I think my cold room is *too* cold...

alisonJanuary 24, 2011

About 18 months ago I moved into a 110 year old house in rreally pretty good shape. One of the things I likeed about the kitchen was the small (6'x8') windowed room off the kitchen that I have great pantry plans for.

My elderly neighbor tells me it's technically a "keeping room", where you kept your perishables, because it's cooler than the rest of the house.

Waaaay cooler. Midway thru last winter I took to keeping the door shut, and then put weatherstripping on the door. the draft is palable, all the way to the front rooms. As much as I miss the light, this winter I shut the door back in November, and the reduction in heat bills was noticeable.

There is no heat source to this room, which has outside walls on two sides, a small double paned new window, and is on the north side of the house. I *think* it is over the basement, rather than a crawl space, but I want to double check that.

Out of curiosity, I put a high-low thermometer in there this week, and over a few days when the outside temp was in the teens, it ranged from 23 to 35.

Until I saw the actual temps I had just accepted this room would be like a giant walk-in fridge in the winter, but I'm beginning to wonder if that's just too cold, if it might be hurting the house in someway. I don't mind keeping the door shut in the winter, but what's the best way to take the edge off a bit?

It's an brick old house, and I've got the utility company coming out soon to do an energy audit -- I don't know what the insulation situation is, or even how you insulate brick -- but I thought I'd check in and see if anyone had similar experiences!

'Scuse the mess...

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"or even how you insulate brick "

You can't really insulate brick. It is what it is. What you can do is build another wall up against the brick and insulate that. If you are feeling a draft though, that is moving air not lack of insulation.

You could definitely put some sort of a space or room heater in there to take the chill off. Of course, that will add to your heating bill.

Otherwise, an uninsulated and unheated room is just going to get cold in the winter.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 3:09PM
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We inherited when we bought the house a pantry that was built on the ruins of the servants entrance. It's basically part of the porch enclosed and then surrounded by the 1970's garage that the same owner attached to the house. You can still see the door for the porch on the garage side of porch. From the inside it's been covered over with plaster board. Looks like a plain square windowless room.
It too has no heat source. Just a door which we keep closed.I keep all sorts of kitchen stuff in this little room. It's not bothering the rest of the house. It's like having a porch that you never use, except in our case we do use it for storage. I think you're worrying for no reason unless it's affecting your heating bill in some way.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 3:56PM
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I was trying to come up with a way to take the edge off the -4 degrees F. temperature just outside our front door this morning. Nothing's working so far.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 4:17PM
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Yeah, I think my concern was watching too many episode of Holmes on Holmes or other shows, where they always seemed shocked the homeowner was unconcerned about problems.

As I started writing the post it occurred to me that I don't know what's under that room -- whether it's basement or crawl space. The more I think about it, the more I think it may be crawl space.

It doesn't bother me -- at least, once I put the weather stripping up it doesn't bother me. Once I redo that room with nicer shelves and better storage I may end up putting in a baseboard heater set to keep it at least at 40, and I can keep my fig trees there in the winter.

It's definintely not a draft, or coming from the window; it's cold radiating from the walls. I had wondered about the insulation issue, bill; we're always told to increase insulation in old buildings and I'm wasn't sure how that was accomplished in a brick building.

I'll be curious what the energy audit says -- I may end up increasing the insulation in the attic and giving my house a good hat instead of a sweater!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 4:17PM
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I'm picking up the feeling that my question is being dismissed as stupid.

Got it.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 4:44PM
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Hi Alison.
Not a stupid question--can't figure why you don't know if it's over basement or not though. :) If you are in the basement, can you stand directly under it's floor? If not, then it's a crawlspace.
My house is frame, but my pantry is on the eastern side of the house, sharing a roof with an open porch, so the pantry has three exterior walls and a double-hung window. Mine is NOT over the basement, just has a space underneath accessed from outside about two feet high. Shortly after moving in, the house had cellulose insulation blown in the walls, and I added batts under the pantry floor. In winter, despite aluminum storms, I need to put plastic over the window to stop drafts.
My pantry has a china cabinet, lots of cupboard space, a cast iron sink with two drainboards, and my fridge...oh, and the litter box. :)
Pretty chilly in winter, but only about ten degrees less than the kitchen with all the steps done to insulate.
Brick walls you can't do anything about--in a lot of houses they built double courses to help insulate, but you may not have that. You can add batts under the floor between the joists, and in the ceiling too which will help.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 6:45PM
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You'd think it would be easy to tell, and I've measured all the rooms in the house -- but I've never measured the basement rooms. On the first floor, where the kitchen is, the rooms are off-set boxes. In the basement, there are several separate rooms that are also offset -- but I'm not sure how the offsets compare. As I was writing this post it occurred to me that the basement wall may *not* run as far back as the end of the keeping room -- and the extreme cold certainly sounds more like crawlspace, since the basement itself is pretty warm and toasty.

