Monday, January 16, 2012

Heating Our House: The Inspection & Results

In case you missed it, here is the first installment in this series...Heating Our House: The Problems

Our friend showed up on a cold day in early December and commenced his inspection.  This was fascinating.  First, he had us shut off the heat.  Next, he propped open the back storm door and placed in the doorway a special frame with adjustable sides so it would fit the opening of our back door perfectly.  Across this frame was stretched tarp-like material, with a very large hole at the bottom of the frame near the floor.  In the hole (on the floor), he set a large circular fan, aiming it outside.

Then, he turned on the fan.

The fan pulled outside air in through all the cracks and crevices of our house and then blew it outside again.  Can you picture it?  Needless to say, it soon got very cold in our house.  Next came the really cool part.  He had with him an infrared camera that could be pointed anywhere in the house and SHOW us where the cold spots were (where the most cold air was seeping in) - those areas showed up dark purple.  The camera could be held like a gun, so he and Jamey took turns pointing the camera over all the areas of each room in our house, noting the spots where significant leakage was occurring.  The cold spots could also be discovered by focusing a point on the camera to read the temperature in specific spots.

I followed them around, making notes as he told Jamey the best ways of remedying the holes.  He also suggested Jamey use little pieces of blue painter's tape that he had brought along to mark certain cold spots (so we wouldn't forget about them).  We moved through each and every room of the house this way and then he and Jamey went up in the attic and down under the house.

Looking at our house through this camera was sobering and overwhelming, but it also gave us hope.  Most of the remedies would be relatively inexpensive to carry out.  While we thought that our remaining old windows and old doors would be major culprits, they really weren't.  Our combinations of storm windows on the outside and plastic on the inside made them semi-comparable to our newer windows although some better weather stripping was needed.

And, while we were worried that most of the walls were uninsulated, we discovered (via the camera) that only relatively small portions were without insulation (at some point, one of the owners had insulation blown into the walls).

The major culprits were these...

1)  We had major leakage under the baseboards on all the outer walls, both upstairs and down.  Evidently, in these old house, care was not taken to seal together where the walls and floors joined.  Baseboards that don't sit flush to the floor (nearly impossible with our old, hardwood floors), leave ample space for heat to escape.  This problem was even noticeable in the upstairs, carpeted rooms.

Thankfully, fixing this problem is simple and involves caulking under the baseboards or removing them to insert expanding foam, insulation board or ample caulk.

2) Outlets, recessed lighting openings and heating vents also proved to be major leakage points as well.

Did you know they sell these thin, foam insulation plates to place behind your outlets and energy star casings for recessed lighting?  Caulking the seals of heating vents keep cold air from our attic or basement from finding it's way into the house around the duct openings.

3) In our house, the heating duct work is almost entirely under the house (blowing up through the floor) and in the attic (blowing down through the ceiling) except for the duct that takes it from the basement into the attic up through the center of the house (next to one of the old chimneys).  All this duct work was lacking seals at the seams and insulation, leaving in some areas, significant openings where the duct was bent or twisted and therefore didn't fit/seal properly into the next section of duct work.

Foil tape seals the seams and insulation boards cut to fit or spray foam to cover the ducts will prevent precious heat from sneaking out and into the cold basement (actually crawl spaces and cellar, in our case) and attic.

4) We needed an additional 7 inches of insulation in our attic in addition to the 6 inches we already have.  Jamey has plans to blow this in himself sometime this winter.

5) Trim surrounding doors and windows needed caulking (to the doors/windows, the walls and adjoining trim pieces) and some weather stripping needed updating.

6) The wood hallway floor upstairs proves to be very cold to the touch.  When the fan was turned on and was sucking air in from the outside, it was amazing to feel cold, rushing air coming into the house through multiple knot holes in the wood flooring.  The inspector surmised that this section of our second story was likely channeling cold, outside air in through where our front porch roof is attached to the front of our house.

Jamey removed portions of the ceiling of the front porch roof and used spray foam insultaion to seal the area where porch and house adjoin.
Having the inspector spend three hours with us to show us all these issues was well worth the $300 it cost.  $300 is a lot of money, but I hate to think how much we've wasted by heating the outside.  While some of you may not be able to afford this type of inspection, my hope is that this outline of our trouble spots and the solutions will inspire you to tighten up your own house.  All of us who live in drafty houses know those spots where we feel a little breeze when we pass by.  Taking the time, on a windy day, to identify those spots and do something about them will lead to savings on your heating bills.   And who doesn't want that?

Jamey has (obviously) been very busy caulking and insulating.  Some might possibly call it an obsession, but hey.  It's productive and will lead to savings and a warmer house.  The next installment in this series will look at the new heating options we were considering (with their pros and cons, in our opinion) and what we decided to do.  Stay tuned! Pin It


  1. I'd love to hear how Jamie does the insulation in the attic. I didn't know you could blow it in yourself and ours could use some. Thanks for the tips. I'll be picking up some of those gaskets and foil tape at the hardware/lumber store.

  2. Thank you so very much for doing this post! This is something we need to do so badly but have put it off not sure if it would be try beneficial. Once again thank you!

  3. Foam insulators behind outlets also helped us in a more modern home we lived in when we first got married. Interesting that balloon framing (what you mentioned in #1) is also a culprit for drafts in a second story; I hadn't thought of that possibility before. Thanks for sharing...this will certainly help us in our renovation project!

  4. That's great that you were able to find all of those spots and do something about them. I may have to try finding the stuff to put behind the outlets and switches - our house is much better after getting all the new windows in , but I imagine it could still use some more work. Good luck getting more warmth for less money!!

    BTW - recently I have been able to post my commetns on the first try - very nice!!

  5. Thanks for sharing this great info. I learned about outlet insulators when we had an energy audit done on our house. Our electric company did it for free.

  6. we did all of the above in a certain house we had . that was neat how that contraption sits in the door way . we also had a crew come in to de-lead the house [ there is a better name for it but it escapes me know but the guys had to where space suits so not to inhale any lead particles. nice warm cozy house with new windows ,no more lead but......

  7. I've got #6 problems; during the last really cold, windy snow it was 45 degrees above zero in my bedroom. Thankfully, the 4 dogs help keep the room warm as do the flannel sheets, nightgown and spare heater shoved up against the front of the house. The pipes froze a few years ago and it was a MESS; trying to avoid all that again. Come summer, I think I'll have someone pull off the front porch boards and blow insulation between the two stories...that should help. Please God.

  8. So timely, so informative! Just forwarded to my husband - thank you!

  9. very interesting! I'm forwarding this post to my husband - we live in an old house too.

  10. Thanks for the tips! Gonna try and find someone in our area that does this. Until then, I'll be headed to Lowes for the insulation's that I know we can do. Also, we have NO Quarter round in our house so it should be easy to caulk and do our quarter round at the same time. Who would have thought that so much heat escapes from there! Also I can do the receptacles and light switches myself!

  11. AAACK! How old is your wiring? Be very careful with the boxes and switches. Old wiring used cloth/rubber insulation which is VERY VERY prone to get brittle and crack with age. Outlet box fires are so not funny.

    Yes, I've lived in old houses for years.....

  12. Thank you for sharing...have never seen the electrical outlet gaskets before.


Just a friendly reminder, if you know me personally please try to refrain from using my name. There are those who may try to locate me, break into my pantry and steal my pickled beets. Thanks:-).

Please choose the Anonymous option if you prefer not to sign in to comment.

Related Posts with Thumbnails