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MidAmerican Energy Audit

Last week I had a visit from an energy efficiency specialist from our local energy company, MidAmerican. MidAmerican has a program called EnergyAdvantage: Save Some Green. Homeowners who get their electricity and natural gas from MidAmerican can call for an hour long appointment in which a specialist will walk through your home with you, take notes on the current state of your home’s insulation and energy usage, and then make suggestions on how to improve the energy efficiency.

He started by going over a printout of the last year of my energy bills. He gave me an idea of the averages used by other similar houses and let me know where our usage for the past year falls on that scale.

When I told him were looking at the possibility of replacing our furnace and adding central air, he explained to me the factors that go into determining the size of units we need.

  1. Square footage to heat and cool
  2. Number of windows and doors on exterior walls
  3. Existing value of insulation

With that in mind, he figured that our house probably needs a 60,000 BTU furnace.

Now, one important thing about the existing furnace is that the home inspector we had to look at it wrote down the wrong date for when our current furnace was installed. He accidentally wrote down 1983, which is correct for the water heater. But the furnace was installed in 1997! Keep in mind that three contractors came out and looked at our furnace and also didn’t notice what year it was, or did notice and didn’t choose to point out that our furnace is supposed to last 20 years and probably doesn’t need to be replaced. We were thinking of replacing it based on it being nearly 25 years old! With this new information, we’re not necessarily bent on replacing the furnace part. It’s still under consideration.

He went through the house and helped me identify the weakest spots in our insulation. A lot of that was painfully obvious, but it was good to get a few suggestions on how to most cost effectively repair those weaknesses.

One major weakness is the coal chute. He recommended bricking it up with hollow glass bricks. That way we can let in light, but it’ll be a good insulation for the spot.

Another important aspect of our insulation that’s lacking is the attic. Everyone thusfar has described the attic as a “half story” but on account of the insulation properties he noted, the MidAmerican guy said it’s just a converted attic. The things that indicated to him that it’s never been considered “living space” are that the floor and crawlspaces are packed with insulation but there’s no insulation under the roof. He said I can change that and then it’ll be more efficient, but it will require tearing down the plaster and lath ceiling, insulating that space under the roof, and then putting up drywall. I suppose that’s an option, but I think we’ll go ahead and improve the window insulation, put doors on the crawlspaces, and see how well the place stays heated and cooled this year before deciding to add that task to our list. It may be possible to remove some of the insulation from under the floorboards in the meantime, but I don’t think that’s really even necessary.

Finally, he was satisfied with my intentions to fix the windows, but told me it would be wise to insulate the walls. They currently have nothing inside them. He recommended hiring a contractor to blow insulation in from the outside. They’d have to take off the top strip of siding, drill the holes there, blow the insulation in, and then put the siding back. Also, his suggestion for agreeing on price was to say we’ll pay you for the labor, plus we’ll count up the bags of insulation at the end of the job and pay you according to that. That way they have more incentive to use more insulation in our walls so they can get paid more for it, thus doing a better job of insulating the place.

Now that I have specific recommendations for improving the insulation, I can qualify to have MidAmerican energy pay up to 70% of the cost of insulating my house, up to $600. We’ll probably apply that to having the insulation blown into the walls.

So with all that information in mind, we’re going to contact back the people we got quotes from, ask them to adjust the quotes for leaving the current furnace and just adding A/C and ductwork and then see what we’re facing as far as cost. I’m guessing it’ll just be as simple as deducting the cost of the new furnace from the total and probably adjusting the labor cost a bit, but I guess we’ll see.

[tags]insulation, furnace, air conditioning, contractors, energy usage, attic, coal chute[/tags]

Comparing Furnace Quotes

Sorry it’s been a while since I posted. Life is getting busy and not leaving me much time to work on the house, but I promise you, work continues! This month we’ve been gathering quotes to replace our furnace and add central a/c. I’ll be writing more about our decision making process as we… um… make a decision. So far, here are the three quotes we’ve received. I welcome and encourage any comments you have regarding these quotes. Like I said, I’ll be writing more about this as the discussion continues, but I am curious to read any reactions these quotes generate from some of you more experienced home fixers.

