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Randy Miller Featured on Beyond Green 365 Podcast

Featured, News, Remodeling

Randy Miller had the opportunity to sit down with Jonathan Synovic, Executive Director of Step Beyond Green to Healthy and host of the podcast “Beyond Green 365” to talk about insulation.

Randy Miller featured on the “Beyond Green 365” podcast.

As owner of S & E Insulation, as well as Allrite Home & Remodeling, Randy is a Milwaukee-area expert on home insulation, air sealing and energy efficiency. 

Step Beyond Green to Healthy is a nonprofit whose focus is on residential indoor air quality and how it affects the health and well-being of people of all ages living in a home. 

Randy and Jonathan discussed the differences between types of insulation, including cellulose insulation and vermiculite. A common concern with homes in the midwest is mold, given our high humidity levels. 

Learn how insulation and air sealing can prevent unwanted moisture from getting into your home, which contributes to your home’s health. 

Want to learn more? Listen to the podcast!

 

 

Transcript

Welcome to the Beyond Green 365 podcast. This podcast educates homeowners on how to make healthier choices when updating, remodeling, or building a new home. Step Beyond Green to Healthy supports, advocates and educates, for healthier indoor environments. We make every effort to offer healthier options and learning opportunities. However, our assistance is not specific medical advice for any one person and or medical condition, for specific medical advice please contact your physician. The content provided by Step Beyond Green to Healthy is for your information only, any application of this information is your responsibility entirely. Here is your host Jonathan Synovic.

 

Jonathan:

Welcome everybody, this week’s episode I have the pleasure of sitting down with Randy Miller, of Allrite Home and Remodeling and S & E Installation. Allrite is a family-owned business, started back in 1969, and Randy is the second generation owner, and his son is currently involved with the company as well. And he’s hoping that one day he’ll be able to say that there have been three generations within Allrite. Randy is currently the vice president of a local NARI chapter, and is heavily involved within the Step Beyond Green community. His company’s award-winning, and recently they won the Century Club award, which is given out by the Department of Energy, for energy-efficient standards and remodeling. He’s also nationally-recognized, most locally he has been recognized for restoration work on a Frank Lloyd Wright home.

Today’s topic is all about installation, we’re going to talk about the do’s and don’ts, and all the fun things about it. So let’s get started.

Mr. Randy Miller, welcome to the studio today. How are you doing?

 

Randy:

I’m doing good, how about yourself?

 

Jonathan:

I am doing fantastic. Well the audience got to hear a little bit about your history and everything else. We actually go many years back, I’m so excited to actually sit down with you again and start talking about Step Beyond Green, and what that means to you. Because I don’t think we’ve actually had this conversation, so how did you get involved with Step Beyond Green? What got you involved is what I mean.

 

Randy:

Well for one I did have a chance to actually hear you do a presentation on healthy, and you know, that whole thing in the Dells, which was kind of impressive. And then it got me to start to think a little bit more, and there was a situation, I’ve got a mother who’s got some health issues. And they were doing a project in her complex, and I was just noticing how the unsafe practices with the fiber cement siding, and the fact that the silica dust was just being blown everywhere, and just how uncomfortable she actually was feeling when the windows were kept open during that time frame. Even if they were working two buildings away, I mean it’s still blowing in the air, and it started getting me to think about it more. I mean within my organization, we always want to end up being an advocate for the homeowner. Well in my opinion, obviously health concerns or something that we want to advocate for to make sure that the homeowner is, you know, we’re using the right products for them. So, I think that was one of the main things that stood out to me, and then obviously more and more you and I have been talking, and there’s been more research that I’ve done, and more things that have come up over the years. Situations where my girlfriend’s brother that definitely could end up having to do with a healthy situation of drywall, and how the wrong product that was actually being used and how it was causing so many health problems for them. So yea, I got to experience it here, and I became a big fan of the cause and everything that you end up standing for, so thank you.

