Houses built before 1940 had little or no insulation. Materials used for insulation back then were discontinued from the fear of off-gassing and deterioration. While they have a vintage feel to them, old homes are notoriously leaky. They are uncomfortable in harsh weather as they lose too much heat. This also translates to high energy bills. However, with today’s building technology, it is possible to properly insulate an old house for higher comfort levels. Here are some insulation energy saving tips for an old house.

Is insulation needed?

The first step is identifying whether insulation was previously installed or not. Check the exterior walls for patched holes, which are a sign of blown-in insulation. Exposed batts of fiberglass and loose fill between ceiling joists also point to previous insulation.

Some common places to look for air leakages include chimneys and fireplaces without dampers, and cracks around ducts, electrical outlets, recessed lighting, and windows.

Dealing with existing insulation

Where insulation had been installed in an old house, chances are that it was done with primitive materials. These included shredded paper, rolled up newspapers, wood shavings, or even corncobs. These types of materials should be removed completely. Houses built in the 1940s and 1950s were insulated with asbestos which was later found to be a carcinogen. This can be encapsulated to prevent flaking and becoming airborne. It can be removed completely if you plan on a complete remodeling of the walls.

What type of insulation is best?

The insulation type should be minimally invasive considering the delicate structure of an old house. Loose fill insulation (mineral, cellulose, and fiberglass) is the easiest to work with as it will get to hard-to-reach places without the need to tear down large areas. If cellulose is to be used, it should be treated with borate.

How much insulation is needed?

This depends on where you live. Warmer climates require little insulation while chillier climates need higher R-values (higher values stand for more robust insulation).

Where is the insulation needed?

Rising warm air escapes through the roof in most old houses. The attic should be a priority. In unused attics, the insulation can be placed on the floor, and between roof rafters for an attic in use. Walls should also be examined for leaks especially cracks around ducts, windows, and electrical outlets.

What products are the best?

Nowadays, there are green products that pose no health risks. A good example is recycled cellulose which is made from recycled newspapers treated with borate. Another is polyisocyanurate which has higher R-values than any of the common insulation materials.

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