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Sunday, January 26, 2014

Quest for the Rebate

Postcard of Accomplishment. Kind of looks like an uncooked cinnamon roll there.

Lo, after long months and many seasonal changes, the wondrous rebate is in hand! Maybe if I’d been a more accomplished player of Dungeons & Dragons, I would have been better prepared to seize the gold and glory at the end of the adventure. More than once I stumbled, nearly dropping the treasure into the abyss of shitsville R-factors. But at last, a slightly more snuggly attic space is mine!

The challenge came in autumn. A notice with my utility bill said City Utilities was offering a 50% rebate on insulation added to your house by the end of the year. I knew from previous campaigns that my ceiling-borne blanket of insulation was weak, kind of collapsed by gravity, and dusted with decades of grit. I knew that my current attic is too cramped and obstacled to allow installation of rolls or batts, which is what I used in my last house. I knew winter was coming, but had no idea it would come with such fury as to drop-kick all parties out of our wuss-winter ways, over Siberia and straight into Niflheim.

Finally the day came. I had just watched a blown-in insulation demo on PBS the day before, and I had my regular job under control by lunchtime. I had only a vague idea of how much stuffins to buy, so I googled a chart and even used the calculator on my phone. The CU rebate form showed that I should have close to a foot of fluff to get an R-40 rating, needed for rebate approval. So, I needed to add at least 6 inches to the existing.

At Home Depot I learned that I could borrow the blower machine for free if I bought at least 20 bundles of cellulose barf. A blend of my usual guesswork and tightwadding told me that I only needed around 20. I decided on 22, to seem less conspicuously cheap. I also guessed correctly that my pickup wouldn’t hold many more than that, given that I had to leave room for the chuffing machine.

Before loading the cellulose bundles (recommended by the guy on TV as best value: performance not quite as good as shredded fiberglass, but way cheaper, and greener because it is made from recycled stuff), I looked for some special fireproofed cardboard boxes designed to be nested over can lights. They keep the insulation from engulfing the lights, which could keep them too hot and create a fire hazard. I couldn’t find any at Lowe’s or Home Depot, so decided to ask one of the Home Depot Peopot.

Mistake. This triggered an unfortunate landslide of non-help from a duo of old guys, two aged but unbroken non-player characters. The first guy was pretty good, but the second was kind of a Gimli of non-progress, skilled at stating the obvious and asking too many questions. He kept asking me how many squared feet I had to do, what R-factor I wanted, etc, which I had only ballpark figures for. Finally I verged on rudeness when I was trying to explain the can-light boxes. He said I should just make my own out of cardboard.

    “Sure,” I said, “I would normally do that, but I don’t have cardboard that’s treated with flame retardant, and I have ten can lights to work on.”

    “I would just get some bigger boxes and cut them down to fit,” he repeated.

    “Yeah, but I’m renting the machine for today—I don’t want to spend all afternoon dicking around with cardboard, when I need to get the machine back.”

So he kind of changed the subject to how I could pull a string around the attic to show the level I want to blow up to. I just started agreeing with all his tips, because I didn’t want to explain that I was in a hurry and would have to eyeball it because the edges of the attic were just too hard to navigate. “Maybe,” I should have said, “if I were a goblin or a tribe of kobolds, that would be handy, but for a non-player character, you’re really deflating my quest boner.”

I went to the rental shop, asked how to get the blower, then went back for the bundles because you have to buy the insulation, present the receipt at the rental counter, then get satisfaction. That all went pretty smoothly, and the pickup bed was basically maxxed out with 22 bundles plus blower plus 50 feet of flexi-hose.

So I got all the stuff home by 2:00 or so, found a couple of boxes that worked over the can lights,  cut vent slots in them, then decided that I would just replace all the bulbs in the can lights with LEDs, which generate less heat. They were already CFLs, so I wasn’t too worried, and I know the cellulose fluff is treated with some flame retardant as well.

