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My house is a sieve!

Post in 'The Green Room' started by lml999, Nov 5, 2013.

  1. lml999

    lml999 Member

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    <sigh>

    My house is a 50+ year old multilevel in suburban Boston. When we moved in 23 years ago, we added cellulose insulation in all of the walls and I've added a second layer of fiberglass insulation on the attic floors. We have baseboard hot water heaters and central air.

    Last night I left a nice fire going in the insert in the living room, 70 degrees, down to 62 at 4:30 this morning.

    That heat is going somewhere. :(

    We have recessed lights in the main living area and I know that I'm losing a lot of heat through those cute little chimneys. We also have original windows on the main floor, covered with storms.

    The house isn't particularly drafty. Yet I can point to a half dozen places where I know air is escaping and others where insufficient insulation is allowing transfer, and I'm just a little overwhelmed by the magnitude of the problem.

    I'd love to start over and build a passivhaus, one that essentially needs no heat or cooling systems...but that isn't in the cards for quite some time, and not on my existing lot. Also, we like our neighborhood and the house is in good shape overall -- recent roof, good electrics, newish Buderus furnace, etc...

    I guess I'm stuck and looking for some support. There's lots of busy work to do and I'm concerned that if I climb around the attic and address 50% of the leaks and drafts, it won't make much difference.

    Anybody else been there, done that?

    Comments, suggestions appreciated!

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  2. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    I think you are probably as Good as it Gets or close considering the house type - that's not really too bad of a loss of heat. Sure, you could go all out and it would maybe add 2 degrees to that lower temp (give the same overnight temp), but the question is whether it would be worthwhile.

    We live in a newer house built to 2005 MA. standards and I would say that we would lose close to the same about of heat as you did - maybe 2 degree less. I feel that's fairly tight.

    If it were me I'd probably just use the backup heat as needed and look for small improvements I could make. Examples include making sure the storm windows are tight and caulked (or make them so), etc.

    Even windows with storms lose maybe 6X or more heat per sq ft as a wall does...maybe more. But insulated tight shades are expensive and not always the right style.

    Sealing a house airtight will likely cause you to have some smells in there that you don't want...so a certain amount of air is good (IMHO). And, you could seal everything and heat still goes out through the windows, etc.
  3. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    All houses are sieves. What varies is the size of the mesh.
  4. lml999

    lml999 Member

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    Ouch. I was hoping for a silver bullet. :)

    I guess that with the new furnace and the insert I'm in pretty good shape on an operating cost basis. We go through 2-3 tanks of oil a year (including indirect hot water) and 3-4 cords of wood. But I know that I can squeeze more from the house with some elbow grease; I'm just stuck a bit wondering where the biggest returns might be.

    With regard to shades...I did install Ecosmart shades on the front picture window and its two side windows. They make a measurable difference at night. I might add some more for the two windows behind a sofa in the tv room...those are good Hurd double paned windows, but are a bit drafty in the cold.
  5. webbie

    webbie Seasoned Moderator Staff Member

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    I kid you not that if I tighten up the house more, my wife will open the window more at night.
  6. lml999

    lml999 Member

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    Oy. Our wives must be of similar vintages. Mine has a fan next to her side of the bed. She can't decide whether she's hot or cold. :)

    I don't mind a cold house at night. I'm plenty comfortable, and the dog keeps my feet warm. But it pains me to think of the dollar bills flying out through the holes in the sieve. :)
  7. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    I'm going to disagree. Air sealing is one of the easiest and most effective things you can do to a house, and makes it more comfortable not less. Fewer allergens and less noise inside....it's a no brainer. And its not intuitive, most heat loss is through the framing of your house out your attic, not where you feel a tiny draft. My 1960 house had 8 sq ft (!) of opening between the framing and the attic. That is the way they built em back then.

    You can have a pro come out and do a blower door test, and he can tell you projected savings and costs on an airsealing job.

    My house started out as leaky as a barn, and is now well airsealed, and that alone is saving me ~30% of my total heating bill, and we are a lot more comfortable.

