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I'm renting a bedroom in a house with very thin walls, and when I wake up every morning, it's freezing, and I imagine that will only get worse. I was thinking it would be nice to come up with some way to add insulation to the cold exterior walls. My problem is: I'm not allowed to drill the walls, and I don't want it to look terrible.

My initial plan was to get some kind of insulation, set it into a lightweight wooden frame, and then stretch some fabric over it to make free-standing insulating panels that look nice and (hopefully) provide some insulation. I do have a few concerns, though, and not enough DIY expertise to know the answers, so I was hoping you folks might help me out.

  1. Would this even help? If I'm not completely covering the walls, floor-to-ceiling, am I going to see any benefit?

  2. What material should I use in the frame? I was thinking the appropriate material would be rigid foam, but now after reading up, I'm worried about offgassing, toxic flame retardants, HBCD, CFCs… and many other things I don't really understand. Is there a rigid insulation material that would be safe to use in an interior room as part of a free-standing panel? Polysio? XPS? Mineral wool?

Also, if this is too newbie a question, or if I'm reinventing the wheel, please feel free to close the question or redirect me to a more appropriate resource.

  • Is there a source of space heat in the room? – Jim Stewart Oct 19 '17 at 10:16
  • @JimStewart There is, I'm just trying to minimize how much I'm going to need to use it. – Daniel B Oct 19 '17 at 15:53
  • Assuming there's a window in your room, I'd start with using a plastic-wrap insulation kit on it. – Robert Nubel Oct 19 '17 at 16:32
  • Based on experience in an older chicago apt, I can offer that just a single sheet of shiny rigid house insulation aside a bed against a cold wall dramatically reduces the feeling of cold in the bed, making it seem much warmer in the room when sleeping, mostly from reduced radiation from body to wall. – dandavis Oct 19 '17 at 21:48
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It would help some. Your sensation of cold isn't actually a direct measure of the room temperature, it's a measure of how quickly heat is leaving your body. To test it, put your hand in room tempeature water,(as measured by a thermometer) it will feel colder.

Your body is producing heat, and losing it through contact with air, walls etc

If you slow down that heat loss by insulating the area directly around you, it will feel less cold.

The solution I use, is to put a camping tent on top of my bed when it gets too cold. It's a lot less work than making insulation and a lot more effective. As a bonus you can fill a hot water bottle and really heat up the air around you while keeping out any mosquitoes you may have.

  • I'll mark this answer as correct because you're saying what I want to hear, even if it's wrong. – Daniel B Oct 20 '17 at 3:01
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I’ve never seen this done and I don’t think it’s a good idea. Cold air will get around the panels unless you construct them to be completely right everywhere. That would be a lot of work. Possible, but a tremendous amount of work, no matter the size of your living space.

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    I was drawing inspiration from the fact that (okay, now that I say it out loud, it sounds even stupider) that people in castles would use tapestries to insulate their walls. It sounds like it wasn't as bright an idea as I thought. – Daniel B Oct 19 '17 at 5:04
  • I'm not sure that's why tapestries were used, but they certainly weren't very effective at actually maintaining room temperature. That's why enclosed beds existed. Spencer's right--unless you can effectively seal out all air against the walls, you won't accomplish much. – isherwood Oct 19 '17 at 16:08
  • why/how would air be coming through the middle of a wall? measure the wall temp: if it's colder than the carpet, insulation would help. i still agree drafts are top priority, but wall losses are real. – dandavis Oct 19 '17 at 21:51
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    Wall loses are real, as are ceiling loses, and to a lesser extent floor loses. Someone could create an insulation box to live in that is an inch smaller than the cold room they live in now. It’s totally doable. I’m just saying it’s a ton a work. If there are windows, heater registers, oil heaters, a kitchen, cabinets, or maybe other things I’m not thinking of, then this solution gets complicated. The temperate difference wouldn’t go through the rigid insulation (at least not fast), it would go around it. So to make this idea work you could start screwing rigid sheets to the existing walls... – Spencer Oct 19 '17 at 22:17
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    I appreciate the effort, @Spencer! – Daniel B Oct 20 '17 at 3:00
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When we calculate “payback”, items that are most effective are caulking to eliminate drafts (often less than 1 year) and adding ceiling insulation (usually less than 2 years.)

Items with the longest payback are replacing single pane windows with double pane (always more than 25 years) and floor and wall insulation (usually about 20 years...heat rises).

Also, radiant heat may be best for you rather than forced air heating systems. Air blowing across your skin (even warm air) will seem cool unless it’s really warm air and it has already heated all the elements in the room. If the air in the room is already cool, any air movement will “feel” cool.

I’d concentrate on reducing drafts, then add ceiling insulation.

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Build wall in room 2 inches shorter and 2 inches less width of room wall. Build out of 2x2s at 4 ft intervals using foam sheets as insrt guides. Now nail or screw , sheetrock, wall panels, malanine plywood or whatever wall covering you want. Now get some helpers and lift wall. Use 2.5 inch pipe wrap foam tubes stuffed into top edge and both sides to lock in place and seal. Repeat 3 more times. Trim corners of foam pack with 1x4 painted as trim. Presto you now have a 1.5 insulation wall with covering. Also you may want to caulk the panels to the 2 x2. to exclude drafts. Have fun

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