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.