Greening-up vintage and historical homes

Posted by Woodrow Aames ~ July 1, 2011

In my last blog, I wrote about performing an energy audit of your existing home to find ways to make it more energy efficient. There are quick fixes that enable you to improve your home, add lasting value and at the same time cut back on your energy bills. An energy audit helps you spot leaks in your doorways and windows, along with poorly sealed walls around pipelines and conduit.

The remedies for these typical problems are relatively inexpensive and can save up to 30 percent in your heating and cooling bills, depending on the severity of your existing shortcomings. Again, I heartily recommend you have a look at the energy audit checklist provided by the City of Seattle.

But what about modifying older or historical homes for energy efficiency? How can you ensure that the work you do - or have performed by a contractor - won't compromise the design elements, plunging the value of your vintage investment? And, how can you be sure the energy upgrades won't start a vicious cycle of incremental improvements that never seem to end?

Historical home insulation and weatherization

The National Trust for Historic Preservation (NTHP) reports that insulation improvements do not, by themselves, create a negative impact on building integrity as many people fear, and can in fact help preserve the interiors by battling further weather damage.

On the other hand, the NTHP advises that you have insulation work be done by an expert with experience in older homes, especially in structures built before 1950 or those with systems predating modern heating and air conditioning systems. Poorly installed insulation upgrades can cause irreparable damage and, if not integrated with compatible materials, can "wreak havoc" on your valuable home.

Built for ventilation, but at what cost?

One blessing of owning a historical home is that - if you can stand the heat or have an abundance of shade trees around you - your house was designed to move air through efficiently, allowing you to pass your summers in relative comfort. On the distaff side, the design also enables moisture borne in the moving air to permeate every crack and crevice in your home. By now most older homes have developed mold, mildew and rot issues.

Consider having a blower door test. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, a blower door test measures tightness in your home using a pressure gauge to monitor internal and outdoor pressure. A high-powered fan is mounted in an exterior door frame. Depending on the level of sealing, you may find that adding insulation is your best recourse.

Spray-foam insulating is not your most-favorable option. The materials can actually foster the interior rotting of your precious timber frames. If you've already invested in the historical value of your home, then consider calling in a pro with direct old-home experience to handle your insulation.

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