Cold house

OK, now we have it. The house we bought seems to be cold. Either insulation is not adequate (most certainly) or heating is not working correctly or, most probably, both. It is not particularly cold in NJ (yet), and house is not really comfortable at 77 set at thermostat, temperature drops quickly after heating cycle...
So, we have this house and we have to deal with it. The question is: where do we start? Ideally we need somebody to inspect the house and tell us what's wrong and what to do first, how much does this and that gonna cost and such. The problem is: where do we look for such a guy?
Contractors generally happen to specialize on something. Say, they do insulation. Or they do HVAC. You tell them and they'll do what you want. But how do I know what I want?
Any ideas/pointers would be appreciated.
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The first step might be to call your electric or gas company, and ask them if they do free (or low cost) home energy audits. Most of them do - it's actually financed through a small surcharge on your monthly bill.
I had one done a couple of years ago, through my electric company, Mass Electric. They checked throughout the house for adequate insulation, and did an efficiency and safety check on my furnace. They even peeked into the fridge! They left me with a list of things I *should* fix, things I *could* fix, and things I *shouldn't* fix. They also gave me a free compact fluorescent bulb.
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Seth Goodman

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Oh, I'll try that. Although PSEG are not mentioning that service anywhere. And they're so busy these days -- anytime you call them, they only want to hear about emergencies and suggest to call some other time otherwise.
I guess when the temperature drops below freezing tomorrow and my furnace burns non-stop that could be considered as an emergency. Sigh.
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On Mon, 5 Jan 2004 15:57:33 -0500 (EST), Alexander Litvin

PSE&G used to do audits (we had one), and it was a pretty good audit, too. Give 'em a call and specifically mention that you want an energy audit. The audit we had was done by a guy who only did audits, not other work. Don't just call and ask them to "send someone out." Maybe they only do audits in warmer weather, I don't know.
Most of the chill in my 80-year-old house came from air infiltration and drafts, so blocking up the leaks was a high priority. And putting insulation in the attic, of course (there wasn't any). And insulating the rim joist in the basement (where the basement wall meets the house). We have old, drafty double-hung windows but fortunately they already had good storm windows on them. We did buy a good storm door for the back door, which is quite lightweight and does not fit all that well, but generally storm doors are not really that helpful.
We also replaced missing interior doors to our front foyer, which was a major source of drafts.
Every winter I take out the window air conditioners and I'm amazed at how much warmer the room gets by plugging up this air infiltration source. It's little stuff like this that really adds up.
If you are really running your thermostat at 77 degrees, you might also check to make sure it is really working. If it is working, you might check its placement. If it is in an area that heats up easily, say, near a radiator, it will shut down and the rest of the house will remain cool. Man, at a setting of 77 degrees you should practically be able to keep the windows open!!
What kind of heat do you have? I'm assuming you have hot water heat, as it is the most common in this area. I hate to ask, but are all the radiator valves completely open? Valves should be entirely open or entirely closed, not halfway. If you have radiators, make sure they are truly filling with water, not air, by bleeding the little filler valves at the top of the radiator or at the end of baseboard radiators (looks like a tiny faucet, but without a handle). Do this until water comes out.
Make sure the impeller on the furnace is turning to circulate the water in the system.
Look at the burners and make sure they are burning with a mostly blue flame
Check the windows for air leaks. All windows must be tight. Feel under the window sill and the sides and tops of the frames for air leaks where they meet the walls. Caulk if needed, outside if possible.
I'm no HVAC pro, just another NJ homeowner, but I had to learn all this stuff to keep my heating bills down and the house warm.
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Called them this evening -- they said to call during business hours. And during business hours they always "expirience unusually high call volume". Will call them tomorrow.

There's no basement, only slab.
We have old, drafty double-hung windows but fortunately they

This one has newer windows at the first floor, but older windows on the second. It seems previous owners took all old windows from the first floor and used on the second. The second floor bathroom has 3 windows! Almost like a den.

Well, part of it might be due to the fact that before moving into this house we lived in the appartment where we didn't care about cost of heating, and where the baseboard heat was "binary" (either on full steam or off). So we got used to 80 degrees.
Also, thermostat is near the bathroom where the furnace is, and it is the most warm place in the house. Should I relocate it? I'm also planning to replace thermostat (it is some old cheapie, unknown quality).

No, it's forced air. I have (unfounded yet) suspicion that the ducts on the first floor (inside walls) might not be properly insulated, but don't know how to check that easily.

Yeah, that's probably what I'm going to learn too.
Thanks a lot for your help!
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snipped-for-privacy@whichever.org wrote:

That's what I figured when I read your original post. When we lived in highrises, we had to keep a window or two cracked open all winter otherwise the place would get choking hot. Then we bought this house, in summer, two years ago, and in early October we set the thermostat at 64. The boiler would run every hour or so for about 5 minutes. From Oct to March we wear light but warm pants and sweaters in the house, it feels much better than when we had to wear T-shirts and shorts in the middle of the winter and still felt uncomfortably hot.
If you are the kind of person who's always cold no matter how warm the house may be, well - what can you do, but if you don't have that problem, then try and lower your thermostat gradually, your will get used to the cooler environment which is better for you, anyway.
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This thought crossed my mind, too, as I also lived in apartments before I moved into my home (25 years ago). The apartments were always super-hot, even with the apartment radiators turned entirely off. We used to sit around the place in tee shirts and bare feet in the dead of winter watching the snow blow down the Hudson River. When we became homeowners and I started getting $250-$350 monthly energy bills, we learned to conserve.
I feel the cold a lot more than I used to thanks to medications I take and poor circulation. I'm sitting here now in a heavy knit shirt over a tee shirt and warm, heavy corduroy pants. When I leave this home office, which is heated by the computers, I'll put on a zip-up sweater. On really cold days, I wear a heavy pullover sweater. I tried long underwear but I don't like it. But I've been known to wear gloves in the house (the fingerless kind work well) and wool or fleece socks.
One thing to do, for sure, is turn the heat down to 62 at night. This will save serious money. Get a setback thermostat and set it to bring the heat back to normal about an hour before you get out of bed in the morning. Your forced air heat will warm the place up faster than my hot water heat so you might turn it down a couple more degrees. Just be careful the pipes don't freeze.
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Judging from the frequency our furnace is on (every half an hour approximately now, when it is 15 degrees outside), $250-$350 would be a miracle.

