Preserving Old Homes with Stimulus Money?

By: Myryah Irby , Contributing Writer
In: Old Houses, Home Improvement Tips, Green Renovations

Last week Richard Moe, the President of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, wrote a compelling op ed piece in the New York Times titled This Old Wasteful House.
In it, he argued that making older homes more energy-efficient will create jobs, revitalize neighborhoods, and perhaps most important to old house lovers, preserve old homes.

I’m sure it doesn’t come as a surprise to anyone reading this that almost all old homes waste energy and are thus more expensive to heat. The fact is that homes built before the late 30s use approximately 50 percent more energy per square foot than houses built in the past ten years.

A few posts ago Brett Freeman seemed to have touched a nerve with his suggestion that old home owners with open hearth fireplaces should consider adding a fireplace insert to conserve energy. But what about the home’s character? Wouldn’t a fireplace insert tarnish the integrity of the house? That’s a question I won’t dare attempt to answer here, but Mr. Moe suggests that any old house can be more energy-efficient without sacrificing its character.

Old wooden windows can usually be weatherized by caulking or weather stripping, which is usually cheaper than installing replacement windows. (I’ll admit this is not always the case, and sometimes replacement is the only good solution. Complicated since no respectable old house owner would consider vinyl windows, and replacing windows with historically accurate new wooden sashes and surrounds would cost, with labor, oh, a whole lot of money…). But other aspects of weatherizing an old home are less complicated and not of the potential character altering variety, such as painting wet cement on old ducts to help them retain heat, and wrapping insulation around pipes and water heaters.

According to the U.S. Department of Energy weatherization reduces heating bills by 32%, saving the average family about $350 per year in energy bills. That’s why the Weatherization Assistance Program was created. It helps low-income families save money by permanently reducing their energy bills. But that’s old news, the U.S. Department of Energy ’s (DOE) Weatherization Assistance Program has helped 6.2 million low-income families over the past 30+ years. The new news is that in the new economic stimulus plan $5 billion worth of spending has been set aside for making homes and buildings more energy efficient.

I’m not clear on all the details about how this money will be spent (I don’t know that anyone really is) but the basic idea is to create jobs, save money, and stop global warming in its tracks!

Right now you’re probably wondering how you and your old home can get in on some of this sweet green stimulus action. Well, first you can find out if you’re eligible for the old school weatherization program or you cross your fingers and hope that the National trust for Historic Preservation and the Natural Resources Defense Council convinces congress to pass legislation to help cover the costs of making all older homes more energy-efficient: This new proposal will grant owners of old homes a $3,000 incentive for improving energy efficiency by 20 percent, and will tack on an extra $150 for each additional percentage point of energy savings.

But let’s not selfishly focus only on what the average old home owner stands to gain, let’s look at the big picture. If this energy efficiency stimulus money is spent correctly, and that’s no small task, the rehabilitation of older buildings would create jobs here in America and help boost our slouching economy.


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  1. 8 Responses  to “Preserving Old Homes with Stimulus Money?”

  2. Aug 29, 2011
    Great idea of preserving old homes, it certainly would give more jobs to jobless like for the carpenters doing the repairs. Really a big help for the economy as well.
  3. Aug 29, 2011
    stimulus packages are very helpful for kickstarting the economy*`'
  4. Barbara Bradford
    Aug 29, 2011
    Homes not only built in the 1930's but the 40's 50's 60's and 70's. Low income families typically purchase older homes due to lower values. Then they are shocked when the utility bills are sometimes as much as their housepayment. Faced with paying a utility bill that is outlandish or buying groceries, often is a decision families have to make. I have witnessed this. Many city municipalities do have programs, but many do not. So why not create a win win situation. Low interest loans to help low income homeowners make a difference.
  5. Jason Lambert
    Aug 29, 2011
    I have a 120 year old victorian and was wondering about help with weatherization. We are a low income family with 8 children. Thank you, jason lambert
  6. Lucy
    Aug 29, 2011
    Sir Edward, You Brits are far ahead of us in some key ways when it comes to building and the environment. I'm sure you're well aware, but to those who aren't, a while back (2007?) the British government announced that any new homes built would have to be carbon neutral by 2016. This is a pretty big step in energy efficiency -- all part of the UK plan to reduce carbon dioxide emissions 60% by the middle of the century. Let's hope the Obama Administration is able to pass some similar laws for new construction, while still providing lots of incentives for preserving and improving old buildings.
  7. Neil S. Chums
    Aug 29, 2011
    Interesting take on preserving a house instead of improving it. In the case of windows, I would say in these tough economic times it is probably best to just fix or reseal a window rather than replacing them to add value to your home. I know the purpose of the stimulus package is to promote spending and infuse cash into the marketplace, but I think doing only what is necessary to keep your home going instead of splurging on new windows is the way to go. Then, when the time is right, you can replace your windows.
  8. Sir Edward
    Aug 29, 2011
    Lucy, I believe this is the first time we've seen you post on here. What an interesting read! I look forward to hearing from more you if this is any indication :) I've been following some of the recent posts (and some of the interesting comments / debate they have sparked) and I think the more we can do to reduce our energy usage through intelligent renovation, upkeep, and retro-fits the better off we (and our homes) will be. Unfortunately, here in Britain we won't be receiving any of your President Obama's stimulus money. However, I do own a rather old and charming place in Connecticut. Perhaps it is time to have the current residents do a thorough walk-through with this in mind. sEB
  9. Shanster
    Aug 29, 2011
    I recently listened to a story on NPR about this -- at least about using stimulus $$ to create green jobs -- one weatherization expert in Maryland (I think he calls it green energy efficiency work, much sexier) said he expects the federal stimulus money to increase his business by 10x and he's already training his son and all his out of work buddies in the art of weatherization.