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Saturday, April 25, 2009

This Old Roof: Obstacles Retrofitting

The home energy audit guy never even got to open his magic bag of compact fluorescent light bulbs; the only incandescent we have left is a bathroom heat lamp. And I was able to show *him* a thing or two about LED lighting; the four bulb array over my desk: 160 watts incandescent, 60 watts using compact fluorescents, but only 6 watts of LEDs.

We’ve got an Energy Star clothes washer, fridge, and dishwasher, too.

What he had to offer—what the feds, the state, and my gas company are willing to chip in toward—those things I can’t do.

We could use more attic insulation, for example, and the utility would pick up 75% of the first $2000—which would be most of the cost. But. . .

As a matter of code compliance, they can’t insulate unless the roof has vents, which mine does not and cutting holes in this old roof—due for replacement when we bought the house, almost twenty years ago—would be a BAD idea.

We don’t just need a new layer either—that’s been done and done and done—we need to strip everything off, right down to the older asbestos-laden shingles that would be a hazardous waste disposal issue. A $12,000 job, if we’re lucky, and I’m not aware of programs under which gummint at any level is paying me for that. Same obstacle to installing a solar water heater—the $8000 cost brought down to a tempting $3000 out of pocket, when you add back all the rebates and credits.

The house was built in 1914; the boiler is original equipment. Started out burning coal, was converted to oil, then converted to gas. We could get a good deal on replacing our cast iron snow man. But. . .

That would mean tenting part of the basement, stripping (what else?) asbestos off the boiler and the connecting pipes, then smashing the thing to pieces to get it out of the house.

Unless someone puts cold water in it when it’s hot, and cracks it, moreover, that boiler’s going to outlive me. A newer, somewhat more efficient unit? My plumber gives it, maybe, ten years.

Never mind the US, I’d like my *family* to be energy independent. I’ve won the light bulb game; I’ve got most of the right appliances.

For the bigger items, it’s not the cost of technology that’s holding me back; it’s the cost—and the limitations—of owning a 95 year old house.

The average US house is about 34 years old; just over a quarter of our housing stock is more than fifty years old. If we are really going to push down home energy usage, we’re going to have to more comprehensively address the problems associated with retrofitting.


Diggitt said...

I am glad to see that you don't mention window replacement. So-called green contractors often propose window replacement because it's as low-hanging as fruit can be. People are accustomed to replacing windows -- it's been a first step in rehabbing for years -- and it's a discrete task.

But Preservation Magazine (published by the National Trust for Historic preservation) has been vocal on NOT replacing windows

There are several valuable points made in the article, and in earlier ones in the same publication. The gist is that if old windows are set in a well insulated wall, and the old paint is scraped off and they are well painted, and all operating parts are in good shape, and the glass is intact and reputtied, then basically you have a window that is better suited for your home and a greener choice all round. The article explains it better than I can.

I have lived about 50 years in older homes. In the 70s, my parents repaired all the windows in a home built between 1860 and 1920, and they did it the National Trust way. It was intuitive rather than understood, but in fact the house looked great -- just the way it should look -- and repairing the old windows and walls made the old drafty house cozy.

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