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Winter’s Chill Will Soon Arrive

August 28, 2010

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September is almost here. We are *almost* done with this renovation project. Well, with the big stuff. I will be working throughout the winter on all the various little things: installing trim, making shelves and cabinet doors for the pantries, installing flooring, painting, etc. It will be a busy time for me.

We also have to install a few space heaters throughout the house. Now that the entire downstairs is insulated, I expect the heat to stay in the house this year (!), and our heating bills to ease a little. I have a few gas heaters I want placed in certain areas. We’re also looking to install some vented gas logs/fireplaces or something like it, one in the living room and one in the future family room (it’s just a garage right now).

Gas heaters and fireplaces-especially the ventless kinds–are said to be extremely energy efficient. The only by-products of the heaters are water vapor and small traces of carbon monoxide. Both by-products can be harmful to the home residents unless care is taken. For example, many newer gas logs fireplaces and heaters are equipped with special oxygen detection sensors. If they sense that oxygen levels in the room are low, the heater will shut off. And homes as drafty as mine will have no problems with air flow, lol. You just have to find quality equipment, such as R. H. Peterson Real Fyre Gas Logs. They are a reputable company, selling gas logs on the Internet from waaaay back in 1994. It’s important to purchase quality heaters, not some no-name brand with lousy support. Anyway, I’m trying to do all my “homework” before we actually make any more purchases on heaters. I greatly dislike the forced-air furnaces.

So the ante is up now that autumn is nipping at our heels. Soon the “big stuff” like cabinets, counters, and flooring will be done!! And then, on to the multitudes of small stuff! Pictures are forthcoming! šŸ˜€

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Insulation- DONE!

July 16, 2010

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One of the reasons I am gutting the house is to be able to insulate the walls (the other reason is to electrify the house). Of course, another option is to leave everything alone and have a contractor blow in cellulose insulation…. however, The Attic has cellulose insulation, and I HATE IT. Both The Attic and the cellulose insulation. It is the dirtiest, dustiest, smelliest stuff EVER. The dust particles ooze out from the tiniest cracks and crevices in the home’s walls and ceilings, and coat the entire house with layers upon layers of dust. We could dust every single day, and have a new layer every single day. I am strongly against blown-in insulation. We have had respiratory problems because of the junk.

So I install fiberglass batts. This is a dirty, laborious job, especially in the heat of summer when the LAST thing on your mind is January snow. But come January, we will be SO glad we did this. My valiant daughter assisted me with this venture. The other kids helped with chores around the house so that I could turn my full attention to the installation. I have the greatest kids in the world, I tell ya. One daughter slaved away outside, on the asphalt on a blistering day, to hang and then take down the loads of laundry.

Here’s part of the dining room wall. This was the most difficult of the two rooms to do. For one, the studs here are spaced very oddly. You may have two studs 8 inches apart, then another stud 18 inches apart. Fiberglass insulation comes in 15-inch widths, so you can imagine all the cutting and fitting we had to do.

DRinsulation

Also in this room, some of the studs had dry rot, from a very old water problem– the previous owners built a small porch and allowed a leak to drip over the window for many years. That entire section was rotted out by the time we bought the house. I had to try and replace some of it with wood, so that we will have something to secure the sheetrock to, when the time comes. Another corner had no wood at all– back in the days of plaster and lathe, furring strips held up the plaster, and there was no need for the modern-day framing that we see today. Indeed, the hardest part of renovating an old house–where most of the labor occurs– is in form-fitting it to modern-day size demands: 15-inch fiberglass, 16″ on-center framing for sheetrock, 4 x 8 sheets, etc. Back in the olden days, they didn’t have these and so didn’t account for them. It’s a real PAIN to have to do this, believe me.

