Our New Old House

1918 Bungalow


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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
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]

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]

Some like it hot

That October chill is in the air and that means it’s time to light the furnace. When I went through the house with the home inspector, he made sure to light the furnace and check for carbon monoxide. However, when we took the thermostat off to remove the paneling around it, we disconnected the wires and haphazardly reconnected them wrong. It was August and it was hot and we didn’t think about bothering to test it. The old Honeywell thermostat looks like it’s from the 60s or 70s anyway, so today Brandon bought a new one. It’s also a Honeywell brand.

When we read the instructions and took the old thermostat off the wall, however, we ran into a problem. The instructions are written for thermostats with wires that are already labeled with letters, or are at least connected to the plate that’s labeled. Our thermostat plate and wires were not labeled. In fact, when I stripped back some of the insulation cloth to give us some more slack to work with, I discovered a third wire that had been purposely left unattached. Anyway, rather than try to hook these things up and test them the Tim the Tool Man way (flip the switch and see if it sparks) I looked around at some other people’s blogs to see what they’d encountered.

I found Kevin Freitas’ blog in which he explained that he’d had the exact same problem with the exact same old thermostat as ours! Unfortunately, our wires didn’t really look like his wires, but with the information he provided, we made an educated guess and nobody got zapped!

Here’s our old thermostat.

Here are the wires we weren’t sure how to match up. We have a red, a white, and a black.

Here’s the plate they were originally connected to. Only the red and black wires were connected. The white wire was buried inside the outer insulation.

Brandon hooked up the red one to the screw labeled “R” and the black one to “W.”

Zoot looked on, secretly hoping Brandon would get zapped.

We kept Kevin’s blog close at hand to refer to (it’s up on the screen of Brandon’s laptop.)

Getting the screws nice and tight:

When it was all hooked up, we set the temperature, flipped the circuit back on, and turned the thermostat on to “heat” and guess what? It did!!! The lovely blue glow you see in this picture is the furnace flame!

Now we can be toasty warm.

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