Which would save us more money? Help!

paucieMay 31, 2008

After just two weeks in our 1897 home, my husband and I are having discussions about how we can more easily regulate the temperatures between the first and second floors (as well as our utility bills). For example, it's currently 70 degrees on the first floor, but even with the AC running, it's still 77 in the baby's room.

The windows are all original to the house. Would we be better off replacing all of them or putting in a dual zone AC/heat system? We're concerned about bills, but also about managing to keep everything comfortable on both floors. Are there any other options?

I've never lived in such an old home, so I feel totally clueless. Help!

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Replacing the windows will do nothing to help your problem.
Having them rebuilt and sealed correctly will help, as will getting removable (historically accurate) storm windows.

You should also come over to The Old House Web forums and join us for this conversation.
There is a lot of good info regarding just what you are going through.

Replacing the original windows will hurt the value of your home considerably.

Here is a link that might be useful: The Old House Web

    Bookmark   June 1, 2008 at 12:45PM
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We removed the aluminum storms when we painted our house last year. Aside from being EXTREMELY UGLY, they weren't worth a can of beans!
My husband is a stained glass craftsman and he made home made storms and they work better than the aluminum storms ever did and they look nice too. Don't replace your windows, PLEASE.

As for your cooling problem...we have the same issue in the second floor west bedroom. Our CA just couldn't cool properly. We bought an inexpensive window air unit just for that bedroom for under 100.00$ and it works well. I know window units aren't "pretty", but it will do the trick until you win the lottery someday.
Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 1, 2008 at 2:28PM
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Please do not replace your windows. As happycthulhu said, you could have them rebuilt which I've been told is less expensive than replacement. The PO of my 1889 house stupidly replaced the original windows with vinyl abominations. The house is still great and we are restoring everything we can scrape up the money to do. You may need insulation in your attic. We were advised to have separate HVAC units for upstairs and downstairs. Good luck!

    Bookmark   June 1, 2008 at 4:41PM
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I appreciate the responses. I'm confused, though, as to why replacement of the windows is considered a BAD thing? Who would want to pay our utility bills when we try to sell?

    Bookmark   June 1, 2008 at 8:06PM
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You can use things like spring bronze weather stripping (few bucks a package), new glazing and wooden storm windows to seal your wood windows/weather proof them.

Vinyl or aluminum windows will hurt the value of your home. First off, the average life of these things is nowhere near what your windows have already lived through. Secondly, the aesthetics of old homes are such that wood looks "right" on an old home. Third, if you are in a historic district, you'll never get approval to replace your original windows.

I'd also suggest getting to the forums at oldhouseweb.com. There have been numerous discussions about weather stripping windows in the last few years worth of posts.

    Bookmark   June 1, 2008 at 10:40PM
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lovesjazzycat: "...You may need insulation in your attic..."

My thoughts, too. I wouldn't automatically assume it was the windows that were the primary source of the problem.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 1:31AM
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I missed the insulating your attic piece. The lack of attic insulation is often a huge reason for upstairs heat.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 5:55AM
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Do you have central air? This is a typical problem with retrofitted CA in old houses and often has a lot to do with the ducting. It might not cost you a cent to ask this of a HVAC installer or engineer.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 7:22AM
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I agree with others that replacing the windows will not solve this problem. In addition to what's already been recommended, you can try working with your window coverings. Is there a lot of hot sunlight streaming into the rooms upstairs? If so, try closing the blinds or curtains. This should help prevent heat build-up. Likewise, in the wintertime, try to let the sun shine in on cold but sunny days.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 8:19AM
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More interesting information - thank you! Again, I'm not trying to be argumentative, but I thought I'd read before that something like 60% of energy loss is through the windows? Is that false? Wouldn't new windows help with that then?

As far as attic insulation, my husband and I have discussed having it checked out. Who do we call?

I actually have several appointments lined up for this week and next for window treatment options. I'm wondering if thermal drapes might help, too.

I don't know what retrofitted CA means . . . but, yes, we have central air. I've done a little research on the dual zone stuff, but since no one has mentioned that, I'm guessing it's not a worthwhile option?

Oh, and I can't seem to log on to the Old House Web. I keep getting a timed out response . . . maybe they're having problems with their site? I'm dying to get over there! :)

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 8:59AM
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The worst area for energy loss in old homes is thru the attic.

