Break on through to the other side

I needed 32 square feet of vapour seal for a wall that was bare for years. I couldn’t buy a small amount.

Break on through to the other side

The mountains of things we throw away are much greater than the things we use  – John Steinbeck.


Vapor seal is the clear plastic stapled over inside walls before they’re covered  with plywood.

I needed 32 square feet for a wall that was bare for years. I couldn’t buy a small amount. It’s sold in rolls of 100 or 1000 square feet.

Building stores I tried wouldn’t cut it.

Steinbeck – Of Mice and Men – is a great writer I hope to meet on the other side. Our chat would eventually turn to mountains of wasteful pollution.

I’d say, “John, I lived in a plastic world, but never threw unused vapor seal away.”

She who must be obeyed was sympathetic to a point.

“I know how you feel,” my wife said, “but that old insulation’s torn and yellow. Buy the seal, even if you have to get more than you need.”

“Okay, my love,” I said, “just give me a little more time.”

“You’ve got a week,” she decreed.

I’m pretty good under pressure. I hadn’t tried Rona, yet. Maybe, I’d get lucky.

“I need exactly 32 square feet of vapor seal,” I said to a yardman sitting on a forklift.

“Don’t want more than I can use, and have to take the rest to recycling. Can you cut me a piece to fit?”

He shook his head. “Just have it in rolls. That’s how it’s delivered to us. The smallest is 100 feet.”

I told this fellow I ride a bike when practical, keep old cars as long as I can (Parker), shop locally to reduce my carbon footprint, and try to buy only as much of anything as I think I can use.

“I hear what you’re saying,” he replied. “A lot of guys tell me the same thing, but we just don’t cut it. No choice. Smallest amount is the 100 foot roll. That’s how it comes to us, and that’s how we sell it.”

“Would I get the same answer if I asked the store manager?” I asked.

“Don’t waste your time,” he said.

Darren Windsor is a manager at Rona. He’s a friendly young man who maintains eye contact when he talks to you. I told him he reminded me of Mark, a manager at Canadian Tire, who also has good listening skills, and treats customers like neighbours.

Darren noted my reasons for not wanting extra vapor seal as he led me purposely back into the supply yard.

“You know,” he mused as we neared the vapor seal shelf, “I had a little wall covering job in my basement. Didn’t need the whole roll. I’m pretty sure most of it’s still down there somewhere.”

It sounded like an offer I couldn’t refuse. “I’d be happy to pay what it cost. Just don’t want extra plastic lying around, or going to recycling.”

“Tell you what,” said Darren, “If the seal’s still there, you can have it.  No charge. Check with me tomorrow.”

The next day, Darren handed me the open roll. It was more than I needed.

“I’ll bring anything left over back to you,” I said. “Maybe, you can do the same favor for somebody else.”

Rona’s manager had been thinking as we spoke. “I’ve got a staff meeting tomorrow,” he told me. “It’s a head office decision, but I’ll suggest putting plastic seal on a roll so people with small jobs can buy what they need.”

I thanked him.

“Well, it’s not a bad idea,” Darren added. “I might also suggest we do that with laminate underlay. It’s the other thing that people sometimes want just a little of.”

Laminate underlay’s sold in 50-foot lengths, twice what I’d need for most rooms in my house.

“You should be able to buy only what you need of anything,” says Kim Day, at the local recycling depot. “You can do that at any sewing materials store. Building stores measure wood out for you. There’s no reason they can’t do that for vapor seal, and underlay.”

Conservation is humanity caring for the future, says Nancy Newel. When we reuse, recycle, and reduce waste, we prove we care for the environment enough to make changes in the way we buy things, and what we discard.

Building supply stores can show they care, too, by allowing customers to purchase only what they need. It would take willingness to make a paradigm shift, but doing so might change a problem into an opportunity, and I’d really have a story to tell Steinbeck when we meet on the other side.


Jack Emberly is a retired teacher, local author and environmentalist.