If you look at the space from the outside there is no obvious access, no vents -- but there *is* a porch right next to it. They are both original brick, but the top of the porch floor is badly damaged and will have to be replaced this summer. When that is torn up I'll see if there's access to the keeping room from there, and if we can put in some kind of insulation on the underside of the keeping room.

If I could get the keeping room just a bit warmer it'd be great. One of the problems I've run into in this house is finding a space that is consistently cool enough to overwinter my fig trees -- a 40 degree keeping room would be an asset!

Thanks for the suggestions!

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 7:39PM
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Now that the room (with brick walls) has reached a temp in the 30's, it will take an incredible amount of energy to warm it. If you had maintained some heat, like 55*, from the fall onward, the input would be much less than taking it up to that temp now. The thermal mass of the brick will suck all the heat out. The best solution to this unheated brick space is to insulate the outside, keeping the moderating effect of the brick to keep an even temp year-round. Insulating inside the brick seems silly; not only do you lose light (because of deeper window jambs) and space, you waste the great advantage of the brick's thermal mass. IMHO.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 7:55PM
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Kind of a fuzzy question.

Your "keeping" room--uninsulated, poorly glazed and sitting over an unheated basement/crawlspace--is performing as intended. Unless energy costs are of no concern to you, you can separate it off from your living space or insulate and heat it.

If you want it for a special purpose as you mention, insulation and controlled heat would still be a good route.

No cold rooms here.

mrs. worthy misses the banana and coconut trees that used to grow in her yard at home and insists from time to time on trying an indoor banana tree here. Unfortunately, they all soon expire when someone opens a front door and delightful Arctic breezes waft in.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 8:17PM
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Sombreuil -- how do you insulate a brick wall from the outside? Build a wall around the brick and insulate the space between? I haven't seen that done before, I'm curious!

As I said before, worthy, I'm content to let it stay a "cold" room -- not looking for tropical temperatures here. Columbusguy1 mentioned stabilizing the temperature in a similar room with insulation, and that piqued my curiosity, and raised the idea that, just a little bit warmer, it could be a good winter home for the figs, that need to be cold enough to go dormant, but not freeze.

I originally asked the question because I wondered if it seemed unusual that what appears to be a finished indoor room, with no visible holes and a brand new double paned window would be a mere 10 degrees above the external temperature. I've heard of some structures that have an external vent that is supposed to be closed in the winter and opened in the summer. Altho there is nothing on the outside wall, I suppose it's possible (altho' pretty crazy and cumbersome) that there is something like that that is only exposed when the porch floor is up -- I'll check that when I have the porch floor redone this summer. Most likely, I'll look into a little extra insulation on the floor of that room at that time, and go back to my original position that it's simply a cold room, and keep the door shut and the weather stripping in place.

    Bookmark   January 24, 2011 at 8:59PM
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For out-sulation, I would use some kind of open-cell foam, and then a lime stucco(or a Dryvit application)for the exterior finish.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2011 at 7:00PM
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I also have been working on my "keeping room"--an 8x11 room on the northernmost corner of our 120 year old wood-frame home in Indiana (It has a window and about 1/3 of the floorspace is the stairwell to the basement. While the stairwell is "old" I am not convinced it is original to the house--it may have been added when a bedroom upstairs was converted to a bath as the plumbing runs through this room behind a false wall and the waste pipe is boxed in (and nicely stained to match the woodwork). This basement configuration is not the best because this is the cold part of our basement (and we haven't done a good job weatherproofing our basement yet) and there's no way to shut off the basement from the laundry room. Since there's plumbing in the basement and this room (it's a laundry room/pantry now, I need to keep my room above freezing even though it doesn't have a heat run (and I wouldn't want to heat it since it's really part of the basement), I need to keep it above freezing. The room had an ancient (1960?) in-wall space heater (from the time when it was a bathroom) which was broken, and since it's a laundry room and there is a lot of fabric in the room, I don't really want a space heater in there.

The first thing I did was look at the window--it was 8' tall, missing its storm, rattled and the glazing needed some attention (about 40 years ago!). I realize that's not your problem--is the gas still good in your window? You could also try a thermal curtain on the window if that's not enough.

The second thing I did was caulk the trim and patch every crack in the room. Then I painted. The paint wasn't necessary for R-value reasons, but it seems to me the room was "tighter" after I painted...it felt like all the little cracks in the plaster were "sealed" after I sealed, primed, and painted the plaster.

