What I'm Seeing Now

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An Older House Often Means Older Insulation

An older house often means older insulation.

This is a three-story, 1941 semi-detached, all brick, with a flat roof.  It is typical construction for this era and in this place.

There are newer windows, but what appears to be original drywall.  Original drywall means original insulation.  What kind of insulation? 

In the era between WW1 and WW2 typical brick wall construction was two layers thick, with the interior supporting wood structure tied into the exterior walls.  This is a brick structure with a wood interior.  In contrast, what is built now is a wood structure with a brick facade.

The wall studs in that era usually began just inside the brick.  If there was anything between the brick and wood it was a vapor retarder usually of tar paper. 

Insulation could have been anything from a rock wool (which is a slag that was spun into fibers), or fiberglass, or a light cellulose made from newspaper, or nothing! 

Drywall began to be used in this era.  It was thought in some circles that dead air framed by the brick on the outside and the drywall on the inside would serve as insulation.  Like an igloo?

You've seen my igloo analogy before.  The door on an igloo is intended to trap air and serve as an insulating buffer.  Such dead air can provide some energy efficiency on the outside of the house, like with storm windows for example, but dead air inside the walls of a house provides little to no insulation.  And can create an area rife with moisture.

Knowing all that I was exceptionally interested in seeing the thermal images of this 1941 house.  The outdoor temperature at this time was about 45F.

All of the rooms felt cooler.  And the room to room temperatures varied quite a bit.

These two images are of the same corner in this house, on the opposite side from the sun.

The left image is of the third-floor bedroom and the right the kitchen.  You can see that the temperature in spots is not much warmer than the outdoor air.

The erratic and inferior wall insulation is evident in each image.  Indeed, all of the rooms looked like this.  Is there any insulation at all, or is it just thin and of a deteriorated thickness or quality?

My recommendation:  while thermal imaging can reveal information, it sometimes does not answer questions.  In fact, it might beg questions!  What is going on inside the wall here?  We don't know.  But we do know why the rooms feel uncomfortably cool.  Feeling cool during the winter would suggest that these rooms would feel warmer during the summer.  So the HVAC system is in for some heavy lifting!

 

 

Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC  

Based in Bristow, serving all of Northern Virginia.

Office (703) 330-6388   Cell (703) 585-7560

www.jaymarinspect.com


Comment balloon 14 commentsJay Markanich • February 08 2016 03:09AM

Comments

Older homes can be problematic for heating, cooling, electrical issues.  Insurance might be higher as well.  

Posted by Peter Mohylsky, Your Bucket List Broker Along Scenic 30A (BETTER HOMES AND GARDENS REAL ESTATE) over 2 years ago

All of that is true Peter.  In this house that had been upgraded, but the insulation had not!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

That will be a very expensive home to heat and cool. Love those thermal images.

Posted by Kat Palmiotti, The House Kat (Grand Lux Realty, Monroe NY, 914-419-0270, kat@thehousekat.com) over 2 years ago

Kat - the rule of thumb is that walls account for 30% of energy efficiency (or inefficiency) in a home.  That is certainly the case here.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

Good morning Jay. Frankly I don't know of any inspectors who use the thermal image.  Wish they did, which reminds me, I need to do some research to see if I can find someone in this area that has one of those.  

Posted by James Dray, Exceptional Agents, Outstanding Results (Fathom Realty AR LLC) over 2 years ago

Nice to see you James.  This is my 14th year with thermal imaging.  It is fabulous technology.  If you find someone, be sure they are well trained and experienced.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

Good morning Jay. Mighty Mo earned his stripes on this one! Enjoy your day!

Posted by Wayne Martin, Real Estate Broker - Retired (Wayne M Martin) over 2 years ago

Mighty Mo is the sharpest arrow in my quiver, Wayne.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

Yes, well at least they know there's a problem and now it's time to get it fixed and make things more comfortable.

Posted by Women of Westchester Working Together, Women helping Women get ahead (Women of Westchester Working Together) over 2 years ago

That's easier said than done, Debbie.  My experience is that shooting insulation inside walls is not very effective.  And removing drywall everywhere to reinsulate is a big deal.  They did put on a new roof in the past years, and judging from the thermal images that insulation seems to be okay.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

Jay Markanich They just do not build them like they use to. 

Posted by Donald Hester, NCW Home Inspections, LLC (NCW Home Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

Not insulation wise, Don!

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

That's interesting information!  It covers a topic I hadn't thought about before.

Posted by Myrl Jeffcoat, Greater Sacramento Real Estate Agent (GreatWest Realty) over 2 years ago

Myrl - when rooms are too cold or too warm insulation is the reason.  "Seeing" it is important.

Posted by Jay Markanich, Home Inspector - servicing all Northern Virginia (Jay Markanich Real Estate Inspections, LLC) over 2 years ago

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