Winterizing your older home

By Steve DiMattia
Resident Community News

“There’s no winter in Florida,” people who live here like to boast, unless, of course, they live on the First Coast! Especially if they live in an older home.
“There’s no question that the Historic District’s older, often drafty and poorly insulated homes present special challenges during winter,” said Angel Corrales, owner of MOHR Historic Restoration (My Old House Restoration) and a 20-year Avondale resident.
Pat Petty, owner of Lean Home Jax in Riverside, identified the biggest culprit: “Stopping air infiltration is the most important and least expensive thing a homeowner can do, and they can do much of it on their own.”
The first step is an energy efficiency evaluation or audit. Current energy consumption is measured, areas of air infiltration are identified and recommendations for improvement are made. The Jacksonville Electric Authority also offers free audits and also free do-it-yourself home energy efficiency kits via the Jacksonville Public Library.
Corrales and Petty point to four areas of focus to keep the cool air out…and money in: insulation, electrical and plumbing penetration, doors and windows.
When considering insulation, the National Trust for Historic Preservation has these recommendations:
“When selecting the right insulating materials for an older or historic building, make sure that it has good thermal properties while allowing for the evaporation of moisture…Spray foam insulating is not recommended in historic buildings, as it can hinder air flow and lead to the rotting of timber frame members. We find that some expanding spray and other isocyanates work well to fill certain voids, but we do not favor their use as wall cavity insulation…We also support using more sustainable or natural materials, such as wood, plant fiber, or wool. Natural materials are especially recommended for attic insulation because they are so breathable.”
Corralis said most energy is lost through the attic and crawl spaces. He recommends R-39 fiberglass batts (pre-cut lengths), which are efficient and easy to install. Purchase at hardware stores for around 75 cents per square foot. Corralis estimates a two-year return on investment in most cases. Wool or other natural materials are more eco-friendly but they are also more expensive.
Once insulation is addressed, electrical and plumbing penetration should be the next point of attack. These include electrical outlets, light switches, phone and cable jacks, and all plumbing pipes.
The fixes are generally cheap and easy. Fill plumbing penetration with insulation and use gaskets and insulator kits for electrical outlets; Duck makes “Socket Sealers,” which are pre-cut to fit outlets. Corrales also recommends a product called “Great Stuff” foam to fill very small gaps or around drain pipes in the tub.
Leaky doors are also an easy fix. Caulking, spray foam and rope putty fill gaps between the door and frame. Corralis suggested hiring someone for about $90 to rout out the doorframe and install insulation strips. You can also use silicon or rubber strips; M-D Building Products offers a wide variety of options under $30. Wood is a poor insulator, so the idea is to keep wood from hitting wood.
It is the same idea around windows. Fill gaps with caulk, rope putty or insulation strips. Adding storm windows helps and even curtains make a difference. If you never use the window, painting it permanently shut is always an option. Corralis and Petty stressed that repairing windows is better than replacing them in terms of energy efficiency and long term cost benefit.
“For old historic homes it is a lot of money to get windows that look good and last; you have to pay a small fortune. It takes 30-40 years for replacement windows to pay for themselves. Plus having to get city approval. Why swim upstream?” Petty said.
A final money-saving point of focus is the hot water heater. An insulation blanket saves money and keeps water warm. Petty suggested a tankless water heater, which provides hot water only as needed for less than 14 cents per kilowatt-hour. He also notes that nearly all of Riverside and Old Ortega are on a natural gas line, which is about 7 cents per kwh.
“Natural gas is cleaner, more efficient and cheaper than coal. Of every dollar spent on your home, 40 percent goes to heating and cooling; 17 to18 percent of that goes to heating water. You’re leaving money on the table by not using gas to heat water,” Petty said.
Petty and Corrales encourage homeowners to do their research and apply the options that work best for their home and budget.
“Weatherizing an old home is easier than what most people think, it just takes a little knowledge and lots of patience,” Corrales said.

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