My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

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coalcracker
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My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by coalcracker » Fri Nov 21, 2014 10:43 am

I have been struggling with keeping warm in the winter in my 100 year old brick Victorian house since I purchased it 8 years ago. Here are a few things I have already done:

1. Insulated attic-actually remodeled into master suite and installed a second HVAC system to heat the third floor, with feeds to second floor rooms.
2. Repointed brick-this was in really bad shape, and may not have been done in decades, possibly ever.
3. Replaced ~ 1/3 of the windows as part of various remodeling projects.
4. Cover the draftiest remaining windows with plastic in the winter
5. Replaced rotted basement door frame and door
6. Calked and sealed doors and windows as best I can
7. Weatherstrip doors

I have had conventional and spray foam insulation companies come to my house to assess things. The problem is that the outer walls are solid brick with ONLY plaster on the inside, i.e. no space to blow in insulation. One guy suggested the only solution would be to use furring strips and foam insulation boards, then drywall and plaster on top, on all the walls. Needless to say this would be expensive and a large undertaking.

In my research I gather the best solution would be to stucco the outside of the house, but that would ruin the aesthetics and look really out of place in our neighborhood, and also would cost a pretty penny. Obviously doing the remaining windows may help, but that would be in the range of 15-20k.

My house is not terribly cold, but noticeably chilly on the first and second floors on colder days. My basement is especially cold, although it has 2 feeds from the forced air heat into it.

I had a thought of using a space heater in the basement to allow the heat to "trickle up" through the first and second floors. I know this is probably not very efficient, but has anyone tried this or have any opinions on whether it would work?

Any other ideas?

coldaudio
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by coldaudio » Fri Nov 21, 2014 11:13 am

I actually just moved out of a house (was renting with some friends) that sounds identical to yours.

For us, we found that the windows were by far the biggest source of heat loss. The house has all of the original windows and frames from 1916 still - not sure how yours is, but if it has old windows, they lose heat like no other. I have no doubt that replacing windows, and possibly needing to repair the frames, is an extremely expensive endeavor - which is why our landlord never did it!

We had the landlord install a huge space heater on the main floor of the house, and it was more than enough to keep the house warm. Our electric bills went up, but not nearly as much as you would think. To stay warm, it was well worth it.

As for the basement, that's a tough one. Without the rest of the house being warm, the heat down there is just going to find it's way up. I'll bet that if your main floor was warmer, the basement wouldn't lose nearly as much heat.

TareNeko
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by TareNeko » Fri Nov 21, 2014 11:21 am

I recently got an energy audit done on my house by a reputable company. They have two tools that help a lot to find issues:

- thermal camera
- blower door test equipment (a massive fan)

I have been reading a lot, and also doing some manual J calculations recently, and from what I can tell is that the number 1 issue is windows. If you have a lot of windows, and if they're metal frame single-pane windows, you will have difficulty keeping your house warm. If you don't want to change the windows, what you can do is to use honeycomb cellular shades. These can double/triple the efficiency of your windows.

ourbrooks
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by ourbrooks » Fri Nov 21, 2014 11:39 am

Find out what your walls are really made of. If you really do have plaster on brick inside, the walls are probably quite thick and consists either of several rows of brick or inner and outer brick walls with some kind of fill inbetween. If it's fill and there are voids in it, it might be possible to inject foam.

Before you do anything else, have a blower door test or infrared imaging test done. It might be paid for by a local untility. Just for fun, buy yourself one of those infrared thermometer "guns" and point it at walls, windows, chimneys, etc.

Don't automatically assume that windows are the cause or only cause of the heat loss. You might want to read this article: http://www.oldhouseguy.com/windows/ Even if you do decide to do something about the windows, storm windows might be the way to go. There are claims that storm windows over single pane windows are as efficient as double glazing.

If the walls are already a foot of solid brick, then I'm not sure how the stuccoing would help. My non-expert guess is that it's conduction through the brick that's causing the heat loss and not air infiltration, so adding another 1/4" or so of cement won't help much. If the walls can't be sealed any other way, then adding an extra interior layer on the outside walls might be the only way to go. The aesthetics are likely to be difficult, but any potential purchaser of a 100 year old Victorian is likely to understand the issues.

If you can't insulate, try adding local heating in each room which can be switched off when you're elsewhere. In an old Victorian, the electrical wiring might not support a lot of electrical space heaters, but gas lines are likely to be abundant, especially if it once had gas lighting. There are modern gas heaters which go up against a wall and vent through the wall.

