Heritage Restoration, Inc.

I get it….it’s cold

It has been an interesting winter. In the last week we have gone from 9-55 degrees, with even bigger ranges over the past month. In January we had about 6.5″ of precipitation, most of it rain coming down horizontal.  Right now it is 27 degrees with a 16mph wind with gusts up to 27mph, and I am enjoying the fresh air from my breezy window. Many homes have suffered much worse from frozen pipes, first time leaks, and flooded basements.

Colonial Revival Victorian mash up

My house is a 2300 square foot, 3 story 1908 that bridges the Colonial Revival and Victorian styles. It is a balloon frame with a field stone foundation. The 42 windows are mostly original double hung 2 over 2’s and storm windows (about 12 new), with 2 1960’s casements, one vinyl awning, and 2 new reproduction wood hopper windows. There are 2 wood exterior doors (1 original oak), and one vinyl clad slider. There is a wood stove and oil fired baseboard and radiator hot water heat.

So why do I feel the breeze? One would surmise that sitting next to a window with the wind rattling through a loose storm window isa strong clue. But I would be wrong by blaming it on where I hear and feel it.

A house is a complex system, and an old house expected to act in a modern manner makes it even more complicated. There are many factors contributing to a durable, long lasting, efficient, healthy, functional, and aesthetically pleasing house; each critical to living modern in an old house. We want it all but reality makes it difficult.

I’m not just being pessimistic. Old houses are layers of original and remodels, so being economical and scientific must balanced or the whole thing is thrown off. An old house dynamic is not the same as a new one. Most houses before 1940 did not have a proper air or moisture barrier/wrap, were not insulated, and relied on blasts of heat and a high cold tolerance. But the last 40 years has seen a change in expectations. We now expect year round comfort, hot showers, and not cooking in a closet. Lifestyles have changed but the old house remains the same.

Foundation needs some repointing

Making an old house act like a new one must be taken in steps, not rushing to the obvious. The first step is a condition check. Professionals can complete system and energy audits as well as general building surveys. These surveys help determine if a house is in a “healthy” state. You may need some electrical or plumbing repairs, there could be leaks you do not know about, or water int he basement. But the goal is to see how the building is functioning, how to retrofit, and if the house will remain healthy.

When we bought our house 8 years ago I knew I had a lot on my plate from differed maintenance, and there was a lot of “new” parts that didn’t please me. But I was drawn to the original windows and a mostly intact floor plan. My first scientific approach was to complete a blower door test which was a real eye opening. While there is the obvious breeze I am feeling right now from my window, the worst culprit of air into the house was the basement foundation riddled with holes. About a garage door’s worth. So while my instinct may have been to pick on the windows first, the foundation repairs would have a much bigger bang for the buck.

So the morals of the story is don’t jump to conclusions and don’t feel like you have to do it all at once. Start where your investment will make the biggest difference. Yes, repointing my foundation isn’t sexy, but it is the best thing to make this old house act more like a new one. And until I can replace the old storm window, I will move just move to sit in front of the fire.