DRinsulation2

I used faced fiberglass batts AND plastic vapor barrier. It’s a little much, I know. Supposedly, the facing on the batts makes a semi air-tight seal. But not in this house. My home is balloon-frame, AND with all the slicing and dicing of the batts we had to do, there would still be a lot of drafts coming through. So we stapled large sheets of vapor barrier to seal the cavities even more. I had done this in the living room, and the difference that winter was astounding. NO drafts! It was the first winter we didn’t have to wrap ourselves in blankets just to keep warm. (And that goes without saying that the forced-air furnace system was woefully inadequate).

Here’s the kitchen.

kitcheninsulation

If you recall, I had mentioned in previous posts that the kitchen had no walls behind the old cabinets. Whenever we opened a drawer or cabinet, freezing-cold air would blast through. Well, I MADE SURE that this kitchen is going to be air-tight and warm this time! I really can’t wait to see how this system stands up to winter’s cold.

kitcheninsulation2

Here are some tips for installing (or inspecting) insulation, should you need to:

  • Don’t squeeze the insulation into the cavities, if you can avoid it. Because my home has brick noggin between the studs, I did not have enough depth for the thick batts, so I did have to squeeze them in. But squeezing or compressing fiberglass reduces it’s insulating qualities.
  • If you have stud cavities of varying widths as we do, measure carefully. Cut the batts to a perfect fit. While installing the batt, start at the top and tuck in the pink fiberglass from the sides while trying to leave a paper tab so you can staple the paper to the wood stud. This helps to hold the batt up, and to improve the seal.
  • Dust your skin with baby powder before, during, and after working with fiberglass, to help prevent itching skin.
  • Have a VERY sharp utility knife with extra blades on hand. The small bit of tar in the fiberglass batt facing sticks to the knife and dulls it, making the job slower and slower. Change blades frequently.
  • For 2×4-inch framed walls, install the 3 1/2-inch fiberglass batts; for 2×6-inch framed walls, install the 5 1/2-inch fiberglass batts. These batts are specially designed to fit perfectly in the stud cavity; they will fill the depth of the studs appropriately. Also, some municipalities regulate the insulation’s R-value, or quality of insulation you can use. My area regulation says I must use a minimum of R-13 for walls in 2×4 framing, and R-19 for walls in 2×6 framing. The higher the R-value, the better the insulating quality of the material.
  • Most vapor barrier rolls come in 10-foot lengths. Don’t cut the length when you install it– only measure for the width. Hang the sheet up at the top of the wall, and staple down (it’s handy to have a helper pull the sheet tight so you don’t get wrinkles in the plastic). When you come to the bottom of the sheet, cut off the remaining extra length– but leave a 2-inch lip onto the floor. When you set your sheetrock against the wall, the board will rest on that plastic lip. You can caulk the small gap where the sheetrock sits, thus creating a seal against floor drafts.

The Department of Energy has a website with a page on Insulation R-Values recommended for the United States at www1.eere.energy.gov/consumer/tips/insulation.html. And here’s a good Insulation Fact Sheet at ornl.gov/sci/roofs+walls/insulation/ins_16.html, too.

So this project is done. Whew! I am strangely surprised at how terribly tired I am from the job. My daughter is, too. Our bones ache, and we are just plumb tuckered. I’m surprised, because installing insulation isn’t all THAT labor-intensive. Demolition was labor intensive! But perhaps it was the heat (we had a heat wave going on) and high humidity? Or going up and down the ladders? Anyway, I don’t think I can do anymore renovation work today. I’m pooped.

Saturday’s goals are to finish running wiring for baseboard heaters upstairs, and create a PVC pipe shaft for a future central heating system installation. I also have to wire for Ethernet before we close up the walls. And here’s hoping The Hubs gets the PEX plumbing system completed! We start hanging sheetrock in the dining room on Sunday. Today, I get the insulation inspected. I have a lot of work to do for my job today (writing articles), so I think I’ll recuperate from the insulation while working on articles.

