Our New Old House

1918 Bungalow


Archive for the ‘insulation’ Category

Heating and air conditioning the attic

We had central air installed at the end of last month and a couple weeks ago we had a duct run up to the attic so we can use that room comfortably year round. 



Now I need to look into options for improving the insulation of the attic.

[tags]attic, ceiling, insulation, air conditioning, photos[/tags]

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]

Distracted by history

This weekend, one of my new friends, Dan, came over to help work on the house. Dan’s a librarian (as I hope to be someday!) and appreciates learning about history through learning about my house. We actually got some work done while Dan was here, but once I started on a project in the basement, we got a little sidetracked. I’ll come back to that.

I can’t believe I’m still working on that first door I started stripping, but I am, and I know how to do it more efficiently the next time around. I didn’t get all the paint off the carved edges with the heat gun so I asked Dan to apply some CitriStrip to the areas where there was still paint around the edges. While he did that, Brandon installed our new gas dryer. The heating element went out on the one my uncle gave us and the belt broke on the one that was in the house when we bought it, so rather than pay just about the same amount to repair either one of those, we bought a new one at Sears. I can’t believe how quiet it is! Brandon did a great job, even getting creative with duct tape to make a different sized vent tube fit the existing vent hole. Red Green would be proud.

Meanwhile, I started work on another round of insulating the basement walls. If you remember at the beginning of winter I put some foam insulation around the cracks in windows and spaces in the foundation. There was a large amount of cloth stuffed into an area of the coal room that I just assumed was to keep the coal dust from traveling into other parts of the house. Well, I was wrong about that (and it was really an assumption made out of laziness. I didn’t want to have to deal with pulling down those rags.) The rags were actually put there originally to keep out drafts. When my sister’s boyfriend came over last weekend, he laughed and pointed out a bad gap in the foundation. “Why would you go to all the trouble of putting foam around the window when you’ve got daylight coming in over the foundation?” Well, that’s what comes of having tall people around to give me better perspective. From his point of view he was seeing a gap several inches wide that was leading directly out to the front yard.


Pretty embarrassing. So this weekend I added to my list another round of insulating.

Here are the rags stuffed into the crack.



As I started pulling them down one by one I realized that these were mostly whole pieces of clothing. They had rips and tears, but were pretty much intact. The first couple of pieces turned out to be a woman’s slips that she’d wear under a dress. I tried to guess from the cut of the slips when they were from. They had that beautiful “on the bias” shape and so I figured they must be from the 30s or 40s. The next pieces I pulled down were baby clothes: a felt jacket with a safety pin still attached, a little girl’s dress sized for a two year old, and a pair of button-up pajamas with an elastic flap in the back for using the toilet. There was a large wrap-around summer dress in a bright red floral print that must have belonged to the mother of the family, and a dirty old pair of jeans that must have been the father’s.

Dirty old jeans:


Mother’s apron (top right) and baby’s felt jacket:


Little girl’s dress:


Little girl’s pajamas:


Father’s boxer shorts:


After I got the clothing down, I unwrapped a water pipe that had been bound in denim and newspaper. To my delight, the newspaper was in excellent condition and was largely intact. There were two dates on the newspaper: 1934 and 1942.



Dan caught me taking a few minutes to read the news from 1934.


After all the fun we had in the basement, we went upstairs to work in slightly warmer conditions. Dan and Brandon scraped wallpaper in the hallway while I wet sanded some of the plaster in the front bedroom.



Also, I scraped another little section of the dining room floor. Inch by inch, we’re getting this house done!

Still getting the hang of this plaster stuff.

I enlisted Brandon’s help this weekend in mixing plaster for me while I put it on the walls. Eventually he started putting it on the walls himself, so that part got boring, but together we finished patching all the cracks, holes, and corners in the front bedroom.



My first corner!

Kind of blotchy after wet sanding.

See how bad our corners are? This one has fiber tape over it.

Gosh, is that how my hair looks from the back?


I’m not particularly proud of how this corner came out. I’ll sand it down a bit and add another smoother layer.

Ok, enough about the plaster. Let’s talk about the weather! It’s been cold here! So cold I can’t think up a colorful simile with which to describe how cold it’s been. (Leave me a comment if you’ve got a good one.) Anyway, it was a great opportunity to show just what a difference plastic sheeting can make when you’ve got leaky windows and worthless storms.

Here we see a window with plastic sheeting intact. Notice: NO FROST! That means no warm, moist air is leaking out into the frigid outdoors, and no frigid outdoor air is leaking inside.

Now let’s look at a window on which the integrity of the plastic sheeting has been compromised by the claw of a scheming cat.

And in other news…


See if you can spot it in this photo:

How about now?

Yes, folks, the scraper was INSIDE Brandon’s bicycle. How it got there I’ll never know. But I’ll tell you, the only way I found it was by buying three new scrapers of the exact same kind that very morning. (Still sale priced at Menard’s, btw.) After I’d safely tucked them away in my tool box where they belong, the prodigal scraper glinted at me from inside the bicycle and we were tearfully reunited.

If I can stop hiding things from myself, this house may actually get done someday!

Jack Frost, do your worst!

Brandon and I did a few things to winterize the house today.

First, we filled some gaps in the basement that were letting cold air into the house.

By the way, maybe I’m a dork for this, but I think insulating foam is one of the most fun and entertaining substances ever created. Not only does it make an awesome gurgling sound when it comes out of the tube, but it also looks like whipped cream when it comes out. Plus, watching it expand and bubble out of the cracks is really fun. The coolest thing though, is that you can let loose a little glob of it on your brick basement wall and it will slowly roll down the wall like those slimy toys we used to get from Nickelodeon when we were kids. Anyway, I had fun. Here are some pictures:

One big hole was around the exhaust pipe for the gas furnace. There was a half an inch of open space around the pipe. I filled it with foam.

Here it is before foaming:

Here it is mid-foam:

Fully foamed:

One basement window was really drafty so I filled all the gaps around it with foam.

Here’s the window before:

And the foaming process:




The coal chute was letting in a lot of cold air. So guess what I did. You got it! FOOOOAAAMMMM!!!!




And for good measure, I also got a few gaps that opened up as the foundation settled.




Next we put up some plastic sheeting over our drafty windows. Brandon is a master plastic sheet putter-upper. I mostly just assisted but he let me do the fun part of shrinking the plastic with a hair dryer! (I love him so much!)





Now we just need to get some wood for the stove and we’ll be all ready for winter! Ooh wait, I need some more fall first. Winter can wait!

P.S. I also got on a very high ladder today and cleaned out the gutters on the other side of the house today. Phew! I’m exhausted!

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