Improving the Energy Efficiency of Historic Homes

From every media source we are challenged to find a way of living that will ensure the longevity and health of our environmental, economic, and social resources. We all want to do our part, but the plethora of information about “green” living, “green” technologies and “green” architecture can be overwhelming. Lucky for those of us with historic homes, our houses were built with many environmentally friendly assets that help us reduce energy consumption. Prior to the introduction of central heat and air conditioning, local builders used techniques that “green” designers are now advocating, such as deep covered porches and wide eaves, window awnings and shutters, and operable windows. While we may not be willing to turn off our air conditioners in August, these features do allow us to make the most of the more temperate seasons while reducing our energy consumption.

Front and rear porches served dual heat-related purposes for historic homeowners prior to the introduction of air conditioning. First, they sheltered the main building from the harsh sun, reducing heat gain and protecting interior furnishings from fading. In addition, porches provided an escape from the sweltering heat inside the home, providing a sheltered space to sit out of the sun while enjoying cooling breezes.

A series of techniques were used in conjunction with windows and doors to increase cooling effects. Awnings were historically used to protect windows from direct sunlight thus helping to keep interior rooms cool. Popular from 1870 to 1930, fabric awnings were made of canvas attached to a fixed or retractable metal frame and came in several colors and patterns to accent the home’s architecture. Metal awnings and Bahama shutters were common beginning in the 1940s and original versions are still seen shading many homes.

Windows in older homes were almost always all operable to allow cooling breezes to enter the home. They were typically covered with full-height wood framed screens to prevent pesky mosquito invasions. Screen doors were also installed on all exterior doors, again allowing breezes to enter the home without inviting bugs. Doors typically had covered overhangs when not already sheltered by a porch, protecting entrants protection from rain as well as sheltering the house from the sun.

In many early homes, sleeping porches were constructed for relief on hot summer nights. Usually located on an upper floor, these rooms typically either had rows of casement windows or screened openings to capture as much air movement as possible. As the name implies, rows of cots were set out to provide easier sleeping conditions during hot nights.

These are only a few of the methods typically utilized in older homes that are still effective today. We have become so reliant on air conditioning and heating that we sometimes forget to take advantage of the inherent good design found in our historic homes. As the weather gets more pleasant, consider taking a few steps to operate your historic house more energy efficiently, and save some money in the process. The following are some ideas to consider:

  1. Unstick any windows that are painted shut. It is almost a universal trait of old homes to have at least one window that won’t budge, but when more than half aren’t functioning, it’s time to take action. A web search for “windows painted shut” brings up countless websites with step-by-step instructions for loosening stuck windows, including HGTV and This Old House (they offer a video). Releasing a stuck window is not rocket science, but it generally requires some muscle and patience. Professional help can be called in, particularly if you need to reattach the counter weights; just beware of anyone telling you to replace your wood windows. There are good contractors that can repair your windows, preserving the character and integrity of your home as well as keeping dollars in your pocket.
  2. Install wood framed screens on windows if they are missing. You are more likely to open those unstuck windows if you aren’t worried about welts from mosquitoes. As a bonus, wood window screens add historic character and an additional accent color to the building exterior.
  3. Install wood screen doors on all exterior doors. Wood screen doors should be heavy duty since they open and close as often as the primary door; if the model you see is made with thin, finger-jointed wood or comes with a diagonal wire support, don’t expect it to function properly for more than a season or two. Choose self closing spring hinges rather than ugly vacuum bars for a more authentic design for your historic home.
  4. Install ceiling fans and use in conjunction with open windows and doors.
  5. Install awnings, operable shutters or blinds over openings on south and west elevations. When appropriate for your house style, they provide a nice architectural accent in addition to functioning as a shading device. Close shutters and blinds during the hottest parts of the day.
  6. Install a solar powered ventilation fan in the attic to help remove excess heat. Turned on by a temperature sensor, this relatively inexpensive project will help reduce your cooling load next summer.
  7. Caulk or foam-seal penetrations into your house (where the cable enters, water lines penetrate, etc.) and install weather-stripping around windows and doors. Air infiltration is good when you can control it by opening windows and doors, but bad when the air you paid to heat or cool escapes.
  8. Insulate your attic space; most heat loss and gain comes through your roof. If you expose exterior wall framing during remodeling, install insulation as part of the project. Don’t remove plaster walls just to insulate though; plaster is a surprisingly good insulator and reduces noise transmission from room to room.
  9. Plant some shade trees on the south and west sides of the house. Trees are a long term investment in the environment, providing cleaner air, habitat for wildlife, reducing soil erosion and sheltering from the sun. Your historic house has shown that it appeals to multiple generations already, so even though the trees you plant today may not have much effect on energy bills for a while, the next owners will thank you.
  10. Sit on your front porch rather than watch TV in the early evening a few nights a week. We tend to decorate our porches with inviting rocking chairs and beautiful potted flowers, but rarely take advantage of the peaceful atmosphere they provide. In addition to the pleasure of a cool, relaxing evening, you might find one of the other benefits of living in a historic home: friendly conversation with your neighbors.