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Rethinking My Air Conditioner Ban

July 8, 2010

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As a kid, air conditioning was an extravagant luxury, meant for stores like Macy’s and really rich people. Back then, when it was 90, 100 degrees during the summer, we sweated it out. Yes, yes! I am now old enough to tell stories of how we “roughed it” when WE were youngsters!! I’ll spare you the stories of how we had to walk UPHILL 20 miles to school– BOTH ways!!

Anyway, I’ve lived without air conditioning all these years, and have survived! But now that I am updating the electric at the house, and now that I have a billion computers and electronics running in my home office every day, and now that it’s been in the mid-90s ALL WEEK and I am at the end of my tolerance level, lol…. oh, and now that Al Gore says global warming is practically HERE and will kill us all if we don’t DO SOMETHING– I am thinking of getting a small unit for the office. šŸ˜€ How cool is that? LOLOL

Problem is, all my local Big Box stores are sold out. Can you believe it?!?! They can’t keep these things in stock?! Hello, it’s summer! lol.. anyway… I am glad I am not at the mercy of the guy who orders the inventory at the local Big Box stores. Because I have Buy.com!!! Buy.com has stuff in stock! They have some really great prices, too, on name-brand air conditioners!

This is the Frigidaire FRA082AT7 Window Air Conditioner, providing 8,000 BTUs (enough to cool a 350 square foot room). I think it’s great! It plugs in to any three-prong outlet (although I recommend a dedicate circuit for something like this). It also has an anti-bacteria filter that helps prevent air-borne bacteria and odors. Nice! It’s $200 with shipping. And it’s IN STOCK. It fits in the window… which means I would have to fix my 100-year old window to get the thing open, yeah…. fun… it’s something I *have* to do, anyway.

I love Buy.com. They have everything, and lots of stuff is usually free shipping (and it’s very fast shipping, too). Plus, their prices are great. They are always having some sale or another– the electronics prices are incredible.

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Changed My Mind With Lighting

June 25, 2010

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Choosing lighting for the kitchen has been really difficult for me. The kitchen is very large, 12 x 23, but it has a lot of angles and doorways. And the ceilings are 9 feet. I eventually chose two sets of chandeliers, which I absolutely love.

mylights

But I can’t say I have been 100% settled with the choice of chandeliers. They would certainly spit out a lot of light, but they would also generate heat, and could possibly be more costly to have on (certainly more costly than fluorescent lighting).

My kitchen gets very hot in the late afternoon. It is situated on the southwestern side of the property. Dumb, I know. I didn’t plan it! But the sun comes blasting through the windows in the summer. And the area right outside the window is a HUGE asphalt parking lot (I didn’t do that, either!!). The house used to be a parsonage, and was once connected to the church nearby. The previous owners installed a HUGE parking lot right outside the back door all the way over to the church. It gets pretty hot. I have planted trees to provide shade, but they’ve only been there a few years. So it’s HOT in the summer.

Plus, I will be installing a gas space heater in the kitchen. I will eventually save up money to purchase a very nice little gas fireplace, to create a small “hearth” in the location, but for now, it will be a gas heater. And I’ve been reading that if you have a gas heater, you should either purchase a blower unit to move the heat around ($150 additional), or install ceiling fans to move the air.

CEILING FANS!

HamptonBayfans

So I got them. Two of them. šŸ˜€ I think they will be perfect. I’m going to return the chandeliers. I love them, but the fans are much more functional and just as beautiful.

That’s renovation for you. I think it’s impossible to have EVERYTHING pre-planned. Things change. For example, we had no idea we would have to change the heating system in this house, until we opened walls and saw the condition of the ductwork. Unfortunately, things like this have broken the budget, but at least we are making the house more efficient, more comfortable, and more valuable. So I’m rolling with the punches these days. There really isn’t anything you can do.

Anyway, I’m pleased with my fans. I’ve read through the manual and I really like Hampton Bay brand. The manual is in ENGLISH and it actually makes sense!

TIP: Never install a ceiling fan using a plastic ceiling hanger work box. Use a metal box, it’s much, much sturdier. šŸ™‚

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Working in the Attic

June 24, 2010

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It actually wasn’t so horrible this time. šŸ˜€ Some folks must be praying for me!

