Baby It's Cold Inside! Weatherization Tips from a New Old Home Buyer

The icicles are pretty telling: my house is hemorrhaging heat. Sure, those translucent stalactites dangling from my eaves are part of that quintessential winter scene, but I can’t afford that quintessential winter scene. My oil bill has already shocked me twice, and I know the icicles can damage my roof.

A tell-tale sign of heat loss outside my bedroom window.

A tell-tale sign of heat loss outside my bedroom window.

I first should admit that, having purchased my new old house in late August, it’s been a whirlwind of home improvement. I just didn't have time to think about rigid foam board for my house when I was busy helping leaders of community preservation projects during my day job as field service representative at the N.H. Preservation Alliance, and after-hours at home -- tree cutting, brush clearing, exterior painting, window re-glazing, and plaster patching (or as I often tongue-twist it, paster platching). And then winter arrived.

Like many of our members that are new owners of old places, I’ve been playing catch up and trying to make sense of different weatherization strategies for my vernacular Victorian. Here is an overview of recommendations that I considered.  To date, I managed to insulate my pipes and wrap duct joints with aluminum tape. I even discovered that my dining room duct was missing during this process – so that was a worthwhile exercise. I also re-glazed the windows that had glass ready to fall out. 

Everyone else who works at the Preservation Alliance lives in an old house, and this winter ain’t their first rodeo, so I asked for their advice too.

Beverly Thomas runs our old house and barn programs and has lots of tips about old house weatherization. She also restored her 1870s farmhouse in Bedford with her husband. She, and my other colleagues, had lots of advice for me. Here are a few examples:

Make sure that your windows and storms are really closed, and that your top sashes haven’t slipped down, especially windows that you don’t pay attention to.  

Obvious, right? I can honestly say that when I inspected some of my windows, the sash locks were not engaged. Unfortunately, some of my (original!) window sashes no longer meet at the meeting rail…and some top sashes in my upstairs bedrooms have indeed slipped down.

I also noticed that two of my (original!) storms with interchangeable inserts still have their screens in them. Oops.

My fix? I screwed in spacer blocks in the exterior tracks under my top sashes to keep them tight for now. Then I dug through the garage to find glass panels to swap with the screens in the storms.

My storm windows have interchangeable inserts...that I hadn't bothered checking.

My storm windows have interchangeable inserts...that I hadn't bothered checking.

Close blinds/drapes/curtains at night (and on north side of house on very cold days) and open during the day for solar gain.

I should purchase curtains. Thick ones.

Make sure you have door sweeps on all exterior doors, and basement and walk-in attic doors too. And add a layer of rigid foam insulation to your attic access hatch.

My basement and attic doors are currently stuffed with my summer socks. And my basement bulkhead and attic hatch both have rigid foam now. Check.

It's not pretty, but the rigid foam was free.

It's not pretty, but the rigid foam was free.

There's lots more to do, but I feel like I'm making progress. Here are other suggestions from some of our members. Check our directory for firms that do energy audits. NH Saves is a good place to start, too. The NH Division of Historical Resources has also compiled resources on their website. From those findings, you'll know where to put your money first. Otherwise, you could be tempted to do foolish things to your house in the name of energy efficiency.

Have you had luck reducing the size of your icicles? Let us know your winter tips by contacting us