Curing the Common Cold

When it’s freezing cold outside and way too cold inside the house, your thoughts might turn to a better heating system.

However, so long as your house has holes for the heat to escape and old school insulation, a bigger furnace only means more cash.

According to Yukon Housing Corp., the best solution to an old, cold, leaky house is to retrofit it with the new standard of insulation, seal off the air leaks and make sure a ventilation system is installed to prevent mould from growing.

Their research that shows the major areas of heat loss are: 32 per cent through air leaks; 25 per cent through walls; 22 per cent through windows and doors; 15 per cent through the foundation; and 5 per cent through the ceiling.

According to Allyn Lyon, director of Community and Industry Partnering with Yukon Housing, retrofitting the walls with an exterior wrap will cost a minimum of $20,000. He says the investment will bring the comfort of a warm home, reduce heating costs and will ensure that you can sell your house for a decent price down the road.

In the past, homes that were well-insulated and energy-efficient didn’t command a better price. But Lyon says that’s changing.

“We’re finding more and more that curb appeal and the feeling inside the house are (still important), but the very next question people are asking is, ‘How much does it cost to heat this house?'” Lyon says.

If the price of heating homes continues on its steep climb, will bills become unaffordable to average families?

“We’ve been thinking that people could begin to falter, not because they can’t afford their mortgage payments, but because they can’t afford their mortgage and the heating costs,” Lyon says.

Juergen Korn, senior energy advisor at Energy Solutions, says beefing up insulation will also provide improved comfort in the home; allow for a smaller heating unit; retain heat in a power outage; protects against future energy surges; and emit less greenhouse gases.

“I see tremendous opportunity for making houses better, more comfortable and lower maintenance,” Korn says.

Yukon Housing and Energy Solutions, have been researching the energy and cost efficiency of insulation thicknesses of 4 inches (R-10 value), 6 inches (R-20 value) and Yukon Housing’s SuperGreen standard of 16 inches (R-60 value).

The numbers show that the heating bills for a SuperGreen house – which will also be airtight – are approximately one sixth of what it costs to heat a house built with 2 x 4s.

Two years ago, high heating costs was one of the reasons Whitehorse resident Doug MacLean decided to increase his insulation and R-value.

“My heating bill was $5,000 per year, which is outrageous,” he says.

He began wrapping the stucco exterior of his house with a new 12-inch wall. MacLean, who is a registered professional engineer with Energy Solutions, is doing the work himself. So far, only the easiest parts of the house are covered – that is, the expansive open walls. The tricky parts are doors and vents and other items are still in the original state. Nevertheless, he has already cut his heating bill in half.

“When we first moved in, the house was uncomfortable,” MacLean says. “We had two inches of ice at the bottom of our windows.

“Now there is quite an improvement.”

When he moved into the 1970s era house, the walls were R-12 value. Now, with 12 inches of Rockwool batt insulation they are R-56. Once a house is air-tight it is critical to install a ventilation system that will bring in fresh air and remove the excess moisture.

MacLean says the combination of insulation and a heat recovery ventilation system is the reason the ice is gone from his windows.

MacLean hasn’t added up the costs of materials since he started, but he’s got the advantage that he provided his own free labour.

Bret Heebink is a contractor who builds new SuperGreen homes and does retrofitting.

“It can be quite expensive to simulate what is happening with new home construction,” Heebink says.

In a retrofit, the existing doors, windows, basement or cement slab foundation, and other structural items in the house are all obstacles to deal with.

“With a retrofit, you have to give up on something,” Heebink says.

He recently retrofitted a duplex with a footprint of 3,000 square feet for $60,000, extending the exterior wall with 4 inches of Styrofoam insulation.

The project also included such renovations as building overhangs onto the gables, weather-sealing the chimney, doing fine trim details and adding new siding.

“The owners wanted to do the best insulation they could and we did an analysis and we ended up adding R-20 onto the R-10 they had,” Heebink says. “So now it’s near R-30.

“(What you can achieve) is so dependent on each particular house, when it was built and how it was built. It’s difficult on a retrofit to do a really good job. Most people are like, ‘Okay, give me the best we can get.'”

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