Quote #1:75,000 BTU 92% Amana Distinction furnace $5824.00
14 SEER A/C $116.48
Humidifier $350
Additional ductwork for attic: $128.48
Additional ductwork for downstairs: $136.48
Labor (?) $268.56

Quote #1 total: $6824.00

Quote #2:

75,000 BTU 92% Rheem furnace and 2 1/2 ton 13 SEER Rheem A/C $4680
Additional ductwork for attic: $500

Quote #2 total: $5180

Quote #3:

Goodman, model GMH95070, 95% furnace and 13 SEER R22 GSC13018 A/C: $3,500
OR
same furnace with 14 SEER SSX14018 that uses R410 instead of R 22: $4,400
Additional ductwork for attic: $1,400

Quote #3 total: $4,900 (Option 1)

[tags]budget, air conditioning, contractors, furnace, HVAC[/tags]

Storm Windows

I’ve been so busy with other things that I forgot to write about replacing the storm windows.  We’ve decided to replace all the storm windows with high-efficiency storms and repair the interior sashes rather than replace them.  Someone from the Des Moines Rehabber’s Club recommended the Corn Belt Aluminum company so I got a quote from them and then took that quote and compared it to a quote put together at Lowe’s for what it would cost to install them ourselves.  Corn Belt with the installation and hauling away the old windows beat the Lowe’s quote hands down, and in my opinion had better windows. 

The total job is going to cost about $2800 to replace all 20 of our storm windows, including the porch, plus replace the old attic windows completely with new awning windows that actually vent all the way.  We’ve paid the $1400 advance payment and they’ve given us a 3-4 week lead time to manufacture the windows (here in Des Moines!) and schedule the work.  I’m so excited!  And I gotta say, it feels good to be going with a local company.  They’ve been completely professional and helpful all along the way, including letting us try out all the features of their windows in their showroom. 

 I’ll come back with more on this in a month or so when the work begins!

[tags]storm windows, windows, budget, Des Moines Rehabbers Club, future plans[/tags]

Replacing furnace and adding A/C

Alright, so I’m a bum and we didn’t go to the Union Park Neighborhood Association meeting Tuesday.  Just too much going on this week and Brandon and I needed a dinner and evening at home together. 

Part of what’s got us so busy this week is that we’re gathering quotes to replace our furnace and add A/C. We were planning to wait until the weather warmed up to replace our furnace.  No, I lie.  We were putting off replacing our furnace indefinitely.  But an ad we received in the mail for a local company reminded us that it’s the off season for purchasing a new furnace, so we’d probably get a better deal doing it sooner than later. 

We called the company in the ad, Leechman Heating and Cooling, a Service Master company, to come over and give us a “comfort assessment.”  He had a worksheet to fill out that asked about what’s comfortable about our house, what’s uncomfortable, and what we’re looking for as solutions.  He measured all the rooms, walked through the house recommending new supplies and changing around returns in most of the rooms, checked out our existing unit for us, and took all this information back with him to his company.  We scheduled a time for him to come back this week and discuss what he put together for us, so he came back last night. 

He came back with two options.  One with a heat pump, a 92% Amana Distinction furnace, a builder’s model humidifier, and added duct-work in our house is $7891.  The other with a 92% Amana Distinction furnace, a 14 SEER A/C and a builder’s model humidifier (plus additional duct-work) is $6824.00. 

 Both options include a really good warranty, and their own company’s service warranty is included with the installation.  Also, they provide a digital, programmable thermostat.

We’re getting two other quotes from two other smaller, more independent companies later this week/early next week. 

 One of the big questions I have for the other two people coming to look at our house is whether the additional duct-work and supplies/returns are really necessary or all that beneficial.  Another is about heat pumps vs. air conditioners. 

I’d welcome any advice, links, or wisdom from my readers on this topic (as always!)  Leave me a comment or email me at kelli@ournewoldhouse.com.

[tags]Amana, furnace, air conditioner, air conditioning, thermostat, budget, future plans, duct, heating, HVAC[/tags]

My weekend: solo

While Brandon is in San Antonio for two weeks training for his job, I’m making a lot of little steps of progress that will hopefully amount to a lot of transformation by the time he comes back.

On Friday after work I drove up to Clear Lake to take care of some cleaning, check on the state of the yard, and swap many of my summer clothes for winter ones. I’d been listening to the weather report all week and when they told me it was supposed to get down into the low 30s at night I decided it was time to light the furnace. Most people don’t like the smell the furnace puts out the first time it’s lit for the season. But for me, it’s got some sort of nostalgic quality. I dug a frozen pizza out of the freezer and settled in for the night.

