continued improvement to energy effeciency

last year we were able to get a good amount of insulating done on the house – the most impressive was getting insulation blow and sprayed in.  this was also the work that i didn’t have to do.  much less enjoyable have been the hours of caulking and sealing that i have done – spray foam and caulk are certainly the best friend of the owner of an old home.  this year i have been at it again slowly working to improve the warmth and energy efficiency of the house.

i’m trying not to rest on my laurels, not to think that because i have done some work that there is not still much to do, and as i search around the house, i’ve found plenty of cracks and crevices to fill.  every little bit helps, small gaps add up to big gaps, big gaps add up to holes, and if you had a hole in your house you would certainly fill that.  as you fill the larger gaps, smaller ones seem more obvious – so i keep on looking.

putting insulators on light switches and outlets doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, but if you look at infrared pictures of them during a door blower test, you realize that a surprising amount of cold air is coming in around them.  the insulators are cheap and easy to install. take the cover plate off, remove the foam for the holes for the outlets or switch, place foam over the electrical box and replace the cover plate. outletfoam

hold on to the pieces of foam removed from the outlet foam – as you can use that.  take a child proofing outlet plug, and slid the foam over the prongs, then install into the plug.  plugoutletpluggedwhile this might not seem like that big of a target for energy savings, it’s estimated that 2-5% of energy loss is out of outlets, and it only takes a minute to install one. on older houses this is made even easier by the fact that we don’t have nearly as may outlets at newer houses do.  you only need to provide insulation on outside walls.

next up another unglamorous topic – door sweeps.  have you noticed how big that gap is under your door?  it’s often huge, and tons of cold air is coming in.  door sweeps are quick and easy to install and also very affordable – go install them today.

finally the basement.

we often ignore the basement, cause who spends that much time in the basement?  who expects the basement to be comfortable?  but if the basement is getting cold air in, then the rest of the house is too.  finding drafts in general can be difficult – made more difficult with a dark basement and spots that are not easy to access to test for drafts.  my simple solution is to use a lighted incense stick.  i place it next to potential sites of cold air coming in, and see if the smoke starts drifting away from the hole rather than drifting upwards.


our basement had several problem areas, some larger cracks, and plenty of need for caulk around the sill plate.

perhaps the biggest area of need was in the foundation – at 113 years old the foundation was bound to need some work, and ours needs quite a bit of work in repointing.  at some point the walls were painted, which from what i understand with older brick is actually one of the worst things you can do – it doesn’t allow the bricks and mortar to breath out moisture which ends up collecting behind the paint and causing the brick and mortar to crumble.

i need to repoint a whole section of the wall, but for now i just chipped out the section where there were holes letting in cold air and replaced them.  for those in older houses thinking of repointing their bricks – be warned you have to use traditional mortar, not contemporary mortar which contains cement. beforeduringafter

traditional mortar is a combination of hydrated lime that has been soaked in water for at least a week to make “lime putty” and sharp sand.  the sand and lime are mixed in various ratios, but i use 1 lime to 3 sand by volume.  this is all mixed up and then slowly built up in layers into your cleaned holes using a pointing tool. tools holes for repointing should be chipped out at least a 1/2 inch deep, squared off, and cleaned and moistened well before new mortar is placed in the crack.  you should do this in several applications, allowing the mortar to dry some before the next layer is added.  once you are finished spray with water once a day, and keeping covered in plastic to allow it to dry slowly.

next up is weather stripping around the door, and then some spots in the pantry, and then insulating the pipes, and then some new molding around a window and them… the list does on and on.

what are you doing to keep your home all nice and toasty warm and energy efficient this winter?


One response to “continued improvement to energy effeciency

  1. Hmm hadn’t thought to tuck point the basement–good point!
    I try to keep my own personal self warm without dialing up the thermostat. One thing that helps maintain a lower setpoint is getting your feet up off the floor using footstools or old books while sitting, rugs for standing, and wearing slippers at all times. Scarf around your neck and long underwear helps, too.

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