The Victorian House

Winter House Update

I’ve been in Salt Lake City since Monday, and will be here through Saturday. People have come in for Alt Summit from all over the country (and internationally, too), and it’s funny to hear people talk about how warm/cold it is. Back home in Chicago, it’s about 30° colder, so the weather here feels great! Speaking of home though, I thought I’d give a quick update on our house. It’s funny — a few people I’ve run into here have asked about the house and how we’re settling in and enjoying it, and then their voice lowers a bit. In a hushed tone, they ask… How is it doing in the cold?

After our pipes burst, we scheduled a service call to make sure we were getting the most efficient use out of our heating system. The technician confirmed what our house inspector said, which is that the boiler is in great shape and probably has another good 10-15 years left. The aquastat was increased 10 degrees, up to 190°F, and the house warms more quickly now. We also learned how to release excess air released from the hot-water radiators (see: how to bleed a radiator). That helps with efficiency, and it brought the PSI on our boiler down from 30 to 15, so it was a safety issue too.

Our first gas bill in the new house was enormous, and it was all the antique stove’s fault. The pilot light is on constantly, but the bigger issue was that the oven was not closing properly and letting the heat escape. I tightened up the closing mechanism soon after that first bill arrived, and running our stove only costs about $15/month now. The home has two gas meters — one residential (just the stove) and one commercial (boiler, hot water heater, gas dryer) — that were leftover from its days as an apartment conversion. Dealing with the gas company to switch everything over to a single residential meter has been a slow process to say the least, but commercial rates are significantly higher and there’s no reason we should have that meter. Once we’re down to a single residential account, the gas bills will be no higher than they were at the old house. Hey now, that was a pleasant surprise!

Windows with Shutters

While I’m here in SLC, Brandon and his stepfather are putting window film up (which we should have done sooner). They need to be addressed but we don’t want to replace the house’s original windows because they’re important to its architectural integrity, and there are ways to make old windows more efficient. We’ll be working on that over time, but for now, the film should be a good temporary winter fix. Brandon said that the kitchen (the biggest problem area) feels noticeably better already.

I’d like to schedule an energy audit and look into better insulation and weather sealing, but this goes back to the issue we’re having with our multiple energy accounts. There are rebates and other incentives available, but we need to consolidate everything first before we can take advantage of them.

It will all happen in time.

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    January 23, 2014 at 8:56 pm

    I’ve been following along since you bought the vic, and wow, what a breath of fresh air to hear a “big-time” blogger praise their lovely antique windows! Hurrah!

  • Cait
    January 24, 2014 at 1:10 am

    I had an energy audit done when I moved into my turn of the century row house in DC, and I was informed that I would probably be warmer sleeping in a tent in the backyard. I really appreciated that they told me what changes would be worth making, and what wouldn’t really pay off. My windows are old, but it wasn’t going to save me much money in the long run to replace them.

    My fixes were cheap. Lots of clear caulk and spray foam to fill in the gaps between the wall and floorboards, gaps around windows, gaps around doors,gaps between floorboards, etc(I apparently bought a very lovely and expensive sieve to live in. The other thing that made a surprising difference was capping all the unused electrical outlets in the house with child-proof covers, I hadn’t realize there were drafts coming through the outlets, but sure enough it made a huge difference. My utilities got cheaper, and my house was noticeably more comfortable it was completely worth it.

  • Alison
    January 24, 2014 at 5:49 am

    Reading this post makes my head spin just a little on your behalf. : ) It sounds like you’re handling everything with patience and persistence. I’m cringing to even suggest this on a design blog, no less when you’re attending a design-oriented conference, but have you ever looked into honeycomb shades for your windows? I know that their reputation pretty much precedes them when it comes to, ahem, style, but they’re pretty much the bomb when it comes to insulation, especially the higher end brands. Also, I recently went to check some out in person and I have to say that some of the newer fabrics aren’t really *that bad* (think linens, bamboo blends, etc. in numerous neutrals), plus when you push them up they pretty much disappear from sight…). Personally I would consider them for bedrooms in particular if insulation’s a top priority, layered under prettier window treatments of course. : ) (And actually layering them under your drapes would really maximize the energy efficiency, especially combined with the film).

  • Heidi
    January 24, 2014 at 7:29 am

    My husband and I just replaced a very old, energy inefficient bay window in order to change the shape of our kitchen. We were both sad to see the window go, but in the end it had to be done. I think if we would have had an older house like yours we would have done everything possible to salvage those gorgeous windows. Good luck!

  • WES
    January 24, 2014 at 8:12 am

    I have to attest to the power of those window wraps, also as an added benefit for those that live in old house converted into apartments they do pretty well at keeping the smell from coming in. This is not necessarily something Nicole needs, but I had an apartment in a converted house and my bedroom window was right on the porch and the upstairs neighbor always smoked outside that window. I had put up the window wrap in the winter and noticed in the spring that I couldn’t smell his smoke so I left it up on that window (I had other windows in the room I could open.).

