The Warm Old House

In a casual conversation I promised to send someone some of the information I had found on weatherizing and home energy efficiency.  West Virginia, having cheap natural gas and electricity (in cost to the consumer, but not in cost to those who live where it is produced – oh, wait – that’s us, too), and depending on energy for a good bit of its economy, hasn’t put in place the energy conservation programs that most other states have.  You can’t call up a local contractor and have an energy audit done.  And we haven’t had much success in finding professionals knowledgeable about insulation options, energy efficient heating and cooling, etc.  The state spends a lot each winter to pay people’s heating bills, when the same money could be used for weatherizing and lower those bills forever.

The Environmental Protection Agency’s EnergyStar program have done a great job of do-it-yourself energy information. I used their Home Energy Yardstick for a quick look at how we compared to the US average on energy use.  Even with our very old (25+ years) furnace and no insulation,  because we do a lot of other energy-saving, we scored 9.8 out of 10.  But our CO2 emissions are still above average on EPA’s Household Emissions Calculator because our house is bigger than average.

The best energy audit tool around was sponsored by the EPA, the Department of Energy, Housing and Urban Development, and a number of California state programs, and developed by the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories. It takes awhile to complete, because you have to input details like window area on each side of your house, but you end up with specific recommendations on insulation, appliances, and other steps to take, and information on cost and whether they will be cost-effective for you.  You can save your session, too, so all that work isn’t lost.

Our audit showed that replacing the central air-conditioner wouldn’t be cost-effective.  We don’t use it anyway; there were only a couple days this summer that just opening windows wasn’t enough.  Our biggest cost-saver would be replacing the electric dryer with a gas one.  If we ever replace it, that’s what we will do, but we have been hanging our laundry for years.  The second biggest saver was air leaks, which they estimate would save us over $500 a year, and would cost about $400 done by a contractor.  We spent less than half of that on materials, and Robert did the work, following the EPA DIY manual on locating and sealing leaks, and adding insulation. It’s the first thing we did, so we can’t really tell how much it saved us.

What started that conversation was my mentioning we had gotten an infrared thermometer to check for cold spots.  I spent some time yesterday checking likely spots.  The dryer vent needs insulation, it looks like the fireplace needs some more sealing, and there are a few small spots under doors.  I was hoping for more easy fixes, but it looks like we’ve done a good job already.  The new patio doors, which are double-glazed with built-in weatherstripping and insulation, are amazing.  The glass and frame are warmer than the outside wall next to them. I was also relieved to see that the huge double-glazed window in the den, which is quite old, seems to be holding up; it was as warm as the new patio door, and both were only a couple of degrees below room temperature.   It’s only 22 today, so I’m pleased.

Replacing the patio door just for energy-efficiency wouldn’t have been worth it, though – doors and windows almost never pay for themselves – ever.  Our audit also says lightening the roof would cost us money – the heat lost in the winter would be more than the air-conditioning saved in the summer, even if we used air-conditioning.

3 thoughts on “The Warm Old House

  1. Thanks Lisa, this is very helpful. Where can I buy a infrared thermometer and how much should I expect to spend?

  2. As soon as I posted this, I thought I needed to say that. We got ours, a Ryobi, at Home Depot for $30. They are $35 plus shipping on-line at Amazon. Black and Decker is heavily promoting one that seems to be mostly available on-line, not in stores, for $50. Its laser pointer changes colors when something is warmer or cooler than a temperature you set, which I suppose is slightly easier than looking at the temperature display on the Ryobi.

    They live in the “Measuring Tools” section, in case your Home Depot staff don’t know about them – ours didn’t, but were happy to learn when we found it and told them how we were going to use it.

    This is the kind of thing a group of neighbors or friends could buy and pass around, since it’s not something you use often. I saw a suggestion that you could use it for checking the perfect temperature of your pancake griddle, but I’ve done that the old-fashioned way for a while.

  3. Thanks. Yea, I don’t think I need to use it to check the temperature of your pancake griddle.

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