Of all the household chores and repairs I’ve had to face on my own in Dustin’s absences, the one that I still feared the most, until last week, was using Great Stuff Foam.
You know, it’s that liquid in a spray can that expands to three-times its size to fill holes in walls. It looks like a can of hair spray, and it shakes like spray paint, but when the yellow liquid inside meets the air, it grows like a marshmallow about to burst in the microwave.
Yes, I feared this even more than sewage flooding the basement or getting on the roof to chip away at ice dams.
I think my fear came from watching my dad use Great Stuff when I was a kid. Maybe it was the way he always told me to “stand way back” while the foam was “growing.” Maybe it was the long list of warnings I saw on the back of the can. Or maybe it was seeing what happens to the outside of other people’s homes when they get overzealous with Great Stuff.
More likely, however, I was afraid of Dow company’s wonder filler because, in the past, cans often came with a set of gloves. Any product that has its own accompanying safety equipment — goggles, gloves, face mask — has to be dangerous. If the manufacturer has to supply (equipment) for you, then what business do I have using it in my basement?
Spoiler: The can I used last week did not come with gloves, and I didn’t have any of my own. I used a plastic bag instead.
I had gone many years without needing to use Great Stuff. Then we converted our heating system to natural gas last week. One of the dirty secrets of this popular conversion is that you are left with mice-sized holes in your basement walls afterward. For centuries humans have sealed their basements to keep critters out.
Now, through the wonders of natural gas conversions, we’ve left holes in our fortress. The mice can hardly believe their good fortune. All these warm houses, once air-tight and impenetrable to them, now have 1- to 2-inch holes at ground level. We might as well put revolving doors and concierges outside.
The gas company will fill the holes for you, but if the conversion takes nearly 12 hours, as it did for us, and the workers leave after sunset, it’s possible for them to overlook places that need to be filled. You will see them the next day, when you are taking laundry to the basement, and sunlight beams in like a flashlight.
If you’re like me, it will be a Saturday and the gas company will be closed for everything except emergencies.
You’re going to need Great Stuff.
The people at Lowe’s were careful to explain the seriousness of Great Stuff to me. “A little goes a long way,” the man said. Then he repeated it like 10 more times. “And use gloves,” he warned.
When I got home and realized I didn’t have gloves, I asked Ford and his friend Noah to come into the basement with me for moral support. I didn’t want to face Great Stuff alone. Also, I wanted there to be witnesses if the foam swallowed me.
As I stuck the can’s nozzle into the hole where our oil tank line used to be, Ford and Noah started mocking me: “Oh no! It’s the FOAM!” They hummed music from “Jaws.” Once the liquid started oozing out of the hole, however, they realized my fear: the foam grows. And grows.
“Mom, you used way too much,” Ford yelled.
“It’s dripping onto the floor,” Noah said.
Heaps of Great Stuff billowed from the walls, and it was still oozing from the nozzle, too. It was on my hands and the toe of my shoe, and it was hardening fast.
I screamed all the way upstairs to wash my hands. Ford and Noah laughed at me from the basement: “Mom, don’t look now, but the foam is following you!”
An hour later, I went back downstairs to admire my work. The hole looked like it had been filled with puffy yellow warts that threw up on the floor. It definitely wasn’t pretty, but I was pretty sure no mice were getting in.
And I was proud of myself for using Great Stuff. It’s addicting, actually. Before the can froze up, I wanted to fill more things. Why not just Great Stuff myself?
I pictured myself with an exoskeleton of yellow foam. I’d be like the Michelin man, only with Great Stuff. Which, honestly, would be rather warm, and might be our ultimate defense against the mice.
Sarah Smiley is a columnist and author of “Dinner With the Smileys,” a memoir of a year of dinners and motherhood.