I got a lot done there and got a good night’s sleep. In the morning I drove back to Des Moines to fulfill the commitment I made to volunteer for Habitat for Humanity that afternoon. One of the attorneys I work for babysits for a single mom who has two kids. She’s trying to qualify to receive a Habitat for Humanity home. The program requires that anyone receiving a home put in a certain number of hours’ worth of sweat equity. They will accept volunteer hours done on that person’s behalf to go toward the quota, so this attorney put out a call for people to volunteer on the woman’s behalf. Since they already had enough help working on construction projects, they sent me to the local ReStore, the Habitat for Humanity version of a Goodwill, St. Vincent DePaul, or Salvation Army thrift store. If you’re a house rehabber, or if you’re just doing some small jobs around your house, it really pays to find your nearest ReStore. They receive donations of both new and used home improvement items ranging from antique doorknobs to professional kitchen ranges. It also pays to check back with the ReStore every couple of weeks or so because they’re constantly changing their stock. The location near my house even keeps a log of special requests customers are looking for. If there’s something you really need and they don’t have it in stock, you can sign up and leave your phone number and if they get a donation that fits what you need, they’ll give you a call. When I arrived, the volunteer coordinator put me right to work cleaning the grease and dust off a professional stove, grill, and steamer that had been torn out of a huge home out on the west side. When I was done with that, she had me dust and find the shelves for a fourteen foot tall book shelf that came out of the same house. I put in 3 hours of work and then grabbed a cart and did some shopping. I found a shower extender for a clawfoot tub, EXACTLY what I need, for a dollar! Yes you read that right, the thing I’d budgeted $200 for cost me one little greenback dollar. I do need to find a connector piece for it, but I figure it shouldn’t be too tough to ask the local hardware store for something to attach a 3/8 inch fixture to a 1/2 inch faucet. In addition to that little gem I found two 24″ bathroom towel bars and matching washcloth hooks and a robe hook for the door. All those cost me $40. So my total purchases were $41. I was expecting to spend $80 on the towel stuff, so I was just as happy as a pig in slop over my little adventure! Additionally, I scoped out their selection of pedestal sinks (one top half was only $15!), their cabinetry (I’ll definitely take measurements and check back for upper cabinets for my kitchen), and asked about the likelihood of finding landscaping materials. Holy cow, it was an awesome adventure!

I pretty much called it a night after that. Today I got up late, took a leisurely shower, and drove out to Johnston to have a birthday lunch with my Grandma, the original east sider of the family (along with Grandpa, who grew up in Highland Park). It was great to catch up with the family, and after the party was all cleaned up I headed back to our new old house to unload my car and tackle a couple of projects I’d assigned myself for the weekend.

One was to hook up the washing machine to make sure it and our plumbing work. I’d never hooked up a washing machine before, but everything went pretty smoothly. I do have one leaky spigot, but it’s convenient enough for me to turn it off when it’s not in use and turn it on when I need to run a load of laundry. Check that off the list!

Next I wanted to see how far I could get with scraping the wallpaper in the front bedroom. If you’ll remember, there is a layer of paint over that wallpaper, which makes a seal that the Downy/water spray can’t really penetrate. So I have to sort of hack away at the paint layer first and then use the Downy on the remaining wallpaper residue. It’s rather laborious, but luckily for me I have another Grandma right down the street who makes these kinds of tasks go much faster. She called me just as I was sitting down to start scraping above the baseboard and told me she’d seen me drive by and could she come over and work on the dining room wallpaper? When she sets her mind to finishing something, by golly she gets it done, and I could tell it had just been bugging her that she hadn’t finished a room before she left for New York on an American Legion trip. So I set her loose in the dining room while I tackled the bedroom. We both made a ton of progress despite my breaking two razor blades and slicing my finger open on the second broken one. Once I stopped the bleeding, I took a trip to the grocery store to buy band-aids, Neosporin, and more Downy. Grandma and I worked on the wallpaper until 8pm.

Tomorrow my goal is to get down to Menard’s and take care of two things: 1) the fixture to attach the shower unit, and 2) find pieces of pipe and the necessary mounting brackets to make a full sized shower curtain rack. All the pre-made kits I find are just big enough to enclose half the clawfoot tub in a circle. I want a shower curtain around the WHOLE tub so I’m going to have to build one myself. Thanks to the $50 gift card from Menards and the $25 one from Home Depot that my super generous friends gave me as housewarming gifts, I’ll have that project covered as a freebie!

I’m off to a well-earned shower now. Pictures soon!

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