If you’re one of the many who has adopted an old or historic home, you undoubtedly know all the good and bad that comes with it. While your house may be historic and full of character, it may also be full of holes and gaps for the wind to blow through, making efficient heating impossible. It’s certainly more difficult to transform an older building into a “green house,” but it can be done affordably and without destroying the integrity of your home. Here are some tips for looking closely at your home, understanding where the energy is going, and improving your savings and your impact on the environment.
Hot Water Heater
Check the temperature of your water heater. You may want to consider turning it down a few degrees; every 10° difference will equal up to about 3-5% of your energy. If your home has room for change, you may want to consider a different type of heater. Today there are solar water heating systems and tankless systems for a less wasteful, “water-on-demand” approach. If your home has an existing duct system, you could also opt for a geothermal heat pump to be installed underground. Check with your State historic preservation office before you go ripping up the ground, and be careful not to disturb your home’s foundation.
Nothing is more inefficient than heating a house where the air blows straight out. Your home may have more air leaks than you realize. These leaks could be anywhere there is a seam, a chute, or a door. You can perform an energy audit on your home to better discern where the air is flowing, but for the most part it’s easy to tell. Cover your windows when there is a draft and close your chutes when not in use. You can fix any air sealing that is damaged or worn out with the many DIY guides that are out there. Just remember that while your air is flowing so chaotically, every cubic foot of conditioned air that leaves the house invites in a replacing cubic foot of outside air. So close the door!
Windows are usually a major culprit in energy loss; on average they are responsible for 10-15% of the energy lost in a home. While most consider it essential to replace the windows when there is significant energy loss, usually all they need is a good repair to become more efficient. Fix any wooden framing that has become termite-ridden or water damaged, and caulk both the interior and exterior pane sealing. You could look into installing storm windows for added efficiency (low-E is best, but more expensive).
Depending on what time your house was built, you could have any type of insulation in the walls (some people find newspapers padding their interior walls). As a bare minimum, the best places to install new insulation is around attic spaces, basements, cooling ducts, and around water pipes. You can do this yourself, but you may need a professional opinion to help avoid cold pockets and thermal bulging. There are also plenty of potential fire hazards in old walls, including tube wiring. You’ll also need proper ventilation to avoid mold and water damage. But with the proper precautions, new insulation in your home will help keep the heat in significantly.
The nice thing about old homes is that most of them were built before the days of instant heat or air conditioning. They had to adapt to the environment that they were built in and naturally have great features to combat the elements. Warm climates normally have fireplaces built on the outside of the walls, while cold climates have interior chimneys. Homes in high-wind environments generally take up an L- or U-shape to provide a working area protected from the cold. And despite the shameful insulation, most old houses have extremely thick walls that allow for great heat absorption from the sun that warms the home at night. Trust your home’s natural ability to keep you comfortable, and you could become more energy efficient than you ever thought possible!
Michael David is a freelance journalist and blogger living in New York City. He loves his work, and enjoys collaborating with great local companies that offer a great commercial real estate loan. Michael loves writing about DIY projects, home improvement, and garden-related topics.