The dumbest mistake I’d made to this point was forgetting my forehead-mounted headlamp. I just had to use a normal flashlight to peer around the attic, which would become a pain when I was holding a spewing blow-hose. I tried briefly to pull the hose up into the attic and imagine how I could do the job alone. I can usually do almost anything by myself, but no way would I be able to feed stuffins into the hopper while also shooting them into place on the other end of a 50-foot hose.
Fortunately, parked out on the street was the Bronco indicating that the boyfriend of the neighbor’s teen daughter was there. I got as ready as possible, then went and knocked on their door.

“Hey,” I said when the girl came to the door, “uh, I’m your neighbor across the road.”

“I know,” she said, with just the right blend of nonchalance and alertness.

“I need some help, and it looks like the boyfriend guy is here. If he has time, I could pay him twenty bucks for about an hour. It shouldn’t take very long.”

She went to ask him. His name was Jack, and he not only said he would do it, but said he had done it before. I said “Good, because I don’t really know what I’m doing. We both crossed the street and spent about ten minutes failing to get the machine to work. It was running, but not spewing. Jack said it was like the machine his friend had, but this still didn’t help him make it work. He kept worrying me by jamming his arm deep into the churning hopper to feel for obstructions, but the “beaters” were more like mudflaps than tines, so at least I wouldn’t have to return the machine with hunks of Jack’s arm lodged inside. (I guess Jack is more of a fighter than a magic-user.)

We scooped most of the cellulose back out of the hopper, then gave up. Pulling out my wallet, I offered Jack some money for his trouble, but he said No, since we didn’t get anything done. He went back to his girlfriend and they started shoveling snow off a neighbor’s driveway. I started to call the 1-800 assistance number on the blower, when I saw some instructions I hadn’t read. In a few moments, I figured out the “slide gate” was closed. Once opened, it solved all my problems. I went to get Jack, gave him a breathing mask, and away we went. It went really quick, though it got a little hard to breathe up there. When crud got around my mask, it had sort of a tangy taste. More than once I imagined succumbing to the chokey cloud and becoming an attic mummy. By the end I wished I’d bought more bundles, since they spew in so fast. But I ended up with almost a foot of fill around most of the attic, more than double the previous layer.

So I climbed down, and Jack helped me clean up the garage and the blower. Then I tried to pay him again, and—NO WALLET! I looked in the truck, and all around the garage. I asked Jack if he saw me do anything with my wallet earlier. My embarrassment at looking like a fink who was trying not to pay my helper was quickly overshadowed by the dread conclusion: “Holy shit, my wallet must be up in the attic, hidden in the insulation!”

Jack had to go, because he had something to do at school. I searched the truck one more time, because I knew it could take forever to find the wallet in the dunes of fluff, plus I would be messing up all my fresh work. For a little while I was wondering if there was a way Jack could have taken it, which made me feel bad for even thinking it, but not only did I not know him, I was scared shitless of it being gone, and I had like 500 bucks in it because I’d just collected rent. Finally I just bit the bullet, put my mask back on, and started digging through stuffins.

I found the bastard in maybe two minutes. Luckily it had fallen out near the end of the job, when I was squirming around with the hose right near the attic door. I was so glad to see it, I ran right over to the neighbor’s and paid Jack $40 and felt good doing it. He was already gone, but the mom put it in an envelope for him. She did it in a way that suggested he’s guaranteed to get it, now that it’s in an envelope with his name on it.

About a week later, I got around to filling out my rebate paperwork. I almost choked again when I saw that I had to include UPC codes from all the bundle wrappings. Did I save all that trash? Oh yeah, Jack had stuffed it all into a trash can I handed him, and luckily I hadn’t dumped it yet. I clipped all the UPCs and counted 22. All my crap was in order at last. I’d only spent $190 bucks on the whole deal, so the rebate would be about $95.

Then we had a few more weeks of polar vortex pain, and I got our record-high bill of $320 anyway. No rebate had kicked in. But a few days later, the good news arrived. At last I reap my whirlwind of savings. Thank you, City Utilities Dungeon Masters.

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