Improving Energy Efficiency in Our Old Home

How we renovated our old home to achieve energy efficiency

When we first bought our house, it was not energy-efficient at all.  Not by a long shot.

The windows were all old and single-pane.  The two existing heat pump A/C units were old and ran on (expensive) propane.  There was some insulation in the attic, and some blown-in insulation in the walls but what was there had settled over time.

the windows were old and single pane

We knew when we bought our place that it was Priority One for us to make our home more energy efficient.  No one likes to pay high utility bills and certainly not a frugal person like me.    During our first winter here, we ran ONE of our heat pump units, for about a month total and it cost us close to $500 in propane, so after that, we survived using our fireplace and small space heaters.  It was not pleasant.  Many winter mornings we woke up to temperatures of 50 degrees inside the house.

After our first cold winter here, we tackled our window, siding, and insulation replacement project the following Spring.

Since our old house has solid wood interior walls, we knew we had one of two choices:  we could remove the wood from the interior walls, insulate in some fashion, then cover the walls up again …. or we could remove the exterior siding and during that process replace the old windows, insulation and add additional insulation.

We wanted to keep the character of our old place intact, I don’t like drywall, and our siding was in pretty bad shape, so we went with the latter option.

the siding was cracking and badly needed new paint

We’ve never regretted that decision.

I want to show you what we did.   It was a ton of work, but it is achievable for anyone wanting to add energy efficiency to an old home.

Before we tackled the project, we remodeled our kitchen.  Because our kitchen design impacted window design also, those windows were replaced first.  Of course, our house looked terrible from the outside for a few months.

kitchen windows replaced and exposed walls protected with plastic

We had a timing issue that we were luckily able to solve fairly quickly.  Our carpenter in Austin, who’s also a dear friend, was not able to come help us until the Summer.  Mark and I knew we couldn’t tolerate a Texas summer without a new HVAC system, and we weren’t about to do spend the money on a new HVAC system until we made the necessary energy efficiency improvements.

We hired a local carpenter, Mike Cochran, to help us with our project.    Mike and his wife live next door to the old house we tore down in Grapeland.   We didn’t know it at the time, but we were fortunate to meet them both.

One thing we decided to go ahead and just do during this whole process was build our mudroom.  We decided that if we were going to do it, we needed to do it then.    Although it would have been possible to do it later, we would have to rip out new siding and insulation to build on, and that didn’t make any sense to us.

After the addition was done, the guys replaced all of the old windows with new wood windows on all four sides of the house.  We decided to go with Jeld-Wen double-hung wood windows, although we looked at multiple manufactures such as Pella and Marvin.  (If these manufacturers are not available in  your area, there should be a lot of window options available in your area – just be sure you choose an energy-efficient window.)



Mark and Mike replacing windows on the first side of our home

As they went around the house, the guys also assessed the perimeter of the house for moisture or termite damage.  Unfortunately but not surprisingly — our house is 150 years old! — some damage was found in a few places . . .

closeup of moisture (or termite) damage

. . . but it was not significant and was easily repaired.

damage repaired

Of course, it wasn’t all work and no play.    We all tried to make the most of it and have some fun.

how about some play with your work

The next thing to do was to start removing the siding.  Because we only had a two-man crew (to conserve costs), our house is a large 50′ x 50′ box, and progress was relatively slow, we decided to tackle two sides of the house at a time.

We were lucky to find an insulation company who was willing to make two visits to complete the work for a reasonable additional fee.

all siding removed from second side of the house

Removing the siding revealed a strange assortment of wall studs going every which way.

studs going every which way

Of course, we also found lots of nasty pink, fiberglass insulation (nasty because it’s so itchy) that we bagged up as best we could.    (It’s in our attic now.)

bags of insulation

Here’s what one side of the house looked like after we removed all of the siding and pink insulation, and replaced the windows.

we stapled tar paper between each of the wall studs

After we removed all of the siding from the first two sides of the house, we stapled tar paper between each of the wall studs.  Mark knew that if we didn’t do this we do this, there was no way to prevent spray foam insulation from seeping through the cracks of the interior wood walls.

spray foam insulation would have expanded through the spaces between our interior walls

Otherwise, our interior walls would have looked like peanut butter sandwiches.

stapling tar paper to the cavities would prevent spray foam from seeping between the cracks of the interior wood walls

Of course, it rains in East Texas a lot, especially in the Winter and Spring, so during this entire process, we protected the house with plastic.

we protected the house from rain with plastic

The big day for Round One of spray foam insulation finally came.  We were ecstatic.  It was fascinating to watch how fast the foam expanded to fill every crack and crevice.

round one on the spray foam insulation

spray foam and our new mudroom

The consistency of the insulation, when dry, is about the same as a styrofoam cooler.

after the spray foam insulation had dried, it felt just like a styrofoam cooler

Once the insulation was good and dry, we covered up the two sides of the house with plastic and started on the remaining two sides of the house.

