Insulation tips for 1920s home

Don't assume blown-in cellulose is best

Q: I recently bought a house built in 1927. It’s a two-story with a finished attic (total of three floors of living space). It appears to have no insulation whatsoever. The third floor has access to the tops of the exterior walls, all of the roof rafters, and the tops of the second-floor ceilings. What would you recommend for insulation? Should I blow cellulose insulation down the exterior walls from the attic space?

A: Unfortunately, you’re going to get a lot of conflicting opinions on whether blowing insulation into the exterior cavities of an older home is a good idea or not.

With a home as old as yours, you have the possibility that the weight and pressure of the blown insulation can damage wiring in the walls, crack plaster, and even possibly damage old water pipes. Also, older homes tend to leak a lot of air through the walls. That means that moisture is being drawn into the walls as well, which can dampen the cellulose and cause all sorts of additional moisture problems to the structure. For all those reasons, retrofitting insulation in an older home is very site-specific, and there is no "one-size-fits-all" solution.

The best thing I can suggest is that you have two experienced, licensed insulation contractors come out and inspect the house and make specific suggestions as to what you can do to insulate it. Compare their suggestions and their cost estimates, and see if there is a consensus of opinion on how best to proceed.

Another option is to contact your local utility company and see if they have a weatherization consultant available that can come out and check the house. This should be a free service from the utility, and in addition to making specific suggestions about how to insulate and weatherize the house, they may have grant money or low-interest loans available to help you with the work.

CHANGING OUT THAT OLD COOKTOP

Q: I do hope you can help me. My budget is low and I have a kitchen from the early 1980s. The electric countertop is still the one that came with the house, and only one of the six burners is now working. The space is 48 inches; I wanted to replace, it but the cost of the one that fits exactly the same is more than $1,500 and most of them are gas. I just can’t pay this much. How can I make the 48-inch opening of the old one fit a standard 36-inch?

A: You didn’t mention what type of material was used for your counters, but to be honest, there is no way of patching a countertop to make an opening smaller, no matter what type of material was used originally. Anything I have ever seen tried is either unsightly, unstable or both. …CONTINUED

 

If budget considerations make replacing the counters impractical at this time, you have two other choices. Rather than looking for a cooktop that’s an exact fit, see if you can find one that is larger than the existing opening – you can then enlarge the opening to fit. If that’s not possible, I would suggest that you take the existing cooktop in to an appliance repair shop and have them get the burners working again, which will be a lot less expensive than replacing the top. If desired, you can also have an automotive body shop repaint the cooktop with a baked-on enamel that will give it a fresh new look.

THOSE CLOSETS ARE TOO COLD

Q: My husband and I have a fairly new home (built in 2001). The problem we have had since day one is that the closets are like refrigerators and so are a couple of the back rooms. I climbed up into the attics above these rooms and closet and there appears to be ample insulation blown in. Yet you can actually feel a "breeze" coming from wherever. Who can I contact to help fix this?

A: Since you mention that the back rooms are cold in addition to the closets, there could be a problem with the heating ducts. They may not be properly connected, or they could be undersized. A problem with the duct connection at the fittings that come though the floor could also account for the draft. So, one of the first things I would do is contact a heating contractor and have the ducts checked to see if that could be the problem.

While the heating contractor is there, as them to check around and see if they can determine other sources of air leakage. They may not be able to fix it, but if they see anything wrong it will be a big help. From there, you would probably want to contact an insulation and weatherization contractor help plug up whatever leaks were discovered.

If you can get the bedrooms warmed up but the closets are still cold, you might want to consider removing the solid closet doors and replacing them with louvered doors. This will allow warm air to circulate into the closets and help keep them from being so cold, and is also good for bringing fresh air into those spaces.

Remodeling and repair questions? E-mail Paul at paulbianchina@inman.com.

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