Year-round comfort takes work
Posted on 02/02/2023
Tall side windows of the historic home at 116 S. Rogers.Keeping a house comfortable year-round requires a bit more attention in historic homes, especially ones that use seasonal storms and screens, or don’t have forced-air furnaces and air conditioning. Thicker walls have an advantage over drywall by keeping the inside temperature more comfortable. Also, the placement of windows to maximize cross ventilation makes air conditioning optional except for the hottest summer days and nights.

Windows are on the front line when it comes to keeping the house cool in the summer and warm in the winter. Some of the historic homeowners interviewed for this series have replaced the original single-pane windows; others have that on their ‘to-do’ list.

Mike Weyburne, 226 West, reconstructed his front windows, keeping the original leaded glass on the upper sash but adding Pella triple-pane glass to the lower sash. He used new fixed and moveable frames that matched the original for the entire window. The leaded glass had been protected by storm windows so it was well preserved.

When they moved in, they didn’t realize they would have to replace the windows, but “It was cold and drafty.” He said, “Replacing the windows kept the cold out. We had storm windows but nothing compares to a triple-pane. The old windows would get frosted over.”

He had to go before the Historic District Commission to get the windows approved. He explained that it was a one-to-one replacement and he was just swapping out the windows and frames with a similar look. “The net effect was going to be nice, clean windows that are high performance. They approved it.” Plus, he was able to get a federal tax credit for replacing the windows.

He has an original decorative window in the front dormer, which is rectangular with a triangular top that couldn’t be fitted with a Pella window. He found a Detroit window maker who made a double-glaze window that fit into the space. He ordered the new windows with argon gas for greater energy efficiency.

He has two sets of side-by-side windows to replace on the north side of his house, the set in the dining room has a leaded glass upper sash. Other changes he would like to make are replacing the vinyl siding with Hardie board, which is more environmentally friendly, and adding insulation to the exterior walls. Hardie board is an accepted exterior covering in the Historic District; vinyl siding is not, unless it was already on the home. (The Weyburnes bought their home with the vinyl siding.)

Liz and John Carter, 537 W. Main, like the historic look of the wavy glass in the parlor windows, but there is a price to pay for that piece of history – they are not well insulated. They plan to improve the windows by getting their storm windows redone.

The Barrys had all new storm windows made to cover the historic one-over-one windows when they moved into 239 High Street in 1985.They were told the storm windows were in the garage, but they weren’t. They had only one storm window that came with the house and they matched the style to make the rest of the storm frames. Screens are put up in the spring when the storm windows are removed. They hire out the job.

At the Calkins/Wadsworth residence, 317 W. Dunlap, there are storm windows and wood-framed screens. But they are painted wood and need to be replaced often. The new ones have to look exactly like the current original, per Historic District design standards. It costs more to do it that way. Plus, their windows have a curve at the top, which adds another cost factor. “Everything you do has that element of being done the old way,” Steve Calkins said.

“One of the great things about the house is the thick brick walls,” Steve said. In the summertime, “The house is noticeably cooler inside than the outside air. It’s an immense benefit to have tall trees next to the house (to provide shade). And big windows. The first floor is fine. There’s lots of cross-ventilation … the air flows through.”

His wife, Joan Wadsworth, seconds the benefit that trees provide. “Trees play a huge role. It’s one of the real assets. They are good in every way. Our roof is tall. The more shade the better. We have very tall trees on the west side.”

However, “It’s cold in the winter,” Calkins said. “One of the rooms upstairs (with forced air heating) only gets heat through the vent. That room gets pretty chilly.”

They replaced the furnace after moving in. Spots in the wall indicate there was a cast iron stove to heat the house originally. Of course, that heat didn’t rise to the bedrooms. Former residents of the house relied on bed heaters and plenty of blankets back in the 1800s.

Insulation and heating and cooling units
Keeping the attic and exterior walls insulated goes a long way toward keeping a house energy-efficient. Older homes have thick walls, but several in the Weyburne home are drywall due to renovations made before they bought the house. Mike Weyburne used a thermal camera to see if there was insulation in the interior walls and found most of them had some. He also detected hot spots in the attic in areas that line up with a wall below. The thermal camera showed heat is flowing into the space. He plans to fill those attic gaps and cracks before he adds more insulation to keep the air flow in the rooms below and out of the attic.

Many historic homes are heated by radiators (typically steam heat). There is no duct work as there is with a forced air furnace. Thom Barry added air conditioning to the old part of their house through radiator grilles that were put into the ceiling of the second-floor rooms. He designed the air flow from the secondary A/C unit, which is housed in the attic.

With additions to many houses in this series, duct work was added to the new walls along with a furnace or air conditioning unit.

At Pat Stein’s house at 419 Dubuar, there is a forced air furnace to heat the addition that was installed after they moved there in 1986. Pat recalled, “When we first moved in, my bedroom was so cold. I slept with knee socks and gloves.” The sparse heat traveled up through vents to the second floor. It was known as gravity heat.

“The furnace guy said, trying to snake the duct work around the floor joists on the second floor wasn’t easy, but he found a wall cavity to get the forced air upstairs,” Pat said. “So the upstairs can be cool in the winter and warm in the summer (but much better than it used to be).”

During the Stein’s construction, contractor Don Hanson used 2x6 lumber rather than 2x4s to build the exterior walls so it would better hold insulation that was blown in from outside.

Leanie Bayly and her husband Robert Sochacki have updated their HVAC system at 223 Linden. They have storm windows in the original house and thermal windows in the newer addition. Both types of windows work well for them. The exterior walls are stone stucco over wood lathe. The interior walls are a wet plaster over wood lathe, which creates an air pocket that helps holds the heat and cold. They also re-insulated the attic. Leanie would like to add solar panels in the future. The heirloom maple tree to the front, (east) elevation, along with an heirloom pine, (to the south elevation) provide ample shade to the home in the summer. “The large open front porch spanning the width of the home also provides a form of protection against the seasonal Michigan elements,” Leanie noted.

The Bailey/Vollick residence at 116 S. Rogers didn’t have air conditioning but they are adding it with the renovation work currently underway. They have radiant heat that is conducted by radiators and plan to put radiant floor heating in the new sections of the house, which saves energy costs in the long run.

The original single-pane windows were painted shut, making it impossible to open and close. The side of the house has double-hung windows that are tall and stately. All of the windows in the house will be replaced within the same openings. To assist in keeping the house cool in the summer, there’s a mammoth black walnut tree in front of their house. It has a circumference of 183 inches and is approximately 100 ft. tall – it may be the largest tree in Northville. Anna loves the landmark tree, but Ray doesn’t like the messy walnuts.

Trees, windows, ample insulation and good HVAC units keep older homes energy efficient and comfortable year-round.

Photos below: Home of Leanie Bayly and Robert Sochacki at 223 Linden. //Close-up of stone stucco on the home's exterior. The rust marks are from oxidation and fade over time. Photos by Liz Cezat.

Historic home at 223 Linden

stone stucco used on 223 Linden exterior