By this point, we were getting more efficient at gathering and bagging up the itchy, pink insulation . . . .

we got a lot more efficient in capturing and bagging up the pink insulation

. . . and replacing windows.


we replaced the windows all the way around the house first

We replaced our home office windows with slightly smaller windows — we knew we wanted to place a cabinet for our two printers underneath the window.

replacing the windows in the office

We were making good progress for sure, and the weather was mild and dry for the most part, a good thing since some days it felt like we were living in a barn.

some days it felt like we were living in a barn

The celebratory day came when Garland Insulating made their second visit to our property.

Garland Insulating came out to spray the remaining two sides

last two sides of the house ready for foam insulation

spraying last two sides of house with foam insulation
After the insulation dried, we hammered up plywood, then covered everything with a moisture barrier.

covered the exterior with a moisture barrier

covering the house with a moisture barrier

Then, we installed new Hardiplank siding.  I love this siding.  It’s historically appropriate and holds paint beautifully.  It’s also a masonry product which saved us a bit on our homeowners insurance.

new hardiplank siding

new siding installed on front of house

Of course, we also installed new wood trim.

Mark and Mike installing new siding and trim

Once that project was done, we painted the house.  Our house is now green (my favorite color) rather than blue.

our newly painted house

the front of our house with new paint on the siding and trim

Once our house exterior was completely finished, we upgraded to a new heat pump system which runs on electricity rather than propane.

All in all, we’re very happy with the work.  It’s certainly improved the energy efficiency and the appearance of the house.  The appearance of the finished siding is very close to the look of the old #117 siding, and in most cases, we kept the window sizes the same as the originals. This helped to maintain the look of the old Greek Revival style of the home.

While it wasn’t incredibly difficult work, it was time consuming.  It took Mark and Mike 30 days from start to finish to complete the work, not too bad for a very small crew!

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  1. Great information! Living in a 100+ year old house myself that desperately needs this done I often wondered what it would entail. I could totally relate with your “before” story of cold frosty mornings and propane expense! There might be a silver lining after all. Thanks for sharing.

  2. That is an amazing series of photos and answered questions I’ve always wondered about. The men look very “strong” which also is a necessary quality! They did a beautiful job!

  3. What a massive job to undertake! Results totally worth it, I’m sure. Love the way the two-man crew respectfully worked around the existing landscaping.

    • Thanks, Cher! Truthfully, I wanted to rip out some of the shrubs because they were so troublesome . . . but I’m glad Mark prevailed in wanting to keep them. :)

  4. Great job!! My husband & I also did the same scope of work to our Sears Catalog 2 story house that hubby moved from town out to the country–we still have the crawlspace insulation to do. Are you planning on insulating underneath with the spray on insulation? Also–we had the house painted green as well!!

  5. Wow! Impressive! I can’t help but wonder how much all that cost? I love my old wood windows in my house…but I can feel the cold seeping in as I type……wonder what it would cost us to do the same to our home. You guys continue to amaze me! When the dust settles, if it ever does…you will have a completely new old house.

    • Yep! You know we love new “old” houses! The cost was just shy of $20,000, not including labor, the new HVAC system, or paint. That price included the new windows, siding, spray foam insulation, tar paper, moisture barrier, plywood, and trim boards. We spent close to $10,000 on the windows alone. Of course, your cost would depend on if your windows were custom sizes or required custom jambs (ours required both).

  6. Kim, you have a lovely home!

  7. After the extremely cold past few weeks in northern MN, I’m wishing our house was insulated as well as yours! One of the old brittle windows cracked from the cold this winter and 2 last year. I thing our house is telling us is wants new windows soon! Your home is not only beautiful and historically correct, but energy efficient, too. Well done!

  8. LOVE your home–especially the kitchen! Wish I could replace all the windows in our two story house. We have these awful storm windows that have to be screwed off for cleaning! Therefore, they never get cleaned on the second story–I love beautiful windows that fold in for easy cleaning. I love my beautiful views!

    • Thank you so much, V! I lived in a two-story house once, but don’t think I ever will again because of the maintenance and inconvenience (my master bedroom was upstairs, and I remember it being a pain to go up and down the stairs 50 times a day . . . and that was in my 30’s!). But, I can completely understand that if you live in a beautiful place, it certainly helps you to enjoy your views.

  9. Thanks for sharing your info. I truly appreciate your efforts and I am waiting
    for your further post thank you once again.

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