Insulating an existing house

Discussion in 'Homesteading Questions' started by omnicat, Dec 11, 2005.

  1. omnicat

    omnicat Well-Known Member

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    I have a cape cod - made of concrete block, with stucco on the outside. The thing has no insulation.

    What would be my options for insulating this thing? The outside walls are cold to the touch, and it's just a cold house.
     
  2. Richard6br

    Richard6br Well-Known Member

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    Well, there are a couple of ways to go about it. You could use an insulation board on the outside, which would mean you have to refinish the outside of the house with something. You could build false walls on the inside and use the cavity for insulation, kind of like building a house inside of a house. One of the insulation manufacturers has a basement system of prefinished panels that may work for you. The only problem is that I don't think these panels are available for do it yourselfers. Getting something inside the blocks is a thought, I don't know how of if you could do that. I know that some people use or used an insulation as the blocks were laid, I think it was vermiculite [spelling]. I don't see a cheap or easy fix for your problem. You could use vinyl siding, the only problem with siding is that you would need to furr the outside every 16" for nailing, and getting around the windows and doors would be a pain. If it were my house, I would insulate the outside and restucco.
     

  3. Alice In TX/MO

    Alice In TX/MO More dharma, less drama. Supporter

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    Buy antique quilts and decorate the interior walls with them.
     
  4. SolarGary

    SolarGary Well-Known Member

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    Hi,
    Are the ceilings and floors insulated? If not, these might be easier targets to start with.

    Improving windows with inside or outside film or storm windows might also help.
    Some window ideas on my site here:
    http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/Conservation/conservation.htm
    I'm in the process of doing more of my windows with the inside Acrylic panels -- they are pretty simple, and seems tor work well.

    The walls are a tough problem -- don't know what to suggest beyond what was mentioned above.

    Gary
    www.BuildItSolar.com
     
  5. TNHermit

    TNHermit Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Rose and Solar Guy have good ideas. You could also get some stuff kown as "Zonolite". Actually that stuff had asbestos in it. Big scare with that. But I'm sure there is something (styrofoam beads) that replaces it. I poured a lot of the stuff back then. And I still get burnt when i touch fire. So the asbestos didn't work on me :)
    When you pour it in your wall it WILL find every hole in every block and fill them up and run out the outlets unless you plug them. You can drill holes at the top of the wall to put it in. Then plug the whole and put up crown molding to cover the wholes.
     
  6. JAK

    JAK Well-Known Member

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    Might be a good application for strawbale. You would need to make deep window and door wells and move the windows and doors out to the new exterior. At the foundation you would need to make a wide gravel trench and berm it up so the strawbales start above grade. The roof would be the tricky part, but you could extend the eaves if they are not wide enough. You could also do the same thing with rigid foam insulation. In both cases you would end up with a stucco like exterior, or something like an Irish or Scottish croft house. On the South side you could add a greenhouse rather than more insulation.
     
  7. omnicat

    omnicat Well-Known Member

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    solargary - No insulation in the floors or ceiling, either. Well, behinds the walls of the second-floor room (between the room and the storage spaces) there is eveidence of what might have been insulation of some sort decades ago, but it's hanging in cob-webby shreds, and it disintegrates when it's touched. Would I want to insulate the underside of the roof there in the storage space? (insulating the storage space itself from the outside) Or the floor and wall of the storage area (thereby leaving the storage space uninsulated). Or both? It's hard to describe without drawing a picture and pointing.

    Here's a picture. (It's the only one I have convenient)

    [​IMG]

    So essentially no insulation anywhere. We replaced the roof a few months ago, so we can't afford to do anything about the lack of insulation right now - just gathering ideas - I really didn't know what sorts of solutions were options.

    The fornt porch getting "greenhoused" is a definite possibility in the future.
     
  8. ttryin

    ttryin Well-Known Member

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  9. Mid Tn Mama

    Mid Tn Mama Well-Known Member Supporter

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    I believe they have these blow in insulations where you blow it in between the walls (I guess you would have to drill a wall in the wall and plug later).

    There is a finished floor in the attic? If so, you have to blow in there too since you cant lay the pads of insulation.
     
  10. tiogacounty

    tiogacounty Well-Known Member

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    I think you will find that attempting to insulate the hollow cores of concrete block will be a marginal adventure at best. You still end up with massive amounts of "thermal bridging" this is where a conductive material mitigates the effectiveness of the insulation by allowing cold or heat to pass through the wall. Block is a real good example of this. You may get some insulation into the hollows of the block but the webs between the hollows still conduct cold into the building. Try studying "EIFS" on a search engine. This stands for exterior insulation finishing system. This is a method of attaching expanded polystyrene (white beadboard) to the outside of the building then covering it with a thin layer of acrylic based stucco. It isn't cheap, but in your case it will make a radical difference in your heating and cooling bills. A more common method is to install foam and furring strips to the exterior and then vinyl siding. I would recommend that you install an inch of extruded foam (blue styrofoam) then furrings strips with 3/4" foam between them. Vinyl siding doesn't do real well on furring strips alone, it really needs a fairly smooth solid surface behind it. Good luck.
     
