Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Making Our Home a Home Sweet Home: Part 2 – The State of the House

We moved into to our Durham bungalow in 2002. It is of 1940 vintage with a brick façade on the 24’ by 36’ original footprint.  A 12’ x 22’ wood sided addition was added 10-15 years later off the back of the house, and vinyl siding covered the same years later.  The home was drafty, inconsistent, and generally uncomfortable, in regard to temperature. When we first moved in the windows were hernia-inducing. By 2006, well before I was trained in existing home performance, we replaced them simply for the ability to open them and get fresh air and not necessarily for the energy improvement (which the new ones certainly provided). So new windows were in place when we started looking into our recent comfort improvements.  (I’ll pause here to say that I have learned that replacing your windows may not be the best first step to improving energy efficiency or comfort in your home. The following discoveries in our home seem to confirm the same.) We have storage in the attic, but it’s a shallow space with hardly room to stand between the collar ties and rafters.  Fetching stored kids clothes out of the attic was a trip to the sauna in summertime. The leaky access door provided a ready avenue of airflow. An interesting excuse for insulation had settled between the ceiling joists: some sort of black, sooty rock wool. The soffits lacked any venting. Two gable vents and a passive turbine vent were present.  The hardwood floors above our crawlspace gave us frozen toes in winter. The crawlspace itself was a horrible dungeon; a cobwebby critter hotel full of allergen-rich air rising into the house through the floorboards.  When we put a French door off the back room to the patio this fall (not an energy decision), we discovered the lack of quality and quantity of insulation in the addition.  As it turns out, there was no insulation in the walls and only a six-inch layer of critter covered fiberglass batt insulation laid on the drop ceiling above. It was actually a welcome discovery, because we now knew why that space was so generally uncomfortable. This also helps to confirm the likelihood and unfortunate reality that there is no insulation in the plaster-finished walls of the original (brick) portion of the house.
Pictured Above: The crawlspace. Typical by local standards including moisture, mold, cobwebs, and critters.

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