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Identifying Energy Inefficiencies in Older Homes

Following are some observations and tips on improving energy efficiency in old houses without damaging their historic character.

Older homes are much loved for their character and individuality. But lurking behind those charming and distinctive dormer windows, hardwood floors, brick walls and feature chimneys are a host of problems that can make older houses especially vulnerable to energy inefficiencies. Every leak and crack not only results in higher utility bills, but they can possibly even pose health and safety hazards.

Problems in older houses need to be addressed so that money is not – literally – leaking out the windows. The key to improving energy efficiency is to identify the weaknesses and implement solutions. Some of these solutions might be simple, while others require professional attention in order to reduce energy bills, ensure your family’s comfort and protect the value of your home.

Here are four of the most common telltale problems that could indicate an older house has energy inefficiencies:

1. Drafts

Inefficient single-pane windows, ill-fitting doors and other gaps may account for over 25% of heating and cooling energy bills in an older home.

Keeping windows and doors locked whenever possible will ensure a tighter seal against cold air. Even keeping curtains and drapes drawn can prevent some heat from escaping.

However, to effectively improve the energy efficiency caused by drafts, you will first need to identify all the gaps and cracks. Inspect windows and doors to see if they seal tightly, and check to see if latches and locks are still operable. Where gaps are visible on frames, weather-stripping can be applied. Caulking around casings and glass panes may also be replaced.

Weather-stripping and caulking can sometimes work as temporary solutions, but they are still just papering over the cracks. In order to achieve substantial savings and long-term solutions, replacements should be considered. Heat loss through inefficient single-pane windows can be reduced by over 25% with storm windows, and there can be even greater reductions with special high-efficiency units.

There are several other sources of potential cold infiltration and heat loss in older homes. Gaps surrounding permanently installed air-conditioning and other utility units and vents are all potential energy-loss traps.

Unfortunately, many drafts can be difficult to detect because they can be the result of hidden problems… primarily, poor insulation.

2. Poor Insulation

Poor insulation can be the bane of the older home. Because hot air rises, energy can easily escape through the roof – and that is where the majority of heat loss in an energy-inefficient home will likely be occurring. If you notice that snow melts rapidly on your roof, it is because an excessive amount of heat is escaping through it. Similarly, cool air will be lost in the summer.

A poorly insulated attic is the likely cause of energy loss through the roof. But knee walls, eaves and crawl spaces, basement walls, ceilings and the areas around recessed lighting fixtures are all potential culprits. These are hard-to-reach areas, and a professional is therefore required to diagnose where insulation is under-performing.

A Building Performance Institute (BPI)-certified inspector can pinpoint where insulation is failing by performing a “blower door” test. By a sophisticated and scientific method of creating an artificially windy day, this test can identify temperature differences inside walls, attics, ceilings and any other trouble spots where leaks may be occurring.

Once the problems have been located, energy loss can potentially be halved with the installation of proper insulation. This is especially true if a house was built more than 25 years ago before energy-efficient building codes were introduced.

3.  Condensation and Ventilation

Black mold is the most common sign of condensation. If present, it will almost certainly be visible in the corners of windowsills. Mold is not only unsightly, but it is a potential health hazard – particularly for those prone to allergies or respiratory problems.

The cause of condensation is poor ventilation. An energy-efficient and properly-sized heating, ventilating and cooling (HVAC) system can help reduce the excessive moisture that causes stale air and condensation problems. The correct HVAC will also ensure that your house is functioning at its optimum efficiency, and can have a significant impact on energy bill savings and comfort levels.

Condensation can cause some considerable problems, and excessive moisture around the house should never be ignored as it can lead to serious structural damage such as wood rot and damp.

Having your HVAC assessed will also determine whether your house might benefit from an improved furnace or boiler. Inefficient heating systems are not only bad for the environment, but have low Annual Fuel Utilization Efficiency ratings – which typically means higher energy bills.

4. Duct Leakages

Up to 20% of an older home’s heated air can be lost due to leaky ducts. Duct leaks can even squander the efficiency of other improvements that have been made; unless ducts are tight, energy will be wasted.

Leaky ducts are usually located in attics, crawl spaces and basements. But leaks can occur anywhere in the home where ducts are present. In addition to energy loss, duct leakages can affect the temperature variations in every room in your house. They also pose health threats as a leaky duct can pull in contaminated air, dust, moisture and mold.

Ducts can leak for years without the occupant’s awareness. Duct tape will not resolve the problem, even temporarily, as it will dry up and can even make the problem worse. A professional is therefore required to locate leaks and tighten them.

Duct tightening can reduce your home’s air leakage, control temperature fluctuation and significantly reduce heating and cooling bills.

Long-term Solutions

Although there are a few simple methods that might provide short-term fixes for these energy inefficiencies, it is prudent to invest in a professional who can identify the problems, recommend and implement the necessary long-term solutions.

Undertaking household upgrades always requires careful decision-making. When considering how to improve the energy efficiency of your house, ensure you hire a Building Performance Institute (BPI)-certified inspector to assess your needs. A BPI-certified inspector will be qualified to the highest professional standard, and will use state-of-the-art equipment to identify energy inefficiencies that are often hidden. An effective energy assessment will evaluate the whole house, in order to establish how each system operates individually and collectively.

Energy-saving improvements will deliver quick and tangible results; some will even pay for themselves in the very first year. Larger improvements, such as replacing windows and doors with more energy-efficient models, will result in immediate savings in reduced energy bills, lesser impact on the environment and improved energy efficiency.

Resolving energy inefficiencies is one of the wisest investments you can undertake for an older homeFree Web Content, as it is an investment in the market value and longevity of your house – as well as your family’s comfort and safety.

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A home energy audit is important for energy conservation by homeowners. WellHome is one of the leading providers of whole home energy efficiency retrofitting, home performance and home comfort. Request a home energy efficiency assessment now.

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