  11. Fire-Man

    Fire-Man Well-Known Member Supporter

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    Block houses are tough to insulate, even if you filled the voids they will still be cold in extreme cold weather. Things that will help would be to keep the heat steady, don't turn it way down---If you were to cut your heat off for a day then turn it back on----The blocks will get so cold while it is off that it would take a couple of days to warm them back up. When you insulate, you want to insulate the area that will be heated---like the floor of your storage area above---if you insulate above your storage area---then you will loose heat into the storage area. Do you want the storage area heated?? If I lived in a block home right now and cash was low, I would do like was stated by Rose below----I would hang any extra heavy quilts/blankets I could round up--on the inside of all the outside walls. You can get 4ftx8ft sheets of 1 1/2" foam type board from a lumber place like Lowes or Home Depot------You can cut this stuff easy and place it against the block walls on the inside----you could just put it up temporary and remove during the spring----you could paint it so it looks good-----As you get some extra cash I would insulate the ceiling/overhead first(Heat rises), then insulate the floor. You can take this foam board and glue it to the block wall, then glue some paneling over it or I feel if you use thin furring strips of wood on the block walls then cut insulation between the strips will be better than nothing, but I would suggest if you go that route you should use thicker strips so you can get more R-value between the blocks and the finish wall. Just for this winter if you could find a furniture store that has alot of expencive furniture shipped in-----some of the boxes have 1" thick stryofoam sheets in them you could probably get free. I have a place next door to me that Receives furniture for several furniture stores---He has to un-crate the things---------There is ALOT of these foam sheets I can get free(he loves for me to haul them off for him)---some as big as 3ft by 7ft--some 1" thick some as thick as 3". I went into the attic of a store that was built in 1863----some time since then Some one cut cardboard boxes up so it would fit between the overhead joice for insulation, there was alot of layers of it. Don't sound to fireproof, but I guess they were recycling/saving money some years back and the store is still standing. Check around!! Good Luck!! Randy
     
  12. cfabe

    cfabe Well-Known Member

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    Your best bang for the buck will be to insulate the ceiling.
     
  13. omnicat

    omnicat Well-Known Member

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    Thanks for all the suggestions. Very helpful. I'll see what I can do about the inside of the outside walls just for now. I'll see what I can scrounge in the way of foam boards and whatnot until we decide on a more lasting solution.

    DH wants to fill in the crawl space under the house. Which would require moving the horizontal furnace. But he thinks earth will be warmer than air space. Is he right? I *DO* need to seal up the old coal chute that lets air into the space right underneath the kitchen. That's the coldest floor in the house!!
     
  14. clovis

    clovis Well-Known Member

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    Reread what tiogacounty wrote. That is correct information.

    You are loosing alot of heat throught the roof. It shows in the pic you posted.
    Look at the roof, where all of the snow has melted. Now look at the porch roof, where snow still lies. This is a major sign of heat loss.

    I would concentrate on the ceiling and attic first.

    Can you afford to buy one or two rolls of insulation each week? Might be a solution if your money is tight. Haven't priced it in a while, but $30 a week would be a start. I would by the better stuff, if you can swing it.
    Worth the money, IMHO.

    Might consider checking out waste or surplus at new housing addition if money is super tight. Might find what is left of a roll or two of insulation from the waste of building sites. An 8 foot section here and there adds up over time.
    clove
     
  15. kuriakos

    kuriakos Well-Known Member

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    If you do end up using styrofoam inside, be real careful with exposure to flame. Some types of styrofoam burn like gasoline. I think it's against code to have foam board insulation exposed inside the houes...it's supposed to be covered by drywall to protect it from fire. But it's probably fine for temporary use. Just be careful.
     
  16. Richard6br

    Richard6br Well-Known Member

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    Filling in the crawl space with dirt would not help with the cold and would cause a lot of different problems than you have now. You need to keep that crawl space WELL ventilated. The fact that you have a crawl space indicates that you have floor joists. I would have thought that you had a concrete slab. Anyway, insulate between the floor joists with fiberglass. Make sure to keep the vapor barrier toward the HEATED side, meaning the living area. Use some kind of a mesh to hold the fiberglass in place. Some parts of this country have government funded programs set up to help people insulate their homes. My parents had their attic insulated with blown in insulation years ago for practically nothing. I don't know what you are spending trying to heat your home, but I am sure that you could recoup some of the cost for insulation just by reducing your heating bill. [Just a thought].
     
  17. JAK

    JAK Well-Known Member

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    Nice looking house. Love the dragon. I see you have snow. How many heating degree-days do you have? What is your annual heating bill? How many square feet of ceiling, exterior walls, and main floor? If you spent your annual heating bill on making it more airtight and better insulated and it would have to reduce your annual cost by 20% to pay for itself in 5 years. With interest it would be more like 6 years. Some things pay and some don't.
     
  18. SolarGary

    SolarGary Well-Known Member

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    Hi,
    Judging by the expression on the dragons face, he'is not liking the snow :)

    If you don't need the storage space heated, then insulating under the storage space floor might be best. If you insulate the roof slope itself, you should have a ventilation space between the top of the insualtion and the bottom of the roof seathing.

