Deciding On Insulation In Staged Remodel

cfrizzleNovember 3, 2013

Long time reader, first time poster, here. :)

I'm hoping you all can help me figure out how/when to insulate the exterior walls as we complete a remodel of an old house.

We are halfway through a major remodel of a 1917 Foursquare in Indianapolis, Indiana. We have gutted the kitchen and upstairs bath and we're adding an additional bathroom upstairs. The house currently has very old/dusty blown-in insulation that has compressed into the bottom half of the walls.

We're getting ready to put up drywall in a couple weeks and I'm trying to figure out what to do for insulation of the exterior walls in the kitchen and upstairs bathrooms.

My HVAC guy suggested that we use sprayfoam on the exterior walls that we have opened up, then lay in fiberglass on top of that. Next summer, we plan to re-side the house. At that point we will have the opportunity to do more blow-in/spray foam type of insulation and house wrap.

I have a few questions.
1. Is it worth it to go ahead and insulate what we can in the rooms that are currently being remodeled, if we are going to add insulation to the whole house next year? In other words, will it complicate matters to have to know which walls already have insulation when the guys come in with their spray foam truck?

2. Will we have to have the existing old blow-in insulation sucked out of the walls before blowing in new insulation?

3. Is it necessary to house wrap if we do new blow-in insulation or vice versa?

FYI. As far as energy efficiency goes, the house still has all of it's original wood windows with storm windows. We will be updating these 2-3 at a time over the next few years.

Thanks for your help!

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FYI. As far as energy efficiency goes, the house still has all of it's original wood windows with storm windows. We will be updating these 2-3 at a time over the next few years.

When you say "updating," you don't mean "replacing," do you? Because those old windows are better than anything you can buy today. And siding. Are you using wood? Does the old siding need to come off, or are you modernizing with vinyl?

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 6:39PM
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We're going to try to keep the main floor original windows and weatherize them. The upper floor windows are not in as good condition, so we want to update those with wood/aluminum clad inserts.

As far as siding, we want to install hardiplank siding. The original wood is in good condition, but the paint is flaking away. It's a large house and will probably cost $10k every time we need to paint the whole house. We don't want to have to constantly maintain the paint and a factory baked-on color in hardiplank seems like a better product.

    Bookmark   November 3, 2013 at 7:51PM
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First, I want to second vjrnts comments about replacement windows. Window replacement is, IMHO, one of the worst scams of the past 25 years. Even the second story windows are worth fixing and keeping as they, too, are undoubtably better than almost anything you can buy today.

Ripping off and replacing perfectly good wooden siding because the paint is flaking also seems like a bad idea. Hardiplank may be a good product, but it has a very limited track record. With proper preparation and application paint does not have to peel and an entire house does not have to be painted at once. Properly cared for wooden siding can last for 200 years.

The foam insulation has to my mind one great drawback. What do you do if you have to make modifications or repairs to the wiring or plumbing within the walls? Such modifications and repairs are commonly required in an old house.Foam insulation sticks tenaciously to everything. It may have its place in areas where there are no pipes or wires, but I would not want to use it where there are.

Recommendations for air sealing and insulation change rapidly and vary considerably from climate area to climate area. A check with a state agency or university would be an excellent idea.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 5:27AM
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Keep my siding & windows? How would one insulate? Or should I just prepare to pay ridiculous energy bills the rest of my life?

The thing with the windows I can't get past is that the cost to repair them is the same as updating them. I've talked to several contractors, many who appreciate maintaining old house integrity & all of them thought I was an idiot to try to keep and restore the original windows. Same with the siding.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 6:18AM
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Also, we would only foam exterior walls. We have done all new piping and electrical. No plumbing exists in our exterior walls. There will be some electrical, but I don't see us needing to get in there to modify it for some time.

    Bookmark   November 4, 2013 at 6:21AM
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Without knowing the reasons the contractors recommended replacement of the windows and siding, it's impossible to evaluate their advice. For example, if the original wood in the siding is in "good condition", what's the advantage in replacing it with a product that may or may not give you a painting free future of unknown duration? Likewise with the windows. There are replacement windows available at relatively modest cost which may well be equal to a repair job. Read the fine print for these and you'll probably find that the performance warranty is extremely limited. You'll have spent the money and have pretty quickly wound up with a less efficient window than you started with. The very high quality replacement windows which meet the Canadian standards - and there aren't very many of them - are in the $1000+ range. If the existing windows are going to cost that much to repair they must be in truly awful shape.

Closed cell spray foam has a number of pluses and may well be your best choice. It's not, however, a choice between foam and paying ridiculous energy bills. There are other insulation options.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 5:43AM
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I can see the argument for siding and will definitely take that into consideration.

On the windows: we are getting Marvin Ultimate double hung inserts (wood with aluminum clad exterior) for about $500-600. These pop right into the old frame. The cost to install each is another $100-200.

The pro window restoration guy in my city said he would charge ~$600 to strip, reglaze, weatherize, rehang w weights & I'd still have to buy new storms. Energy efficiency with the old windows would be sub par because the area beside the window where the weights hang couldn't be insulated.

    Bookmark   November 5, 2013 at 6:45AM
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As a general rule, potential heat loss through windows amounts to between 10 and 15% of the total for a house. The inability to insulate the pockets where the sash weights hang would be a very small percentage of the 10 to 15% total. Your house was built at a time when everything from the quality of the wood used to the craftsmanship of the builders was at a very high level. (There are exceptions, of course.) The old windows with added exterior storms are still a better option, IMHO. A $600 repair job plus a good quality storm window is going to cost just about the same as the replacements but is very likely to save you more in energy costs in the long run plus you will have kept perfectly good windows out of the land fill and preserved the original integrity of your house in a significant way.

