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drafty old farmhouses

Post in 'The Green Room' started by ditchrider, Aug 3, 2012.

  1. ditchrider

    ditchrider Burning Hunk

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    Ssooo…. I’m not exactly certain where to post this question, but this is where I’ll stick it.
    I’ve seen a lot of folks post questions about heating drafty old farmhouses. I’ve spent the last couple of years sealing up mine – ripping out lath, plaster, imperial board. I’ve yanked out and replaced warped fir and cottonwood (yes, cottonwood!) studs and lumber and stuffed insulation where the sun does shine and the wind blows. Great Stuff ™, silicone caulking, and new windows purchased as returns or open box items. I sealed up one 14 foot stretch of wall I wished I had started on after realizing how much draft is allowed into my house. It was a north wall and after completing the sheath insulation the warm air from my wood stove actually flowed northward into my kitchen. It was 10 degrees outside, snowing and the wind was just HOWLING out of the north. That was an experience! I stood there for at least 15 minutes in amazement.
    I just finished the kids’ bedroom this summer since school was out. So the overhaul of the exterior walls amounted to about a couple grand. That accounts for insulation, windows, odds and ends and drywall. I expect my wood stove to heat the entire home, including the extremities very adequately now after my experience with the north wall.
    My question is.. I realize I had resources to make this big job simpler, a buddy who is a drywall contractor, I have lot of experience in carpentry and construction, so I went overboard to make the house new, but there are cheaper means to accomplish similar results. It has also been in the family since homesteading and that has added to my motivation. So why don’t folks invest money and effort to seal up their home instead of looking for a bigger stove?
    I’m just asking other people’s point of view. Our heating season outside the shoulders is typically November through March. If it saves a couple cords and makes the house attractive to somebody else if I decide to sell, and is hospitable to the folks I have as guests, ain’t it worth the effort? My favorite part of winter is coming in from the cold.
    ScotO likes this.

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  2. Danno77

    Danno77 Minister of Fire

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    Probably partially because what you just did was ***** the soul of your old home. Have fun replacing windows every 15-25 years. That don't sound green to me.
  3. ditchrider

    ditchrider Burning Hunk

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    the old windows functioned better as screens
  4. Danno77

    Danno77 Minister of Fire

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    Refurbishing old windows and installing wooden storm windows has been shown time and time again to offer longer lasting results and actually provide savings while keeping our landfills free of nasty vinyl windows. Many people spend (tens of) thousands of dollars on their new vinyl windows to save something like 300 bucks a season on heating bills. The payback for those expenses will be reached sometime in the vicinity of the failure of those windows.
  5. ditchrider

    ditchrider Burning Hunk

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    Thanks for the thought about windows.

    How about the insulation thing. I had NONE. It wasn't my desire to gut the plaster, in fact it was the poops. And I only did so on the exterior walls. There were a few cells where blowing in insulation wouldn't work due to blockages. I had one wall where the door stuck shut permanently in the wintertime. We thought for years the foundation settled and have jacked up the base plate several times. Once we got the plaster off we realized a few studs were soft and giving way under the weight of snow.
    ScotO likes this.
  6. ditchrider

    ditchrider Burning Hunk

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    So do you think we throw away vinyl windows is because they wear out or new home buyers get bombarded by window salesmen parousing county records of property deed transfers?
  7. ditchrider

    ditchrider Burning Hunk

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    Got any links that would provide tips and results from overhauling old wood windows? Costs? Solving condensation issues?
  8. Danno77

    Danno77 Minister of Fire

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    It's late, but the goto website (and forum) is oldhouseweb.com just be forewarned that the word vinyl is a dirty word over there.
  9. jebatty

    jebatty Minister of Fire

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    I would guess that there is an economic analysis that can provide one answer, an aesthetic analysis that can provide as many answers as there are people with different likes, and a passion analysis that differs with the many passions. If you are happy with the result, enjoyed the ride, and accomplished something you value, then it was worth the effort.

    In my situation our home, built in 1956, was well built for its time, was pretty well designed, but was built in the era of "electricity is penny cheap" which was ranted by the local energy behemoth. When we purchased the home in spring of 1990, and experienced a couple of months of electric bills for the baseboard, plus feeling the cold drafts from the windows as they absorbed the northwest weather fronts coming out of Canada, we knew it wasn't going to work. Without listing the many things we have done, what had to happen for my wife and I was achieving an energy $$$ efficient and comfortable home as much as reasonably possible so that we could enjoy living in the house with the -35F winters and those howling NW winter winds.

