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Older Homes and Heritage Buildings

Older homes being retrofitted deserve special consideration. Whether the home is 50, 75 or 100 years old, it represents a part of our architectural heritage. Maintaining the durability of the structure is especially important. Homes over 50 years old may incorporate unusual construction details and materials that make it necessary to improvise and adapt standard retrofit methods. Retrofitting will require sensitivity to the design, materials and special features of the home. Changes to the building's appearance should be minimized; the emphasis should be on repairing, rather than replacing, building components.

Although there are bound to be some sacrifices in energy efficiency, a little more planning and care can do a lot to make older homes more comfortable, durable and energy efficient. Extra care at the planning stage involves assessing the home from several aspects.

  • Heritage: What features have to be preserved? What modifications made subsequent to the original construction should be removed?
  • Maintenance and repair: What areas need attention? Do any needed repairs indicate moisture or structural problems that should be corrected?
  • Energy efficiency: How can I make improvements while maintaining the heritage quality of the building?

Here are some sample guidelines and opportunities for retrofit of older homes:

Air sealing: Comprehensive air sealing is one of the least obvious and most effective retrofit projects for older homes.

Heating system: A total tune-up of the heating system is another inexpensive, effective and invisible measure for older homes.

Insulation: Preserving the structure is especially important; take extra care to provide a vapour barrier and air barrier when insulating. You can often re-insulate basements and attics without affecting the appearance of the house. Where it is desirable to preserve both the interior and exterior wall finishes, blowing insulation into the cavity of a wood-frame wall is an option. The original exterior finish of many older homes has been replaced with a more modern but less appropriate material. Insul-brick may have replaced the original stucco, or permastone may have replaced the original cement parging. In these situations, there is an opportunity to copy the original finish as you retrofit from the exterior.

Windows: Windows are one of the most important aspects of a home's originality. Careful weatherstripping of older, single-pane, wood-frame windows will do much to improve their energy efficiency. If the original wood storm windows are not salvagable, it's possible to have custom wood storms made to order. If the object is to preserve the appearance of the building, avoid metal storms or storm-and-screen combinations.

If exterior wood storms are not desirable because of the maintenance factor, interior storms offer a good alternative. These are less noticeable than exterior metal storms, and they can be made to fit on the sash or the window trim. If the window sash is badly deteriorated, replacement units can be made to fit the existing frame.

Doors: Preserving the original doors is important to the overall appearance of an older home. Careful weatherstripping will improve their performance. As with windows, avoid aluminum storms. A better alternative is to restore the enclosed vestibule that is found in most older homes.