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Old 05-04-2010, 06:09 PM   #1
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Insulating an old house


First post here... Hopefully my question belongs to the right section.

Anyways, I buying my first home and just had an inspection last week. It was built in 1905 and has zero insulation. The previous owner used to pay ~$2200 per year for heating. I really want to insulate the house to reduce the heating bill. The house has balloon framing and a finished attic. It seems like the best insulation would be cellulose blown in from the basement up to the attic. But here are my concerns. First, there are plaster walls. They are in overall good condition, but I suspect there is asbestos in the plaster. Blown in insulation is known to have the risk of blowing up walls. Having an asbestos wall cracking in the house is the last thing I want. Do you guys think it's safe to do the insulation? Second, the roof is not well ventilated. Can blowing insulation up make it worse? Lastly, after some googling, some people have mentioned the possibility of moisture problem. I am still very confuse about what the problem is. Is it moisture from outside or inside? What are the possible solutions assuming I can't take down those plaster wall?

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Old 05-04-2010, 06:35 PM   #2
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Insulating an old house


Where are you located ?

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Old 05-04-2010, 06:48 PM   #3
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Insulating an old house


Western Pennsylvania. Sorry, I forgot to mention that.
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Old 05-04-2010, 07:06 PM   #4
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Doubtful Asbestos, but possibly Horse Hair in the plaster if Plaster Lathe. Usually insulation will be blown from the outside, along with foam placed on the outside before putting siding on. Better solution is to gut to the bones and insulate & update wiring, since most likely you still have Knob & Tube, and will not be able to close until wiring is updated on that contingency.
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Old 05-04-2010, 07:59 PM   #5
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Originally Posted by gregzoll View Post
Doubtful Asbestos, but possibly Horse Hair in the plaster if Plaster Lathe. Usually insulation will be blown from the outside, along with foam placed on the outside before putting siding on. Better solution is to gut to the bones and insulate & update wiring, since most likely you still have Knob & Tube, and will not be able to close until wiring is updated on that contingency.
Thanks for the reply! But I am curious about why you say it's doubtful to be asbestos. It is a brick house and has no sidings. I would love to gut it down to the bones, but considering the time, cost and risk of having asbestos, blown in insulation from the basement gap seems to make more sense (if I can get it to work correctly). The whole reason to insulate is to reduce the heating/cooling cost and I want to get the most bang for the buck.

Btw, the wiring is fine. Now I wonder if they gutted the place before to put in the new wiring.

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Old 05-04-2010, 08:27 PM   #6
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Insulating an old house


I've done several restorations here in the northeast over the years. 4 of them were mine, all turn of the century 2 and 3 story homes.

I've not ever run across asbestos in plaster. Maybe someplace in the USA but not in our area. Blown in insulation goes from the top down or from the outside through drilled holes in the wall. It's not going to blow-out your walls. The insulation blower is no-where near powerful enough to blow any wall out unless the plaster and lath is about to fall on its own.
Moisture can come from condensation created between heated space and cold exterior walls. You need a vapor barrier to stop that transition within your walls when the home is sealed up tight.

Windows are the first thing I'd upgrade. As mentioned, wiring and plumbing fall next in line and the best route to go is remove the plaster/lath down to the studs. Re-wire and plumb to new spec's. Then insulate and drywall. This is the north-east so put a moisture barrier on the warm side of the wall. If the exterior is wood then consider vinyl siding. Do all the above and your heating bill will be cut close to half. (In my current home gas ran $1800 yr when I purchased 3 yrs ago, this past yr it came in at $940) Put 12" in the attic either pink or blown in. Make sure you have air flow from the soffit to the peak.

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Old 05-04-2010, 10:39 PM   #7
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A 1905 brick house probably doesn't have any gap betweeen the plaster and brick that any insulation could be blown into. Isn't the plaster applied right to the inside brick. Or did they build brick veneer over wood frame in 1905?
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Old 05-04-2010, 11:15 PM   #8
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Yes, it's brick veneer covering wood frame. The inspector said the gap is likely to go from the basement and all the way to the top. He brought that up because fire stops need to be put in in the basement. He then said insulation can be blown in from there. After some googling, I found out it's not as easy as he said...

Shamus, what did you do to cut your bill in half? Most windows are double glazed except a few. They are on my to-do list but I don't know how much difference they can make. How has the code changed for plumbing and wiring? The house has the normal copper wiring with breakers in the basement.

The attic is finished so there is no easy way to put in insulation except to gut it down. There is also some decorative plaster on the attic ceiling and that's where I am worry about asbestos the most.
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Old 05-05-2010, 08:02 AM   #9
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If there is any Asbestos in the house, it would have been used on the tape to wrap around heating ducts, and possibly, but most likely not, on any 12x12 floor tile. Asbestos was not used in Plaster for walls. You are over rating what is called the Chicken Little principal.

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