The weather was nice– a bit cool, breezy, and overcast– perfect weather for a latte at the cafe… or a pedicure… …. orrrr….. WORKING IN THE MOLDY, DUSTY, DARK ATTIC. This is what greets me when I pop my head into the small 3-foot wide attic hatch:

Attic1

Attic2

It is for this reason that I will NEVER NEVER NEVER use blown-in insulation. This house is SOOOOO dusty. Who is the knucklehead who came up with the idea of filling a home’s cavities with DUST for insulation?! Egads.

Attic3

That is the original knob and tube wiring resting in peace there. The wiring must have been installed sometime in the 1920s or 1930s… and the insulation (I assume) went in sometime in the 1970s or 1990s. It is against codes to insulate around the old knob and tube wiring. There is the danger of wires overheating, and thus a fire hazard. Plus, the old wires are not grounded at all. I am glad to be rid of them.

You can see the handiwork of an 1855 attic, eh? I took lots of photos, because if I ever get curious about what the attic looks like, and I get it in my stupid head to go up and see, all I have to do is look at these photos to remind myself.

Attic4

Today, I ran some wiring for my son’s bedroom ceiling light, the hallway ceiling light (unfortunately, I won’t be able to wire a light until next year when we gut the upstairs. But I thought I’d throw in some wiring while I’m up here), and the feed line coming from the service panel, two floors down. A junction box handily holds all the wires for me.

Attic5

Attic6

I was exhausted after the job. Tomorrow, I wire the light and the two outlets for my son’s room, and feed it to a junction box in the basement, which will be connected to the service panel. Then, this room will finally have electricity for the first time in three years. AND he’ll have a ceiling light that WORKS, something he has never had since we moved here.

The attic work is not yet finished, though. Besides the hallway light situation reserved for next year, The Hubs has to go up here this week– we need to electrify the bathroom ventilation fan again (I couldn’t get to it when I was up there). It hasn’t worked for three years, and mold grows on the bathroom walls because of the intense moisture. I haven’t broken the news to him, yet… šŸ˜

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Choosing Central Heating

June 10, 2010

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I’d mentioned that we were getting rid of our forced air furnace. I hate forced air, always have. All it does is blow around dusty, moldy air. In an old house, it’s terrible. We were always coughing and getting sick. We finally tore out a 60-year old WOODEN duct a few weeks ago… and the inside was caked with almost an inch of disgusting dirt and dust. To think that we’d been breathing all that in, all these years.

I pondered going with hydronic baseboard heat (the best there is, in my opinion). But the system is wildly, wildly expensive; to retrofit it into my home would cost the tens of thousands. After some thought, the only kinds of heat we can go with are electric baseboard and wall-mounted gas heater units. I’m going to go with both. Electric baseboards are going upstairs. The forced-air furnace was so bad that it hardly pumped ANY heat at all for us– we had to use electric space heaters in the bedrooms, even with the forced-air furnace running. Ridiculous! But because electric heaters are so expensive, I really can’t install them throughout the house. So we’re going with natural gas wall-mounted heaters. I’ve seen the vent-free models in action, and they do a good job keeping the houses warm, it seems. However, I’m not going with the vent-free models. They pump a ton of moisture into the air, which can lead to mold, rot, and respiratory problems. The direct-vent models are installed on exterior walls (or chimneys), and get their intake and outake air from outside air.

The direct-vent heaters are still pretty expensive– $400 a unit for the very basic 8,000 BTUs (which supplies a 200 square foot room). I’ll need three of them, one for the living room, one for the kitchen, and one for the dining room. This will enable us to have zones all throughout the house, where we can control the heat for each individual room. And since they are gas-fueled, they will save us a little. The really nice thing about them is that they do not require electricity to run, so if there is a power outage, we will still have heat.