Elemental
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by Elemental » Fri Nov 21, 2014 12:47 pm

I had an energy audit done on my home also (large fan in front door frame to create negative pressure inside the home). I was fully expecting the windows to be the major problem (double pane, but 20 years old). I was surprised to see the thermal camera showing the major problem to be attic air coming into the home (hot in the summer, cold in the winter). The suggestion was to create a stronger barrier between the attic and the rest of the home (seal the wall top plates, etc). I got a single bid for somewhere around $2000. For reasons, I decided not to do the repairs, so I'll never know if this would have helped.

ourbrooks
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by ourbrooks » Fri Nov 21, 2014 1:14 pm

To add to my earlier post: Also consider just getting the windows repaired if they're the original ones.

Victorian windows had wood frames and single panes of glass. Wood is a very good insulator; premium quality replacement windows are made of wood, so the wood frames are not the problem. What might be the problem is that, over time, the putty around the glass has come off or the windows have loosened in their frames, so the windows no longer seal as well. That can all be fixed. The end result won't be quite as good as modern double pane windows, because of the single pane, but it might be a substantial improvement at much lower cost. If that's not good enough, you can go on to add storm windows. The combination of good, wood framed single pane windows and wooden storms is supposed to be as good or better than double pane windows, especially less expensive vinyl ones.

dbr
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by dbr » Fri Nov 21, 2014 1:16 pm

We also had an energy audit done some years ago. While there were many possible improvements suggested, some obvious and some not, not any single one of them had a reasonable payback that would justify the effort, expense, and complexity of implementation. Living in an old house is pretty much an exercise in taking what comes with the territory. I will say that one issue that is often serious that we do not have is that we have outstanding interlocking zinc weatherstripping and virtually no air leakage at windows and doors. Also, of course, all windows have storm windows. Interestingly the single largest improvement suggested was to insulate the basement walls by overlaying styrofoam and sheetrock. The actual logistics for that in this house are prohibitive.

Mingus
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by Mingus » Fri Nov 21, 2014 1:28 pm

Please don't caulk/seal operable wooden windows. They are designed to have air infiltration. This is good for the window assembly to keep it from rotting, and good for you so you have fresh air in the house.

A combination of wooden storm windows (too match the aesthetics of the house), and cellular shades mentioned above will help a lot. Combine those two with heavy curtains and heat loss through the windows should be pretty well diminished.

If your walls are brick and plaster, that means you have substantial thermal mass in the house. This type of construction pairs the best with a radiant heat system of some sort, and not forced air.

dbr
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by dbr » Fri Nov 21, 2014 1:32 pm

I will say the best feature to be found in an old house may be old fashioned cast iron radiators for heat. Forced air I would not wish on anyone.

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bogleblitz
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by bogleblitz » Fri Nov 21, 2014 1:38 pm

coalcracker wrote: I had a thought of using a space heater in the basement to allow the heat to "trickle up" through the first and second floors. I know this is probably not very efficient, but has anyone tried this or have any opinions on whether it would work?

Any other ideas?

space heater is good for the 1 room you are located in. I have a space heater in my bedrooms and living room.
Why would you put the space heater in the basement and not directly in the living room or bedroom?

If you need to turn on more than 2 space heaters, might as well just turn on the central heating system higher. Set it to 75 degrees or higher. If your central heating system is running at max capacity and the house is still cold, then I guess you can run more space heaters.

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Bengineer
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by Bengineer » Fri Nov 21, 2014 2:29 pm

I'd start with an energy audit. Your electric utility may subsidize it. It will tell you where your insulations is(nt) and how much air leakage in the building envelope & ducts you have. Air sealing is messy, dirty, but low-tech work you can DIY or contract.

With a 3 story house + attic + basement, you've got quite a stack effect going pulling cold air in the basement/first floor and pushing it out the attic / top floor. Your windows might not be the biggest hole.

If you have quality, but old & drafty windows, you can refurb them - pull the sashes, reglaze, scrape the 47 layers of old paint smooth, paint & touch-up, fix the cords & weights (assuming single/double hungs) weatherstrip if needed, re-install with the stops set snug. Time consuming, but not particularly high-skill work. I did this on about 15 single-pane double-hungs on a prervious house. If DIY isn't your thing, low-e storms with good air sealing performance might be a choice.

It's tough to get any of this sort of upgrade to pencil out in terms of dollar payback. Rationalizing better comfort, lower energy use & carbon generation helps.

greenfire
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by greenfire » Fri Nov 21, 2014 2:35 pm

Can you put some kind of wood stove/furnace or pellet or coal stove in the basement? Nothing is quite as toasty as a wood fire.

Carlton
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by Carlton » Sun Nov 23, 2014 11:52 am

Biggest problem with most forced air heating systems is either it's on or off. More than likely, your Victorian house had a steam heating system with cast iron radiators. The thermal mass of the iron radiators helps to smooth out the heating cycles between firings. If it's time for a heating upgrade, I would keep the ductwork for AC, but install a hot water heating system. Options include underfloor radiant, baseboard, radiators or a combination.

