Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Back to Work--On the House!

After a long interruption we are finally getting some things done.  The sump pump we hooked up to temporary wiring has kept the basement dry, at least.  Now I am getting the metal junk ready to haul to a scrap yard.  The last occupants left a lot of stuff down there, and some of it is heavy.  From what I've been told, the scrap dealers will pay more if the heavy metal (cast iron, pipe) is separated from the lightweight stuff like sheet metal.  So I took the boiler apart the other day.  It looked like a good-sized metal box before.  Now the "box" is on the sheet metal pile; the castings of the gas burner are on the "heavy" pile; and there is still the heat exchanger, a set of cast iron tubes that feels like it still weighs two hundred pounds or more.  I may have to use a sledge hammer on it to break it into pieces that I can get up the stairs..

Another thing we've learned about the house:  it does have some insulation.  I had looked around at first, trying to find out if the walls were insulated; I found some holes from toggle bolts that must have held some kind of drapery rods above two windows that looked like there was no insulation in the side walls.  Not much in the attic either; inspection in some of the storage spaces behind the knee walls showed there was about 2" of fiberglass between the rafters.  (In the days of cheap energy before 1973, insulation was not used much.  I once worked on a house built in 1968 that only had 2" of insulation in the walls.)  But in repairing an outside trim board that had fallen off the eave, I got high enough up the extension ladder to see the plugs in the siding on the shed dormer, and figured out it had been insulated from the outside with blown in cellulose.

After finding that, I put a 1/2" carbide bit in my cordless drill and started checking the walls (by the way, the first floor walls are plaster on gypsum lath, the second floor drywall).  It turns out someone did try to do a partial insulation job with cellulose.  There were areas they skipped (above and below windows); there are some spots where the loose cellulose has settled, leaving a gap at the top of the stud bay; and there are some areas that look like the person doing it did not know how the older framing was done--at the time the house was built, use of "fire blocking" was a lot more common.  The theory was that an empty space between studs could act like a chimney in a fire, so the framers would put blocking in between the studs, usually about halfway up, sometimes dividing a space into thirds.  So there were places where the upper half of a stud space had insulation, and the lower half did not.  There are a few places upstairs where the top and bottom of the wall have insulation, with a gap in the middle.  These can be corrected, but it will be tedious.  I think I have most of the problem areas marked.

Another issue has been windows.  This house has a lot of them, six upstairs and eleven downstairs.  These are wood double-hung (with the old-fashioned ropes and sash weights), single-glazed original units with wood storm windows.  It is possible to recondition these and put in good weatherstripping to make them tighter; there are even spring balances to raise and lower them without having to keep a 2" section of wall beside each window with no insulation for the sash weights.  But on the other hand...these windows are not in very good shape.  The paint has not been maintained, even going back before it was abandoned in 2008.  Some of the storms sashes are missing the glass, and even some of the wood.  The glazing compound is mostly lying between the main sashes and the storm windows.

The tradeoff here is between time and money.  It will cost a lot to buy that many new windows; it will take a lot of time to recondition that many old wood windows.  It might be worth it in a "historic" house, although I don't know how the energy use works out.  The best article I have seen on saving old wood windows was written by a contractor in New Orleans, who was dealing with a different climate than we have here in central Indiana.

Anyway, the choice ends up for new windows.  Recently the local Lowe's stores have started marking down their stock of vinyl replacement windows.  The company is changing window suppliers, and wants to get the old stock gone.  And one store had a few windows that were an exact match for most of the upstairs windows in our house.  The rest are wider than anything in stock these days, and will have to be ordered.  But we have five of the windows we need, and I'll be getting them in soon.

For those who are interested, I will try to make up a post detailing how to replace these old wood windows.  And I have another bit of news that will have to wait for another post.