• If your house, like mine, is old enough to be historic, you may have reservations about changing the character of the existing structure. My dearest and I made some tough choices ourselves when remodeling our Civil War-era post and beam house (see link). We oriented the roofline of an addition in a decidedly unhistoric way to take advantage of solar gain, but then backed away from some modern siding options and preserved the character of the house at the expense of some energy-saving opportunities. “All house choices are tradeoffs,” as a client of mine once said, and you will encounter conflicting values and tough choices in remodeling that don’t appear in new construction.
  • Imagination is a precious commodity, even if you have to borrow some from a friend. There may be life in the old house that you can’t see from your favorite chair. Invite trusted friends to help you tour your house. Bounce your ideas off them. Get real honest feedback. They may not be designers, but everyone knows what they like.
  • If you’re hiring an architect, expect to pay for the hours you spend conversing/communicating (they charge for phone calls and reading emails, too, and they should) about options and strategies. But you can well afford to spend some dollars up front discussing the energy-efficiency potential of your project.
  • The professional field of remodeling contractors, at least here in New England,  is larger than that of new home builders. Take references and follow them up. A phone call is not an imposition for a past client who remembers your remodeler-candidate fondly. Drive by those past projects, and rate them not so much on elegance as how well they enhance the beauty and integrity of the older structure. If you dare, ask for a tour. All the owner can say is no.
  • Labels like “Energy Star ” mean a little less in the remodeling industry than in new construction, but you can still sound out your best candidates for their openness to energy-efficient upgrades and their ideas for improving your home’s overall energy consumption.
  •  If you’re not hiring an architect, you’ll be submitting someone’s drawing to your town zoning office for approval, and you can expect to pay your contractor for that service, unless you can do it yourself. Do NOT try to remodel without a town permit, unless you’re doing a very small amount of interior cosmetics and no wiring and plumbing issues will arise. You may think you’ve stayed under the radar, but your next tax assessment or the sale of your home will almost certainly bring your project to someone’s attention.  A buyer may ask to see your town’s approvals for the project. A home inspector may question a structural detail. Don’t make me tell you stories of contractors removing sheet rock to expose past work for after-the-fact inspections. Get your town permits, and be wary of contractors who promise you lower prices for an extensive remodel done “on the QT.”
  • Does your addition/remodel project permit features like high-performance windows, skylights, south-facing porches or light wells? The extra dollars you spend on good millwork and passive solar features will put the entire project on a faster payback curve, even if they stretch your budget now. Can you improve the insulation performance of those exterior walls involved in the project, even if other walls won’t be touched? It’s worth the stretch for small gains. If your exterior wall exposure won’t justify bringing in a spray-foam contractor, consider asking your builder to use foam board in the framing bays, or over them. If the essentials of moisture control are observed, you get an improvement in the performance of that wall for a small investment now.
  • Will you be upgrading your heating/cooling system in this project? Consider a hydro-air option that won’t make your house tighter, but will give you improved distribution. High-velocity (see link) duct systems are compact, flexible and unobtrusive once they’re installed, and the efficiency of the system puts the energy where you need it, rather than in concealed runs of duct and piping.
  • Is it time for a new boiler/furnace? This option certainly adds dollars to the project, but you can achieve an instant upgrade of ten to fifteen per cent to your energy efficiency with a new heating plant. And beware; not all new boilers/furnaces are created equal. Also be aware that sticker-efficiencies on new equipment are to be taken with the same table seasoning as fuel-efficiency claims for new cars. Mileage may vary.
  • Energy strategies usually involve a little more expense and trouble, but small moves add up, and creative thinking can make lower cost methods imitate more exotic technology. One new technique, insulated form foundations, can be mimicked effectively by asking your foundation contractor to cover the still-exposed concrete footings with rigid foam board, giving your footings an R factor the neighbors will envy. You can request that the remodeler cover your interior basement walls with a layer of foam board, apply fiberglass batts in perimeter bays, and have an insulated foundation without applying any expensive technology at all. Remember to consult local codes about covering foam board properly.
  • Radiant floor heat can often be installed under your first floor from the basement, unless you have wall-to-wall carpet to block the heat transfer. Grooved underlayment can permit you to have radiant heat at the expense of a ¾ inch lift in floor level in most rooms, provided you finish with a flooring that doesn’t require that fasteners penetrate the radiant tubing (think laminate flooring, tile or linoleum). Existing attic spaces can be treated with spray foam to permit a  “warm attic” solution to moisture and ventilation problems up there. Most energy-efficient technologies can be adapted to retrofit an older home if you’re willing to accept partial treatments and partial victories in energy upgrades.

links to more info...

helios at home (blog)

remodeling contractors association of CT

energy star home improvement index

contractor talk

garden web