beyond renovating: thinking green

After receiving my gas bill in January, I decided that heating a house less than 2,000 square feet should never cost more than $500 in Richmond.  Somewhere in Canada, fine, but in the South?  So, I bled a little more money to invest in caulk, sealant, and insulation to ensure I wasn’t sharing my heat with the neighborhood. 

While this is just one of many house projects, it got me thinking about how to conserve more energy.  Ok, money was the real motivator here.  I did a little research on how to make a green home.  Most green building articles focus on new homes, but here is a great story for finding out how to complete a green renovation on an old house.


4 responses to “beyond renovating: thinking green

  1. In my experience, you get the most bang for the buck by laying insulation in the attic and weatherstripping doors and windows. Most old houses don’t have insulation in the walls, and in order to introduce it properly you have to gut the house. If this is part of the plan, I would have a contractor spray cellulose insulation into the walls rather than install fiberglass batts. If not installed with a seamless vapor barrier, moisture can condense in the batts and cause such problems as mold, rot, and paint failure on the exterior. Once the mistake is made, you have to tear everything out again to fix it.

    If your house has the original wood windows, don’t fall for the hype from the vinyl window replacement companies. There are many shoddy products out there that you will end up replacing again in 10 years, and there’s nothing green about that. It’s time-consuming, but most wood windows can be restored to be as good as new, and it doesn’t take exceptional skill. With weathstripping and a storm window, the thermal performance can be just as good as a double-pane replacement. If you are thinking about replacement windows, I would spend the money on storms instead, and invest sweat equity in tuning up the original windows. The This Old House and Old House Journal websites have good articles on the subject.

  2. gentrifyrichmond

    Matt – as you seem to have some knowledge on the subject, is there any danger with the type of insulation for the walls with regard to old beams? I have heard that insulation itself can cause issues because balloon-framed houses are old wood and not treated. Would the type of insulation you recommend cause any rot/moisture buildup to untreated beams?

  3. Gentrify: I don’t think that the type of wood matters – the wood studs and joists used in home construction today are not treated. In fact, this newer wood is much more prone to rot and insect damage than the old growth wood used in historic buildings. From what I’ve heard, the use of blown-in insulation is pretty much the only option, short of removing the exterior cladding or ripping out the interior plaster, neither of which is desirable. As long as there are no leaks (from roofs, built-in gutters, or holes in the wall) that would allow excessive water into the walls, it should be fine.

  4. Gentrify: I used Cocoon cellulose insulation from Greenfiber ( So far, I have had no problems of any kind with it. I concur with Bryan–the old growth wood used in old houses is actually less rot-prone than new wood, because it’s more dense.

    I still wouldn’t feel comfortable blowing insulation into walls unless the wall cavity is visible to inspection. There could be deteriorated insulation on old wiring in there, and spraying in cellulose could increase the fire hazard, although cellulose is normally treated with a fire retardant. Maybe it’s just me, but I like to know for sure what’s inside the wall before I fill it up.

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