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Trying to heat our new old home

November 27, 2018

One year ago last week we bought a two story 100 year old home In Kentucky. Total square footage is around 3200. We knew the house would need some upkeeping and that we would need to re-insulate the attic and be looking into a new hvac unit for downstairs (we have a newer one upstairs as well). We were a little shell shocked when we got our January electric bill and it was $900. We were running both units, and also ran two gas fireplaces half the time. Mind you, the walls are not insulated, we had old windows upstairs (we replaced this last summer), and a drafty front door (was replaced this Fall).

My question(s) is, which do we approach first? Our heat pump downstairs is over 20+ years old and we recently learned that it is actually a mobile home unit...why someone would put I’m a unit like that, i have no idea. What I also forgot to mention is that we will need new ductwork downstairs. We are on somewhat of a budget and can not afford to insulate the walls and buy a new unit with ductwork all at the same time. So where do we begin? is there a better solution? I loved this home when we bought and do not anymore. i Want to love it again, so any advice is appreciated!

Comments (16)
  • sktn77a

    Where are you located? Have your heatpump checked out - sounds like the electric backup heat is coming on most of the time and driving up your heating bills.

  • mike_home

    Is natural gas available? If it is then I would install gas furnaces in place of the heat pumps.

    The general guideline is improve the envelope first (upgrade insulation, windows, and doors), then install the proper size HVAC equipment. The sizing of the equipment is a function of how well the house is insulated. In a 100 year old 3200 sq. foot house improving the insulation is going to make a big difference.

  • PRO
    Austin Air Companie

    You bought a 100 year home that according to you... You knew it was going to need some work.

    The good news: According to Google average winter temps are around 42F. degrees. Which make it a perfect climate for a heat pump.

    The bad news is that with a 900 electric bill you got some serious work in front of you. That $900 bill is likely due to a combination of things. (Low or no insulation, poor HVAC operation, a large number of leaky, drafty windows.)

    If all of the above is true... that can be an enormous amount of cost (windows, insulation and HVAC with a cherry on top.)

    When replacing HVAC in this fashion, your best bet is to do it all --- because HVAC is designed to handle loads and if you reduce the loads by insulating and replacing drafty windows you shouldn't need as large of an HVAC system (sizing wise).

    In other words it would be counter productive to replace the HVAC system if the load will change due to replacing windows and adding insulation --- because then the HVAC system will be oversized for the home.

    You save money on monthly electric bills when the home is adequately insulated AND the HVAC system is sized properly.

    What do you pay for your electric utility rate? (in cents per hour)

  • thinkdesignlive

    What mikehome said. We had 2 electric furnaces for our large home and switched to gas and we went from $900 to $200.

  • paceituntilyoumakeit

    mike_home, we have new windows now and doors. none of the heat and air companies have mentioned anything about unit size it’s insulation vs non. Thanks for the info!

    Austin Air Companie, yes we knew it would need upkeep and some improvements. We were also expecting our highest winter electric bill to be $450 max. We had a very cold winter last year. Since windows have already been replaced, next step looks to be insulation. I’ve always heard that have size was just dependent on home size, not all the other factors you stated. The utility rate is .10078 per kWh.

  • Elmer J Fudd

    Part of improving the envelope in such an old house is working on sealing up air gaps and cracks where outside air comes in. In severe cases, as might be in such an old house, air intrusion arguably can have as significant a negative effect on the heating AND cooling HVAC load as does the lack of insulation.

  • kevinande

    My home is not as old as yours, however it was built in 1957. Before I purchased it no one even attempted to seal or insulate the house. My first winter was really cold floors and extremely high utilities. After new windows, caulking and sealing tape in a few key areas, the utilities are actually quite comparable to the home I moved out of which was 800 sqft smaller than the one we have now. Sealing those air leaks is critical to keeping your costs under control. As it has already been stated once all that is done, then size you HVAC equipment appropriately. Your electric rate is actually not that bad compared to here in Dallas Tx.

  • paceituntilyoumakeit

    Marc Well, ductless would be beneficial even with little to no insulation?

  • PRO
    Austin Air Companie


    Heat loads are determined, not only by square footage of the home, but also windows, what type, how large and where they are placed (N,S -E & W). What insulation level plays a role throughout the home... ceiling walls etc.

    How tall those ceilings are and so on. If the home has walls of glass, those heating and cooling costs will be magnified... so you can never use home square footage with a straight face to determine a heat load. (No two homes are exactly alike)

    Here's an example below, just realize these figures are for Houston Texas area. (I service Katy, Texas area far west suburb of Houston)

  • PRO
    Austin Air Companie

    Also note the above example is for AC run times. A heat pump should be similar as a heat pump runs like an AC when in heating mode, provided that it's a good climate (above 35 degree OAT) most of the time. So as to not invoke defrost mode and run back up resistance heat -- which is very costly to run.

  • rainyseason
    Pace, we seem to be twins! I also bought a 100 year old beat up 3200 sq ft house in Kentucky. My utility bill last January was $650, and that was after new windows, doors, etc. We had expected much better performance after spending tons on the renovation & so that bill motivated me to investigate our options. We have a gas furnace in the basement which is ducted to the first floor and a heat pump heat/ac unit in the attic which covers the upstairs. While the heat pump unit has been great for AC, it had been the driver of high winter bills. We’d had it serviced repeatedly, and they’d change the number of heat strips wired up, but still it didn’t heat that well and was costly. Eventually we learned there was a coolant leak in the outdoor unit & that unit was replaced. We had the utility company come out and do an energy audit and they gave us suggestions on where to insulate and air seal. With attic insulation, air sealing, and lots of HVAC service calls, things seem better, but this winter will be the test.
  • mike_home

    paceitunityoumakeit, you never responded about whether natural gas is available in your house. If it is then 95% efficiency gas furnaces would be the best way to lower your energy cost. Your electric rate is below the national average. Your $900 monthly electric bill about for $1400 at my electric rate.

    rainyseason, if the heat pump in the attic is giving you problems then you should also consider replacing it with a gas furnace. My HVAC contractors only want to install an 80% efficiency furnace in an attic, but it is possible to install a high efficiency furnace in an unconditioned attic.

  • annettea
    My daughter and son-in-law recently remodeled a 110 year old house in Michigan. There was NO insulation in the walls and little in the attic. They had netted cellulose blown into the walls from the interior and beefed up the attic insulation. The house is now much quieter and heating and cooling costs dropped by half.
  • paceituntilyoumakeit

    mike_home, we replaced our unit at our previous home with a natural gas unit. Our winter electric bill that year was 1/3 of what it had been with the old heat pump the year before. Unfortunately, natural gas is not available here. They put in a new natural gas service station a couple of miles down the road and it was going to dust us $100,000 to get the line to where we are.

  • paceituntilyoumakeit

    rainyseason, I hope your bill is greatly improved this winter! I’m hoping our new windows, doors and extra attic insulation help somewhat!

    annettea, we will be looking into quotes on blown in cellulose insulation for the walls. I’m sure our houses aren’t the same footprint or square footage, but do you happen to know how much the cellulose was installed?

  • annettea

    Sorry, I don’t know what the cellulose cost installed as it was part of a large remodel contract.

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