In the eyes of potential house buyers, one strike facing sellers of historic houses is the problem of heating efficiency– especially during the current market downturn, as buyers become more picky and as oil costs prompt them to be suspicious of the “extra” costs of an antique home. After all, drafty windows and the (assumed) lack of insulation mean that an antique house = higher heating bills, right? But often, this assumption is unfair. Often times, despite an old home having been insulated at one time or another, even the current owner does not know the extent to which it is insulated, even if it is well-insulated.
As our antique houses passed from owner to owner over the decades — even centuries — these homes were often “repaired” or remodeled by their stewards. Plaster walls cracked, original wide plank floors split, clapboards needed repair or replacement, and family needs called for large additions for more living space. As the homeowners made these alterations — whether it was during the 1910s or the 1980s — they often made their own “upgrades,” including some kind of insulation.
This past fall, as I drove through Andover, Connecticut, I spotted this classic New England farmhouse (above) stripped of its clapboard, this exposing the interesting timber framing, and also a substantial amount of insulation inside the walls and around the windows. While I cannot be sure whether insulation had existed there long before in some form, or whether the current owner had just insulated the house for the first time, I thought about how often this must have occured over the decades in many older homes, with no documentation to pass on to future owners. So, while homebuyers are wise to due their due diligence & research heating costs when buying an antique home, they might be surprised to find that the heating costs don’t exceed those of newer houses on the same road.