Your Place: Rancher's walls cold: First get an energy test

Posted: September 30, 2011

Question: Our home is a brick rancher, built in the early 1960s, and has very poor insulation in the walls. We have had the attic area checked, and we are told that the insulation up there is good.

Our walls are cold in winter, and the heat does not keep the house at a comfortable temperature. We always feel a draft.

We replaced all the windows in 2000 with triple pane, and have installed insulation above the cinderblock in the basement to seal that area off. We removed all carpeting because of my husband's allergies, and I think carpeting would help to keep the temperature more even.

My husband feels we need some insulation in the walls, either inside or outside. How would we go about that?

Answer: There are four ways to reduce heating and cooling costs and maintain a comfortable home: insulation, ventilation, moisture control, and air sealing. Doing one without the others is not enough.

Air leakage, or infiltration, occurs when air enters a house uncontrollably through cracks and openings. Even if someone tells you your attic is correctly insulated, that might not be enough.

Properly sealing cracks and openings in your home can significantly reduce heating and cooling costs.

For a thorough and accurate measurement of air leakage in your home, the Department of Energy recommends hiring a qualified technician to conduct an energy assessment, particularly a blower door test.

A blower door test, which depressurizes a home, can reveal the location of many leaks. A complete energy assessment will also help determine areas in your home that need more insulation.

The recommended strategy in both new and old homes is to reduce air leakage as much as possible and to provide controlled ventilation as needed.

Given that your house was built in the last 50 years, there might be a way to blow insulation into the walls. I'd suggest an energy test first, however.

You can Google energy testing services in the area on the Internet.

Chitchat: Every other Monday at noon, I'm live on philly.com, taking your questions and trying to come up with appropriate answers.

I invite you to check in whenever you can. The first chat resulted in some good questions, so I thought I'd provide an excerpt in today's space.

Q: I purchased my first home (a townhouse) in Bucks County last May. I replaced the HVAC system and now want to do another project.

I have $1,000 to $2,000 roughly to spend and am debating replacing the living room carpet with hardwood (engineered) flooring or replacing the kitchen cabinets/counters.

I'm relatively handy and have a father who's very handy so the labor would be free. In general, which would you advise doing, from a resale standpoint?

A: The amount you have to spend would be a good start toward replacing the carpet, especially if you and your father do it. Most readers seem to prefer wood to carpeting, though tastes change quickly.

The money wouldn't begin to cover the expense of replacing kitchen cabinets and counters. Though you can find places offering deals on cabinet closeouts, that amount isn't very much. Real estate agents tell me buyers are still interested in kitchens and bathrooms.

It is unlikely that, right now, you can recover much of what you spend, but it could make the difference in how quickly and close to asking price a house will sell.

Q: How can I remove debris left on brick after removing ivy? The house is about 50 years old and the ivy (soon to be removed by a contractor) has been covering a portion of brick for probably 20 years. Tips on removing the ivy (in case the contractor is a no-show) and then cleaning the brick would be appreciated.

A: I'd cut the ivy at the root. It weakens, enabling you to pull it off the brick face. Stains eventually weather away - at least I've found it so - but what I've seen online suggests a household cleaner and a stiff scrub brush.


Your Place:

This week on Al's Place: Al tackles the fine art of trapping squirrels humanely. www.philly.com/yourplace.


Questions? E-mail Alan J. Heavens at aheavens@phillynews.com or write him at The Inquirer, Box 8263, Philadelphia 19101. Volume prohibits individual replies. He is the author of "Remodeling on the Money" (Kaplan Publishing).

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