Top Four Guidelines for Insulating an Older Home

Older homes have a charmingly unique quality seldom found in newly constructed homes. The walls and doors are thicker, sturdier and do a better job of preserving privacy than new homes with their paper-thin walls. Additionally, older houses are most to enjoy the presence of mature shade trees, which helps mitigate one of their worst drawbacks. Older homes are more difficult to heat and cool due to their lack of adequate insulation. However for those who prefer the historic look of an older home there is hope if you take these four guidelines to heart.

Respect the house – Understand that your house was not built to be airtight. Unlike modern homes, which are built to keep out moisture, homes built years ago where built to “breathe”. Since a method of preventing moisture and vapor from moving through the house had not been developed, it was necessary to allow airflow to counter-act the moisture. Before deciding on a plan for insulating your house, consulting with air sealing contractors is a good first step.

Plug air leaks – Windows, doors, pipes and electrical plates are all points where heated or cooled air can escape. A combination of caulking and weather-stripping will go a long way but replacing old windows is an even better option if you can bear to part with your original ones. Air sealing contractors can really lend valuable advice, even for those who wish to do most or all of the work themselves. Air sealing contractors will also be able to offer advice about air loss through chimneys and fireplaces, both serious leaking air culprits.

Start at the top – The first place to add insulation is the attic. Old houses work like chimneys, funneling warm air up to the attic and outside. Besides the fact that this is where most of the heat is lost, it is also the easiest place to start insulating. You have three choices in attic insulation.

  • Fiberglass batting – The easiest for homeowners to do themselves
  • Blown cellulose – Possible to do with rented equipment
  • Foam spray – Definitely a job best left to professional insulation contractors

Homeowners decide which insulation is best for their individual situation by considering the recommendations of air sealing contractors and insulation contractors as well as cost and convenience.

Approach wall insulation with care – There is much debate over the advisability of insulating exterior walls in an older house. This is where the expertise of professionals is vitally important. However before you take anyone’s word on the subject, read as much as you can about exterior wall insulation. In that way you can be in a better position to determine if the air sealing contractors and insulation contractors are being honest with you. Your choices in exterior wall insulation are:

  • Blown cellulose – A popular choice for its convenience, but many insulation contractors do not recommend it due to problems that can develop years later from its use. In some cases, it might be appropriate but only an air sealing contractors can tell you for sure if it is advisable in your situation
  • Rigid board insulation – Perfect if you are going to install siding but otherwise very expensive because it involves removal of existing siding or clapboard

Although there are limitations in insulation options for an older home, considerable improvement can be realized by the options that are available. The homeowner can do a lot of the work but seeking the recommendation of insulation contractors is crucial to keep from trading one problem for another. Additionally, some of the work is best left to a professional; while doing the work that is beyond the owner’s skill level advice from insulation contractors can help the them learn to do as much as possible.

Nancy Seddens, a lifelong resident of south central Ohio, has spent the last 38 years in the house her grandfather built in 1924.

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