that makes socializing much safer, but most people won’t use the muzzle consistently. Is your dog really the right dog for your lifestyle? Be fair to yourself and your dog. Dog ownership is supposed to be a joy, not a burden. If you can’t fence in a kennel, train the dog, spend a little bit on dogdaycare and classes, give the dog what it needs, maybe someone else can. That’s not only best for you, but it is best for the dog.Dogs playing

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The Whole Stunned World

Debut novel for Jenny Ruth Yasi

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