Of course, this change in the heating system alters my home. My basement will no longer be heated (the forced air furnace ducts leaked like crazy into the basement, creating a rather balmy atmosphere down there). So I’ll need to insulate the basement ceiling to keep my first floor floors warm. But at least we won’t be breathing in decades-old mold and dust….

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The Mystery of the Heat Pump, Solved!

January 4, 2010

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Here’s a website of heat pump reviews, detailing everything you always wanted to know about heat pumps (but were afraid to ask!). šŸ˜€ Seriously, I have learned, over the course of owning this drafty 1855 house for over decade, that it really, really pays to know how your heating system works. We spend a fortune on heating costs for this house, and the biggest reason (besides the holes in the plaster walls) is that the entire furnace system was installed improperly! The previous owners installed the ducting system the opposite way it’s supposed to be, and then they only installed two cold air return vents. To redo the system, I’d have to gut the walls and reinstall all the ducting properly. What a chore! But it may be worth our while to do this, because all I see right now is dollars flying out the window.

Well, heat pumps must be understood in the same manner. Essentially, heat pumps are devices that, uh, PUMP HEAT! They do this either mechanically (such as, a fan or blower), or a chemical (such as freon or refrigerant). Heat pumps can be used to pump cool air into a building, as well. There are types of furnaces that are heat pumps, as well as other units for swimming pools, air conditioners, water heaters, etc. This website has everything you need to know about heat pumps, including heat pump prices and a very good explanation of how they work, what they do, and the development of technology involved with them.

Listen, if you are planning a renovation or building a home, get informed about your heating system before you install it! I’m sure my house is just an aberration (I hope so), and the screwy heating system isn’t all that common. The heating and cooling systems in your house are going to be there a good long time. Make sure they’re done correctly, and make sure you get the best bang for your buck, too. Check out the website for information and on getting the best price of heat pumps.

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Giving the Furnace a Vacation

October 23, 2009

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I’m continuing my series of ways, tips, and products to save money this heating season. Check the category “HVAC” or do a search for “heating” and “furnace” for more posts on this subject.

I have a great big old house, having more holes than Swiss cheese. Also, 90% of my home is uninsulated, and cannot be until I remove the bricks (called “noggin”) from between the studs (which means I have to gut every room and replace every wall). And to top it all off, half of the house is in the renovating process, so there are large gaps and holes in the walls. I have gone through the house and duct-taped heavy plastic sheeting over most of the renovation holes, but wowsa, this place gets cold. It was cold even before we started renovating. So our furnace works very hard, and it costs a fortune to run. I’ve been slowing gathering ways and alternative methods to help allay our reliance on that money pit that sits in our basement. A few things I have found that help:

1.) Seal off unused portions of the house with heavy drapes.
2.) Seal off doors and doorways with heavy drapes.
3.) Use space heaters in rooms where we spend most of our day.

I used to be adamant against electric space heaters, believing them to be very expensive. But even while electricity is more expensive, pound for pound, than natural gas (which our furnace uses as fuel), it is more economical to turn down the furnace and use a space heater in the areas we frequent. The problem lies with the larger rooms, such as the living room. Our small space heaters just don’t seem able to permeate the biting cold that hits us over the winter. We actually looked into getting a woodstove. However, woodstoves require constant care, constant cleaning, and providing for a constant supply of wood (which means constant labor supplying and carrying it). AND we’d have to build a type of outlet/chimney AND get a permit from the town to do all this. Wow. No thanks.

So we looked into fake fireplaces. We’re still looking into them, actually. (I’m very slow to make up my mind, these days, ugh). I have always liked the natural gas fireplaces, but this would require a plumber to come and set up a new supply run of pipes. We may do this someday, but not this year. I have been looking into electric fireplaces. I can set up a dedicated circuit for it easily enough, not requiring any hired help to do it. I’m just wondering how truly economical the electric fireplaces are compared to the natural gas ones. After all is said and done, which one is better? If any of you readers out there have an opinion or any experience, I’d surely appreciate a comment or review!

there’s a beautiful Bionaire Electric Fireplace and it comes with a remote control AND it has a safety shut-off AND a timer that you can preset (very nice!). It’s running for only $260 with free shipping– I think that’s a very reasonable price.

