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Making Your Old House More Energy Efficient
June, 2010

Written for the June Belmont Heights Community Association Newsletter

I'm asked quite often, "What can I do to make my old 1920's home more energy efficient?"

This is not such an easy question to answer but I'd like to provide some recommendations to consider. The most important plan of action is to start with the family. Turning off lights and computers when not in use, changing out those old incandescent bulbs to energy efficient Compact Fluorescent ones can potentially save you up to $300 per year. Take quicker showers, turn off the faucet while brushing teeth, and use cold water instead of hot where possible. These steps will reduce overall energy consumption.

Beyond general conservation of our resources, there are many other home improvement projects that can increase efficiency. Windows, attic, wall and floor insulation, heating and cooling systems, and large appliances can make the most impact.

Windows: If you have a period style home, your wood windows are an asset to its architecture as well as its energy efficiency. Wood provides better insulation than vinyl, and if your windows were built before about 1946, the window sills and jambs are likely made from old redwood, which repels termites and mold. Sashes back then were often made of Douglas fir that had been dipped in a borate solution to repel bugs and mold. It can be quite reasonable to repair rather than replace these windows, for properly maintained wood can last a century or more.

Insulation: Most of our older homes in the area have little or no insulation. Attic insulation with an R-Value (Resistance to heat flow through a material) of R-30 or greater is best. Wall insulation with an R-11 or R13 value is good and R-30 insulation in your floor space. You can consider Denim, Soy Based Cellulose, and Foam as options for materials on the "Green" side.

Heating and Cooling: If you're looking to install a new forced air system (central heating), consider going the extra mile for a Sealed Combustion unit of 95% efficiency or greater with a multi stage fan. This system vents directly to the exterior of your home eliminating the CO2 gasses that come from lower efficiency units. Air conditioners should have as high a SEER rating as you can afford to reduce the impact on your utility bill. Be sure to change the filters regularly too, they get dirty quickly with the ocean breezes and can have an effect on the quality of air and efficiency of the unit.

Appliances: Look for appliances that are Energy-Star Qualified. These are units that meet or exceed state levels of efficiencies for energy and resource consumption.

Solar Panels: Photovoltaic Solar Panels are a great option for immediate offset of electricity costs. Your roof may need to be reinforced to support the additional weight of the panels so be sure you consult a qualified installer. The systems themselves can be expensive to purchase outright depending on the size of the solar array you need to supplement your electrical needs but many companies have options for leasing and there continues to be rebates available. The best place for the panels may be on the south or west facing roof of your garage which is hopefully toward the rear of your property - out of eye-shot from the street.

Materials: Select interior finish materials that have little or no VOC's (Volatile Organic Compounds). Paint, carpet, flooring and floor adhesives, cabinet materials and stains are but a few materials that can "off-gas" over time and affect indoor air quality.

These are all cost effective ways to reduce your energy consumption, increase your "green points" and do something for our environment.

If you'd like some assistance with direction or "where best to put your valuable dollar" don't hesitate to give us a call.

By Jeff Jeannette, Architect, Jeannette Architects