If all the houses in the neighbourhood could be retrofit tomorrow so that they generated as much energy over the course of a year as they use, I would be a happy man. However, that goal is going to take a little more time and a lot more blog posts.
Let’s start with what everyone can do to their houses right now–an old-fashioned do-it-yourself insulation and sealing.
When we bought the house from Julie the mother-in-law in 2007 there was no insulation in the walls, there were lots of leaks everywhere (especially in the basement) and the attic spaces had minimal insulation, too.
The oil furnace came on about every 20 minutes in an attempt to maintain a constant temperature. The thermostat was set at 20 degrees Celsius (68 Farenheit) day and night so the sound of the fan and the warm air coming out the vents was nearly constant. That is how fast the heat was escaping the house.
The furnace is far bigger than it needs to be because the house used to retain heat so poorly.
In the attic spaces there were maybe two inches of the original rock wool insulation—quite crumbly after 90 years. On top of that, there was some added more recently by the in-laws with reclaimed material that was on its way to the landfill. In one space there was some vermiculite (don’t worry, we had it tested and it contains no asbestos). In another there was crumbled styrofoam pieces and in another there was some pink fiberglass insulation.
The upstairs bedrooms were seldom used by the most recent tenants. The north bedroom still had layers of wallpaper to help keep the warmth in and the draught out, but in the south bedroom the wallpaper had been removed. The daughter of one tenant had decided to strip the walls and paint them a deep blue. Unfortunately, the result was the wind whistling between the slats of the ship-lap boards.
The basement, with it’s cold, poured concrete floor and foundation walls and uninsulated wooden walls on top of them, was like a wind tunnel.
How much was all this costing us? Well, we arrived in October 2007 and one month later filled the oil tank for $765.14. Two months after that, in January 2008, we filled it again for $850.66. In August we filled it again for $1972.59.*
In 11 months we spent $3588.39 on furnace oil alone or $326.22 per month. How much is your heating bill?
Clearly, we needed to do something and in 2008 we did.
Dave the father-in-law offered to do two things before passing on the house: paint it and insulate. There was a lot of other work we did to make the house comfortable when we first moved in and my parents and in-laws pitched in, but these two things were the most expensive. It is another example of how people of my generation cannot afford homes without the help of the previous generation.
We had other help, too. We had the Federal EcoENERGY program and Provincial LiveSmart BC program. They reduced the cost of the retrofit significantly (savings which we passed on to Dave who footed the bill). I will tell you all about how they worked, but both of these excellent programs have been eliminated, first by the Federal Conservative Government and next by the Liberal BC Government (even though they create jobs, stimulate the economy, reduce GHG emissions…sigh).
Without this help, we might still be listening to that furnace a-blowin’ all day and all night. How many well-meaning people buy an older home these days only to be overwhelmed by the costs of giving it the love it deserves?
As I mentioned in my post the Empty Tank Challenge we spent $1443.51 to fill the oil tank on March 6th, 2013 and we haven’t filled it since. If we can make it to March, 2015, that will be two years without buying oil.
Those 11 month in 2007/2008 that cost $3588.39 covered one winter and oil was cheaper then. From March 2013 we have been through two summers and one winter and paid $1443.51. We saved $2144.88 and counting by insulating the house. Adjust that number to reflect current higher oil prices and you’ll see we’re saving even more.
If you retrofit your house your savings will likely be less depending on how well your house is insulated and what kind of heating unit you have, but the longer you stay in your house, the more sense it makes to retrofit it now. The polar bears will thank you, too.
In the coming posts I will get into details of how and where we insulated and what it cost.
*One final note before I go today, notice how the price of oil keeps going up? Well, the price of solar panels keeps going down and sunlight is free. I think a lot about that. Now here are more “before” photos: