Maximizing Old Home Living

This blog is about living in Midtown Montgomery. And if you’re lucky enough to live there, there’s a good chance that you live in an older home. As such, this marks the start of a new feature here on MML, authored by our newest writer, Heather Coleman. Heather’s posts are going to focus on the sometimes-bewildering, but always interesting elements of living in (and working on) classic homes. The costs of living in an older home can be (but aren’t necessarily) high, but the rewards are (almost always) higher.

Living in an older home has its benefits, but energy efficiency is typically not one of them! Like many of you, my heating bill has soared to new heights this winter. This caused me to take a good hard look around the house and see what I could do to lower it.

We already do most of the typical stuff to save energy—use compact fluorescents, try and turn off whatever we aren’t using, have a programmable thermostat that we set to sub-arctic temps overnight, wash in cold, etc. Our attic is decently insulated for an older home. We even have storm windows that really help with our drafty old windows. Still, our heating bills manage to be more than our car payment in winter months!

I did a little reading online and felt like we were doing most of the things that we could as far as behavior goes to reduce our bill, so I decided to look into physical causes. Because poorly maintained heating units can be a huge energy drain, a checkup of our unit seemed like a good place to start. Ours checked out fine. It is on the older side but we replaced the filter (crucial to air exchange!), had it cleaned, and it should get us through another winter. A new unit would be more energy efficient, but it would take us 3 to 5 years to recoup the investment, and I’m not sure that we plan to be in our house that long.

The guy who cleaned the unit suggested that we check our doors and windows for leaks. I remembered the smoke test from my reading — basically you take a stick of incense or a candle and walk around holding it to the perimeter of your doors, windows and light fixtures. If the smoke is drawn to them, you have a leak. Leaks are easily fixed with caulk, weather stripping or in some instances, bits of insulation — so I was hopeful.

We did have a few areas that needed caulking and our front door had some pretty significant drafts. I replaced the weather-stripping around the door and added a new sweep to the bottom. The difference was immediately noticeable!

I also discovered that the 70” sliding glass door that was added when the house was remodeled in 1964 was leaking badly around the entire perimeter and where the slider meets. For now I bought an insulation kit for the door, which is basically shrink wrap — very easy to install with a hair dryer. It helped, but replacing this door definitely just got bumped up on the priority list!

Poorly insulated ducts, or ducts that have come apart was another cause that I found for high heating bills, so I crawled up in the attic to check the situation there. We had several ducts that were completely without insulation, and another couple with leaking joints. A bit of metal tape from Moody’s on the joints and a little insulation around the ducts and I feel like we may actually not be heating the attic now! I also checked so see if the hot water heater and pipes were insulated while I was up there, and they are not, so that’s my next project.

Overall I feel like the changes that I made were inexpensive, and hopefully the savings will more than make up for the little that I spent. Replacing the slider and wrapping the pipes and water heater in the coming months should reduce the bill even further. Not hearing the constant hum of the heater will be a welcome change!

Heather Coleman is a freelance writer and part-time DIY’er who mostly manages to fit her projects in around her family and her volunteer work. She lives with her husband, two boys and two pets in Midtown.

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