    And the thing with ventilation is **control**. Having it when you want it. In mild weather or when you are having a party, open some windows. In the winter, or when there's a Nor'easter outside, you will still have plenty of fresh air.
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2013
    ailanthus, Laszlo, 711mhw and 2 others like this.
  8. PapaDave

    PapaDave Minister of Fire

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    I believe most heat loss is through the roof, so I'd start there, and do a small section at a time if you're feeling a bit overwhelmed.
    Seal up (as woodgeek suggested) then insulate. It's a relatively inexpensive thing to do and more than likely, you'll notice the improvement fairly quick. I did some air sealing in the house last year (not the attic yet) that helped the comfort level quite a bit.
    I don't have dollars to throw away, so depending on the size of your house ( and a whole bunch of other factors), I would try my darndest to reduce that fuel use. How big is your fuel tank and are you referring to actual full cords of wood or !!! "face cords"?
    Just my .02.
    Adios Pantalones likes this.
  9. Circus

    Circus Member

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    Did you buy a new fuel oil furnace? Isn't nat. gas a lot cheaper? Baseboards use boilers. Central air? I'm comfused.
  10. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    Seems like theres room for improvement. My old leaky house does NOT lose that much. Even with no fire at all.Perhaps 3-5 Degrees.Try going around with one of those IR temp guns ($25)Find the cold spots. You may have leaky outlets or may have missed some wall cavities when insulating. My house is at least 80 yrs old.Only partially insulated. I overcome some of the deficiencies with a solar collecting sun porch and cheap solid fuel heat. 3000SF. Under $1000 per Yr for heat
    Last edited: Nov 6, 2013
  11. woodgeek

    woodgeek Minister of Fire

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    I thought the same way about my house 7 years ago. If I am spending too much on heat, then anywhere I can feel cold coming in must be 'the problem'. I spent a year or two chasing little drafts, and putting shrink film on windows, and other than stopping the little local problem, those things did **nothing noticeable** to my energy bill. Houses are complicated, and most of where air/heat is going in and out is hidden. Its a complex puzzle that is best left to pros. IIRC, MA has some nice subsidized energy audit programs (that subsidize non-DIYable work that I paid to have done). Even if you opt to do the work DIY, the audit will tell you where to best put your effort.

    At this point, my house uses less than 50% of the BTUs it needed when I bought it, and I have all the original windows. They are less 'drafty' now b/c the rest of the house is not sucking air in through them. Don't waste time on bandaid solutions.
    laynes69 likes this.
  12. laynes69

    laynes69 Minister of Fire

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    I'm 100% with woodgeek. We found over 30 open cavities in our attic hidden under insulation. It was over 12 sqft of open area. I couldn't heat the house over 68 when it dropped below 25 degrees, after airsealing the attic I kept the house at 70 when it was 5 below zero. Since then I've found many more larger leaks and voids on the shell of the home as well as increased insulation in the attic. I'm sure I cut heat loss 30% just airsealing the attic. After insulation, the upstairs of the house increased 10 degees. We have an attic access to the roof. I realized we had a problem when I entered the attic and it was much warmer than outdoors. It's tedious work, but well worth it, and it doesn't cost much to airseal. Work at the attic, then move into the basement. A blower door test will tell the truth.
  13. Frozen Canuck

    Frozen Canuck Minister of Fire

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    Yes seal up your homes envelope. If you can't stop the outside from coming in you will never stop your energy $$$ from flowing out. Relatively cheap to do, bit of a PITA but worth it when the draft in your wallet stops.
  14. begreen

    begreen Mooderator Staff Member

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    If you really want to stop heat transmission out of the house you need to create a thermal break. My BIL did this when he built his house by building the exterior walls 7" thick using staggered 2x4s. They also put up a carefully sealed vapor barrier. That was 30 years ago and the house still is miserly to heat. In an existing building another way to really drop heat leakage is to remove the siding then clad it with a 1" insulation barrier under new siding.
  15. DickRussell

