Cheapest Home Ventillation Methods

by Eric
(United States)

Question about Cheapest Home Ventillation:

Hello, what a great site! I am a first tie home owner and have a ton of questions about properly ventilating and insulating our attic (home was made in 1928). Of the possible venting approaches, which is the most economical (cheapest) way to ventilate? Thank you!

Lina's Answer:

Thank you so much for the kind and encouraging comments and question. My apologies for the delay in response, I was away for several days with very patchy internet access. I am back now and would be happy to answer your questions through an email conversation.

First, I want to commend you on taking on the task to renovate an old home - you will have your hands full and dirty ;-) , but I bet the home is beautiful with good bones. Since I don't know much about your type of home, it's location, and the type of heating and cooling system it has, let me make some generic assumptions and recommendations about the most reasonable first steps:

If this home is "mostly original", I assume that the heating system is a furnace with a duct system and grills on the floor. At some point, hopefully, the heating system was upgraded to gas or oil. If the attic is unfinished, it has sparse insulation - if any - and the vermiculite insulation has asbestos in it. It also probably has knob and tube wiring with the porcelain tie-offs embedded on the attic floor above or below the insulation. There may also be vents along the soffits or shutter vents on the sides of the attic. These are just points of caution when dealing with the existing insulation. Please refer to the insulation and attic sections of the www.homeenergyfaire.com to look at photos and descriptions of how to deal with the insulation in old homes. Also, print out the checklist of things to look for as far as attic insulation is concerned, especially old wiring, asbestos, holes, gaps, broken or non-connected pipes, ducts, etc.

I won't be addressing the shell components such as windows, doors, siding, roofing, and foundation in this email. A lot of info is available on the website, but a lot more will be added, as I write the pages.

Remember that if the insulation including the asbestos is in good shape, you can leave it as is and just put on new insulation over it. The most cost-effective are cellulose, or fiberglass, though sprayed foam is becoming much more affordable, and there are rebates and incentives available through the government. Just don't compress the insulation, you will reduce its R-value.

Now, the million dollar question - For your first and most affordable pass, the existing ventilation can be adequate through the attic vents you already have. Make sure that the insulation is not covering the vents or grills on the side, and that you have no moisture or mold issues in the attic.

If you want to go one step further, your next best bet is to install room fans from the ceilings (a 3-speed, fan/light combo can cost as low as $50 from a home center), and if you already have ceiling lights it is a relatively easy and cheap installation. You can reverse the fan blades (units come with directional switch) to control air flow for heating or cooling; counter-clockwise for summer and clockwise for winter. On the low setting, you will be providing decent air pressure balance and recirculation, while saving on heating and cooling costs.

Your other options would be to install a whole-house fan, heat or energy recovery ventilator, which would take advantage of the existing duct work in the house. If you don't have ducts, these are costly options.

Depending on your location, an attic fan may improve ventilation and be a very inexpensive option. Attic fans also come powered with solar panels and are thermostatically controlled.

I hope this helps. Please feel free to provide more specifics and ask more questions. Upgrading an old home is really challenging and because of the different components that interact as a system, it needs special consideration.

Be well, Lina

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