So this is my next experiment into the HVAC world of economy. I think a “fake” fireplace would serve us well and relieve us from heating the entire house all the time. Please– if you have any experience with such a unit, let me know!

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Looking at Electric Heaters

October 22, 2009

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I do not trust kerosene heaters. They are a terrible burn and fire hazard. I had a few bad experiences as a young lady (turned it on only for the flames to go POOF; another time, I burned holes in a shirt that I had been drying over the heater). And if you have young children or rambunctious pets, kerosene heaters are in danger of being tipped or pushed over. Plus, the kerosene creates a lousy soot that coats everything, YUK! I’d much rather pay a little more in electricity for “clean” heat. I bought an electric heater a few years ago for our living room, and now I’m looking into getting one for my daughters’ room upstairs, that gets terribly cold in the winter. Now that I rewired their bedroom, we can safely run a heater up there! yay! šŸ˜€

I tend to stick with “name brand” products when I purchase important appliances like electric heaters. There’s a sweet Honeywell Mini Tower Surround Heater. There is no free shipping with the model, but the shipping is still quite inexpensive. Buy.com has a very good selection of name-brand heaters right now, just in time, too! We’re trying to run the big furnace a little less frequently, and stay huddled around space heaters where possible.

What to look for in an electric heater? Well, efficiency– my other heater generates 1500 watts on high power; the Honeywell model is nice because it has a fan that circulates air all around the heater and not just in the front of it. I also look for protection from tips and overheating– a good electric heater will shut off if the unit tips over or if the unit gets too hot. And the name-brand is just a little added protection (warranty, a United States-based company to contact if necessary, etc).

So while I would never heat my home 24/7 with an expensive electric heater, they do have their uses for small, cold areas. Buy.com has some good prices, get your space heaters before they sell out by mid-winter.

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The Furnace Cold Air Return Vents

October 13, 2009

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About this time every year, my blog gets a lot of traffic from people searching for “can I cover my cold air return vents?”

Answer: no.

I want to address this issue again. If you have a forced air furnace, realize that there is an exchange of air going on with it– cold air to hot air. Your furnace needs to take in cold air, heat it up, and blow it out through your heater vents as heated air. If you cover your cold air return vents, you are starving your furnace, creating an air vacuum in your home (leading to an uncomfortable atmosphere), and perhaps filling your home with trace amounts of carbon monoxide.

Do not cover your cold air return vents.

I did a post about this when I renovated my living room, and re-did some of the furnace ducting to the room. I had done some studying and talked with my furnace guy. You can read the post here. You can also read my recent post about changing your furnace filters— it’s an easy chore. Not changing dirty filters can damage your furnace and wind up costing you more money on your heating bills, too.

furnacediagram

Now, my home has cold air return vents, but not enough. Not only do you need vents, you need a proper amount for proper air exchange. My house, at about 1680 square feet, only has two small cold air return vents– for the entire house! That is far too few. My Furnace Guy said that for every heater vent (and size) in a room, there should be a cold air return vent. Bedrooms almost never have them, and this explains why bedrooms are so cold in the winter– there is no full air exchange but rather a vacuum of air. The heated air really has nowhere to go, since there is no air flow; and the room air remains stagnant and chilly. So ideally, every room should have a cold air return vent (or at least larger ones in key areas of the home). I know! This sounds awful, because with duct work, you have to rip out walls and work with metal. It’s NOT fun. However, the next time you have a wall open or if you decide to build an addition to your home, keep these things in mind. Your furnace will appreciate it, and it will show in the heating bills.

And in the meantime, keep all those cold air return vents uncovered!

Photos courtesy of Americanhvacparts and Office of Energy Efficiency of Canada.

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