Thanks in part to New York State, my 74-year-old house finally has substantial insulation and a new furnace.
When we bought the house, it had been a rental property for years. The owners had lived in it briefly at some point in the 1970s, but we seem to be the first owner-occupants in a long time. On the bright side, we got it very cheaply, but the list of things to do was (and is) enormous. The last major renovation seemed to have been a new kitchen, in the early 1950s, though some of the bathroom fixtures have 1970s dates inside.
We bought it in large part because its mortgage cost far less than the rent on our Lucenteland house-behind-a-house, and because we could live in it during the work that had to be done. We did major electrical work on it immediately, upgrading from a 60-amp to a 200-amp service and rewiring much of the house, and also had plumbing work done. We refinished the floors before moving in. The rest of the house's infrastructure sat for a while.
The house came with an Octopus furnace that we suspect was original. It was an old coal furnace with a gas insert added later, shown below.
(The furnace is on the right; the brown box in the middle is an old Sears wood stove that came with the house.)
After a few years of amazing heating bills, we read in the Ithaca Journal about a program New York State offered of low-interest loans and rebates to encourage homeowners to modernize their heating systems. The New York State Energy Research and Development Authority (NYSERDA) has a Home Performance with ENERGY STAR program that focuses on existing homes in need of updates as well as a lot of other options for residential buildings.
The article mentioned Performance Systems Contracting, a company based in Ithaca, as a participant in this program and a provider of $100 home energy audits. We gave them a call and scheduled an appointment.
Jon Harrod, who performed the audit on one of the colder days last winter, got this gleeful smile on his face when he saw our house. He set up a blower door test in our (leaky) back door and pulled amazing amounts of cold air into the house. Our furnace was 53% efficient. The infared video camera showed that a blanket Tracey had put up on one wall was making a big difference - since nothing else was blocking the cold.
It took a while for us to sort out everything (and get the asbestos-laden ductwork removed, a separate process), but in August and September PSC came to the house and started work. They removed what was left of our livingroom ceiling (long story involving mice) and replaced it, and patched a hole in the wall where a wood stove used to be. They rebuilt our attic so that it would still have some storage space but would be a much better place for insulation. They blew insulation into the house, though our house's well-aged and none too thick sheetrock gave them some problems, which they solved. Most visibly, though, they replaced our furnace, removing the old Octopus.
The new furnace (which is 93% efficient) is very different from the old one. It no longer uses our chimney, relying instead on some strange-looking PVC pipes to the outside. It recovers heat from condensation, so periodically it pumps the water into the sewer system. It also has two speeds for its fan, not the single 'whoosh' we used to hear when the old furnace came on.
So far, the results have been great. At the final blower door test, our air leaks had fallen around 44%. (That's without replacing any windows, or adding Tyvek wrappers.) Our timing was good, as NYSEG gas rates now float. Natural gas cost 55.959 cents/therm this time last year, and 62.431 cents/therm now, for an 11.5% increase. NYSEG's estimating every other bill based on last year's usage. Even two weeks after our bill for December was calculated, our meter indicates that we've only used two-thirds of the gas they thought we'd used. Between the insulation and the furnace, it's a very different house.
If you have an older house or are contemplating buying one, this kind of work is an amazing way to make the cost of ownership much lower. The state incentives may help you get started, but the benefits in the long run speak for themselves.Posted by simon at January 4, 2004 10:37 AM in New York State , energy , my house