Making More Efficient Homes

Now, I really am not one to be talking about this – I’m buying a home that (I was told by the neighbor) had a $600 electric bill last winter!

What?  $600 a month??  (I’ve said before, this house will be a great exercise in “greening” a property in an environmentally sound way – no bamboo floors, lol)

Let’s put that $600 a month in perspective…

The house is 1800 square feet. I’m pretty sure that despite what everyone is telling me, the square footage listed is only for the first floor.  The second floor, which you will see pictures of in a minute, isn’t liveable by a long shot.

Take a look at this picture:

Second Floor Crawlspace

What do you see?  That’s right!  No insulation. None.  Not at all. January temperatures average a low of 30 – that means a TON of heat is escaping through the attic.

Edit: It’s been pointed out to me by both my husband and a wonderful reader that there is insulation in the floor.  That was my oversight – I thought it was flooring.  That’s good news for the downstairs, but this crawlspace is the “closet” for the main bedroom upstairs, which means that the second floor is still largely uninsulated.

Okay, now check out this picture:

Upstairs Bedroom Windows

Upstairs Bedroom Windows

Okay, the plastic is a start.  Too bad it was put on in March, according to the stickers a professional winterizer put on all the windows.  And is the window broken?  Or is that just the storm window?  (And I’m aghast at that electric light hookup!)
Both of those pictures are from what will one day be the boys’ room.

But I’m not done yet!

One more:

The laundry room

The "laundry" room

That’s what became of the laundry room.  The man who owned the house before us was renovating it, and he seems to have known what he was doing, but he never got to finish.  Now, I’m not saying it’s a big contributor to that $600 electric bill, but that uninsulated water heater is sitting right in the line of fire every time someone opens up the back door on a cold day.  And that’s the main back door to the carport, so at our house, it will open and close constantly.

I’m also willing to bet money (except I don’t gamble) that the pipes under the house – it’s a crawlspace – are not wrapped.

So – the previous owner’s biggest mistake was probably sprucing up the living areas when the house desperately needed an energy efficiency makeover. (Of course, to give him the benefit of the doubt, the kitchen and baths were updated – they may have been unlivable when he moved in.)

That brings me to the WeeEssentials household plan of attack to be completed B.W.S. (Before Winter Strikes)

1. Replace all the windows with high efficiency windows. This will be expensive, but worth its weight in gold.  Also replace the front door and doorjamb, which the neighbor joked would fall off the hinges if you sneezed at it too hard.

2. Add lots and lots of insulation to the crawlspaces before framing in real closets (since that crawlspace above is what they considered the bedroom closet.)

3. The water heater will likely be removed entirely in lieu of an inline water heating system. An inline system would not only be more efficient, it will give us more space, which we desperately need in order to set up a laundry room that you can move around in.  There are two back doors just feet from each other, so eventually the door pictured above may be closed in.

4. Pipes under the house must be checked and wrapped. Even if we do the inline system, this will keep the pipes from both becoming even colder (requiring more electricity to heat) but also keep them from freezing if we have a cold snap.

5. Replace the HVAC unit and run ductwork to the rooms upstairs.  The HVAC unit is old (and probably not very efficient) plus it will not be able to handle the extra load put on it by the additional upstairs ducts.

6. Have fireplace/chimney professionally cleaned and repaired if necessary.  A damper that doesn’t work lets warm air right up the chimney and out of the house!

These are the main things – I’m sure we’ll do many smaller things too, like placing rugs on uncarpeted areas to give the impression of warmth and replacing old lightbulbs with CFLs (or, more likely, replacing the entire – missing – fixtures.)

It should be an interesting journey. I plan to document our restoration/renovation – a “true” green renovation.  I don’t expect that we will do it perfectly, that we will be perfectly green, but I look forward to an opportunity to take a house that sucks resources and make it efficient!
I welcome any suggestions!


9 responses to this post.

  1. this should be a very educational process and i look forward to reading it. have you also considered the various types of solar water heaters?
    i would probably start with insulating your attic and wrapping your pipes under the house since winter is looming.


    • Solar water heaters are a great idea! I don’t know if they would work or not, because there are several 200 year old maples on the property, and they shade everything. We have to cut them back, though, because they are trying to get in the windows!


  2. Posted by Holly Piper-Smith on September 23, 2009 at 3:17 pm

    Hey, brand new to your blog and enjoying it already – I came over from LJ via one of your comments.

    Question, though: isn’t that insulation on the attic floor?


    • You are absolutely right! I haven’t had a chance to edit it yet. My husband pointed out to me that the floor is insulated. ( I thought it was flooring)

      That’s definitely better for the downstairs, but that means that there’s still nothing insulating the second floor.

      I’d better edit my post. Thanks for coming over!


      • Posted by Holly on September 23, 2009 at 3:56 pm

        I can’t wait to read more of your blog! I think we’re leading parallel lives – trying to be frugal and green, living in older houses that make being both of these things sometimes difficult.

        We live in a 100+ year old brick house. Thank goodness it’s brick as the insulation is totally shot and is very high up on our list of the more pricey renovations we have to do. The windows are old and our attic windows resemble yours, except the plastic on it was done by us, not by professionals, and yes, those ARE huge cracks in the glass! We have the insulated attic floor but not roof like you do, and it’s doing us ok, but like you, when we are ready to finish off some of that floor, we will need to insulate the “ceiling” too.

        Being a homeowner is so much fun! ;p

      • That’s so cool! You’ll have to share any tips or tricks you have with me! We’ve done renovation before, but nothing this extensive. The house itself is dirt cheap for the area, though, so we know we’ll get lots of sweat equity from it, even in this market.

        We’re moving in two weeks, so my blog has pretty much ground to a halt, but I’ll be back after this is over (whenever that happens, lol.)

  3. Looks like you have your work cut out for you. Good luck!!


  4. […] will admit, our electricity bill last month was $550!  Not much better than the $600 electric bill I mentioned our neighbor had a past winter.  This set off yet another flurry of draft-searching […]


  5. […] (Our bill last month for electricity, which includes all systems, was about $335.  If you remember this post about the house, you’ll understand how much work we’ve already done!)  So this weekend, my husband got […]


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