If you live in an older home, especially if it was built during a rapid growth period to support industries long gone, it's very likely that you live in a wooden box that allows much of your heated or cooled air to escape with ease. It's likely that this old and ancient form of home construction is responsible for your energy costs being three to five times greater than that of a similarly sized new home.
"Making energy saving home improvements is vital to reducing the power and fuel consumption of older homes. We'll help you discover how to reduce the energy costs on older homes that have little insulation and multiple sources of drafts."
Why is this? Why is your home missing things that are now standard on new home construction? There are a few possibilities...
- the home was built with the thought that coal and wood heat was so cheap that sealing the home was an unnecessary expense.
- the home was deliberately built to allow air to enter the home since the use of multiple coal or wood burning stoves required large amounts of fresh air.
- the home was built as quickly and as cheaply as possible to entice families to locate there in an effort to increase the available work force.
The two major issues with older home construction is excessive 'air infiltration' and inadequate 'insulation'.
Air infiltration is the process by which air enters through cracks and crevices in the siding, through roof overhangs, and around door and window frames. Infiltration, more commonly referred to as 'drafts' is simply the direct result of 'loose construction' where there are little to no seals around the edges of what helps define the outside of the home and the inside of the home.
If it were possible to find and measure the length of the crack around every window, door and unnecessary opening, your total crack length could easily surpass 300 linear feet (16 linear feet per window, 20 linear feet per door and 100 linear feet to cover all remaining cracks and openings). If the average crack width is just one-eighth of an inch in size (I'm being conservative) and the length of crack is 300 linear feet (3600 inches), the actual hole size, were it to exist in just one place, would be 450 square inches or a hole that is 21.2 inches wide by 21.2 inches wide. In essence, you have a 2 ft. x 2 ft. window fully open all year long, no matter how hot or cold it is outside.
Your goal is to find a way to shut that virtual window. Short of totally gutting and rebuilding the home, you will never totally eliminate all the drafts, but you can close it halfway or more and reduce the amount of air infiltration to one third or less of its current level.
Insulation is gauged by an 'R-Value' which is simply a measure of 'R'esistance to hot or cold. The higher the r-value, the harder it is for heated or cooled air to pass through.
The outside walls on newer homes are often insulated to a r-value of 19 or more. Their attic spaces can easily be insulated to a r-value of 30 or more. In comparison, most older homes have inadequate insulation values that struggle to reach an r-value of 2 to 3 if you give credit to the layers of wood and siding, but this is almost negligible.
Even the tiniest bit of insulating can make a big difference. When performing heating load calculations, a wall with no insulation gets a heating loss multiplier of 19, compared to having a multiplier of only 6 if a 3 1/2 layer of R-11 insulation were added. That first level of protection decreases the loss of heat through the wall by 3 times! Even more phenomenal, an attic ceiling with no insulation gets a heating loss multiplier of 42. This too can be reduced to a multiplier of only 6 by adding that first layer of R-11 insulation, decreasing the heat loss by 7 times!
More insulation means even more savings. To further cut your heating loss in half, increase your insulation value from 3 1/2 inch (R-11) to 6 inch (R-19) where space permits. Your goal is to increase your homes resistance to outside temperatures by twice its current value or more.
When looking at older windows, you have the following options:
- If the window is single pane and has no storm window or has missing or damaged storm windows, don't spend any time and material on installing or repairing the storm windows because that same money could go towards a modern replacement window that will seal dramatically better and also provide ease of use and cleaning.
- If the window is single pane and has adequate storm windows, replace any missing or loose caulking around the outside edges of the window pane(s) and re-caulk around both the inside and outside of the storm window, leaving the bottom weep holes uncaulked.
- If the window has a weighted opening system, a large cavern exists next to each window to encase these weights. Remove the outer molding and seal all perimeter corners of the space with non-expanding foam spray. Once dry, pad the back area with R-11 to R-13 insulation. Be sure to leave adequate space for the weights to move.
- If the ropes to your weights are broken, replace the lines with new. Clothesline rope generally works fine.
- During colder winter months where the window would not normally be opened, you could also encase the inside of the window by installing a heat shrinkable plastic kit.
- If the solid wood frame window does not close enough to allow for the locking mechanism to engage, the window will not be able to be closed tightly. It may be necessary to remove the bottom window and plane its bottom edge to provide additional space for the window to close properly.
- If the window closes well, but it's obvious that the window is not sealed tight against the window base, foam based weather stripping could be installed on the base of the window to help create a better seal.
- Many older wooden windows have uneven gaps at the base, making the use of weather stripping difficult. To resolve this, open the window and place a large bead of caulking on the window sill along the entire width of the center of where the window would close. Cover the caulking lightly with plastic wrap, overlapping the caulking by several inches both towards you and away from you. Close the window gently and tightly and let sit for at least 24 hours. Once the caulking has cured, open the window and remove the plastic wrap, and behold, you now have a weather seal that fits your window base perfectly.
When looking at older doors, you have the following options:
- If the door is a solid core wooden door with a large section of single pane glass, cut a piece of Plexiglas one half inch larger than the total width and height of the glass. Using clear silicon caulking, apply a thin bead along the perimeter of the Plexiglas and set in place on the wooden door, over the glass area, leaving a void between the existing glass and Plexiglas. Add a border molding as desired.
- If a storm door does not exist or if the existing storm door is in poor shape, install a new storm door.
- For any type of door, add additional weather seals along the top and sides if air passes through when closed. Likewise, install new weather stripping to the base if air passes through when closed.
- If the door has an ancient key locking system, air can blow right through the keyhole, replace this locking system with new and either remove or fill the existing locking system.
For a home that is not insulated or sealed, the volume of air moving within the walls and ceilings can be staggering. To resolve these issues, sort of performing an entire renovation where all walls and ceiling spaces are insulated, you have the following options:
- Any unfinished walls or ceiling areas in the attic should be insulated. It may be necessary to cut through finished walls to get to some areas if access doors are not provided to get into any crawl spaces.
- If funding permits, have insulation blown into all exterior walls.
- In the basement where the top of the basement wall ends and the first floor wall begins, insulate and seal these spaces.
- If you have a closed-in front or back porch, consider making this a true thermal barrier by insulating its walls and ceiling.
The bottom line is that there are inexpensive methods and ideas to reduce your heating and cooling costs, even if you have an older home. Start by doing just one room at a time and work your way down from the attic. Whether you have the finances to do this in a week, a month or a year, make it a point to do it and you will save countless dollars beyond what you spend, plus you will have helped make our planet a little bit greener.
David's career highlights include authoring 'The Rewards of Making Energy-Efficient Choices', working in the electrical engineering division of three nuclear power plants and serving as an administrator, engineer and installer in the heating and air conditioning field.
He lives in Northeast Pennsylvania with his wonderful and supportive wife, Karlene and spends his time writing and performing home energy audits