Unfortunately it is not an option right now, with the Alex Jr (11 months old) who awakes about 3-5 time a night (and my wife has to lull him). Babies and toddlers cannot control temperature changes as easy as adults.
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Is this a new house, or a resale? If new, you might ask the builder, or your local building code office.
If it is a resale, how much insulation do you have in your attic? Do you have dual pane glass or storm windows? When was the house built?
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It is resale, about 40 years old.
Attic -- well, there're finished attic rooms there, like this::
^ /-\ /| |\ -----
Behind the "knee" walls ("|") there're some storage areas (accessable more or less thoughout), and from there I see that roof (between rafters) is insulated with R-13. The knee walls itself are insulated with R-13.
The slated walls ("/") are nailed directly to rafters and there's no additional insulation there apart from R-13 between rafters. The floor in those storages is "sort of" insulated (which means it is insulated, but not everywhere).
As for small attic over those rooms -- there's no access there. I can make a hole just to look what's up there, but judging from the size of the ceiling there isn't much space to operate (short of blowing something there through the pipe).
Apparently, attic insulation doesn't seem to be up to the task. And some things can be corrected easily (like the floor insulation), some -- not so easily, some -- I don't know what to do (short of demolishing the whole second floor). And it might be not only attic. And I just don't want to spend money doing something which isn't going to work.
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If it turns out that the lack of attic insulation is part of the problem, in your situation I'd put up sheet insulation (foam-board, homasote, or urethane foam) OVER the existing sheetrock, and then put another layer of sheetrock or paneling over that. You'll have to get extension rings for all your electrical outlets, but it saves demolishing the entire attic.
--Goedjn
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I probably can put foam boards through the space between sheetrock and rafters even as it is. Though I'm not sure about:
a) whether that will be enough insulation (needs some calculation); b) should I remove the fiberglass already in there -- probably I should; c) ventilation -- how to insure it's OK.
Or my wife might insist on demolishing the second floor anyway to make it bigger ;-)
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Look for drafts and other air-leaks, and plug them. Light a few candles,
blow the out, and follow the smoke. Do you have a chimney? Is the damper closed? How leaky are your windows?
Alex wrote:

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There're no obvious drafts, but I'll look into that, thanks!

Don't have a fireplace. Windows -- I guess, I'll have to use the same candle technique for that, right?

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After I insulated the attic I read you should look for drafts first. I live in New Jersey and have a home that's about 90 years old.
I recommend the following. It may surprise you. Conduct a blower door type test.
-Purchase incense sticks from Spencer Gifts in the big mall near you. $2 -Shut off your gas or oil furnace, heater, clothers dryer, etc... Any thing with combustion -Install a window fan and turn it on full -Turn on your bathroom fans. -Light an incense stick and go around windows, cabinets, sink pipes, doors, switch wall plates, paneling and anywhere there is a seem or dissimilar materials joined. -Make a record of where the drafts are and caulk, replace door insulation, etc...
I bet you will find a bunch of spaces with gaps. This will help and its easy, clean and fast.
John

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IR thermal-imaging tests of a house for a couple hundred bucks. Similar to the energy audits that many gas/electric companies offer, but more expert, since that is ALL they do. You want a company that doesn't also try to sell you THEIR insulation services, of course. An infrared image of the outside of your house on a cold cloudy day will very quickly tell you where the leak points are. Any large HVAC company should be able to point you in the right direction.
Having said that- the other posters are correct, check the cheap and easy stuff first. Leaky windows, ill-fitting exterior doors, open crawlspace vents in winter, leaky attic hatch, can make a world of cheap difference even before you look at the insulation. Window shrinkwrap kits are a good cheap workaround for immediate relief, until you can get around to fixing/replacing the windows. Tightening up loose doors and replacing worn out weatherstrip helps a bunch, too. A cold window or exterior wall will make a room feel cold, even if the air temp is warm, since they act as heat sinks. Covering the outside walls with bookcases, wall hangings, etc, can help. If floor is cold to touch, lots a cheap area rugs help a lot.
aem sends...
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My vintage 1950 has absolutely no insulation in it. It does have replacement windows, I will be replacing the exterior doors, and adding insulation to the "attic" (flat roof not a real attic but enough space to have something blown in). Despite all of this, it's never gotten below 52 inside so far this winter, and that's with no heat on. Normal temperatures are more like 54-60. I just wear sweats. I don't want to heat all of outdoors and between now and when I can insulate the "attic" I'm only using the heat when I'm in the shower. Neighbors have insulated ceilings and their house is much better with respect to the heating situation, it's warm and stays that way. I'd say if you have good windows and doors and no air infiltration, just properly insulate the ceiling and don't worry about the walls (my walls can't be insulated brick -> cinderblock -> drywall, or so I am told).
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scott snipped-for-privacy@my-deja.com wrote:

Are your winters rather mild? Does it ever snow where you live?
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You could check the furnace filter to see if it is dirty or clogged. Another possibility is that your thermostat may be malfunctioning (especially if you have it set at 77!).

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