You can check the attic insulation yourselves. If your attic is unfinished, just take a look at what, if anything is on the floors. Do you have loose, old insulation? If you have a finished attic, can you get under the flooring or behind a wall to see what's up there?

I'd focus on the attic and weather proofing your windows before looking at thermal drapes. My guess is that if you deal with attic insulation and weather proofing the windows, you won't need the thermal part of the drapes.

At the time your home was built, there was no such thing as central air. Retrofitting means that it was added after the fact. Is your central air through heating ducts in the walls? Is your heat boiler heat or do you have a furnace?

I've had the same problems with Old House Web this weekend. My guess is that the servers will be up again today. Keep trying.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 10:24AM
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thermal drapes...they work well! we did this for our baby when we lived in an old house in a hot climate. we actually tested before and after on two days that had the same temps...before was 80, after was 72, which was fine with us. this was a south facing window in a stucco home. we didn't use thermal drapes exactly, but room darkening shades fitted tightly against the single pane window (inside the moldings) and heavy curtains over that. we also did not have insulation in the attic, but with the nearly flat slope, we had little chance of getting any up there. didn't really matter since we didn't have central air, either. good luck kren

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 10:34AM
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I have had houses, not necessarily old, with and without storms and would highly recommend them. Ours on our old house are not fancy, but they really help. I would also check into an attic fan (whole house fan) to draw the cool air up and the hot air out. They are noisy, but you usually don't have to run it very long to make a big change.

The general public think that replacement windows are great because for the very short term they can be efficient. Unfortunately, I have never met one that didn't get broken seals within 5 years or so and then you have ugly, inefficient windows. I would much rather have storms on single pain windows.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 12:21PM
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DON'T replace the windows if they are original! The old windows are part of the history and character of your old house and you will devalue your home by replacing windows with ANY style replacement unless they are rotten. I love looking through the rippled old glass in my house to the outside--it reminds me everyday of the history of my house. If you MUST, then at least do a favor to the future owners and store them in the basement or something, so they can be properly restored and reinstalled in the future.

I would suggest having a professional energy auditor come and make recommendations; contact your local utility company for recommendations--they may even have someone who does that for them (for low-cost or free). Oregon has a company that does these for free, and doesn't try to sell you something when they do. Careful of "energy auditors" who work for a company who wants to sell you anything (windows, insulation, etc.

You can then sort the recommendations based on cost/benefit. There will be many less expensive fixes than replacing your historical windows; consider having your windows restored/upgraded. Insulation is usually the best bang for the buck, and your house may have NONE. It may also be good to change to a 2-zone HVAC system, as you first suggested.

Here is a link that might be useful: Oregon energy audit

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 12:59PM
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The Old House Web is back up now.
The company that housed their servers had a fire over the weekend.

    Bookmark   June 2, 2008 at 6:05PM
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Do you have forced hot air heat? If so, does the AC run through the same ducts?

That's what we have in our house (c. 1917), and we have the same issue as you do. The HVAC guys told us to expect it before they ever installed the AC. They said that the first floor would be very comfortable, the second floor would be better than without the AC, and the third floor would pretty much get none of the AC. The problem is that cool air sinks. They told us that a second zone *would* help, but as that would have increased the installation cost so much, we decided not to do it.

For the most part, we keep the shades drawn on the second floor, which helps. At night, we close off the vents on the first floor which (or so the HVAC people say) forces the air to get pushed higher, to the second floor. The HVAC people said that you can also have blowers installed in the ducts which might help, though they couldn't say for sure, so we decided not to do it.

Our thermostat is set to drop the temperature a *lot* right before we go to bed, so the bedrooms upstairs cool off so we can get to sleep. Then the heat rises while we're asleep, and the really cold air turns on about a half hour before we wake up and stays on for another hour before the temp goes up to the regular daytime temp. This seems to work well for us.

BTW, since you're new to old houses, you should know that it's anathema to many old house owners to replace windows that aren't rotted beyond repair. I'm not one of them, but maybe that's because I live near Boston, in an area filled with 100-year-old houses. People seem to be much more practical and less romantic about their old houses here.

