Old House Heating Problems and What You Can Do About Them

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Old houses are great for their charm and even for their craftsmanship—they just don’t build houses like they used to. However, homeowners with historic homes face a variety of problems, especially in winter.

Does your house always feel chilly, no matter how much you turn up the heat? Are the floors always cold? Here are some of the most common heating problems old house owners face and what you can do about them.

It’s Always Cold

If you keep cranking up your thermostat but it still feels cold, it means you’re losing a ton of heat—likely because of poor insulation. Unfortunately, older homes often have insufficient insulation because heating homes used to be inexpensive, the view of comfort has changed, and insulating technology has steadily improved.

There is a simple (albeit not completely easy) fix. Your first step is to add insulation to your attic. Blown-in insulation is great for unfinished spaces. If have a finished attic (or plan to finish it in the future), blanket insulation is your best bet.

The next step should be to check for insulation gaps if you have a basement. Many basements are not insulated, which is fine unless you live in a climate where the ground freezes. However, old homes have wooden floors and supports that sit on top of concrete, brick, or rubble foundations. The gap made between the foundation and the floor joists should be insulated.

Finally, you should investigate topping up the insulation in your walls. It’s best to hire a professional who can use an infrared thermometer to pinpoint areas of heat loss. You can top up wall insulation without ruining your plaster walls by removing some exterior siding and drilling access holes. In some old houses, you can also access wall gaps through the attic.

It’s Difficult To Upgrade Your Heat System

One of the reasons why older homes have inefficient heat systems is because they simply were not designed to accommodate ducting and air returns for modern central heating systems. This doesn’t mean you have to give up on having an efficient heat delivery system. Talk to your HVAC contractor about:

  • Fixing your old boiler. Many older homes used in-room radiators to steadily fill a room with warmth. Instead of warming the house with warm air, the heat source stays in the room with you. Radiators use boilers that heat water, stem, or oil. If you house has unused old radiators, it’s worth investigating if a new boiler could be the answer.
  • In-floor heating systems. These provide steady heat without any need for ducting or a place to put a furnace. Plus, your feet will always be warm.
  • Baseboard heaters. Baseboard heaters typically run on electricity, but they can be a good solution for a house with uneven heating. For example, an attic room might always feel chillier, and you can add a baseboard heater with a thermostat to help augment the current heating system.

These alternative systems of heat can help off-set the feeling that your house is always cold. However, keep in mind that central AC needs ducting. With these heating options, there is usually not the convenience of switching to cooling in the summer months.

It’s Drafty

Most old houses get drafty. Over the years, walls shift, window frames shrink, and cracks form. The best way to solve a drafty home is the take time to seal as many air leaks as you can find. Try:

  • Adding weatherstripping to doors and windows. If your old windows are sealed shut, use rope caulk to further seal the frame.
  • Filling gaps in your basement. Look for areas where bricks or rubble has shifted. Patch the foundation with expandable foam.
  • Checking your attic. Look for gaps that lead directly to the outside. Patch these to prevent heat loss.
  • Repairing old windows that rattle. Remove them from the sills and reglaze the glass so it fits tightly. You’ll be amazed how much better your home will feel.
  • Adding plastic or extra interior window inserts. This is a great solution for those who cannot afford to fully replace old windows that still feel drafty.
  • Capping old fireplaces. These can still let cold in in through downdrafts.

Your HVAC contractor can also help you seal any old ducts that could be leaking air, contributing to small air currents in the home.

It’s Expensive to Heat

Finally, after you’ve sealed and insulated, you can still be discouraged to see your energy bills rising. If this is the case, it’s time to look into secondary heat sources to take the pressure off your current heating system. You might consider adding a wood stove. Pellet stoves or even wood-burning inserts are a low-cost way to offset heating costs.

In older homes, there are often old fireplaces that you can easily convert back to wood burning, as long as you choose a new, energy-efficient stove that pumps most of the heat back into the house.

You can also check your furnace to make sure that it’s large enough and powerful enough to properly heat your home. A new, energy-saving furnace may serve you better.

For more information about offsetting the heating problems of a historic home, contact us at Controlled Comfort.

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