tightening up the house

i’ve posted a lot less about home improvement than i expected.  considering how much of my time has been doing work around the house, it’s kind of surprising.  but i’m not really looking to make this into a home improvement blog.

i’m trying to only post if it has to do with something along the lines of reduction in negative environmental impact,  reduction in cost of living or added joy etc.

much of my focus in the last few months has been in trying to make the house more well insulated.  the new house is a bit warmer than the old house, and our heating bills are lower, but that’s not enough for me, i want to spend as little as possible and reduce the amount of natural gas we use as much as humanly possible.  i still have a long way to go, but we are making head way.

in select michigan communities there have been some serious rebates for improving the energy use of your house.  combine that with tax incentives and increased savings on your bill, and it’s really a no brainer.  but it’s not with out it’s work, especially if you live in an older house.

in order to get these rebates you have to get an energy audit and prove an improvement on the infiltration of cold air into your home.  this is achieved though a “blower door test”.  they mount a big strong fan in the door and see how much air they can pull out.

when i contracted someone to do this work they never explained the need to do this test, nor why they couldn’t potentially do this test.  on the intial inspection it quickly became apparent that our house was going to pose specially challenges – specially because of the “compomised” asbestos insulation on our pipes.

we bought the house knowing that the asbestos would need a little work, but i grew up in a house with asbestos insulation, i wasn’t worried about it, and knew that as long as it wasn’t messed with it wasn’t a huge problem.  the blower door test though would kick up all the “compromised” abestos.  in order to address this i had to purchase special encapsulating paint, a respirator  and much to my frustration, shave my beard in order to get a good seal on the resportator.  after a long 6 hours of painting after work i felt pretty good about my work, but when they came back to do the blower door test, they found more “compromised” asbestos.

another long night of painting, and they came back to report that the work i’d done was up to snuff.  the blower door test showed a lot of cold air being sucked into the house, and a huge amount of it coming in from around windows, doors, and the gap between the floor molding and the floor.

with the blower door test complete, recommednations were made, and we said go for it.  our crawl space got a vapor barrier and insulation, our attic more insulation, and the basement rim joists were insulated.  most of this i can’t show you.  the crawl space they recommended i don’t enter after it was finished cause they sealed the door closed, and opening would increase the drafts, and the attic, well i just have no desire to climb up into the attic and take a photo.  but you can see the spray foam on the rim joists if you like. foampretty boring, huh?  i’m hoping the reduced heating bills are more exciting.  we got 2500 dollars worth of work done for about 800 dollars after rebates, and we should be able to take about half of what left off our taxes.  hopefully next winter will be warmer and less drafty.

in order to get the rim joist covered in spray foam insulation we had to move everything away from the walls.  i figured since we had already done all the work of pulling everything away from the wall, we might as well get glass block windows installed.  the logic behind this was multi-part.  1. i hate having bars on the windows – which we did on the basement windows.  2. glass blocks insulate better than most conventional windows. 3. glass block is cheaper than windows 4. the old windows were cracked and extremely leaky.

we found some old hippie guy to give us a quote – it was a fair price and so i told him to go for it.  most folks told me that when they had glass blocks installed that it took a couple of hours, but our hippie was methodical and it took him over 10 hours to get our seven windows replaced, but he did a great job. glassblockthe glass block lest in so much more light, and i’m so glad to be without the bars.   hopefully this winter’s heating bill will reflect the investment in new glass blocks as well.

i had a vent installed in one corner of the basement, the one that sits under the porch so that i could eventually build a root cellar and use this vent to introduce cold air/ let out warm air.  don’t expect to see a post on that construction any time soon, there are plenty of other tasks in the que before that.

while all of these investments in tightening up the house might seem like low dollar investment in some households, in ours we have had to think long and hard about spending our limited income.  i certainly can understand why other would balk at spending money on these projects – but the one thing we have done that has made the most odvious difference, most immediate difference, is caulk. caulki went out and spent about 80 bucks on a case of high quality caulk and sealed every little creavise i could find; around windows, doors and between molding and floor boards.

our front room where we avoided spending time because it was so draftly, suddely became the warmest room in the house.  it was incredible, it was almost like magic, and it was cheap and easy by comparision, though plenty time consuming.

there are lots of expenisive things you can do to increase the energy effiency of your house, but it seems logical to me to start with the cheapest ones, the ones you can do yourself, the ones that make so much impact.  we tend to focus on the things that cost a lot of money, like replacing windows, but why not start with the cheap solutions, like caulking, or getting a programable thermostat.  the money you save on lower utility bills can go toward saving for the more expensive items in your house hold.

i still have a bit more caulking to do this summer, and then i move onto the weather-stripping around the doors – one door i may need to just replace, and getting new glass in the storm door.  with all that done i’ll have finished most of the recommendations made to the energy audits, and then i’ll  have to move on to thinking about how else to keep the house warm and reduce heating costs.

have you any tips for keeping your house warmer and reducing utility bills?

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3 responses to “tightening up the house

  1. Loving this post, Patrick. Thanks!

  2. Pingback: replacing my old toilet with a low flow one. | little house on the urban prairie

  3. Pingback: continued improvement to energy effeciency | little house on the urban prairie

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