I was *thrilled* when we were able to afford to replace the windows on the first floor of our house. (So was everyone else I know when they were able to replace the windows on *their* old houses.) We got good quality replacements in a composite material, and they don't ruin the look of our house to us. Sure, you know they're not original, but guess what - neither is the roof, the porch, much of the siding, the lighting and so on. There's something lost because the windows aren't original and they're not wood, but I appreciate being able to *see* through them (both because the glass is clear (instead of wavy and pitted) and because I can clean them easily. I also appreciate the drastic reduction in our heating bills. I'm not sure about the AC, as the windows came before central air.

    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 11:04AM
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Okay, loved the energy audit idea, so although it's going to be $400 that we weren't planning on spending, we're going to try to accomplish that this week.

As it turns out, one of the auditors I spoke to (who was very helpful), strongly advised us to keep our existing windows. His reasoning was that only about 12% of our energy loss is through the windows, so it would be very difficult for us to recoup the $20,000 it would cost us for new windows. Makes sense!

It's sounding like attic insulation is going to be key . . . I'll keep you posted on what we learn!

    Bookmark   June 3, 2008 at 1:01PM
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You don't say where you live. I assume its in the south somewhere?
Even here in NH its been very hot this past week (in the 90s) and humid. However it did cool down to about 70 at night. We don't have ac because the climate doesn't need it very often, but we do have a whole house fan that we run at night. Its great! The key is the strategic opening of windows so the ww fan will draw cool air all through the house. If a window is open right next to the fan that's where it will draw most the air from so you don't do that.
Before the fan we would open the windows as soon as it got cooler out than in, and have fans blowing OUT the upstairs windows, and then close everything down in the morning when it got warmer again. This made a huge difference. Maybe the ww fan would work for you in spring and fall if you live in a very hot place, and save money on ac. It would definitely keep your upstairs cooler since they blow into the attic (also called attic fans). This makes me wonder if your attic is properly vented. Its possible that a po did something that they shouldn't have to your attic vents.
OUr house is very well insulated. My dh keeps adding insultation to the attic, and years ago he blew in insulation in the walls. Our heating bill last winter was about $400, with the upstairs kept cool. My moms was $2000 tho for a somewhat bigger victorian house but she keeps her thermostat on 62.
We replaced a few windows that were in terrible condition (with wooden windows) but our house is very plain and from the 1920s so not that old. We got 2 over 1 s like the rest of the house and they seem to blend in. I understand what people are saying though. Sometimes you see window replacements and it looks like the soul is gone from the house after.
Some folks also object to getting rid of the old weight system windows, but that big gap in the wall where the weight is is an uninsulated weak spot. My dh retrofited many of our old windows so we don't have the weights and he filled the gaps with insulation. I must admit tho that the weight system works great, and I have an easier time opening the windows in which the old system remains.
We got interior storm windows which cost about $170 each and they had to be custom cuz the window openings are all slightly different sizes. They are great, but finding a place to store them is a challenge even tho we only take down the ones where we put screens for the summer. They are less expensive than replacement windows, clearly. It did make a big difference in our comfort this winter, and they are a lot nicer than plastic. The other bad thing about them is that they take up some windowsill space and they don't come in very many colors.
Good Luck!

    Bookmark   June 12, 2008 at 12:50PM
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I can't imagine thinking 77 degrees is an uncomfortable temperature in warm weather ;-) Our heating/cooling man told my mother when she retrofitted central air into her older home to expect the upstairs to be warmer than the down because the forced air heat ducts were undersized for the added air conditioning unit. He said if the upstairs didn't stay cool enough, he'd have to add additional ducting. I think this is a pretty common problem.

Insulation in the attic? That's the first thing anyone should do, especially in an old home.

Humidity is just as important a factor in hot weather as the temperature. You don't give a general locality, so I don't have a clue the weather patterns with which you have to deal. But, hot air holds a lot more moisture than cold air, and knowing your relative humidity can be helpful. A simple and fairly cheap modern room dehumidifier can be an economical Godsend. One can also get their forced air unit fitted with one and the same, but running central air accomplishes the same thing.

I second the suggestion to use thermal drapes. Our 1830s house is built to take advantage of solar gain in winter. Opening the blinds when the sun is shining through the windows provides a noticeable temperature gain. Likewise, blocking sunlight in summer on those windows where the sun is shining through until evening makes a real temperature difference in the whole house. We also take advantage of ceiling fans to move the air around. At the top of our large staircase/foyer we have a ceiling fan we run in reverse in winter to pull warm air back down, and run in summer to pull the cooler air from the downstairs.

