Insulation tips for 1920s home

Don't assume blown-in cellulose is best

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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.


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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