 

Jonathan:

Yeah, it is really empowering when we think about everybody listening in the audience right now. So one of the big things that I have talked about in other podcasts and through Step Beyond Green itself, is the fact that as becoming a member the first step is you know obviously doing a little bit of training and your first step actually happened to be before we offered the training programs, but back in one of my presentations. But what what you said there was you began to then dive into some research, and I think that’s the key to the people listening, any of the stuff the Step Beyond Green Members, one of the key things I tell people is, I’m just kind of the umbrella of the entire organization right now, I know a little bit about everything, but I’m not an expert and one of the things that I pride myself on it that members, once they get a little taste of it, once they get going at it, and the research develops, they become really the expert, and I’m just feeding off of what we’re going to talk about even today, when we get what we talk about installation, I mean these are all things that you’ve dove into, what you’ve taken initiative, your company is now striving for, and I think that’s really cool.

 

Randy:

Okay.

 

Jonathan:

Stop giving yourself not as much credit, okay, granted you’re the one that heated it up, but you’re the one that actually had the initial scenarios and situations. You just brought it to our attention so that we can end up carrying it, and finding new ways that we can end up improving, for the health of the individuals that we are working with.

 

Randy:

Absolutely. 

Jonathan:

Well, Installation is going to kind of be our main topic for today. And installation, I think, comes across a lot of the time in a negative way over the years. It’s gotten this kind of hype, like all insulations are bad, we can’t do anything right, and it’s all full of stuff. But I think if you get down to the basics, what are the three main types of insulation out there?

 

Randy:

Well first and foremost, that’s not a sexy item, we all know that.

 

Jonathan:

Really?!

 

Randy:

That kitchen remodeling…. Okay so, fiberglass batt insulation is definitely the first one that ends up being out there. There’s also cellulose insulation, it’s the other one that’s very very popular. And closed-cell spray foam is also the third of the three main and majors that are out there. Are there others that are available to us? Absolutely, but, those are the main ones that most of the insulation companies seem to be using. 

 

Jonathan:

So to recap there, it was batt insulation or fiberglass, and I think batts more of the generic thing, because it can be other types of stranded insulation I think. And then we have cellulose and spray foam. So before he hit the spray foam, because that’s going to be kind of a main one that we’re going to talk about today. Cellulose, now when you say cellulose, even I’ve been in the industry long enough to maybe question, I’m not sure what cellulose is. It seemed to have gotten a bad rep, can you just brief a little bit of time on the history, and that differs from vermiculite right?

 

Randy:

Oh totally different, I’m talking night and day between those two products. 

 

Jonathan:

Because I’ve had people come to me and be like, I’ve seen that stuff in the attic it’s all vermiculite. Like no I think that’s cellulose insulation. So maybe give the audience a little bit of a visual between those two and what’s developed in cellulose over the years.

 

Randy:

Sure. So, vermiculite, which you brought up, and by the way and that is still available out there these days which kind of surprises me.

 

Jonathan:

Really!?

 

Randy:

Yea, it’s still there, it’s a natural product that’s available, and is used but the different strains are some do have asbestos in it, some do not have asbestos in it. Either cleaning it better, I don’t know, I am not one that’s using it, but, I did hear that they did use it around fireplaces, sometimes in commercial grade, I mean commercial usage as well. But, as far as with residential. And what is cellulose insulation? Cellulose is just that paper, I actually had a chance to go and do a plant tour, and what they end up using, and the components that they end up having, but the main thing ends up being that it’s a paper product that’s shredded up very finely. And the vermiculite, which we were referencing before, kind of looks more like crystallized cat litter, it’s more clumped. Where cellulose, it’s fine paper products and they do put products on it to make sure that it isn’t going to end up being a fire hazard, because that’s the first thing most people end up worrying about. The plant that I actually went to, they test it like every hour and a half, they’re making sure that it’s not going to be a flammable item. So, it was impressive to end up seeing what they’re doing, but it is more of a natural paper product. It’s recycling the paper that is out there.

 

Jonathan:

Got it, and I know there’s also been talks over the years of that because it’s a paper product, it’s going to just have mold no matter what, if it gets a little bit of moisture it turns into this mess, because, it’s a paper product. Is that a concern?

 

Randy:

I mean mold is always a concern, and if you’ve got high humidity levels you will end up seeing mold that could end up forming. And I know that it’s not uncommon, I know that you had Dave on from AdvantaClean, who talks about mold all the time. And,  great guy, great reference for that. But it can end up being on anything, you know is it going to end up being on the OSB boards, could end up being on the drywall, could it end up being in any product, anything that’s porus, could end up taking it in and causing it to be a mold issue.

