Home & Garden

Green improvement: How to seal up an older house

There is much history to be seen in the homes of Cedar Rapids, with many houses being more than 100 years old. Although the craftsmanship of these aging spaces have often held true to the test of time, there still are some common air-sealing issues that can arise from their now-outdated construction techniques. In addition to the strain on utility costs, this can cause some unwelcome guests to enter your home; such as the insects of summer or the winds of winter.

If you do not use your attic or basement as part of your home’s livable space, then there is certainly no point in keeping them heated. In older building frames, cold air entering through an attic or basement may then travel throughout the interior walls, which can leak into the conditioned living areas of the home. These older homes also are susceptible to the chimney effect — the process of cold air being pulled in through the basement to replace hot air escaping through the upper reaches of the home. For both basements and attics, the best place to start is by adding weatherstripping to the connecting edges of a basement door frame or attic access. Simple, self-sticking foam strips will work fine.

Starting with the basement, look at the areas that stand to benefit the most from air-sealing. First, look for any holes in the ceiling of your basement. These openings, also called a bypass, generally include wiring, ducts and plumbing. Typically, the material of choice for sealing these bypasses is canned spray foam. When using spray foam, always wear proper eye and hand protection.

Another common air leakage area can be found in the windows. To seal around a basement window frame, use caulk that sticks well with stone. If the gap in the frame is too wide, then don’t be afraid to go back to the spray foam. Any window that you are not planning to use also may be permanently sealed. Continue to use the spray foam and caulk on any cracks you find in the foundation. If the rim joists (the spaces between the outer walls of the foundation and the base of the house) are not already insulated, you may do so by filling them with rigid foam board. Cut the rigid foam to size, and secure it in place with spray foam.

Moving on to the attic, there are many similar areas of interest to watch for. Seal any bypasses found in the floor with your trusty spray foam or caulk. Keep a close eye on areas where the walls meet the floor and the ceiling — these can be common areas of concern. It is important to note that if you are sealing around an operable fireplace, you should always use heat resistant materials, such as sheet metal and flame resistant caulk. Also, keep in mind that a cold attic may not always be caused by direct air infiltration; be sure to check the status of your insulation as well.

These guidelines are a good place to get started with your air-sealing project, but every home is different. If you are unsure of how to handle an issue, it may be time for either some independent research or a professional opinion. For a free consultation on how to locate and seal air leaks, you can schedule a home energy test by the Green Iowa AmeriCorps.

l Danny Parrish is the marketing coordinator for Green Iowa AmeriCorps, which is coordinated by the University of Northern Iowa’s Center for Energy & Environmental Education. Its goal is to help make Iowans more energy efficient through low-impact home weatherization, energy education and community outreach. Find out more at www.greeniowaamericorps.org.

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