Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Behind the Walls is the Energy Story for the Cottage

Bathroom wall - this room must have been freezing!!
Do you remember the demo day photos of this house?  The big story was the insulation - or lack thereof in some areas.  The ceiling had insulation installed upside down (with the vapor barrier on the outside), the bathroom had a combination of styrofoam and mattress padding, and the basement had nothing at all.
Ceiling insulation has vapor barrier backwards
They must have spent a lot of money heating this house or maybe they just lived with it cold.  But we want to change all that.  It's not easy to make a 101 year old house energy efficient, but our goal is to do just that.

So the first step was the heating & cooling plan.  We want the house to be warm and toasty in the winter, but also comfortable in the summer.  We know from our previous tenants that there was a lack of airflow on the 2nd floor in the summer months.  And with the fantastic breezes that come off the water, you really want to enjoy the fresh air on a nice day.  So we added an operable skylight to provide cross ventilation on the second floor.

But of course the real story in Maine is keeping a house warm in the winter.  Our solution?   Energy efficient heat pumps.  This is a first for us, but it really makes sense for this house.  Natural gas isn't available, so we couldn't install our usual hi-efficiency gas boiler.  But we knew that heat pumps are extremely energy efficient and since 75% of Maine's electricity comes from renewable sources, it's a good choice from an environmental perspective as well.  They provide heat in the winter and air conditioning on a sweltering summer day.

Spray foam on original basement walls
But to size the heat pumps, we need an insulation plan.  Insulating a house is a lot like keeping your body warm on a cold day.  You need your head and feet to be warm - it's the same with your house!  So we decided to use the highest R value insulation we could find - closed cell spray foam for the roof and the basement. The house will have a warm head and feet!

New foundation has spray foam insulation
Spray foam gives us the maximum R value we can have in our 'hot roof' (which means there is no attic space above the ceiling, it's our only option with the low ceilings we have in the original house and the sloped gambrel ceiling).
'Hot Roof' - insulation sprayed directly on the sloped ceiling of the gambrel roof

All that nasty old insulation came out - mouse poop and all!  And there was a LOT of mouse poop!

Each room is ready for a 'mini-split' unit
Even with that super insulation, we will need 2 compressors to ensure a warm/cool house.  And each room will get a 'mini split' air handler, which allows us to avoid installing duct work, which would be almost impossible in the old part of the house.

And remember the little bathroom, with almost no insulation? Well, we foamed it from top to bottom, so now it should be nice and warm!

We will be leaving the boiler in the basement, along with its spiffy blue hot water tank.  It's a great back-up for those super cold days, when heat pumps struggle to keep the house warm.   And it will also keep a bit of warmth in the basement, which will help keep the pipes in that bathroom crawl space from freezing.

Lastly, I should mention that the switch to heat pumps required us to upgrade the electrical service to the house.  We needed to move the old meter anyway, so this was a logical upgrade to make.  But if you're thinking about heat pumps, it's an important consideration.

We had our insulation inspection last week and all went well.  Woo hoo!  With our insulation and heat pump plan, this will be a nice, energy efficient home for the buyers.

Now it's on to drywall!!!  That's a huge milestone that will help it look like a real house.  I'll be sure and share photos of the rooms soon!

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