Building Modern on a Budget Ep. 7 | Insulation, Drywall & Stucco

Friday, September 25, 2020 -


The good bad and ugly of spray-in foam insulation drywall and stucco installation in our DIY modern home build video series

Well, I knew it was coming eventually. We've had our first problematic sub-contractor experience on our custom house build. If you've been following along, you know that we were lucky enough to secure Bryce's Dad as our General Contractor. He's incredibly knowledgeable and has been invaluable through out the construction process. However, he is absolutely swamped with work right now, so he has allowed Bryce and I to handle most of the day-to-day business. Bryce actually used to be a Foreman for his family's construction company for about 8 years, so it's definitely something he's familiar with. 

We have found most of our sub-contractors ourselves and it's gone smoothly, until now. But don't worry, we were able to create a happy ending! 

I HIGHLY recommend you watch the full Building Modern on a Budget episode for all the details, or keep scrolling for an overview. 

First, let me back up and talk about one of our sub-contractors who was fantastic; our stucco guy. 

The first step was to wrap the exterior of the entire house with waterproof, synthetic tar paper. 

Then, 1-1/4" thick polystyrene foam insulation is stapled onto the OSB siding. 

Steel lathe is then wrapped around everything that is going to be stuccoed. The steel lathe is held in place with more extra-wide crown staples. 

To save on cost and try to stay on budget, we opted for traditional, masonry stucco. This type of stucco is ideal for warm and dry environments like we have in Arizona. Traditional stucco is a terrible product in other parts of the world.

If you apply stucco in a very wet and warm area, the porous masonry can easily grow mold and mildew. Even more problematic is ice. Repeated freeze/thaw cycles reek havoc on traditional stucco and can cause severe cracking. 

Synthetic stucco definitely has it's benefits (i.e. not needing to be painted and being able to mix your wall color directly into the finish coat) but would have cost us $8-9k more. Unfortunately, since we have already experienced some budget-breaking overages, that wasn't an option. 

Despite the record breaking heat we were experiencing while the stucco guys worked, they did a good job of keeping the surface wet, allowing the stucco to cure slowly, giving us a stronger product with fewer cracks. 

Now we can talk about where we ran into trouble; the spray foam insulation.

Originally, Bryce and I planning to install batt insulation ourselves in the exterior wall and ceilings. A previous contractor we had worked with strongly recommended we consider spray-in, full cavity foam insulation because of it's higher R-value. We allowed him to give us a bid and were shocked to see it would only cost around $2,000 more to insulation both the house and shop with batt. 

Considering how busy we were (are) with the rest of the house, we were glad to let someone else handle this step. 

As soon as the crew showed up and started spraying, we saw red flags. 

The crew worked much slower than promised and ended up forcing us to push back other subs. Since Bryce was a builder for so many years, we both have seen foam insulation installed before. 

I won't go into all the details, but I'll say that the installation was messy, damaging and wasteful. They got foam everywhere! I was sad to see so much more product being applied than necessary. 

Now the bright side!

We raised our concerns with the project manager multiple times. It took several phone calls and multiple trips, but eventually the insulation crew made things right. 

They finally cleaned up enough of the mess and trimmed the foam cleanly enough we were able to move forward .

Since the floors of the loft area are not exposed to the exterior, they were not included in our total insulation quote. 

Unlike the walls and ceilings, there is no need to block hot or cold air from passing between the floors. The loft is going to be our 11-year old twin boys' play room, which means it's going to be noisy. We wanted to add insulation in the space between the floor joists for sound attenuation. 

The foam in the Touch N' Foam professional kits is a different material than what they used in our walls. It is a "closed cell" foam as opposed to "open cell". 

It's ideal for sealing small cracks and creating a 1-2" thick base layer of foam, before following up with batt insulation. 

We used 1-1/2 Touch N' Foam kits for the loft area, and 1-1/2 kits on the underside of the roof sheathing over the house garage. 

It was messy, but it will be worth it. 

Once everything was insulated, we could move onto drywall!

While we're talking about drywall, I want to sing the praises of our drywall sub-contractor. We love him! He was willing to work with our budget and deal with our less-than-traditional floorplan. 

His crews worked insanely fast and were meticulous. 

I couldn't believe how two guys were able to hang hundreds of sheets, including covering the 19' tall ceiling in the great room! 

Neither Bryce or I are scared of hard work and have tackled a good amount of the build ourselves, but from day one we knew we were going to hire out drywall. 

With all the angles, ceiling heights and tricky corners, there's no way we would have the time or talent to get the nearly smooth texture we were hoping for. 

Plus, I'll just say it: drywall sucks. 

Hiring professional drywallers was a GREAT decision and I don't regret a thing. If you're curious about corner bead and what finish texture we chose, make sure you watch the YouTube episode. I talk all about our options and how we came to the conclusion we did. 

Ready to talk about money? Although we expected it, this phase definitely took a big hit to the budget. 

Although we went over budget on insulation by $4,500, stucco and drywall cost exactly what we had predicted. If you're curious about the rest of the numbers, check out the Building Modern on a Budget series on the Pneumatic Addict YouTube channel and make sure you subscribe! 

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1 comment

  1. I've always thought of my dry wall 'guy' as a sculptor more than a tradesman.


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