A great big YES to the suggestion of the whole house fan. We also take advantage of sucking in the cool night air, then turning off any fans what would pull in the hot daytime air. Yes, one has to follow a routine but it's well worth the effort.

We don't have air conditioning either, and we live in the S.E. Appalachian sector of Ohio. Summers can get as hot and nasty as winters can get cold and nasty.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2008 at 2:23PM
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Don't forget to look outside your home to the landscaping for help cooling the house down too. Well placed trees can shade a house enough to cut cooling cost, just remember NOT to place the trees too close to the house or septic system.

As others have said DON't change the windows. Fix up what you have. Use thermal drapes, Add storms. Caulk.

You need to change your mindset if you are going to live in a old house. New is not always better. Don't be swayed by fast talking sales men or contractors. Do your homework. Talk to renovation specialist.

    Bookmark   June 12, 2008 at 3:53PM
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Glad you went with the energy audit idea! I think they are the professionals who can best help you balance cost/benefit... like the window replacement $$$ he saved you.
Good luck and keep us updated!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2008 at 2:12PM
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I looked in a little late on this discussion, but I'm really glad edselpdx advised the energy audit and paucie went with it.

Utility companies actually WANT people to use LESS energy -- it means they don't have to build new power plants. It also means that low income people can actually pay their bills and they don't have to chase after people and be mean and cut people off. That doesn't help anyone. They're not monsters. (I don't work for one or anything.)

In my area, you can get a good energy audit for free. But even if you have to pay, it's generally considered worth it -- just think, paucie, if you'd been on your own, you probably would have replaced all the windows for thousands, found it didn't do the trick, tried something else, maybe something else ... The experts know what really works.

The trick is to, as edselpdx advised, get a company recommended by the utility, preferably independent, not someone who has a vested interest in racking up a lot of work.

I hope it all works out!

    Bookmark   June 17, 2008 at 4:38PM
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I agree with the energy audit and adding attic insulation.We have an old house and recently added insulation in the attic and, believe it or not, it has helped instantly with the air conditioning bills. It's great for keeping heat out in the summer, so I'm assuming the winter will be better. And, agree, DO NOT replace those old windows.

    Bookmark   June 28, 2008 at 11:29PM
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I don't think anyone ever addressed the dual A/C question. We live in a gorgeous 1920's home that was restored to perfection before we moved in. Everything is meticulous and was done top-notch, with complete respect to the original architecture, by our local restoration guru. I agree with everyone else here, do NOT remove those windows. It ruins the look of an historic home. The window coverings and attic insulation will definitely help. But when you've got it in your budget, a separate central A/C unit for your second floor is a wonderful thing to have. We've got four bedrooms upstairs, ours is downstairs. We like to sleep at 72, our kids are good at 74, and we like 76 on both floors during the day. (TEXAS...argh!) Even though we're insulated, it would take more energy for one unit to cool both floors, and I'm not sure it would ever feel equally comfy. And when the kids go to grandma's, we can bring it up to 77 upstairs. Also, if you ever sold, it would probably be a good selling-point. I didn't remember my husband speaking with the realtor about this and didn't really think about it until you brought it up. But now I remember him talking about it as something he was relieved to see already installed, and I'm really glad we've got separate units.

    Bookmark   June 29, 2008 at 3:31PM
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Stopping the air leaks from the attic before insulating will allow the insulation to perform as spec'd. Then you will see a faster ROI and feel the difference.

When you have your audit..hopefully you will have you home tested for infiltration. Don't settle for knowing how many inches or feet of air infiltration you have, make sure that your auditor shows you where these leaks are.

Any air from the attic is more difficult to condition.
Cauking moldings to ceiling and walls will keep the attic air from leaking, plumbing penetrations, light fixtures, recessed lights, false boxing all these areas leak.
Air filters through insulation at these areas. If you look around in your attic you can see areas where air is being drawn into your house. Light colored insulations (batts, blown fg) will be darker at the holes into the conditoned space as they draw air through the insulation they also pull dirt through.

In most older homes most of the air leakage site can be sealed with caulk. (cases & cases in some homes).
Caulk is cheap and fairly easy to install.
I use a caulk with at long life, that goes on white and dries clear.

the energy audit with directions and areas to seal BEFORE insulating would give you the most bang for your buck.

best of luck, and let us know how it goes.

    Bookmark   June 30, 2008 at 7:41PM
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