 

Jonathan:

Got it. So it’s not necessarily a pro or a con, it’s a true statement, yes it’s paper, it could develop more. But the reason for the development of mold is the problem, it’s not going to instantly be a mold problem because of its paper products.

 

Randy:

Correct. 

 

Jonathan:

Got it. Spray foam. I say it that way because anybody who runs across me as part of the healthy realm, will go, I can’t believe Jonathans talking about spray foam. He’s going to tell everybody in the world to stay away from it, it’s a deadly substance. And I think for the audience’s sake, I want you to know that, even before Randy became a member, him and I have had this discussion for a couple years now, and I think it’s a discussion, it’s a good back and forth. And I really have learned a lot about the product, I’ve learned a lot about the Safety protocols from Randy so, But Ijust want everybody out there to know that, yea its not my favorite product.

 

Randy:

It’s not your go to.

 

Jonathan:

Right. And i think we should discuss a little bit with everybody why it’s not my favorite product. But i want people to pay close attention, because when we talk about healthy, and we’ve always in terms of, and while we’re trying to prevent unhealthy situations, there are just certain aspects that we can’t, I can’t argue against in here, and i think Randys going to touch base here in just a second. Instances in which it is the right product to prohibit a potential problem in the future. And so why don’t we start there. So, when is spray foam the right product?

 

Randy:

Well, spray foam is actually a great product when you’re talking about air sealing. And air sealing means the mitigation of the ability for moisture to be able to go through products or certain areas, air gaps, between the drywall, at the top plates, another area that we end up using it quite a bit is in in the sell boxes because of the fact that there’s the gaps that are in there, it voids all of that. And we can go back and forth which you and I do plenty as far as with yeah but there is this scenario, yeah but there is this scenario. You know, which is worse, leftover matter from mice, or many mice getting through or if we seal that up very well, and now all of a sudden you don’t have those gaps, and now you’re not having those problems with mice. Or, in the situation where you got cathedral ceilings, and as an architect you loved, and are putting cathedral ceilings out there, and you’re not alone you know, but now you’re not thinking about how much insulation you can actually end up putting between those Rafters, because you’re only given it a six inch, seven inch, eight inch, total span, and yet if you you’re using fiberglass insulation, or you’re using cellulose insulation, and there are 3, 6 inches, thats an R-18. Well what’s going to end up happening is, moisture will end up getting trapped through there and causing more problems of mold or microbial growth, which you know, unless we test it, that’s what we’re supposed to reference it as right?

 

Jonathan:

Right

 

Randy:

So, but if I end up using closed-cell spray foam in those areas, and it’s sealed off properly, wear your not getting you off-gassing and coming into the home then, that’s a better scenario than having mold that can end up coming through, and you’re talkin an R-7 per inch, so you’re getting that R value that you need to keep the home healthier. And you know, warm. 

 

Jonathan:

I think a very very key piece to that I want to go back to as you said, were not bringing the off-gassing inside the house, I think sometimes we get caught up, I know, on the healthy realm, I know I talked to a lot of people out there, they’re worried about that the off-gassing of the product, right? So, that’s where I kind of laugh about us going back and forth. Well, the off-gassing of the product is a huge concern for me, not just for the occupant after it’s there, but Randy and I have talked about even his installer itself, because, as far as being apart of Step Beyond Green, we’re not looking at just the homeowner, were looking at the application of it as well. So we’ve gone back and forth about that, but getting back to what you said though, we want to reduce the off-gassing within the house. And I think that’s where I start to come to expand my own mindset, that I think I’ve finally been more open on the subject line of, if the spray foam is exposing the attic, and this is where we’ve talked about, and were spray foaming there because it’s the right application, if it is off-gassing to the attic space, though we’ve done our job of sealing the floor at the ceiling system, right. We talked about air sealing, and we’ve done these things, then I start to open my mind up to, if it’s the right product to to be put in the application, I don’t have access to that product, I’m okay with it, as long as we’re not off-gassing back into the house, there are just certain good trade-offs, I think the air sealing, We talk about our windows, right, thats been a huge back and forth, even with the sales team, I’ve been chatting back and forth with the sales team about how to sell healthy, and, what pieces of it to sell, and their big concern was around windows, like, say no spray foam jobs, what are we going to do. And so Randy, talk with us a little bit about why it’s important to seal with a spray foam around windows.