If the house is historically Victorian inside, I would install a low temperature radiant under-floor PEX loop with some nice cast-iron ornamental radiators on a higher temp zone to supplement. If you can't do underfloor, then add additional radiators on the 1st floor. In rooms where looks are not that important, fin-tube hot water baseboard is cheap and works well, (but looks like crap in a historic home, that's why I would go with ornamental radiators on the 1st floor).

Connect the system to a hot water boiler with a outside-air reset (the colder it is outside, the hotter the water) and you should have a nice cozy house. This will not be cheap, but would be worthwhile if you plan to stay in the home.

New cast iron ornamental radiators. (Also authentic used ones are available, but they should be pressure tested before they are installed to ensure no leaks)
http://www.governaleindustries.com/Vict ... it-Gov.pdf

jchris
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by jchris » Sun Nov 23, 2014 12:09 pm

We have an unvented gas space heater in the center of our basement - located adjacent to the stairway to the main level, and it can keep both the basement and main floor warm by itself if necessary. Normally we use it only to bump up the temperature in the basement during the winter (most of our basement is one big rec/TV room). But during a winter power loss, it can keep most of the house comfortable. There was another thread here a few days ago about them, and most of the bogleheads commenting said they don't recommend them due to concerns about incomplete combustion, soot, carbon monoxide, water vapor, etc., but we like it and have had none of those problems.

lululu
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by lululu » Sun Nov 23, 2014 12:11 pm

Is there any reason to keep the basement warm other than the cold transfer to the upper floors? (use? keeping pipes form freezing?) If not, I would insulate the basement ceiling.

I got a big payback in warmth in my former old house by having good storm windows put on. It had some impact on the appearance of the house, but it was reversible if some future owner wanted to do that, and it got the previous drafts and cold areas near the windows on those floors down to zero. It cost noticeable money but was much cheaper and not historic vandalism like replacing the actual windows. i did a room at a time as I could afford it. Make sure they will still be available if you plan to stage things like this.

I have electric space heaters in several rooms in the winter (about $40 a piece and with a tip over switch). I generally only run one or two at a time and when I am nearby. They help a lot, particularly the one in the bathroom for comfort when taking a bath, and the one in the large kitchen which was a pretty cold area that affected the nearby room.

AviN
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by AviN » Sun Nov 23, 2014 8:08 pm

Electric space heaters are very expensive to operate per BTU. See:

http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/heatcalc.xls

Needless to say, the upfront costs are very low, and I use one to supplement the not-so-great heat pump in my apartment.

ourbrooks
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by ourbrooks » Sun Nov 23, 2014 8:24 pm

For the record, many Victorian homes had convection heat, not steam heat. Often, there were grates in the floor open to the room below which allowed warm air to rise. If the OP's house started as a convection heated house and then had duct work added later, the cost of adding any kind of radiator based system, including radiant flooring would probably be very large.

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Ged
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by Ged » Sun Nov 23, 2014 8:35 pm

I don't know if this would be suitable for you, but one of the nicest ways to retrofit older housing is to install a ductless mini-split system. Basically this is a heat pump / air conditioner in the form of a compressor unit that sits outdoors, some piping that goes through the wall, and air handler units indoors. Since it doesn't require ducts for air distribution it works well for the type of brick you describe. Multiple air handlers per compressor unit are possible. Since these are modern design the efficiency is high. The air handlers give you local control so you don't heat / cool areas you are not using. They are not particularly inexpensive, but for retrofits they offer a lot of advantages.

I installed one of these in my garage shop this summer to make it usable year round. I spent about $4K on the project - but I really didn't pinch pennies so I am sure there would have been ways to reduce the cost. It qualified for a rebate of $500 from my utility company.

thewizzer
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by thewizzer » Sun Nov 23, 2014 9:37 pm

Insulate your box sills in the basement. This will help quite a bit.

http://youtu.be/V5B5xytcz78

Carlton
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by Carlton » Mon Nov 24, 2014 12:04 am

ourbrooks wrote:For the record, many Victorian homes had convection heat, not steam heat. Often, there were grates in the floor open to the room below which allowed warm air to rise. If the OP's house started as a convection heated house and then had duct work added later, the cost of adding any kind of radiator based system, including radiant flooring would probably be very large.
Very true, but by the late 1800's-early 1900's, the Victorians were already being upgraded to gravity hot water and steam heating. Technology was moving very fast at the turn of the century.