    A couple things you might be able to try in the near term that are easy on the budget, and have a fast payback:
    - Blow cellulose insulation into the area under storage area floor. The cellulose is cheap, and most of the home centers will provide an insulation blower for nothing if you buy the cellulose from them. If you don't have any insulation in the ceiling now, blowing in the cellulose will make a lot of difference in your heat bill. While people have different opinions on this, I think that the cellulose is both cheaper and better than fiberglass for this use.

    - On the windows that you don't need to see out of, try this bubble wrap window insulaltion solution -- it still lets plenty of light in:
    http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/Conservation/bubblewrap.htm
    I've used this for a couple years on some of my windows, and it works great -- very fast and easy. If you decide later that you want to do something more permanent to the windows, you can always use the bubble wrap for packaging :) If you have single pane windows, the payback for bubble wrap insulation can be as little as 3 months.
    Some other energy conservation ideas that might help here:
    http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/Conservation/conservation.htm


    Doing a sunspace on the south side of the house might help in two ways: It would effectively provide some insulation for that wall, and you could use it on sunny days to collect heat for the house. Some info here:
    http://www.builditsolar.com/Projects/Sunspace/sunspaces.htm

    If your storage space floor does not allow you to blow much depth of insulation in, you might want to construct a new floor or partial floor spaced up higher to get more insulation depth.

    Gary
    www.BuildItSolar.com
     
  19. omnicat

    omnicat Well-Known Member

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    Bubble wrap on the windows is a great idea! I've got a bunch in the garage that I've never used much of (a big roll).

    And starting to fill up under the floor in the storage space will be easy to do in bits and pieces.

    JAK - I don't know how many heating-degree days I have (not sure what that is). I'm in Columbus Ohio. If it's about Solar availablity - it's not great. Winters are cold and generally overcast. I think I'm in one of the worst "zones" for solar in the country.

    I *DO* use the front windows for passive solar in the winter - but because of the overhang of the porch - it only works well from mid-november through january, when the sun is lowest, and shines in. (The cats then follow the sun across the room all day)

    I did just buy a wood-burning stove for the not-up-to-code fireplace. It helps, and so far the wood is free, as there's a lot of deadfall from the HUGE ice storm we had a year ago. I've been scrounging.

    ALL the advice is much appreciated, and I'm happy to have a few ideas I can impliment right away. You guys are the best.
     
  20. JAK

    JAK Well-Known Member

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    http://www.weatherquestions.com/What_are_degree_days.htm
    "Heating degree days and cooling degree days are used as a measure of the heating and cooling needs of buildings. Both are referenced to 65 degrees F. If the average of a given day's high and low temperature is 65 degrees, then there are no (zero) heating or cooling degree days. If the average temperature is 72 degrees F for a given day, then there are (72 minus 65 equals) 7 cooling degree days. If the average temperature is 50 degrees F., then there are (65 minus 50 equals) 15 heating degree days. You can add up the degree days for any time period, say the month of January, and get an idea of how much heating was required to heat buildings. The energy industry pays attention to heating and cooling degree days as a way to predict energy prices."

    I am not sure why they use 65F, but I think it takes into account that the house has some internal heat generated from people and electrical appliances.

    http://www.joson.com/metros/columbus-oh.htm
    Columbus has 5708F heating degree-days and 797F cooling degree days. Not bad. In such a climate I would insulate and seal the perimeter of your crawl space, but no more than your exterior walls. The ground directly down will act as a thermal flywheel. You are losing very little heat down to the ground, unless there is cold air blowing in underneath - that would be very different. Lay plastic on the ground and seal the perimiter walls.

    But it is not a cold enough climate to justify heroic efforts so I would only focus on any obvious leaks. Even if your roof is only R15 and your walls are only R10 and your windows are only R2.5 it would be difficult to get a reasonable return on adding more insulation unless you can do it cheaply. To get a sense of budget, it would only be worthwhile to spend your annual heating bill on improvements if you were sure it would reduce your heating bill by 20%. You are losing heat primarily through walls, windows, ceilings, and infiltration, so concentrating in any one area is usually less cost effective unless that area is cheaper to do. Estimate how much you are losing in each area and the cost of improvement. In your case the roof is no cheaper to insulate than the walls and is probably already twice as well insulated. But check the details like leaks into the crawl space, floor joists, eaves, around window frames, doors, and electrical outlets. Do you get icicles? That would be a bad sign in such a house but fixable. Also, on a cold day this winter check for cold air drafts and see if you can plug them, but don't interfere with proper ventilation of your roof sheathing. If there is any air possibly leaking up your walls and into your ceiling space that would be bad also, but also fixable.

    I liked the bubble wrap idea also and it looks really cool. The hanging quilt idea was nice also. Very Shaker. Best think to do in such a cozy wee house is to put an extra blanket on the beds upstairs and find a warm spot by the stove when you are downstairs reading with a cup of hot tea. I guess it is a sea serpent and not a dragon. Apologize to Nessy for me.