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chynesniang
Cold brownstone
chynesniang

I live in a beautiful, historic Brownstone in Upstate NY. It was built around 1873. Miraculously, it retains most of the original woodwork, plaster mouldings/walls, hardwood floors, marble fireplaces (5), etc. With that being said, it also has all the original, DRAFTY windows, 12 to be exact, and 2 newer windows that are installed incorrectly. Along with the drafty, old windows, I've noticed that the house always feels a lot colder than the outside temperature. Why is that? Even in the Summer months, I've noticed this; which at times, I don't mind, b/c it saves on the cost of using an AC; however, once we enter into the Fall months, and we have those unusual, but pleasantly warm days, my house still feels extremely cold! I find myself having to open my front door and all windows, just to get the warm air inside. I would like to know what is causing my house to feel so cold even when it's warm outside, and how can I fix it?

Any good advise is appreciated!

ed21
Re: Cold brownstone
ed21

I'm guessing the house is built with solid masonry walls so they act as sort of a heat sink. When it cools off at night the walls do too and it takes them a while to warm up. So there is a lag in the temperature you feel in the house. I don't know the orientation of the house,but I would guess you may not get a lot of direct sun, that would help the warming. When you say brownstone I think of row houses that have neighbors and more buffer to the outside temperature. I've felt the same thing before in ununsulated masonry buildings. All you can do is open the windows.
Then again I lived in a masonry townhouse that would soak up the heat and sun all day in the summer and radiate the heat back into the house all night.

NashuaTech
Re: Cold brownstone
NashuaTech

I would agree with ed21-----upper New York State gets very cold in the winter---I would suggest having some heating and insulation contractors (they usually come in for no charge) into the house to check out things like how efficiently the fireplaces are in heating the building---is there any other source of heat??? The EXTERIOR walls would have to be tightened up in various ways----any windows leaking air (this is a common problem that wastes a lot of heat) have to be replaced with double-pane modern windows---I would recommend this with nearly all of the windows----if there are any wall cavities in the exterior walls (there are usually some) have to have blown-in insulation to increase the R-value of the walls to prevent any heat produced inside the house from escaping to the great outdoors.

The more contractors you have come into the house to evaluate, the better chance you will have of being able to form a clear-cut opinion as to what direction you should take on this deal & how much $$$ you should spend---this could involve big bucks---like installing a new heating system & blocking up most, if not all of the fireplaces.

There are support organizations of people who live in brownstones in the NYC area & upstate NY who freely share ideas on the issues connected with living in brownstones & can make informed suggestions on which way to go on these issues---make some inquiries at local govt offices & local libraries as to one that may be near you.

Seth
Re: Cold brownstone
Seth
NashuaTech wrote:

-any windows leaking air (this is a common problem that wastes a lot of heat) have to be replaced with double-pane modern windows---I would recommend this with nearly all of the windows----

Eek. Not only is that not quite accurate but replacement windows often ravage the character of old homes, and unless you plan on living there 50+ years (not that they last that long) they will never pay for themselves with energy savings, meaning you ruined your home's look and threw original woodwork and wavy glass into a landfill for nothing.

A much simpler, greener, more economical, and historically appropriate solution is storm windows. They are a fraction of the cost, can go up in a day and are an easy DIY project. Their original windows are probably made from extremely stable old-growth wood that just needs a little TLC and weather stripping, maybe a new sash cord (or copper-dipped chain) which in combination with a low-e storm window can make them more efficient than any double pane replacement window. Modern windows are made from vinyl and plastics that warp, twist and crack and can't be repaired. Their original windows have already lasted 142 years and can last 150+ more with some TLC. You're lucky if you get 20-30 years from an unservicable replacement window, many need re-replacement within a few years.

My 1865 Second Empire has a few wood and vinyl replacement windows from the 1980s or 90s. They don't stay open, randomly slam down, don't close tight, are warped, the wood ones are rotting, and are so hard to open my fiance won't even try, and there is nothing I can do to fix them. The 150-year-old original windows still work great, however, operating easily and smoothly. I installed storm windows myself with no ladder needed except around the replacement windows (their smaller opening meant I couldn't slide the storm out the window). The storms also have the added benefit of blocking a ton of road noise.

hollasboy
Re: Cold brownstone
hollasboy

I'm a big fan of modern, efficient windows - I think they do pay for themselves in some cases. I live the south, where the bulk of our energy costs (and losses) revolve around air conditioning in the warm 9 months of the year. In my house, I replaced 32 single pane windows with modern, argon-gas-filled windows with low-e silver tint. I can now hold my hand in front of the window on a 100 degree day, with direct sunlight, and barely feel the heat. Before, the heat was unbearable from the direct August sun in front of any window that caught direct sunlight. It was a literal greenhouse effect. My windows cost around $8,800 installed, and my electric bill (mostly AC energy) instantly went from $400/month in the summer to $200/month. Given that only about 6 months of the year get that hot in Houston, I figure I'm saving $1,000 to $1,200 every year. Windows were my biggest energy loss item in my old house with lots and lots of windows (built with 4 in every room due to no AC in the 1920's).

However, old windows don't always have to go. There are 2 main things that cause temperature loss from old windows:

1) Drafting of air between interior and exterior, caused by loose fitting window parts (sash on sill, sash on sash, sash on stop, missing caulk on pane edges, etc.).
2) Heat convection through the single pane of glass and wood frame.

