Eco-minded townhome renovation?

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Hristo Botev
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Eco-minded townhome renovation?

Post by Hristo Botev »

I've been hearing lots of folks talk about it being a good idea to "invest" money in insulating your home, and otherwise preparing your house to require less energy consumption to be comfortable. My question, what does that look like?

We're in a townhome development so we can't really do anything to the exterior apart from replacing windows and doors with better insulated ones (which we're already set to do, as current windows/doors are cheap and past their expiration dates). But on the inside, we've got some renovation work we need to do eventually, from replacing the subfloor upstairs to adding a small bathroom downstairs so we can split the kids into different bedrooms as they approach puberty. But as we do that, what else can/should we be doing regarding insulation? We've got a stupid ceiling in the master bedroom that the last owner thought would be great to take out and turn into a cathedral type thing, and given that the room faces east we are boiling most of the year in the morning/early afternoon unless the thermostat is jacked way down. So, we want to drop that ceiling back down with good insulation. But what else? Are people taking down drywall on exterior walls so that can put in better/more insulation?

Apologies for the noob question but construction/renovation clearly isn't something currently in my wheelhouse.

rube
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Re: Eco-minded townhome renovation?

Post by rube »

It is very much depending on the type of house.
To start with, it would good to have an indication of the current insulation, where you are loosing the most heat (energy loss calculation). For example, you can ínsulate walls but if you keep old windows it's not the most efficient way.
Note that with good insulation you should not forget good ventilation!

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Alphaville
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Re: Eco-minded townhome renovation?

Post by Alphaville »

Hristo Botev wrote:
Fri Nov 06, 2020 10:01 am
My question, what does that look like?

[...]

We've got a stupid ceiling in the master bedroom that the last owner thought would be great to take out and turn into a cathedral type thing, and given that the room faces east we are boiling most of the year in the morning/early afternoon unless the thermostat is jacked way down.
this is a bit of a conceptual leap to make from mainstream construction practices [insulate+pump energy], but one of the things you get from people like ianto evans and other permaculture folks is *heat people, not spaces*.

this is what paul wheaton does with his incandescent light bulb setups, for example. it’s also the principle behind rocket mass heaters.

but your problem is the opposite, as cooling seems to be the issue. and cooling is not as easy as heating because you can’t cool by radiation.

ventilation is obvious, but has limits, like when it’s 100 degrees outside, you just blow hot air around.

“lighter clothes” would be the other cheap line of defense but this has limitations also.

but the room facing east seems to be a problem of windows, rather than insulation proper. no?

i’m assuming your mbr is on a th’s 2nd floor so you can’t plant a tree in front of the window. are awnings permitted? and can you vent out the cauldron somehow instead of refrigerating it? (of course an attic would allow you to vent the overhead better, but would not fix the window problem).

=

eta: a bit of a summary after a mulling over:
*dress for the weather
*block direct sunlight
*use fans when possible
*vent out the roof

also—what strategies did people use in your region before the advent of air conditioning?

Campitor
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Re: Eco-minded townhome renovation?

Post by Campitor »

Retrofitting insulation into older homes is tricky because my experience doing home renovations shows that old homes were not built consistently - the joist bays may be wider or narrower (and sometimes both). Floor joist are not going to be 16" on center, etc. And if the home is made of brick with a brick interior, putting in insulation is a non starter unless you have a large budget to work with.

Blown in insulation is the best option in old homes because you only need to drill 2 holes in each stud/joist bay to blow in the insulation. The problem with blown in insulation is that there will be gaps in the insulation - it gets hung up on all the old wiring, nails, screws, and plaster which creates turbulence which affects how dense the insulation packs into the cavity or creates empty pockets of insulation.

If the rooms are big enough (like catherderal ceiling), sometimes its better to build a false wall/ceiling and use rigid insulation (for thin false wall) in its construction. This will make the rooms smaller so it's only viable if you have large rooms. Retrofitting false walls/ceilings will also require redoing the existing trim, which if carefully removed, can be mostly reused. Only the window trim will need to be 100% new since the window bay is now deeper as a result of the false wall.

Good luck - there are no easy solutions for retrofitting insulation. The cheapest method is to heat the body and not the space as per Alphaville's recommendation. I live in an old apartment with old windows. I built interior storm windows that I deploy in the winter and use sweaters, hats, and a heat pad to keep me warm while I set my thermostat to 58 degrees. A snow suit also works well. And heated jackets are sold via Amazon.

sky
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Re: Eco-minded townhome renovation?

Post by sky »

What region do you live in? Cold climate, hot, or ???

Hristo Botev
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Re: Eco-minded townhome renovation?

Post by Hristo Botev »

@sky: The US South, in the Appalachian foothills (about 1,300 ft. above sea level).

sky
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Re: Eco-minded townhome renovation?

Post by sky »

I am more familiar with insulation for cold weather, but new insulated windows and sealing cracks and openings with caulk makes a big impact on comfort in a house. In your case window blinds may be very effective at reducing heat.

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Alphaville
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Re: Eco-minded townhome renovation?

Post by Alphaville »

at a more abstract/general level: harnessing passive solar is the way to go. both for heating and cooling. free nuclear power! this minimizes your energy requirements from other (paid, dirty) sources.

latearlyFI
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Re: Eco-minded townhome renovation?

Post by latearlyFI »

I've been thinking about retro things to do to improve insulation in my house & wondered about building thin cabinets/bookshelves/storage seats along the hot afternoon sun wall to reduce necessity of AC in height of summer. I'm also going to try a forest of planters and plants along the south facing balcony to reduce direct sun/heat on south wall in summer. I don't know if this will work, but I figured can't hurt to try.

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