In regard to the siding: Painting Hardiplank every 10 to 15 years is recommended by many. There's also the issue of how difficult and potentially dangerous to human lungs this material is to cut, sand, etc. should any kind of repairs be needed - this product can crack and be damaged by impact. Fiber cement siding products are probably superior to vinyl, but they're not, again IMHO, at all a better choice than wood except in some very specialized applications.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 5:51AM
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Oooooh, akamainegrower's comment about landfills gave me a chill. If you do decide to go ahead with the window replacement (which I would urge you to reconsider carefully), please, contact an architectural salvage place to take your old windows. Someone will want them, and that great old-growth lumber with its tight grain just isn't being made anymore. It would be an awful waste to let it rot in a landfill.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 8:11AM
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As an owner of an old house which recently underwent renovation/addition, I strongly urge keeping your old windows. They are much better constructed than any new ones. Sash weights are much more sturdy than spring balances in double hung windows, and a broken sash cord is (relatively) easy to replace. A spring balance is a pain to replace. We had to install new windows the newly-constructed space, and they are not built to last.

We used spray-foam insulation in all the renovated areas, and it's great. If you had to move wiring, you could simply cut away some foam and spray some more in.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 4:12PM
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Hi. I'll second the idea that the spray foam insulation is great. We're in the midst of a total gut/renovation that has been sprayed with closed cell foam at two different times, as parts of the house were opened up, re-wired, re-plumbed etc. We also have a brand new modulating, gas-fired boiler. Between the boiler and the insulation, our house has gone from being basically cold feeling all the time with $400+ natural gas bills in the winter months to a very comfortable home heated to 67 degrees, with our largest gas bill being $89.00 last winter.

As for the windows...I know there are lots of people that disagree, but we installed new construction windows (not replacement style) windows that are fiberglass. There again, the difference in maintenance and appearance was worth every penny.

Good luck on you adventure and enjoy the process.

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 4:26PM
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This summer I worked on my sunroom windows. I can't tell you the number of neighbors that stopped by to tell me how much they wished they had reworked their windows instead of replacing them. I heard horror stories of poor installation and unsquare openings that kept me going on my project. With triple track storms on, I would never dream of replacing these nearly hundred yr old windows. Especially after not getting a penny back on the last house where we replaced the broken 60's aluminum trash windows.

This post was edited by maryinthefalls on Fri, Nov 8, 13 at 13:25

    Bookmark   November 6, 2013 at 8:43PM
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You have 10 to 20 years before the insulated window glass will fog up after losing the seal. Will they have paid for themselves in savings by then?

    Bookmark   November 7, 2013 at 7:40AM
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Several years ago we had an energy audit done. Our old windows were identified as a significant source of heat loss/infiltration, which would surprise no one who had sat near one when the wind blew! This company (who dearly wanted us to take a $20k loan to remediate all of the things that needed doing) actually advised against window replacement on the grounds that it would take 40 years to amortize the cost in energy savings.

We are slowly, over time, having our double-hung windows reglazed (and replacing the zinc cames sometines), and weatherstripped. Our first-floor windows are giant, inward-opening casements that are sagging on their hinges, and I am told that the fix for that is somewhat more complicated, but we had a full set of wood framed, single-pane storm windows made and installed to replace the utter garbage aluminum-framed storms, and we are buttoned up tight now. And the house looks soooo much better!

    Bookmark   November 7, 2013 at 8:39AM
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what is your location?

what foam type is used there open or closed cell?

if you are planning on re-siding the house...what
about using a foam sheathing board under new
this will add R-value, eliminate thermal bridging,
make wall air tight so that any type of insulation will retain its peformance.
this goes a lont way to improving performance of wall, especially if you follow up on air sealing walls by
caulking & installing air tight dywall approach to

then you could save your foam $$ for the roofline
where the most heat loss (winter)/heat gain(summer)
costs you monthly.

I agree that replacing windows is a costly upgrade
with a long payback. savings is actually around 14%
based on my calculations over the years.

more questions for you to answer before I can
give you the answers I think would be your best
bang for the buck.

best of luck.

    Bookmark   November 8, 2013 at 7:48PM
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I had foam insulation put in the walls 20 years ago. This year, had some walls opened up for remodeling. The foam tended to crumble into dust-- so masks needed to be worn-- but otherwise was not an impediment to working on wiring, pipes etc. I don't know if it was open cell or closed, it was some sort of urethane foam.

    Bookmark   November 13, 2013 at 1:27PM
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I've seen some of that old foam insulatin that crumbles
to the touch. big improvements have been made, but if
the mix of the chemicals isn't right, the temp is wrong,
or wood is wet...foam can be a huge pita.

I'm not a fan of foam in walls, but more of a roofline
install. most heat loss/gain is from attic into house.
making this a better location for foam.

foam sheathing to exterior of walls, caulking, taping seams,
insulating convnetionally and air tight drywall approach to
interior of walls is a better investment than foam for walls.

windows provide a 10-15% energy savings to go from
single wood to double vinly low e windows.
storm windows can reduce air infiltration.
sometimes the charm of the old windows is better
than the replacement...just depends upon the
homeowner's pov.

air leakage is the biggest consumer of energy.
investing in a blower door test, and duct leakage
test will show you where to seal. while providing
amount of leakage of house & ducts.
re-testing should be done once work is completed.
to verify what has been done, and show any smaller

best of luck

    Bookmark   November 14, 2013 at 10:07AM
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