Home Remodeling – Making the Best Interior Color Choices

Probably the fastest way of remodeling a home that would result in a very noticeable change in the way a home will look is to paint. Painting is a very remarkable aspect in any home renovation or home remodeling project according to building experts. Painting will not only change the way an exterior or interior surface will look but it can also change the moods that a particular room will evoke from those who dwell within. Knowing the best, or even the worst, paint colors to use for the interior of a Massachusetts home can help you make the best color choices for your home remodeling project.

* Preliminary Considerations

Even before you set out and make arrangements with your contractor on what particular paint they are going to use for your home renovation project, you must first make it a point to identify which set of colors you really like the most. As mentioned earlier, colors were proven to set the moods of people inhabiting a room and you as the homeowner would be more comfortable inside a room with colors that really appeal to your liking. Notice how you would avoid places or areas with walls and interiors painted in colors that do not suit your taste. This same principle applies to your choice of colors for your home remodeling project.

The appeal of a particular color to your taste and preference is more important than trying to match your existing furnishing and décor. You might overlook the fact that you do not like a particular color or shade that an existing décor has because of the limited space that these furnishings occupy. However, translating that particular color into a larger area like the ceilings, floorings or walls, you may end up not liking the color and eventually the room, every subsequent waking moment after the renovation work has been completed. So, avoid this situation by choosing your preferred color right from the beginning.

Another consideration to make is the type of paint materials to choose for your home renovation work. Choose only the best quality paints and finishes, particularly brands that do not fade easily over time. These may be more expensive but the end quality that you can achieve will be worth the investment. For enhancement purposes, you may add in stencils, borders or moldings, which can be painted in a slightly different shade than the base color of the wall or surface.

* Setting the Moods

Colors have an intrinsic way of evoking emotions from people and set the mood in a particular room or interior space. Colors have an amazing way of making people energetic or sleepy, depressed or happy, and any other types of emotions in between. Before choosing a particular color for a particular room in your home remodeling project, you must first identify what kinds of activities are done inside the room you are considering.

Shades of blues and greens are excellent choices for bathrooms and bedrooms as they evoke feelings of sleepiness and relaxation, while bright and primary colors would be more attractive for both children and the elderly. Choose lighter and pastel shades to give that relaxed atmosphere in your bedrooms. For bathrooms however, you would be better off choosing a brighter shade of these colors as you do not want anyone falling dozing off in there.

Reds are great shades to choose for kitchens as they evoke the appetite and keep people more sociable, lively and wide awake. However, you should consider people in your household who may find their blood pressures rising whenever they are inside an area with a great deal of red. To avoid such scenarios, choose other shades of red like a darker wine of burgundy color. Blue is not a good selection for the dining room or kitchen as it has been tested to suppress people’s appetites.

The living area may do well with various shades of orange to induce warm and friendly feelings from people. However, avoid using bright shades as this can be overwhelming and eliminate the original effect of the shades. Browns and earth colors are great for exterior finishes but not so in living room areas as they can make people uneasy with the feeling of being enclosed or trapped.

You can have as many choices to select from as there are available shades of paint available in the market. The best gauge that will signal you that you have made the right decision is your instinct and that the colors you chose would make you feel comfortable.

Remodeling Your House the Green Way

One major way to go green is to change the way you live, especially where you live. Remodeling your house the green way is easier than you think. You can start with simple ways to make your home more energy efficient.

A prime example is to replace your existing incandescent light bulbs with compact fluorescent light bulbs. These compact light bulbs may cost a bit more than the standard bulbs but will save you money in the long run. They last much longer and produce more light even as they consume less electricity.

Also, when it’s time to change your appliances, opt to buy energy saving appliances. This especially goes for kitchen appliances that are left on all the time like the fridge. Replace your thermostat too with a computerized one. With its more accurate reading, a digital thermostat makes your home heating and cooling systems work more efficiently.

If you are planning a major home remodeling, be sure that your contractor is certified in working on green homes. He would be able to give correct advice on the materials and furnishings you should use for your home. You should really get one that is certified, since it can also save you money come tax time when you can receive tax credits for specific implementations.

Ask your contractor to install insulated windows. While you’re at it, replace your toilets and faucets with ones that are more water efficient. For flooring, use renewable materials such as wood or stone tiles instead of vinyl. They look more natural, and you can drape rugs over them for warmth and a cozier look. Speaking of carpets and rugs, these should be made from natural materials. If you can’t find any, use those that are recyclable.

Lastly, cover your walls with paint that is low in volatile organic compounds or have none at all. These are healthier than the standard ones. Keep in mind that not only are toxic fumes emitted when paint is applied but you and your family will keep on breathing them in all throughout the time that the paint is on your wall.

Remodeling your house to be a green home is challenging but worth it. Not only will your house be a healthier home but you can also save in terms of energy consumption. And if you are lucky enough, some cities or states give tax breaks for those who do this.