The Right Stuff

The idea seemed so brilliant at the time I could barely contain myself. With a minimum of effort, I would improve the thermal efficiency of the bedroom and provide a slight bit of soundproofing as well. What a great idea!

Okay, here’s the background.

As part of the remodeling, I carefully pried off the wooden trim around the three windows that make up the big bay window on the north wall. As I expected, the old cast iron window weights had been left in the narrow cavities on each side of each window and there was no insulation. As I did not at all expect, the plaster on each side had been extended all the way to the window frame. Enter my “Gee, I’m so smart!” moment.

Instead of cutting a five-foot strip of plaster and lath down along each side of each window to provide access for installing fiberglass insulation, I decided to bore a series of holes and use that access to shoot in foam insulation. The kind of foam insulation that comes in a can and expands somewhere between three and thirty times its volume. I bought the kind that is engineered specifically for doors and windows; the other kind will push boards right off the wall, or bend the window frame, if it doesn’t have enough room to expand. The brand I’ve used most often is Great Stuff. (Perfect name, don’t you think?) Given my keen sense of estimation which is almost never wrong by a factor greater than ten, I figured one can would do one window. Three windows, three cans. “Ahh, go ahead and get an extra one, so you have plenty,” I told myself. So I did.

Back home from Lowes on Saturday afternoon and eager to impress myself, I started in. I shook the first can vigorously, removed the cap, attached the flex tube and started shooting it into the first hole near the bottom on the left side of the first window. When that space was pretty well filled, I moved up to the next hole and continued. I left about eighteen inches of open space at the top, figuring the foam would expand up into that clear space. I used an entire can on the first space. I’d emptied the fourth can and hadn’t even started on the third window.

About the time I made that discovery, I looked back to admire my work at the first window. A tube of expanding foam had popped out of the first hole and was dripping down off the windowsill onto the floor. “Aaagghh!” I believe works as a sufficient paraphrase of my reaction. Then I saw a similar eruption beginning at the second hole. And the third hole… Within a couple of minutes, expanding columns of yellow foam were protruding from every hole. All twelve of them.

One important note here is that this uncured foam is as sticky as Super Glue. Anything it touches is going to have foam on it until it is scraped, sanded or otherwise abraded from the surface. That is especially true of skin.

I grabbed a small piece of scrap wood and started scraping off the spouting stuff and wiping it into the big garbage can. By the time I made one round, there was more coming out of the first hole. So I made another round. Soon, my right index finger was fairly covered with foam residue. I got another piece of scrap and started in on the third round. For the fourth round, I got a longer piece of scrap but still managed to get some on my middle finger. Somewhere around the eighth or ninth round, it seemed that things were slowing down a bit. If I could have put all the extra foam into the wall space, I would have had more than enough to finish all three windows.

Instead, I had enough foam to cover a scrap piece of drywall and the top of every can, block and wad of paper in the top of the big garbage can. I spent an hour dealing with this mess. The room was starting to look like a cross between a Dr. Suess book and a horror film. I took a break and came back fifteen minutes later and scraped off yet another set of foam stems sagging out of the holes alongside each window.

Finally, it appeared that the extrusion process was subsiding so I went back downstairs and watched part of a football game. When I came back an hour later, a dozen bright yellow sausages greeted me. Every one of them was pretty well fully cured and tough as an old piece of leather.

I can’t wait until my next bright idea gives me another much-needed dose of humility. There’s hardly any time more ripe for regret than those times when we think we know more than we know.

H. Arnett


About Doc Arnett

Native of southwestern Kentucky currently living in Ark City, Kansas, with my wife of twenty-nine years, Randa. We have, between us, eight children and twenty-eight grandkids. We enjoy singing, worship, remodeling and travel.
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