    We accomplished this while fully maintaining the look and feel of the original home. The original owners of the home upon an initial visit did not even recognize a change to the house when viewed from the outside, although the house had all new plus additional windows and three small additions. All improvements duplicated the original vertical siding and color and preserved a basic square footprint of the original. They knew there were changes on the inside (room rearrangements and three additions) but they had to ask what we did. The interior work duplicated the original vertical solid pine paneling and matched the color, plus the layout flowed like the original. The original owners said they liked the house now much better than when it was built for them.

    "Ain't it worth the effort?" -- a resounding yes.
  10. laynes69

    laynes69 Minister of Fire

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    I'm the 3rd generation owner of our home. My grandparents had this home, then my parents and currently us. Back in the mid 60's when my grandparents bought this home, they installed 2- 150,000 btu oil furnaces to heat this place. One in the basement and one on the 2nd story. Our home is a mid 19th century Victorian with 42 windows. The house was insulated in 79 with urea-formaldehyde foam which dad had a business at that time. When he bought the house in '86 after grandpa died, the windows were rotten and missing glass. Fast forward to now, we have vinyl double hung windows with triple trac storms. I've torn out all ductwork and reducted the home (no more 20+ degree temperature differentials from down to up).
    I've done extensive air sealing in the attic and insulated well, and torn out walls and airsealed and insulated. There's still some work to go, but we now heat with a woodfurnace with an average btu output of about 70,000 btus. Our home is about 2400 sq ft, but has 10' ceilings both down and up plus basement. We had a blower door test done a couple years ago. There were houses down the road that were 3 years old with greater air loss and higher heating bills. It's well worth the money to upgrade efficiency on an old home. I enjoy the character of older homes, something many new homes dont have.
  11. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    Kudos for exercising some good common sense ditchrider. In this country we have had a long ride and habit on cheap fuel that has often led to waste and the thought that bigger is better. Got a drafty old house, put in a bigger furnace or woodstove. At the time it was more economical in the short term. Long term thinking was not all that common. Fast forward to today when fuel is getting expensive and finally folks are starting to think longer term. The work you've done may very well outlive us and it will save energy use winter and summer. I also agree with Danno's pov in regards to repairing old windows and installing storms where practical. It goes back to making things last longer and respecting the integrity of something old, by renewing it.

    Our old farmhouse was attacked by some city artists in the mid-80's. They "modernized" the place by removing most of the original trim and created big flat area to display their artwork. They also removed classic old gothic arched windows with giant plate glass picture windows to capitalize on the view. This was totally out of character with the house. The workmanship was poor, partly because they were away during construction. In some places the workers had to be drunk to allow such bad work to be done. The couple moved in and lasted less than a year before they put the place on the market!

    We've spent the last 16 yrs slowly restoring the place. The picture windows have been replaced with true, divided-lite wood window, a pair of double-hung surrounding a center big window. Cove molding has been added back together with other trim details, hardwood flooring and modern systems. I may never get a full return on my investment, but the house is ready for another 100 years and with a much more conservative energy budget.
  12. Redbarn

    Redbarn Burning Hunk

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    We have a 1810's farm house with thick exterior walls. The previous owner installed aluminum framed exterior storms in the early 90's and these have protected the original wood windows. These old wooden windows have many panes of the original, visually imperfect glass which adds enormous character. Replacing these windows was a non-starter.

    However, the North winds just blew the heat out of the house in the winter. So after much research, I fitted interior storms from AEP (http://www.advancedenergypanels.com). Each window had to be custom made and fitted. This was a real task as none of our windows are the same size and none are close to being rectangular (some being 2" different across the diagonals). Costs were circa $200 per window, most windows being in the 72" x 36" size range.

    I did the 1st floor first as this was where the loosest windows were. The results were an immediate gain in comfort and a much happier wife. We were still using oil heat at that time and I could see a drop in monthly energy consumption on an oil used/heating degree day basis. Emboldened, I fitted interior storms to the rest of the house.

    I cannot publish hard figures on cost and energy savings as other insulation projects followed but the draftiness of our house has been transformed. Visually, the interior storms are ambiance neutral or even enhancing. Certainly, our energy use, when converting wood + pellet use into oil equivalents per heating degree day has dropped at least 30%. I cannot attribute this all to the interior storms but they have contributed significantly.