Tomorrow we have a windy zero day coming...that's my test to see how much better the room is...

my basement has offset rooms also, and they do not match the floorplan of the house above--and 2 of the front rooms are over crawlspace. I think that your next task should be to figure out what's underneath your keeping room since it could be wind blowing...

if the floor in there is wood and has "gaps" maybe you can feel a draft (with wet hands)...or you could take a bright work light and point it at the floor, then go down in the basement (at night if it's not too creepy, lol)with the lights out in the surrounding rooms...so that the work light on the floor will be a "beacon" calling you to the room. A more invasive way to do this would be to drill a hole in the floor (in a place you don't want to look at every day, lol! maybe in the joint between two boards or in a knothole where you can patch it later. If that doesn't work, you may want to try to measure from some landmark like your kitchen water pipes...or if you're not afraid to pull up a floorboard (I am!)...that'd be cutting to the chase...

The other thing I was wondering is...my keeping room's ceiling is a kneewall attic...it got much warmer in the room when we insulated the floor of that attic. All the rest of my house is 2 stories with a huge attic, but this room (and part of my kitchen) is 2 rooms below and 1 above with triangle attics on top of the 2 rooms below, so they are cold. What's the ceiling of your room?

    Bookmark   February 2, 2011 at 9:48AM
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The keeping room in old homes, is not what you describe. The Keeping Room - generally had a large fireplace and it was where you kept warm, kept company - it was a multi-function room where people gathered (to eat, to socialize etc)

We also have a couple of cold rooms (and we shut the doors in the winter) One is a plaster closet that I will eventually heat (by insulating properly - I don't believe it has any - was annexed from a breezeway. The other is our sunroom, which was originally an open and then a screened in porch. It has a radiator, but really is all windows and no insulation and brings down the temperature of adjoining rooms - so we shut the door when not in use and put a space heater on when the kids want to play out there.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 2:08PM
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"Keeping room" is not a phrase I'd ever encountered before -- that was the phrase my neighbor used - apparently it means something different in South Carolina!

Thanks for the rundown on your approach, kterlap -- it's very helpful to "see" someone else's progresws on a similar situation. The window seems fine, but I'll be doing some of the same things; caulking the trim and patching and painting this summer, when I take out the cabinests and install shelves. (For the record, the only cracks are on the *interior* wall, but it can't hurt!)

The biggie will be trying to get some insulation around the room. Again, I'm not going for tropical temperatures in there, but I would like to keep it above freezing.
When I have the adjoing porch floor replaces, I'll see if there's a way to get in and insulated the underside of the keeping room floor.

And while I don't like "dropped ceilings" (maybe because I think of crappy aluminum frames and accoustical tiles!) I need to insulaatte tthe ceiling to. Since you pointed it out, kterlap, I realized the room directly above this is the (similarly) unheated sunroom, which is also (similarly) closed off for the winter!

Appreciate the advice, Casey -- but I'm having trouble imagining a stucco addition!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 2:56PM
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A dropped ceiling won't add any insulating value to the room--it just removes height. What you want to do is use rigid insulation, then cover that with some drywall. I don't remember the R-values for rigid insulation, but I think it is around 19 per inch. You will lose only an inch or two in ceiling height, and not have nasty tracks or joints to look at.

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 4:34PM
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I know the the dropped ceiling by itsself doesn't do anything -- but it would give me a place to *put* the insulation!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 4:37PM
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Perhaps I'm using the wrong words -- thanks for the advice!

    Bookmark   February 7, 2011 at 4:41PM
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I don't suppose you want to use anything too modern to insulate your outer 2 walls of that room but my neighbor hired a couple of guys to enclose her patio.It didn't take very long so I was anxious to have a look. Well, they took foam backed siding(I think you would call it) & put on with siding outside & 4x8 sheets of light colored paneling on inside. They installed small wall heater & AC. It was very hot day when I visited & was surprised how comfortable it was as it is in full sun most of day. They love it & use as family room. So seems like you could get 4x8 sheets of this stuff & put it behind your shelves so the outer walls would be much warmer. Might have to put siding side inward, backing is just like a Styrofoam cooler stuff. They had 2x4x8 framework that they attached it to as it was just a patio before. They added a couple of small windows on back side. Really quite nice for inexpensive job. Check lumber companies & box stores like Home Depot to see if they have something like that. You would lose about 4 in of space on each of 2 walls but if it was cut carefully might not have to secure it much. 6x8 room would only take a couple sheets.

    Bookmark   February 11, 2011 at 12:57AM
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