Older home on wooded lot
Retrofitting Older Homes

Retrofitting an older home: taking a staged approach

Many of you have indicated that you’d like to hear from us about retrofitting older homes, and we love that idea too. We know not everyone is in the market for a brand new home!

There are a lot of good reasons to address the comfort and energy efficiency of an older home, particularly if you live in a neighbourhood that you love and don’t wish to leave. Staying in place and fixing what’s not working about your older home could be a really smart decision.

Much of our audience is in the Ottawa area, and a lot of great neighbourhoods full of older homes spring to mind.

So what to do when your home is many decades old, drafty and dependent on steep energy bills to keep it cool in summer and warm in winter?

Getting Started

You could start with the basement, if it’s a space of livable dimensions and not a cellar with a ceiling height too low for comfortable living. A basement, particularly in the mid-20th century bungalows found in many Ottawa neighbourhoods, can be a very smart place to start.

You could also work room by room or address a portion of your home, perhaps prioritizing the main living space or a home office / workspace. Prioritizing space that you occupy the most during waking hours will yield the biggest reward.

And frankly, it can be easier to tackle just a part of your home at a time if being out of your home for a long period and a much bigger, more costly renovation isn’t practical for you.

Key Components

If you can easily add insulation to the walls in your space, this will pay dividends, along with replacing exterior windows (and possibly exterior doors, if the room(s) involved have them) with much more energy efficient units.

The most important part of any energy conscious renovation/retrofit is the air-tightness. In the past we’ve written about the superb window and door options from Munster Joinery. These types of windows are three to four times more energy efficient than conventional ones and while they are extremely important, how they are installed matters just as much.

Hannoband multfunctional tape and window gasketUsing super energy efficient windows will only make a real difference if installed in a truly airtight manner. Conventional spray foam around windows will usually disintegrate less than five years after the initial installation, creating significant gaps that result in energy loss.

Passive windows should be installed with an expandable rigid foam gasket designed to be airtight and watertight for the life of the home. We like Hannoband, which can be sourced from various suppliers, including Small Planet Supply.

Radiant floor heating is a very popular and smart option for retrospectively addressing heating in your living space. Concrete, tile and engineered hardwood are all options for covering your radiant heating system.

Hydroshark radiant floor systemWe’re big fans of the HydroShark radiant floor heating system from Stiebel Eltron:

“HydroShark radiant floor panels are a professional, modular system designed to make radiant floor installation simple, reliable, and easy.

Everything you need to install is already mounted to the HydroShark panel.”

Get full details from the Stiebel Eltron website. And ask us!

For efficient air exchange in a newly sealed living space, we recommend Minotair’s HRV unit. This unit will effectively control temperature, ventilation and humidity in your space, making for a very comfortable and healthy home.

When this system is installed with an integrated air source heat pump designed for a passive house environment, it also will have the capacity to heat the home when outdoor temperatures drop as low as -5°C. In this scenario, a HydroShark radiant floor system would only need to handle heating for a few months each year, when the outdoor temperature falls below -5°C.

Read more information on Minotair from Quebec and their HRV units on their website: minotair.com.

Real Savings for Heating & Cooling

The best part of this combined systems is the cost. The HydroShark costs under $5,000 which is less than half that of a conventional radiant floor system. The HydroShark system will also result in a 90% reduction in actual energy consumed, making the system pay for itself very quickly.

A Minotair system will total less than $8,500 installed, which is on par with the cost of a conventional air-conditioning / HRV unit.  In addition, it also comes with 90% energy savings in a passive environment, making it exceptionally cost effective.

Retrofitting to PassiveHouse

In this series we’ll next look at what’s involved in a complete retrofit of an older home to passive house standard.

Got a sustainable home building topic you’d like to see explored here? Let us know!

Photo by Scott Webb on Unsplash

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