    I have added some cordless cellular shades to our living room and office which were the two coldest rooms in our house and they have helped. And I will be adding some lining to the curtains with fleece which I have used in previous places to keep the draft out. Bonus the fleece is white so in the summer I can close the curtains and have the white reflect out the heat (to some extent but every bit helps) since they are south facing windows.

  • Laurie
    January 24, 2014 at 8:33 am

    Ooo, I’d love to know how you make your windows more efficient. We do the film too (which does make a big difference) but if there are more tricks, I need to know them!

  • karla
    January 24, 2014 at 9:17 am

    Thanks for emphasizing that old windows can be made more efficient. Replacing windows can be an immediate fix but not always the most cost friendly way that the advertisers would like us all to think. There are several window restorers/repairers in Illinois/Midwest. Landmarks Illinois has a list of them here:

  • Lucy
    January 24, 2014 at 9:35 am

    Google “removable interior storm windows”. Putting up window film every year is a hassle. We built (very easily) removable storm windows using window film on both sides (thus increasing their effectiveness) and they’re perfect. Lightweight, removable, extremely inexpensive and should last several seasons assuming we take care when storing them. Our windows are huge and original to our 1870’s house–this solution provides comfort and allows us to enjoy the old windows with wavy glass without freezing.

  • karla
    January 24, 2014 at 9:46 am

    One contractor not listed is Historic Home and Window Restoration 215 W Park Ave, Aurora IL 60506 630-235-3838 Frank Rojas They’ve done great work out in Geneva/St. Charles/Batavia and have had some projects in Oak Park area, too.

  • Jessica @
    January 24, 2014 at 11:26 am

    So glad to hear that it’s going well. And can I say that I’m SO happy that you’re keeping the old windows? There is nothing more horrible looking than driving up to a beautiful old home that has vinyl replacement windows. ICK!

  • Nicole L
    January 24, 2014 at 11:39 am

    Looking forward to seeing what solutions you come up with keep those original windows! We’ve used film on a few houses now and it’s such a brilliant product – but not exactly attractive, especially in our livingroom (where our curtains are inside the window frame – so I guess would be inside the film?)… I need a way to convince the husband that our 1930s windows can be saved!

  • Michelle
    January 24, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    I can empathize with you on the windows. While I have lived in some older homes, oldest was built in 1949. I know not as old as yours, but all houses we have lived in have had really cruddy windows with a lot of heat loss. I have used the window kits before and they do help. I have the 3M window plastic up on a few windows in my 9 yr old home. Who would think a house this new would have issues. It is as drafty as an older home. Just poorly built. Being that we don’t have to worry about the windows and the integrity of our home, we have been replacing them as we can afford. As someone mentioned, seeing those beautiful old homes with vinyl replacement windows just doesn’t look right. I know in St. Paul, you have to have permission from a committee if you are going to do anything to your old home, so as they make sure you keep with the integrity of the house. Replacing ours has made the biggest difference for us. Patio door, living room window and one dining window down, 12 more windows to go.

  • Mary
    January 24, 2014 at 3:30 pm

    We put window film on our condo windows because we face West and it is always boiling in the summer. So far, it has worked really well, both for heating and cooling.

  • Samantha
    January 24, 2014 at 3:55 pm

    As much as it’s not a very exciting topic I’d LOVE to hear more about your windows, I’m sure ours are leaking all our heat :(

  • erin @ House Envy
    January 26, 2014 at 2:59 pm

    this has been a trying winter for anyone in the path of the arctic vortex! it has made us look into energy saving tips too!

  • Sarah @ 702 Park Project
    January 27, 2014 at 10:30 am

    Because our house was split into two apartments at one point, we had two meters. We have saved an enormous amount this winter by switching them into one meter several months ago. Definitely the way to go! :)

  • Workplaces | Making it Lovely
    January 27, 2014 at 12:38 pm

    […] Our house is warm! Our house is warm! We woke up this morning to a not-freezing house, even though we’re getting hit with another arctic blast. The thermostat downstairs is set to 70° and it’s actually that temperature. Thank you, plastic-wrap window film. […]

  • Carla
    January 27, 2014 at 12:46 pm

    What type of window film do you use? I have been resisting putting any up on the (landmarked) original windows of our Brooklyn brownstone, but the cold this winter has been pretty severe, so it may be time…

  • Kristi
    January 28, 2014 at 10:25 am

    What window film did you get? How much was it? Our house was built in 1900 but the windows were probably replaced sometime in the 1930’s. I really would like to avoid replacing the windows, but our house has been very cold this year with all the crazy temperatures, and it’s been hard to keep it above 64º when it is 5º outside (we live in Tennessee.)

  • jessica
    March 3, 2014 at 2:37 pm

    can you tell us more about what window film you used. Thanks!