    As for return on investment, my wife's Realtor friend is adamant that we'll recover the cost of the interior storm windows easily on resale as energy efficiency is becoming a significant factor in Old House buying decisions. Anecdotal evidence for sure but of some comfort nevertheless. On a (very) rough energy saved calculation, I estimated a 6-7 year payback. However, the difference in comfort between a drafty and draftless house feels priceless.
  13. ditchrider

    ditchrider Burning Hunk

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    Yes I thought a little bit about resale and especially the "much happier wife". **big sigh** And in the process of demo, I kept the coved ceilings and a lot of the imperial board walls as they were in good condition. Much of my concern was regarding the draftiness we were battling. "Got a hole, plug it. Got a cavity, stuff it." We had a huge plate glass picture window that just tore me up to pull out, but the framing and moldings were so weathered and shrunk and the boys wrote their names in the frost daily. I never stated anything about vinyl in my OP, but that is what we went with. I really considered wood casement but the cost was prohibitive right now and aluminum was just out of the question -- like for like trade in my opinion.

    When the renter moved out and we moved in the propane bill was 5 grand!. Insulating the ceiling the first year resolved half that cost and then we went with wood heat the next year and that cut the propane use by 1/3. And I'm an avid burner. We were gifted an old Earthstove from my cousin. I cracked it more than once over the years. When I replaced it with an EPA stove this year I was totally impressed with the reburner function.

    I honestly cannot say what impact the rehab has had, since we've been in and out of propane heating over the last two years of remodel. But comfort and hospitality has to acquire some value. I wish I had investigated rehabbing SOME of the windows -- 1950's Anderson's. They were pretty and they matched the woodwork, but the counterweight windows had to go. They were loose as a goose with no roadmap for the winter flight. One thing I was glad I did was the isopropyl insulation with the foil facing. MAN the baseboards just radiate the heat off that! And after googling the stuff I learned the value of insulating against the stud framing, which is what I did. I kept the old cast iron baseboards -- no leaks and I couldn't justify just throwing them away without a reason.

    Now we're more or less complete with all but the details. I believe we will have a grasp of the impact this year. As for the character, I put a lot of thought into that over the course of remodel. I really considered in-floor heat, largely because of the common sense of it - heat the floor, warm air rises. But the impact of ripping out baseboards that appeared to have a lot of life left made no sense. And if I'm doing this to benefit from wood heat, why invest so much into secondary heat?

    Yep, vinyl windows. I see where you're going with that one, Danno. I tortured myself over that one, NO really! But in the rest of the scheme I have thought and learned a lot and tried to go from there. I put thicker sheathing on the windward walls and not as much on the downwind side. The lathe and plaster only has so much life. And the real motive all began with just getting some f**@#$g insulation into the house!

    You just got a dollar out of my two cent's worth.

    -ditchrider
    ScotO likes this.
  14. velvetfoot

    velvetfoot Minister of Fire

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    Isn't the foam insulation thing was better than it used to be?
    It would seem that an old house with no insulation and an attic would be a perfect candidate.
    Foam everything. Then you can keep your plaster walls.
  15. ditchrider

    ditchrider Burning Hunk

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    Grrrrrrrr! yes. I got a long way into the project and one night (weekend, really) I took a rest from it and did some googling. Danged if I didn't run across info about isopropyl spray foam, I cannot remember which insulates better, open or closed cell foam. But one has a big advantage on r-value per inch but the cost per r-value isn't significantly different. The big deal for me at that point was where I was at in the project, the cost per r-value of the foam, and :( I have a BIG problem getting side-tracked looking too much at the big picture and getting lost in the details.

    I've already replaced the r-19 with r-30 in the ceiling and put the r-19 into walls of another project I have going on:eek:. HOWEVER::-) I will look into that on down the road to insulate the roof area, which hasn't been done yet AND I need to insulate my shop. I definitely plan on looking into foam when the time comes. It's an old useless barn that I blew a wall out of so I could put machinery into for repairs and maintenance. :oops: Sorry about the wall, Danno. But it just HAD to be done!!! . If it makes you feel better I was talked out of burning down the circa 1909 heap and erecting a steel building. I have no idea how many truckloads of cement it took just to construct the footer and pour a floor. But it did put me on a first name basis down at Redi-Mix and I've burned up several club member punch cards. I put in so much cable to straighten the walls I now generate geo-magnetic electricity and sell it back to the REA ;hm (that's a flat out lie, but it makes for a good story and does summarize the complicated nature of the project.)