1) is easily remedied through maintenance, maybe some carpentry, fine tune adjustments, weatherstripping, and/or caulking and painting. Most DIY'ers have the tools and skills to fix 1. When old windows were originally installed in the then-new building, there were functional but tight and did not allow a lot of air movement. Over time, they warp and wear loose unless they are kept tight and maintained.

2) is not easily remedied outside of complete replacement with a more modern alternative, like I described above. You cannot make an old 1950's pickup get 40 miles per gallon. Same with an old window.

Seth
Re: Cold brownstone
Seth

It's funny you say that, because I was quoting the payoff numbers from an energy audit I had done when I lived in South Texas. Depending on the window the estimate was 48 years to 60 years to break even. In all likelihood the window won't last that long though.

Also, it takes a lot less energy to cool a house 10-20 degrees than it takes to heat a house 40-80 degrees. That's why insulation standards are so much higher in the North.

The effect of not feeling the heat from the sun you describe is due to low-e glass. Low-e storms give the same effect for a fraction of the cost.

Your analogy isn't really apt as the 1) and 2) you describe are both easily remedied with a storm window, no matter how old the underlying window. Far easier than ripping out the old windows and replacing them, putting up waterproof membranes, repairing siding, trim, drywall, repainting, working on ladders, etc. that's for sure. All I needed was a power screwdriver and some caulk. In fact it's possible that a storm window is even better than a double pane replacement window for number 2) due to having more space between the layers of glass, but others argue that could make it worse if there is enough room for convection to occur between the panes, but we are talking a fraction of 1 R at this point. Either way, a double pane replacement window is about R-2, a storm window over a window is about R-2. I don't think anyone will notice a 1 R improvement to 5% of their house's surface area (never mind a fraction of 1 R), but they will notice the lack of drafts and a low-e coating as you described. And I certainly noticed how much sound storms block, we haven't been woken up by drunk college students since installing them. My neighbors have replacement windows and are still bothered by road noise.

That said, there is a limit to by window snobbishness: if the house is already pretty modern there is nothing wrong with the look of a modern replacement window, and different people have different tastes and priorities. It's just when people put mis-sized faux-colonial or casement windows (and/or vinyl siding) on a Victorian I die a little inside.

keith3267
Re: Cold brownstone
keith3267

A lot of the drafts are most likely caused by settling of the building. Whether you decide to replace the windows or restore, the old widows have to come out and the opening squared up again.

For a quality job either way, you can expect to pay around $400 per window and up. I am inclined to go with the restoration and low e storms but there are high quality replacement windows and qualified installers to put them in.

The walls of the Brownstone, if they are thick enough are conducting heat from the air to the ground. They are a giant heat sink and will try to maintain the ground temperature, which is about 58 degrees F. This may not seem that cold, but it sucks the heat out of everything around it, including you.

You can insulate against this by building a 2x4 wall and putting batt insulation in it. If you all ready have a 2x4 wall, it probably is not insulated and it probably has lath and plaster. I would rip out the lath and plaster, replace all old wiring and then insulate and sheetrock over, but this would actually be my last step. First do the windows and doors, then the attic insulation followed by the rim insulation. This is the cavities around the edge of the first floor between the joists and along the last joists on each side. This will help keep the floors warm.

Mastercarpentry
Re: Cold brownstone
Mastercarpentry

I think keith3267 has the right approach. Your first focus should be on ceilings, windows, doors, and framed walls as they are the easiest and most ecomonical places to gain energy efficiency. And that might be enough for you with nothing more done.

Those brownstone walls have thermal mass, that is they hold energy in the form of heat or cool and release it slowly during times when the ambient temperature is different. The main effect, as you've discovered, is that thermal mass smooths out temperature changes. And with their large ground contact area, there will be a tendency for them to be better for cooling than heating. If you insulate them you will lose whatever advantage they give you in the summer but in your climate that would be more beneficial than detrimental since they would no longer be trying to remove and hold the heat you provide and have to pay for in the winter.

Old structures like these were designed and made differently than today's buildings for many reasons. One very important aspect back then which has changed is fire protection. In the days when your home was built that was it's highest risk and those brownstone walls could act as a firebreak and save it from a fire burning next door. With nothing but buckets of water available to fight fires once one started there was little chance of saving a burning home and fires which destroyed much of a town were not uncommon. Those walls were also durable and made with the intent of lasting as long as was possible since there was a huge amount of effort involved in quarrying, cutting, transporting, and building back before machinery was able to do most of that work for us. Wasting of effort was an unpardonable sin back then; in today's world we throw everything away wasting all as if it doesn't matter. Sometimes these brownstone walls were also used structurally to support other parts of the building, again avoiding waste. Not much thought was given to heating because back then there was not much heat to be had anyway with just fireplaces in most homes. People adapted and did most of their living during daylight hours when it was warmer, spending most of the cooler night hours under heavy quilts in bed as well as wearing more clothing when awake than we do now. Oil lamps for lighting also gave off far more heat than electric lighting does. These were actually pretty high-tech homes for their time and still posses some admirable qualities beyond appearance alone which is what they are most valued for today. We can do a lot to bring them up to today's standards of life without losing their character or strengths and charm. If you want an ultra-efficient home then get a modern one which will be much the same as your neighbors all have, but if you want a home with individual style you can appreciate living in daily, restore this one and leave it with it's historical appeal intact. Fix the windows you have and leave the plastic McMansions for those who think they are better, your home will be around long after theirs is long gone.

Phil

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