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re: poorly insulated home
2 jan 1998
allen adler  writes from hell freezing over
(western kentucky, as in benton, murray, paducah, and mayfield,
where my mother grew up :-)

>i live in a house with very poor insulation.

me too. the 32' wide x 16' tall south wall of my stone house is a single
$40 layer of r0.8 3-year polyethylene film. the other stone walls are about
r10, with exterior foam and fiberglass insulation. it's 19.6 f outdoors 
this morning, and 82.4 in the sunspace, with all the south house windows
open. i wish i had a reflecting pond in front of the sunspace. maybe soon. 

>i feel drafts coming up through the floor, from an allegedly boarded up
>but probably uninsulated chimney, through the windows (they are shut)
>and door frames, from closets and perhaps even through the walls.

what an opportunity! why don't you buy a pencil or screwdriver and a roll
of cheap fiberglass insulation, and roll the insulation into balls and
strings and stuff it into the holes and cracks where the air leaks in?

then maybe invest in a caulking gun and some caulk. what's under the floor?
if it's a crawlspace, perhaps you could seal up some of the holes where
outside air leaks in. dirt and polyethylene film are cheap.

>i haven't done any specific measurements to determine whether
>it is warmer where i live than it would be in a cardboard box
>out on the street, but i expect it would be fairly close.

why don't you set up a cardboard box on the street with a few signs around
it, and live there for a while? invite the newspapers. it might help
interest your landlord in some apartment improvements. meanwhilst, you
could make some solar improvements to the box. ky isn't bad for solar 
heating, about like philadelphia, with (in louisville, the closest nrel
weather station) an average jan temp of 31.7 f, average daily low and high
of 23.2 and 40.3, and 910 btu/ft^2/day of sun that falls on a south wall.

if your box were an 8' r1 cardboard cube with 1 poly film wall,
collecting 64ft^2x0.9x910 = 52k btu of sun over a 6 hour winter day,
and losing 6h(t-31.7)6x64ft^2/r1 = (t-31.7)x2,304, the average indoor
daytime temperature might be t = 31.7 + 52k/2,304 = 54.3 f. not bad...
you could live in the box on sunny days, with passersby concerned for
the pitiful wretch behind the large poly window, and retire to your
(cooler?) house at night. wear older clothes during the day.

if the landlord doesn't come around soon, you might want to cover the box
with polyethylene film to keep out the rain and tyvek tape to seal it
against air leaks, and stack 344 used tires (my garage pays me $1.25 each
to take them away :-) around the non-south sides of the box, and on the
roof, and fill them with bagged and loose leaves (locals pay a special fee
of 75 cents per bag for the trash haulers to remove them, since it's now
illegal put them in pa landfills), to raise the average us r-value to about
10 (?), and stack some rocks or cement blocks or 2 liter soda bottles or
milk jugs inside the walls to keep the box warmer, so it loses about
24(t-31.7)(64ft^2/r1+5x64ft^2/r10) = (t-31.7)2,304 btu over an average
24 hour day, and the 24 hour average indoor temperature is 54.3 f.

if the landlord still hasn't come around (you are putting your rent in
escrow, right?), you might add another layer of bags of leaves behind
the poly film window to make a low-thermal-mass sunspace, so the box loses
6h(t-31.7)64ft^2 during the day and about 24h(t-31.7)6x64ft^2/r10 over
24 hours, a total of (t-31.7)x1,306 btu, and the average indoor temperature
is 31.7 + 52k/1,306 = 71.8 f. a 4'x4'x8' bed made by tying together 288
2 liter soda bottles in 4 1' wide x 4' tall x 8' long vertical stacks of
72 bottles each, in a horizontal hexagonal configuration, would make
c = 288x4.2 = 1,210 btu/f, and r = r10/(6x64ft^2) = 0.026 "ohms," with
the sunspace vents closed, so rc = 1,210x0.26 = 31.5 hours, so if the box
were say, 80 f at dusk, by dawn it might be 31.7+(80-31.7)exp(-18/31.5)
= 59 f. covering all of the inside walls with a 1' layer of 576 bottles
makes c = 2,420 btu/f and lower the day-night temperature swing to 10 f.