 

Randy:

Well, I mean windows, and, same thing with the sill boxes, it’s kind of important because those are gaps, and what’s funny is, those areas are going to end up having more air flow coming than any of the window components itself typically. I mean obviously they’re situations that end up coming up, the window is not necessarily, I mean, the best, but, the way they’ve designed Windows these days, is, does have the offset between upper sash, lower sash, you’re not getting the airflow coming from that, it’s from the outer edges of the framing. So, I end up sealing those up, so you’re not getting that cold air coming through, it makes it more comfortable, but, even more importantly it’s the right way to do it.

 

Jonathan:

 And I think, we’ve talked through it before, and kind of back me up on here if I’ve got if I got it correct, one of those issues is stuffing a product, like a batt insulation, into those seams, because people would say, well okay, let’s assume you can because I know one of the arguments of what if it’s so small I can’t put anything in it?

 

Randy:

To clarify, we still do end up using the fiberglass insulation in it as well in situations.

 

Jonathan:

Kind of where you were going with this, as that compresses, as it gets too compressed to a point its R-value comes from, its the air space it has between the actual fibers. I never really put two and two together, and I think people out in the audience wouldn’t either, that the more that I compress that batt, or that fiberglass insulation, the worse it actually comes as a product, and so therefore, even in the application terms of spray foam, it has a better application, and because I’m actually going to seal it better, right?

 

Randy:

Correct. You’re completely sealing it up, in comparison to it, we actually had, when we do demonstrations, or have it at the show as well, we show the difference. Typically we end up showing between cellulose, and the fiberglass, and how much more that air ends up going through with a fiberglass, and allowing that much heat and air flow to end up going through, but, the same thing isn’t working with and around windows, when that thing is just compressed, it’s just not doing its job properly.

 

Jonathan:

So, what about, the audience, I think would be really kind of excited about a new product. Because everybody’s like, Ah tell me something new. Is there anything new in insulation that’s coming out?

 

Randy:

So, I had a really cool chance when I went out to take a look at one of my insulation suppliers, and they’re doing an R & D right now, on hemp. Which I thought, huh that’s pretty impressive and pretty interesting because, you’re talking about not only a natural product, you’re talking about a product as well that grows very quickly in comparison to you know, the trees in general so it’s going to be more readily available. But right now it’s just very expensive, but it was the, during their R&D process, were concerned about obviously fires and things like that in a home, they had to use less in order to make sure that was a better fire resistant than they do with cellulose, just because of in the makeup of the hemp itself, being a stickier product that actually had a better holding power to it, so it’s kind of cool to end up seeing that, that is going to be used down the road for so many different directions and, talk about sustainability, I mean you’re talking every component of that product is now being used, not just for the smoking purposes, or for the healing for health purposes, but also is going to be used as far as for future project, with home improvement. I already heard that they’re using it in concrete in some ways, it’s strong, so it’s being used for roads.

 

Jonathan:

Do they think it’s going to have the same, or similar R-values?

 

Randy:

Yes. They did actually, have been testing the R-values, it just takes a lot more of the product, in comparison to cutting down a tree. It’s kind of neat to actually end up thinking that there’s another avenue that it could be used for.

 

Jonathan:

And do you think just in a professional opinion, that it’s going to come down in price because of the availability of me that has as more and more states are allowing it to be grown in their states. I’ve got to believe that that price availability will come for easier at this point.

 

Randy:

There’s going to be more sticks and stems so that’ll be available the more it’s available you know you know instead of them tossing it away, or just burning it, it can instead be used for other purposes, which is kind of neat.

 

Jonathan:

Yeah. That is really cool. So we’re going to have to keep an eye out for hemp installation the next couple of years here, and see it hit the market. You had mentioned Dave from Advantaclean earlier in the podcast here, and I want to get back to it. He had made a comment about that if you see mold in the basement, more than likely have it in the attic. So if we run across that, and after the installation of the attic, are there ways to make sure, I guess, improve the life that I don’t have? Like other precautions I can take, are there things that maybe, if mold would develop in my basement it wouldn’t end up in the attic?