    But back to your post, velvetfoot, YES I do like the foam thing and I have plans for the future of putting that tool to use.
  16. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    Your doing fine DR. Most of us dont have the time and money to be restoring old windows,what ever we can afford thats out there for sale will have to do. Yes keep insulating where ever you can get it in, sometimes its easier do do it outside the framework and sometimes inside or best between.
  17. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    I have done a lot of old houses and my rule of thumb on insulation is: Good =blown cellulite in between the studs Better=+panel foam under the siding, Best= ++Foam under the drywall as well. Most of the time the blown in stud cavities is all you need. Also i change a lot of old wood windows that are falling apart.I would not even attempt to rebuild them.
    All of this will return a better investment and make a much more confortable home than just buying a bigger stove
  18. Danno77

    Danno77 Minister of Fire

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    Just be glad you have insulating options. Short of putting up framing everywhere in my house and then having a mega massive overhaul of the trim (just imagine what the windows would be like if you added several inches of depth to your walls) I have very few options. Triple wythe brick with lathe and plaster right on the brick makes for an interesting factor when it comes to heating and cooling!
  19. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    I leave the plaster and lath right where it is and drill holes in it to blow in insulation. Too much work and mess taking it off,and for no good reason ,i usually rewire.than blow cellulite then drywall the interior unless the plaster is darn near perfect.
  20. Danno77

    Danno77 Minister of Fire

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    I misspoke in my previous post, so it sounds confusing. My exterior walls are plaster right on the bricks! No spaces anywhere to blow anything in!
  21. ditchrider

    ditchrider Burning Hunk

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    Those isopropyl sheaths work pretty well. About r-6 or 7 per inch. Drywall over that and it's crazy what a difference it makes. When we first moved into the bedroom we overhauled the boiler was just kicking in. It was similar to walking by a grain silo in the summer sun but not as searing. The heat radiated onto my skin from the walls but the room wasn't hot. I put up stuff with foil facing. You never would have convinced me the foil would reflect heat through the drywall from the baseboards. Now when the wood stove is fired up it doesn't work that way, but the exterior walls aren't chilled out like they were with imperialboard and no insulation. Those old walls were cold as rock when the boiler was online, danged frozen when we only used the woodstove. What was really weird was my grandad put dry concrete mix behind the baseboards in the stud cavities. Over the years some of it was chunked up by moisture leaks or condensation. A real dog to clean out. I suppose he was thinking the mix would seal out air and help the baseboards contain heat. I was always taught concrete was a conductor. I know our concrete canals freeze on the floor first and then the water surface freezes in the winter.
  22. Danno77

    Danno77 Minister of Fire

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    But for every window and door you have the wood casing that would need to be several inches deeper to accommodate the thicker walls. I'd have to scrap my 150 yr old casings or add wood which would look pretty stupid, I imagine. Then don't forget how you have to resize every piece of baseboard because the room is smaller. Not impossible, just cost and time prohibitive, IMO.
  23. Frozen Canuck

    Frozen Canuck Minister of Fire

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    Kudos on the reno DR. FWIW triple wythe brick construction is getting pretty rare, as most just are not worth the reno. Add to that the conduction of heat & yes most are going the way of the dino's. Glad it worked out for you without breaking the bank. Happier life with a happy wife hey;).
  24. ditchrider

    ditchrider Burning Hunk

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    Yup, I see your point. I mean no offense, but I'm not sure i would stand still living in a rock like that. I'm pretty sure my wife would kill me or walk away. Very likely both :eek:. It would be real kool owning a house of solid rock. I would be inclined to find some way to "fix it". It's better off in your hands. At least I have a rock that heats my home.

    Another thing.. in your part of the country there's a lot of construction with REAL wood like oak and maple. Out here there's a lot built with (not what I mean as insulting) lighter wood like fir and pine. It was moreso the craftsmanship that made the home, not the material. Out there you often have the best of both worlds, which makes renovation an even tougher decision.

    But in my life I never imagined I would discover studs milled of cottonwood. I snapped one just by bending it like a javelin.
  25. Danno77

    Danno77 Minister of Fire

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    Yep about the wood used in construction. Funny thing though, I have a bunch of nice looking old yellow pine trim, but I still find joists and studs made of oak. Kinda backwards from what folks today do!

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