adding another layer of leaves inside the south wall bottles (a solar
closet) would help to keep them warmer on an average day, and further
lower the day-night temperature swing. you might put a 55 gallon drum
in this space, filled with rainwater from the roof, with a garden hose
for hot water for bathing, were bathing not counterproductive from a
public relations point of view. 

a shallow frozen reflecting pool would be nice as well: get a bag of
concrete sand mix and make a 2" berm on the street to make a 16'x16'
frozen puddle. this may help attract the attention of the authorities.

>as it is pretty cold at the moment, this is very much on my mind.

i can relate to that. my house is only 67 f this morning. my friends
say i should turn on the oil burner, but i want to get through this
winter without ever turning it on, or burning wood, or kerosene, or
using any electricity, except for a few cfs and my laptop pc. my 20
watt cat ("roo") helps. perhaps i should fill up the basement with
rabbits, or 55 gallon drums full of water.

>the only source of heat in the place is a centrally located gas burner,
>the heat from which is expected to spread to the rest of the house
>by convection.

works for me... no fans today... 

>the thermostat is 3 feet from the heater, so naturally it isn't
>sensitive to the temperature anywhere but next to the heater.

maybe you should be 3' from the heater too.

>this form of heat also causes physical discomforts.

sure. altho inuits get so uncomfortable when their igloos get up to
about 45 f that they chop more ventilation holes in the igloos...

>i bought a space heater but i find that the drafts of cold air
>from outside are so bad that the space heater doesn't make any difference.

maybe you should set up the cardboard box inside the house, with
the space heater inside too. a cozy little house-within-a-house.
don't seal it up too well (almost impossible.) fumes... 

>i might be able to purchase an arctic sleeping bag to stay warm
>at night but i would also like to enjoy the luxury of being able
>to sit in the living room and read without freezing.

arctic sleeping bags sound good. or arctic army pants, with about 1" of
cotton padding, available at some army-navy stores for $10. also,
electric socks. your body is probably pretty good at distributing heat,
if you can keep any large part of it warm. it might help to wear
something impervious to moisture next to your skin too, to cut down
on evaporative cooling. trash bags, latex, etc. 

>i might add that because of this form of heating, we can't have
>doors on most of the rooms, because a door would block the tiny
>amount of heat convection that does take place. since there are
>no doors, there is no way to prevent the drafts from blowing
>from room to room.

i'd add doors to the room with the heater, and live in there,
with sand-stockings under the doors.

>bad as it is, moving would be a major expense and inconvenience,
>so i prefer to try to figure out some way to make this
>nonfunctional dwelling work.

that's how i feel about my 1820 stone farmhouse.
>since i only rent the place, i am not in a position to make improvements.

perhaps you should buy a place of your own, and a chainsaw...

>i might be able to ask the landlord to do something but i don't
>think i can get him to actually spend much time thinking about
>what really needs to be done.

the house-on-the-street might help with that.

>so i am wondering whether there is some systematic, thorough and
>comprehensive way to evaluate the precise causes of the problem,
>the ways to fix them and the costs of the various options.

air leaks, for starters. $30 for fiberglass and caulk,
applied by you...

>how likely is it that such remedies will actually work?

extremely likely, i'd say, from the way you describe the draughts.

>who does one call for such measurements?

you could try your local hvac criminal, but
they'd want to know where the money is...
>i should also explain that i am aware that one can obtain some
>protection by putting plastic over the wondows. however, this
>is not an option since i am not the only person who lives
>here and the concensus is that this is not permissible.
>my own opinion is that even if it were, it would not help
>that much since there are so many other sources of leaks.

maybe plastic film over the inside of the wondows would help,
after the major air-leak plugging. or caulking 2" of beadboard 
over the lower halves... 

happy new year,


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