Looking Back


By Mary Ellen Shaw

You never know what you will find when you begin renovations.

Our house was built in 1938. My parents bought it in 1944 and it has been home to me ever since, with the exception of a few years of apartment living right after getting married. Upon the death of my mother, my husband and I moved into the house. That was 37 years ago.

But except for some new windows and a gas fireplace not much else has been done. When you are familiar and comfortable with something in your life, you are content to keep it that way. That has been my logic for over 70 years.

Neither of us feels the need to have the latest of everything. When something no longer functions that is the time we replace it. No cooktop stove for me – the griddles work just fine. My ironing board is inside a wall and that’s just fine too.

However, with age come limitations and for my husband and me the original bathtub from 1938 was becoming a challenge. It was quite high and neither of us is as flexible as in the “old days.” The solution for that problem was a walk-in shower. We hired a contractor and the work began.

Of course, as is often the case with renovations, one thing leads to another. The walls, which had various imperfections due to age, have been replaced with new sheetrock. The floor, sink and vanity also needed updating. And, of course, what “senior” doesn’t need a raised toilet at some point in their life? Might as well tend to that now.

My friends were quite amazed that I, who hate change and confusion, was willing to rip out the entire bathroom and start from scratch. I quickly learned that I could never have dealt with the construction of an entire house. The decisions that went with just one room were all I could handle.

One day I went in to check the progress of the bathroom and saw what looked like stringy and chewed up material between the framing boards of the outer wall. I wondered if squirrels or mice had chewed on something in there over the years. The contractor explained that I was looking at seaweed insulation. We were told that it was used quite often during the time our house was built.

The fact that it took over 70 years to discover the seaweed means that we were apparently warm enough to not check out the existing insulation. We don’t like a hot house so have been fine with adding a sweater if we get chilly. Our annual fuel bills aren’t higher than what other people pay, so odds are that we will continue with seaweed insulation indefinitely.

Since I had never heard of this type of insulation, I decided to Google it. I was amazed at how long that type of insulation can last. Surprisingly enough, I learned that it can last for up to 150 years. Now that is a stretch, judging from the way ours looked, but it has done its job.

In a 2013 article from a publication called “Tree Hugger” it states that “Seaweed is in many ways the ultimate sustainable material. It reproduces itself every year in the sea. It comes ashore without any effort from humans, and it is dried on nearby fields by sun and wind.” The article continues, “It insulates just as well as mineral insulation, is non-toxic and fireproof, and it has an expected life of more than 150 years!

Apparently the builder of our house in 1938 was thinking in an eco-friendly manner as many of us are today. Anything that is chemical-free is a winner for me.

Besides, the insulation will last longer than we will. What more can one ask for?

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