Overview of Historic Construction
The materials and building techniques used in the distant past were somewhat different from methods used in current construction. Building involved a number of features and materials that were actually more environmentally conscious that some of today's techniques.
- Vintage homes had exterior paint designed to reflect light.
- Porches and windows had awnings to provide shade.
- Windows and shutters were fully operational, enabling people to open and close them as needed.
- Vents were in place for ventilation.
- High ceilings were effective for allowing heat to rise.
- Some doors had windows over them, which helped with effective air circulation.
- Walls were thicker than today's standards, providing extra layers of insulation. These walls were often made out adobe or masonry. These materials were effective for keeping houses cool during the day in hot weather. Walls also helped provide warmth in the evening hours as heat dissipated out of them.
- Much of the materials used in construction came from local sources.
Increasing Energy Efficiency
Air infiltration may be the single most prevalent issue with vintage homes. It's common for these buildings to have gaps or holes around windows, doors, foundation, roof, and walls. It's also typical to find leaks in the attic floor, which causes an expensive air exchange between the interior and the exterior of the house. To resolve air infiltration issues, examine the following areas and seal any cracks and gaps found.
- Crawl spaces
- Chimney flue
- Electric outlets
- Frames surrounding doors and windows
- Window air conditioning units
- Entrances for electrical and gas service
Experts warn that even allowing a gap or crack of 1/8 inch in width could be problematic. A crack of 1/8 inch around a window or under a wood could be comparable to a hole in the wall of about 2.5 inches in diameter.
Adding insulation to vintage homes can be an important way to prevent heating or cooling loss. Bringing insulation up to current code could help cut heating and cooling costs by up to 50 percent. Family members will be much more comfortable in a fully insulated house, too. Older houses usually have little or no insulation, so adding this layer will involve proper sealing and ventilation to prevent moisture issues.
Areas to consider for this insulation include attics, basements, crawl spaces, around HVAC ductwork, and around water pipes. Adding insulation to walls may be challenging due to older construction configurations. Knob and tube wiring in walls is not conducive to insulation due to fire hazard. The possibility of cold pockets in walls could lead to moisture problems. Although original windows are often part of the charm of vintage homes, many homeowners decide that it's worth it to replace windows for more energy efficient designs.
Your vintage home requires special maintenance to keep it efficient, but the charm of the dwelling usually makes this effort worthwhile.
Architectural windows, those being reclaimed from houses and buildings of yesteryear, are available for today's homeowners to use in both modern and period homes. Salvage windows offer a distinctive look that is unobtainable with contemporary window styles, and they allow homeowners to keep their vintage homes looking historically accurate. Newer homes may also be made to look period with the addition of architectural windows as well.