LeeMKE
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by LeeMKE » Mon Nov 24, 2014 1:09 am

+1 energy audit

I'm inclined to suspect you have cold air from the basement being drawn by the attic. I fixed this in one house with some DIY insulation and weather stripping at the attic opening.

But an audit is the best way to prioritize your efforts and can serve as a list of things to keep in mind for later fixes.
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Carl53
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by Carl53 » Mon Nov 24, 2014 5:35 am

We rented a home similar to yours back in the early 80s for a few years. The first year we froze to death according to my spouse, there were mornings that we had snow on the inside sill of one of our bedroom windows. We spent about $900 on fuel oil despite closing off most of the rooms. We actually only heated the kitchen and large dining rooms the first year. Our bedroom above had a back stairwell and gravity registar to supply heat. Getting up in the morning meant firing up a large Kerosun kerosene heater in the bath for at least 15 minutes prior to my spouse venturing out of bed.

The next year the landlord went halves with us on lining one of the old chimneys in the large dining room. I installed a large wood stove, and personally kept in shape by cutting/splitting/stacking a lot of wood. It made the situation much more tolerable as we opened up several more rooms and were much more comfortable. Being a wood burning novice, we did have a scary time once with a chimney fire due to burning some less than fully seasoned wood. We did the wood thing for a couple of years. It does bring in a lot of dirt to the home with the wood.

lululu
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by lululu » Mon Nov 24, 2014 5:53 am

Carl53 wrote:We rented a home similar to yours back in the early 80s for a few years. The first year we froze to death according to my spouse, there were mornings that we had snow on the inside sill of one of our bedroom windows. We spent about $900 on fuel oil despite closing off most of the rooms. We actually only heated the kitchen and large dining rooms the first year. Our bedroom above had a back stairwell and gravity registar to supply heat. Getting up in the morning meant firing up a large Kerosun kerosene heater in the bath for at least 15 minutes prior to my spouse venturing out of bed.

The next year the landlord went halves with us on lining one of the old chimneys in the large dining room. I installed a large wood stove, and personally kept in shape by cutting/splitting/stacking a lot of wood. It made the situation much more tolerable as we opened up several more rooms and were much more comfortable. Being a wood burning novice, we did have a scary time once with a chimney fire due to burning some less than fully seasoned wood. We did the wood thing for a couple of years. It does bring in a lot of dirt to the home with the wood.
I still love old houses, though. :D

I am not a stove maven, but I gather there are a lot of stove options, in terms of what they burn (pellets?) and pollution controls. I think chimneys have to be inspected to be sure they're safe, and maybe periodic stuff done, by professionals, to clean them up. Maybe creosote collects, or something,

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runner9
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by runner9 » Mon Nov 24, 2014 8:38 am

Any suggestions on a heat sensor/temp reading thing to buy? Preferably from amazon.

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Bengineer
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by Bengineer » Mon Nov 24, 2014 9:38 am

runner9 wrote:Any suggestions on a heat sensor/temp reading thing to buy? Preferably from amazon.
Here ya go. It's basically an infrared thermometer set up for measuring temp changes with a targeting spot that changes color.

One with video is a little more, but way cooler. :wink:

... and one for your phone!
Last edited by Bengineer on Mon Nov 24, 2014 10:23 am, edited 1 time in total.

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just frank
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by just frank » Mon Nov 24, 2014 9:59 am

Hate to say it, but the list of things the OP did look like the state of the art approach 20 years ago. Not the most effective and cost efficient fixes out there.

Brick is a bear, and seldom gets insulated as a retrofit, and often starts failing when it has been. Keep it as is.

As others have said, there may be likely some big savings and comfort opportunities in airsealing the basement and attic. Insulating the attic before airsealing it is considered a mistake in 2014. Don't feel bad, OP, you're in good company. It was done ~100 million times from 1980-2000 in the US.

In my case just airsealing reduced my heating bill >35% and made my multistory house much more even and comfortable.

If you still have cold spots after the blower-door and airsealing treatment, call in your HVAC guy to fix the 'balance'.

Done.

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SC Hoosier
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by SC Hoosier » Mon Nov 24, 2014 10:28 am

This is why I would never buy an older house. Plumbing and efficiency issues. I don't care how good it looks or how good a deal it is. Building codes have come a long way in 100 years. Even cheaply built newer homes (mine is 2005, purchased in 2009 for $80k, 1200 sf) are built so much better than most WWII era homes and older.
I live in No Payment Land. It is wonderful, and I'd love for you to live here too.

Crow Hunter
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Re: My grown up Christmas wish-A Warm House

Post by Crow Hunter » Mon Nov 24, 2014 11:12 am

Tapestries?

Or the modern equivalent.

Possibly on the windward walls only?

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