Super Insulation and Super Innovation in Old Arlington, Mass. Home
By: James Ryan Moreau
Driving through the hills of Arlington, Massachusetts, one could get lost among the beautiful, expensive and old colonial and Victorian styled houses typical of the area. Densely packed on narrow streets, many of these giant houses date back over 100 years or more. While many have been renovated and updated to the point of being more than livable, there is always the open question of how energy efficient these classic homes can be made with modern technology. Condo-owner and engineer Alex Cheimets has set out to prove that you can teach an old dog new tricks by using super-insulation principals and some architectural creativity.
An engineer by trade, Cheimets has a long-standing knowledge of building principles and how heat and energy flow. Super-insulation seemed like a no-brainier to him when he first heard of it being applied to homes and he knew that he’d like to see how much insulation and energy savings could be applied to his primary residence in Arlington. The technology in application proved to be a bit more complex and involved than anyone had expected, but Mr. Cheimets was quite motivated, probably due in-part to a harsher than usual New England Winter.
The super-insulation project is unique in several ways, one of the most profound being the manner with which Mr. Cheimets and his condo association funded the project. Through many phone calls and creative problem solving, Mr. Cheimets was able to have sponsors fund a large percentage of his super-insulation costs through both labor and materials discounts as well as overall state and federal level energy efficiency standards assistance.
The main points of super-insulating the house were to improve the barriers between the inside and outside which let heat out and allowed cold air to be drafted in. Several inches of foam insulation were layered outside of the home on top of which a newer, wood-like synthetic siding was installed. Lighter colored shingles were put on the roof to reflect sunlight better and prevent snow-melts. There was also a modified ventilation layout in the attic near the roof which improved air circulation for air quality and health safety reasons. The attic and basement were sprayed with another type of foam insulation to keep heat in the units rather than in the bottom or top of the structure. To top off the project with an aesthetic touch and crucial aspect to any heat savings plan, brand new windows supplied by Pella were installed throughout the house, with
Much of the work was done throughout the colder months of 2008 and 2009, but the over-arching goal of figuring how well the households heat was the defining moment. Unofficial tests conclude that the house is 60%-65% tighter than before the original work was started, which is relatively impressive, but not quite as efficient as Cheimets and some of the participants had hoped for. However, considering the age of this house and many houses in the area like it, the Massachusetts Super Insulation Project has proven that it is not beyond reason or practicality to improve the energy efficiency of pre-existing structures, both residential and commercial.
For more information on Alex Cheimets, his sponsors and the day-to-day details of the Super Insulation project please visit the blog at http://superinsulating.blogspot.com.