Historical homes are a whole different animal when it comes to home maintenance. On one hand, if your older home has been properly cared for, many antique materials and fixtures may last much longer than those in modern homes. On the other hand, they may be in desperate need of repair, replacement or updating in order to meet modern standards of living. Here are three areas that will bring your older home up-to-date fast.
Attic Insulation and Air Sealing
Older homes are definitely prone to phantom drafts. Whereas many homes today contain tight seals, many historical homes do not. In some cases, this was purposeful: the gaps allowed for better ventilation. But as often as not, it was because building and insulation technology just wasn’t as advanced then as it is today.
One of the best things you can do to improve the energy efficiency of your older home is to inspect the insulation and floor sealing of your attic. Attics should ideally have blown-in fiberglass insulation or cut batts between the floor joists. The boards below should be sealed to keep heating and cooling from leaking into unconditioned attics.
Some aging homes may even have older insulation materials, like slag mineral wools or cellulose—as known as newspaper. Or they may contain harmful insulation materials, such as asbestos and urea-formaldehyde. Of particular concern are homes with Zonolite vermiculite insulation [LINK TO: https://www.thespruce.com/how-to-identify-dangerous-asbestos-insulation-4119906] installed in attic floors. This brand of vermiculite insulation was sometimes contaminated with asbestos, making it a health hazard. Zonolite can often be identified by the naked eye—it lies flat, unlike mineral, cellulose or fiberglass loose fill insulation. It also has a distinct color—gray-brown or silver-gold—which makes it easy to identify.
If you’re not certain, you can purchase a DIY asbestos testing kit or have a professional tester out to visit. Professionals can also give you advice on asbestos removal, which is helpful, since asbestos in the wall cavities may be difficult or impossible to remove.
If your attic has no insulation at all, there’s no time like the present! Installation typically costs around $1,500 for a standard attic space, but it’s well worth it. In fact, it’s one of the most effective ways to improve your home’s energy efficiency—it may save you as much as $600 a year on your energy bills. Not bad for a little insulation!
An antique fireplace and chimney is a thing of beauty. These splendid masonry works exemplify everything you want in a historical home: quality craftsmanship, unique decorative elements and coziness galore! But for all that atmosphere, they often lack some of the construction that makes modern fireplaces safer and more energy efficient.
At the most basic level, it may have been a while since your chimney was swept and the structure inspected. Gaps and cracks in the masonry and flashing can contribute to drafts, making it pretty darn uncomfortable in your home. A professional chimney sweeping and inspection can address these kinds of potential issues, and create a plan for repairing and restoring your chimney.
Frequently, historical chimneys lack liners and dampers. They may also smoke when you use them. The mortar around the chimney may be cracked or the flashing rusted. In worst case scenarios, this can make the fireplace quite dangerous to use—cracks in the mortar can leak deadly carbon monoxide into the living room.
Luckily, many of these repairs can be made without a total chimney replacement—allowing you to keep the feel and ambiance of the original chimney. For particularly damaged chimneys, restoration professionals are often able to make them usable again with a technique called a “cast in place liner.” This involves pouring and setting a cement chimney flue without disturbing the original brick. Then your expert can make external repairs to the masonry and flashing without too much fuss at all. Pretty soon, you’ll be gathered round a crackling fire, reading the paper and warming your toes—just like in the golden days!
Restore Your Windows
Most windows in older homes are made from wood frames, which can warp over time if not treated. That, in turn, creates gaps and cracks that contribute to air infiltration and heat loss—and a high heating bill to go along with it!
Meanwhile, the glass in your windows may not be all that insulating, as well. Older windows were often single-pane affairs. Modern dual pane windows are typically insulated with gas that protects your interiors and keeps out drafts and moisture.
But windows contribute vastly to the original character of your home, so you don’t necessarily want to go pulling them out willy nilly. Instead, consult with a restoration professional who can replace warped or rotting frames and improve the glass performance. That may mean installing new insulated panes in the frames. Or it may mean you install storm windows with Low-E glass over the existing windows—ones that complement your home’s historical flair, naturally!
Maintaining a historical home may take a little bit more effort—but you’re more than up to the challenge. After all, you’re basically preserving history here!