We've started out our Curbly House project with a series of energy improvements. Find out how a new HVAC, ductwork, and insulation are paying off.
A house is such a personal thing. It’s private, intimate. It’s family. And yet, in most cases, it belonged to someone else before you. And someone else before them. How does a house that belonged to another family for fifty years become your own? How do you know when that change has happened?
In my case, I knew our new house was really ours when the house’s problems became my problems. When I’d wake up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom, and the very first thought on my mind (after the bathroom) was about the upcoming furnace inspection, or which insulation bid to choose.
Maybe it’s the setbacks that bring you closer to a home. And certainly it’s the little victories; like running the brand-new air conditioning for the very first time.
Full-circle energy audit
We started this project off with a complete home energy audit that showed a lot of problems. The house was off-the-charts leaky. The furnace was shot. There was no insulation in the walls, and not nearly enough in the attic.
We replaced the entire HVAC system. Even the ductwork. We’ll save money on our energy bill, and we’ll also get some nice rebates from our local energy company for using high-efficiency models.
For this we used Metro Heating & Cooling, a Twin Cities HVAC contractor. They were really easy to work with and did a great job.
Then, we had fiberglass insulation blown into all the exterior walls. They did this by drilling a set of two holes along each wall: One at the bottom for a blower to send the insulation in, and another at the top for a vacuum to pull it up the wall.
The other big problem was air leaks; places in the home’s framing where outside air could seep right in. Those got plugged up with spray foam; every joist, electrical outlet, light fixture, and vent penetration.
We’ll also have insulation blown into the attic, but before that happens we have to pass a couple of inspections, and get sheetrock on the second-floor ceilings.
Our contractor for this part of the job was Quality Insulation in St. Louis Park, MN. They were awesome; very thorough and cleaned up really well (the house was a mess and under construction, but they managed to leave it cleaner than they found it).
Final energy audit results
We brought the same energy auditor back out to do a final report on the house. Since the remodel isn’t done yet, and because it’s summer now, it’s a little difficult to get a truly accurate final audit. But we did one anyway, and the results are encouraging.
Our first blower door test showed the house was leaking at 5,600 CFM (meaning a blower fan had to move 4,600 cubic feet per minute of air to get the inside pressure to 50 pascals). Now we’re about 1,000 CFM lower, which is a good improvement, especially considering how many parts of the house are open to the exterior due to ongoing construction.
Once we have the sheetrock and additional insulation complete, we definitely feel the improvement in the form of fewer drafts and lower heating bills.
The infrared photos from before showed cold air streaming in totally unimpeded. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough of a temperature difference between the exterior and the interior of the house on our second audit for us to get good infrared photos. But our auditor assured me he thought we’d see a big difference in the winter.
And although we haven’t been using the AC or furnace long enough to compare numbers on our energy bill, based on the improved energy efficiency of the furnace, we estimate we’ll save about $650 per year in winter heating costs.
All in all, our energy-improvement project went very smoothly. We got help with financing through a county Smart Energy Homes program, and found good contractors who showed up on time and cleaned up after their work. Plus, we’ll be getting more than $1,000 in energy rebates through our local utility company.
Rebates and other goodies
If you’re looking to get help financing your own energy improvements, check to see if your state or city government, or your energy company, is offering rebates, tax credits, or low-interest financing for energy improvements. Here’s a great database to help.
Utilities usually have requirements about what you need to do and how (in our case, we were required to insulate walls, seal air leaks sealing, and install new lightbulbs), but often jumping through the hoops pays off.
Even though we’re not living in it yet, there’s no question this house is now our own. With the baby coming in less than a month, I’m not certain we’ll be moving in before the due date, so there’ll be plenty to keep me up at night in the next few months.
I’ll be back with a follow-up post later this summer once more of the project is completed and we’re able to get more accurate energy-efficiency ratings. I’ll also be able to share some more details about how our improvements have affected our energy bills.
But I can’t wait to move on to the next stage in the home ownership journey — waking up in the middle of the night and thinking not about which home improvement project needs attention, but how to get that little baby back to sleep.