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Cold old house

I purchased an 80 year old 2 BR/1 BA house 6 years ago and have spent as many winters freezing with high gas bills. I need to winterize before next year. I know I need to have an more insulation put in. The house is close to the ground with just a crawl space, my floors get very cold in the winter.I also need to replace the windows which are original and very drafty. If anyone has any advice on window brands, costs, what to look for in an insulation installer, etc I would appreciate it. I am a single female homeowner in the Southeast with very little money to burn...except if it would help me to stay warm.;)

Re: Cold old house


Yes, I think you are on the right track & have your priorities straight.

The two major areas that are well worth the investment when cash is short is, as you say, insulation and tight windows.

Could you provide a little more info as to the square footage of the house, single story, two-story, number of windows, do you have AC?? ---is there enough access to the crawl space so insulation can be installed in the sub-flooring joists???

Insulation & tight windows are just as important in the summer, as in winter---the same insulation and draft-free windows designed to keep you warm in winter will allow at least a modest amount of air conditioning to keep the house cool in summer, as well.

I've had first hand experience with blown-in insulation--and strongly recommend it--the procedure is for a large truck with a blower motor and 2" hose to remove a small piece of exterior siding here & there & blow in cellulose insulation into all the hollow wall cavities of your house, as well as the attic joists, if there is presently no attic insulation.

The sub-floor joists in the crawl space are filled with rigid styrofoam, expanded foam, fiberglass blankets, etc.

This is known as "closing the envelope", so that the least amount of winter cold is let in, heat is retained & the least amount of summer heat is let in, cool air is kept in--the entire process can be done in a day or two.

Insulation costs are usually measured, surprisingly, in hundreds of dollars--so it is the first improvement that should be considered.

Consult the Yellow Pages under "Insulation" to find those who provide a blown-in insulation service; also consult neighbors, relatives and friends for referrals.

New windows are also extremely important, but the cost is measured in several THOUSANDS of dollars---it still has to be done and is an excellent investment--but perhaps will mean a low-interest home equity loan; high quality twin-glass windows of various manufacturers are strongly recommended.

Do you have any storm windows on there now that you take off in the summer, or are there combination units??

In the meantime, if you can't afford new windows (depending on the number of windows you have to replace), there is usually diy work that can be done to tighten-up existing windows, install caulking, mortite, reglaze cracked glass, etc., in preparation for next winter.

If you're handy, it's not outside the capacity of the average diy'r to buy a quality window at HD/Lowe's & install one at a time---if there is no other option, it CAN be done, especially if you don't have to work on a 2nd floor, but first check to see if money is available locally, & get some firm estimates of what the installation cost will be.

There is often some federal grants available for single homeowners at the local govt level for such home improvement--call your local city hall & ask for community service programs.

I'm sure other posters will chime in to recommend quality replacemnt window manufacturers and additional info.

Re: Cold old house


Thanks for your reply. The house is one story, about 1200 square feet. It has no hallways, just that odd design of an old house added on to. I have 6 good sized windows and two smaller ones. There is a sun room/laundry room with new, smaller, single paned windows with screens all around two of the four walls. These are the only windows in the house that I can open. I also have a set of french doors leading off onto a small porch. I have a crawl space underneath the house although there is a part near the back under the bathroom and one bedroom that is not accessable, too narrow. The attic area is small with some insulation running the length of the house.

The windows are original, no storm windows. I may have to do a few windows at a time if cost is a factor. The two windows in the front of the house seem the most drafty and more exposed. I can sit on my couch in the winter and feel the cold air come in.
The house does not get that hot in the spring and summer, my electric bills for the AC remain resonable and the house stays cool and I live in the souteast where temps and humidity can be high in summer.

I am not that handy. I have done some indoor painting, assembeled boxed furniture, mow my lawn with an electric mower, nothing too hard.

Thanks for the info. I think insulation will be my first step. I have reasearched some reliable window brands, Anderson looks good and so do some of the Pella windows. If anyone has any suggestions I would appriciate it.


Re: Cold old house

I'm in upstate SC. Down here, attic insulation should be your first step. Aim for a value of R-30, but at least 8-10 inches os some kind of insulation is the bare minimum. If you've got that I would do the windows next, then the walls, and then the floors. This is the most cost-effective plan for this area though it will be different elsewhere. Our winters aren't bad at all compared to a lot of places, and our summers tend to be hot. Your ceiling will lose heat in the winter and your attic will bake you in the summer if it isn't insulated fairly well. While you're up there make sure there's good ventilation. Some older houses built down here aren't vented at all(!) or have windows up there which are supposed to be opened in the summer, though nobody does that and even then, these small windows just don't give you enough attic ventilation. Your walls may prove to be a problem if the house was balloon framed, as many old houses down here were. This means that they are open top and bottom between the studs, and these have to be sealed at the bottom before insulation can be blown into the walls or it will fall out the bottom. Insulating your floors is a break-even thing in this area so think of that as more of a 'barefoot comfort' issue. You did mention something that you need to address and that is your crawlspace.

You didn't mention if the crawlspace was enclosed, but if it isn't then get it closed in to keep the wind out in the winter. Wet rot from air and soil humudity is quite common and you need to be able to crawl under EVERY part of your house to check for that, and the space is necessary for air flow to keep the rot away. Termites aren't a huge problem here but they're big enough to need to watch out for, which means getting to everything under the house. You need good ventilation there as well in the summer. Using closable crawlspace vents(or installing them)may not save you a lot on heating and cooling but they will save you a huge floor joist repair bill later. Close them in the winter and open them in the spring. If you have a high humidity problem in winter open one vent on the least windy side of the house. While you're down there cover the soil with heavy-gauge poly but keep 1 foot away from all exterior walls and support piers. Most folks here are happy with a properly maintained crawlspace and no floor insulation, or floor insulation only where there are wood or tile floors. Carpet and padding are quite effective at keeping your feet comfortable in our winters here. IMHO the climate in this part of the world is as mild as life gets in one place year-round. With the exception of 'mill houses', most older houses(pre 1940) here were well built but were uninsulated, or just had a bit in the ceiling only. They didn't know better back then when heating fuel was cheap but we can do a lot better today, so insulate, rewindow, and fix that crawlspace. Then you'll see your bills go down, your comfort level go up, and have a house that will last you a lifetime.


Re: Cold old house

Hi Lilypotter,

I am also a single female homeowner. I found the task of window shopping was a bit overwhelming but I am happy to say I finally found a window company I think I'll be happy with. The key for me was that they specialize in Historic homes. I have a 94 yr old twin with 17 of the original wood windows in Pennsylvania. The sales rep did not pressure me. He gave me several suggestions from restoration to vinyl replacement. I wanted ENERGY STAR windows and wanted to keep the look of my originals. I googled ENERGY STAR and found a government website that lists approved vendors by state. Then I looked up the local Preservation Society and found a directory of local vendors. I decided on Silverline by Andersen and an aluminum wood clad window by Trimline.
I interviewed 9 company's. Most of which I realized were going to over charge me. Do not let anyone tell you the estimate is only good for that day. Do not let them tell you references are not important. Talk to your neighbors with similar homes, see if they have had work done and if they are happy.
The January/ February 2008 issue of This Old HOuse has an article on replacement windows and The Best of Fine Homebuilding Winter 2008 had a more comprehensive write up on the types of windows.

Sorry for being so wordy. I hope I helped. Good Luck.

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