 

Randy:

So I think what he was probably alluding to is, think about how much moisture is actually in your basement, whether the fact that it’s underground, if you don’t keep your dehumidifiers down low enough, you’ve usually got a sink down in the basement, you got also your washing machine is in there, your damp clothes you end up hanging down below in those areas, so you’ve got all of the these things that are right in your basement area that are all filled with moisture. Now, that chimney chase that ends up going right from the basement and your plumbing stacks, go all the way up through your attic, and out. But, the outer edges of that are actually open gaps in a lot of cases. So when it’s designed it’s made with those gaps in mind, because that way they can end up getting the plumbing out in through properly, so during construction. But, with those gaps as well that’s allowing all that moisture to continue going up in through, those have to be sealed off. And once you end up stopping that air flow from coming through the basement all the way up into the attic space, you’re improving on the fact, and minimizing the chance of getting mold in your attics, even though you had it in the basement.

 

Jonathan:

That actually sparks a thought process that I think when people talk about reinsulating their attics, first of all, you’re just going to take out the product, and put in another product right? Like what’s the difference, if I’ve already got it there, why would I do it? but I think, one of the things that you’ve always talk to me about is that you actually look at sealing things like the chimney, and the plumbing stacks, and quite honestly even the light penetrations affect us, and we were chatting the other day with Current Electric, about the fact that how many penetrations do we have with cans, and ceiling fixtures, and how many people don’t take into account, that that’s all leaking through those areas. So I would imagine part of what your company does is seal all that right?

 

Randy:

Completely. There are three components that we always end up looking at, we look at the ventilation in the attic space, we look at, and specifically annex base, we look at the insulation levels, and the air sealant. All three of those components need to end up working properly, in order to have a well sealed up house.

 

Jonathan:

And that’s critical for a lot of what we just discussed about today, but also keeping the attic separated from the house, and I think that gets back to, you know, that off-gassing a product back into the house, if we can seal up that attic space, that we can know that we got nothing transferring in between your second floor and the attic, or if you had a ranch, from the ceiling to the attic, that’s a huge health benefit to us, and it also kind of allows us some flexibility in the attics base, right?

 

Randy:

And controlling the moisture level inside the envelope, as we were referring to it, the inside of the house, and making sure that that’s me in control to end up leaving, but not making the house too dry.

 

Jonathan:

For sure! All right, well we’re just about out of time, is there anything else you want to tell the audience about insulation today Randy?

 

Randy:

Just make sure it’s properly insulated, I mean in the attic we’re looking at an average right now here in the Wisconsin market of an R-50, look at your basements, make sure that there’s no cracks in your sill boxes, and even though spray foam is not necessarily from your perspective the healthiest, it does have enough of a benefit to it, and that’s the only area actually that it is, exposes, in the basement area, and we always take precaution as far as with wearing PPE. Yeah we just came off of a Covid thing. PPE and proper PPE, and you know, they’re properly masked, and we always end up recommending, while we are doing the work, and even for the next hour or two after that, that homeowners just stay away especially if they have sensitivity to chemical smells.

 

Jonathan:

All right, so it’s always a great time chatting with you, just to recap some of the things that we talked about, the three main types of insulation today we talked about, the batt insulation, or fiberglass insulation, we talked about cellulose, and what that looks like and how a difference between, you know, vermiculite cellulose insulation. As well as spray foam, obviously you just alluded to that. Also, a new product coming to the market that we’re hoping to see here, at more of a reasonable price point, is hemp insulation. It’s got really good properties, and it’s using a less fire-resistant chemical in order to hit that. Also talked to you about air sealing, you know I think that kind of was the overriding theme of today, was make sure that we’re sealing up different things. Whether it’s between windows, your ceiling, in the attic. Randy, I think you and I could chat about this stuff forever, and I think it will be a joy to have you back on, and thank you again for your time today.

 

Randy:

Hey, the banter with you is always really good, and your knowledge and history of the healthiness, I appreciate.

 

Jonathan:

Awesome. All right, see you next time. 

 

Randy:

All right.

 

Jonathan:

Step Beyond Green’s mission is to create healthier indoor environments for us to live and work in. This is one of the ways that we do this, please like, subscribe, or share this, as well as a comment below about this topic, or maybe it’s a topic you’d like us to discuss in the future. As always, stay healthy. See you next time!

 

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