    DickRussell Member

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    Yes, exterior sheet insulation can help greatly by reducing air leakage and thermal bridging through the relatively more conductive wood framing, as well as adding R value to the wall assembly. But be careful about the thickness of insulation added. Unless the exterior foam added is EPS, which is relatively vapor-open compared to XPS or to foil-faced polyiso (practically zero permeability), you have added a vapor retarder to the exterior side of the assembly, and thus run the risk of retarding outward drying potential to the point where the sheathing retains too much moisture. Adding exterior insulation can be a very good thing to do, from a building science point of view, as long as it is thick enough to keep the sheathing warm enough. A good read on this subject can be found here: http://www.greenbuildingadvisor.com...lating-minimum-thickness-rigid-foam-sheathing
    woodgeek likes this.
  16. EatenByLimestone

    EatenByLimestone Minister of Fire

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    When doing air sealing I like motivation. After the first small snowfall, look for where the snow melts off first. That is where your heat is escaping. Find and fix that air leak. The air will go to the next spot of least resistance. Find and fix that. Pretty soon you'll notice the snow stays up there longer and your house is warmer. Work your way down to the floor of the upstairs. Then hit the basement as I've read the 1st floor of a house doesn't loose as much heat. On a cold, windy day I went around to all of the light sockets and found the drafts coming into those.

    Motivation is the key for me. I like to see the snow stay on my roof and feel better knowing that drafts that used to exist no longer exist.

    Matt
  17. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    Remember on a multi story house, the place acts as a giant chimney. Cold air comes in the lower floors and warm air goes out the upper floors. You don't notice the leaks so much in the upper floors as the warm air is going OUT.
  18. lml999

    lml999 Member

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    Oil tank is 275 gallons. Full cords. Is there any other kind? :)
    PapaDave likes this.
  19. lml999

    lml999 Member

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    Yes, new oil furnace, double lined oil tank and indirect water heater. Natural gas is just slowly making its way into my town and is still a distance away, so I didn't have a choice. The baseboard heat and central air are indeed two separate systems. Apologies for the confusion. :)
  20. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    Around here good slightly used oil furnaces are a dime a dozen. My son scraps most of them he gets from working with superior energy, a company that installs all kind of heating systems. No one wants them. Most people are changing to something with a less unpredictable fuel source and price.
  21. PapaDave

    PapaDave Minister of Fire

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    Well, around here, a lot of folks still refer to a "face" cord as a cord.
    Other areas do too. I was trying to wrap my head around how much energy you're using.
    Thanks for the info.
  22. lml999

    lml999 Member

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    New England is still heavily into oil heat. I bought a high efficiency gas condensing Buderus because, for me, it was the best solution to a 50 year old boiler. No need to review that decision. :)
  23. maple1

    maple1 Minister of Fire

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    That was a good read.

    I have had in my mind that when the time comes to do something about the vinyl siding on this house of ours (only good thing about it is you don't need to paint it), we'll put some foamboard on the house under whatever the new stuff happens to be. But after reading all that, I think I'm in a catch-22 likely along with a lot of others - with vapour barrier on the inside, adding foamboard to the outside might set up a condensation problem in your walls. That hadn't really occured to me before. The thicker you make it, to try to keep the sheathing warm enough - the less outward drying potential there is.
  24. Seasoned Oak

    Seasoned Oak Minister of Fire

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    I would think even a pellet boiler would be much cheaper to operate and i know a lot of new englanders use coal as well. But each persons situation is different and you must have already explored all other options. Those condensing stoves are very efficient ,i used to have a natural gas model.
  25. mass_burner

    mass_burner Minister of Fire

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    +3, you live in MA, call for a free energy audit. they do a blower door test. and then give you a list of options. my kitchen, LR used to be 54 in the morning when I woke up without heat on. now it hasn't been below 66 yet. its very reasonable, even cheaper than going through a private contractor. Mass Save: http://www.masssave.com/
    ailanthus and woodgeek like this.

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