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To Make Your Home Warmer, Take Off the Roof

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The Machalaba's roof undergoing rennovations
Photo credit: Linda Machalaba

Source: Jenevra Wetmore, EAN/Middlebury College Internship Program

The Problem

Daniel Machalaba realized how cold his home was in 2008, when he retired and started spending days in the house. He was keeping the indoor temperature at 58˚ during the winter days to keep heating bills down and was very uncomfortable: “I actually starting using electric heaters in certain spaces to keep warm so I could conduct phone calls.”  He was worried about how his house would hold up into the future – structural integrity, utility bills and comfort.  After several years, they decided to act. He and his wife Linda asked Sustainable Woodstock to come see what kinds of energy upgrades they could do.  At the time the Machalabas were considering installing solar panels on their roof, but found that they were not good candidates because the roof had too many dormers and levels.  Sustainable Woodstock suggested that they focus on their insulation; it appeared to be only half of what it should have been.

Happy Birthday Home!

The Machalaba’s house was built in 1915, so for its 100th year anniversary in 2015, Linda and Daniel decided to give their home a birthday present: more insulation and a new roof!  The project began in June 2015 and took about five weeks to finish.  More upgrades followed, improving the house’s temperature control, aesthetic appearance, energy efficiency, and comfort.

The Big Fix

For Linda and Daniel the most shocking part of renovating was the process of replacing the roof.  Their roof is more complicated than the average roof, with different levels and sections.  This is partially due to additions made to the house over the years.  Despite the complications, Linda and Daniel knew that they had to do something; they had been experiencing large ice dams hanging off the roof, causing water to leak inside their home.  They hired a contractor from Efficiency Vermont’s list of registered contractorsVan de Ven Contruction LLC. owned by Frans Van de Ven. They followed Frans’s recommendation to completely remove the roof, leaving just the exposed rafters.  As Daniel said, “the house looked like it was on life support.” 

After removing the roof, the crew from Van de Ven Construction LLC put on 5/8 inch oriented strand board panels, which are water-resistant.  They then put waterproof paper over the panels and, finally, a new standing seam grey roof.  During this process they also added insulation under the roof, sprayed foam, and put a large layer of cellulose over the foam.  This added insulation, improved the house’s temperature and stopped ice dams from building up this past winter.

From Top to Bottom

The Machalaba’s basement was also leaking heat, partially due to a crawl space that was linked to the rest of the basement through openings the size of small windows.  Van de Ven Construction LLC filled in those openings, sealing the crawl space off from the rest of the basement.  They also sprayed foam insulation running across the top of the basement walls between the foundation and the rest of the house. 

They also replaced their old electric hot water heater, located in the basement, with a new heater that heats water using the warmth of the surrounding air.  Before installing this heater, the walls of the basement were damp and puddles often formed on the floor.  These moisture problems disappeared with the new heater. 

Besides a much more comfortable home, the biggest bonus of the efficiency upgrades and the new heater is the electricity bill– Linda commented that they are paying at least $20 to $25 less every month.

Using Fixes as Opportunities

As their home was being upgraded for energy efficiency Linda and Daniel also took the opportunity to make some other upgrades.  They had previously noticed that the closet of their daughter’s bedroom had no ceiling– heat was traveling right up to the bottom of the roof. The closet itself was filled with old pink fiberglass insulation and was unusable.  Frans and his crew added a ceiling and walls where needed, taking away the fiberglass insulation and cleaning up the space.  During renovations, Linda and Daniel also discovered an additional space behind their bedroom closet, which they opened up, giving them more storage space, and replaced an old skylight.  

Year Round Comfort, Lower Bills

At the end of the project the Machalaba's contractor found that the airleakage rate of the home was reduced by 35.6%. Overall, the reduced leakage has made the home much more comfortable year round – winter AND summer - with more even temperatures throughout the house. Daniel remembers, “In the summer, we used to walk up the steps and a wall of hot air would hit you.  That doesn’t happen now.”    They can also keep their house at a more reasonable temperature in the winter without worrying that their dollars are leaking through the roof.  Instead of the chilling 58˚, Daniel says, “I think we’ll be keeping the temperature more at 66˚ or 67˚,”  but because of the insulation, their heating bills are roughly the same or lower.  In addition, they are spending much less on electricity as they have been able to get rid of three space heaters.   

They have also noticed that the house is much quieter due to the added insulation, and appreciate the added value and beauty of the home.  The new metal roof enhances the curb appeal of the house, and the inside renovations they made improved the house’s aesthetic appeal.  An added bonus is that they can stop worrying about problems (and cost) with ice dams, dampness in the cellar, as they enjoy their retirement.

You Can do it Too!

The Machalabas funded their renovations, which cost about $40,000, with a loan from Vermont State Employees Credit Union (VSECU).  VSECU offers loans with low interest rates that are specifically for energy efficiency improvements.  Without that loan, Linda says, “it would have been overwhelming.”  They will pay the loan off in about 10 years, much of it from the utility savings they are building each month.

If you are uncomfortable or worry how structurally sound your home is, consider energy efficiency upgrades.  You can save money and improve your home.  In addition to the many benefits of the renovations, Daniel saw them as a way, “to do something good for the town… it improves the economics of the town and its appeal to people moving in.”  Schedule an energy audit today!