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1897 Victorian and HVAC

Greetings all,

I have an 1897 2-story Victorian in a historic district in central SC. The house has no subfloor under the flooring. Beadboard walls and ceiling throughout. 11' ceilings and very large rooms. When we bought the house 15 years ago, we had a HVAC contractor install central A/C and natural gas heat. Two systems: upstairs traditional split system, downstairs gas pack. The downstairs system has begun to fail (A/C) and we need to plan to replace it within 6-8 months. Having trouble locating a contractor who can give us good advice on a system. The company that has been doing preventive maintenance for the last 5 years is reluctant to take on the project because of the character of newer equipment and the results of our blower door test (28 stages ??) which shows the house is extremely loose. Can anyone give any guidance for contractors, equipment manufacturers, consultants? Tightening the house (sealing floors, replacing windows, insulating walls) is financially prohibitive. Any thoughts?

Thanks in advance,

Re: 1897 Victorian and HVAC

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Re: 1897 Victorian and HVAC

I'm no HVAC expert but I can tell you there are inexpensive yet effective ways to tighten a house that I've worked on in my own (1881) house.

Heat is lost in two main ways: By radiation of heat, and by actual loss of heated air.

The actual air loss is what the blower test is measuring. So what you need to do is seal up holes and gaps where the air is escaping. Fiberglass insulation is not going to do so much for that. You need to find the holes.
Heat rises. This means holes at the top of your house are going to be the worst for heat loss.

Lots of places for holes to be:
1) Check the seal on the attic hatch. This is a big, big potential hole. Air can easily get sucked into the attic. Get some foam insulation tape and apply it to the hatch and the rim of the access hole and whenever you close the hatch make sure it is seated securely. ( This made a HUGE difference in my house. )

2) Around light fixtures. If there's a gap at the edge of the electrical junction box air will get sucked up through it easily. Seal it with caulk or foam in a can ("Great Stuff" brand)

3) Around light switches. Air escapes around the switch box and into the walls. You can get foam insulating pads for light switches at any home supply store.

4) Around windows. No you do NOT necessarily need new windows.
Problems windows can have:
a) If the actual glass is loose in the frames, you can have them re-glazed. (You can do this yourself or get a window repairman to do it. Not a big pricey deal.
b) There are gaps between the window sash and the jamb. You can purchase metal compression weatherstripping to tighten them up (such as this http://windowrepair.com/spring-bronze-weatherstripping/)
Or you can get rope caulk from your local store and press it into the gaps. The rope caulk will have to be removed when you want to open the windows but it will keep them tight for winter.

5) Up the fireplace chimney. If your fireplace has a damper, close it.
If it doesn't have a damper, and you don't intend to use it you can do a few things temporarily: Get a big garbage bag, fill it with insulation or newspaper or something, and stuff it in the throat of the chimney. (I did this) (Warning-- be sure you don't ever start a fire without removing it!!) Or seal the fireplace opening with plastic sheeting and duct tape. Or block up the chimney from the top if you can get to it (also another situation where you don't want to start a fire!!)

6) Around doors. Since doors are on the lower parts of a house, not so much heat is lost there, but-- if there are holes in the TOP level of the house, cold air will get sucked in around the doors to make up for hot air lost at the top. So since you're never going to get things 100% sealed up top you need to deal with this too. Use weatherstripping around the doors--- either the bronze spring kind or the stick-on foam tape. Is there a big old fashioned keyhole in the door? Spray foam into it to seal it.

7) Your floors--- if there are gaps in the floors that would definitely be a big place for cold air infiltration. Can you at least cover them with rugs? That will help.

8) Around plumbing pipes. Seal them with caulk or foam "Great Stuff".

Oh-- and here's a way to FIND the leaks-- You'll need to wait until it is significantly colder outside than inside. Then turn off the HVAC and any fans. Get an incense stick. Light it and see where the smoke goes. Hold it near all the possible leakage places and see if the smoke gets sucked into any holes.

Good luck.

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