Dear Ken: I have a house built in 1972. Do you think I can add insulation to my vaulted ceiling? - Kevin
Answer: Maybe. Many vaulted or cathedral ceilings (vaulted means up one side to a wall and cathedral is up and down with a peak in between) have enough room for an installer to crawl back in there to add additional blown insulation. It requires at least 18 inches of space between the ceiling and the top of the roof. If the area is tighter than that, they can blow material through a long extension tube to accomplish almost the same thing. In any case, it's recommended you end up with around 14 inches or so of total insulation. That will yield a respectable R-value, around 45 or so.
There is one other constraint here: ventilation. It's vital to let air flow through your vaulted attic space. If the vents get blocked off or the insulation gets too close to the underside of the shingles, you risk premature roof aging - plus the house will be extra hot next summer. An insulation contractor can check this all out. If there's not enough access, don't despair. Add a little extra to the flat ceiling side of your house as an offset.
Older houses like yours have less-than-desirable weal insulation. In those days - before the OPEC oil shocks - energy savings were almost an afterthought, since utilities were still relatively cheap. So you probably have about 2 inches in there, compared with the 3 1/2 we use now.
Adding new wall insulation in an older home is problematic. It's very difficult to get new material around whatever insulation is in there now, plus pipes and wires are in the way. But, again, we can talk about offsets. A good set of new vinyl windows will really help. Windows are nothing but big holes in the walls of your house, so an upgrade will help cancel out heat leakage through that thinner insulation.
Dear Ken: The inspector who looked at the home we're buying says most of the outlets are wired backwards. Is this a big deal? - Tina
Answer: Yes, it is. If the "hot" and neutral wires are reversed, then you have 120 volts in places you don't want it. For example, the entire socket of each table lamp will be energized - instead of just that little button down deep inside. Also, most electronic circuit boards in TVs, stereos and DVD players count on the neutral connection to be at what's known as ground potential. Bottom line: You (or the seller) need to fix all of these as soon as possible.
It's good to have a little polarity checker in your toolbox. It's a small device you plug into each outlet with three status lights that will show you whether or not the connections are proper and safe. At about $10, it's really cheap when you consider the benefits.
Dear Ken: I changed our dryer vent to point into the garage. What do you think of this setup? - Ed
Answer: Not much. Dryers must always vent into the great outdoors. Thermodynamically, it's the most efficient arrangement, energy-wise, for drying your clothes. That is, you'll use less watts of electricity to dry a given load.
With your new setup, you can see that the humidity in the garage will get higher and higher, which will slow down the escape of moisture from inside the dryer. Moreover, the lint that inevitably flows through the dryer vent will cover your cars, bicycles and workbench with unwanted residue.
This proscription also applies to other arrangements that promise to save energy by redirecting the dryer air stream - such as through a nylon stocking or into a water bath. Bottom line: There's no better, cheaper way to dry your clothes than sending that warm, moist air outdoors.
This is good time to remind you to clean out your dryer vent at least once a year (twice a year for vertical vents). Remember that most of the lint accumulates at each end of the duct - directly behind the dryer and just before the vent cap outside.
Ken Moon is a home inspector in the Pikes Peak region. His radio show airs at 9 a.m. Saturday and is carried on KROC, AM 1240 and FM 105.5. Visit www.aroundthehouse.com.