GIMME SHELTER-This cold house: The re-insulation solution

Q: We bought an old house in Belmont, and we've been freezing this winter! Now I'm worried about keeping it cool this summer! How can I insulate my house better?

A: Re-insulation is something we do quite a bit. Most houses that are relatively new, from the late '70s to 1980s on, don't require it because they were built to code, but older neighborhoods like Belmont have plenty of houses with no insulation whatsoever.

Belmont has become popular recently, with people buying the houses, fixing them up by repainting, reroofing, or making other cosmetic improvements, and then flipping them without thinking of insulation upgrades. The new owners move in and say, "Why is it so cold in here?"

Homeowners can do something called drill and fill. Drill a two-inch hole in each stud bay cavity and fill it with something called cellulous, which is made up of recycled newspaper. This seems to work best. The insulation itself comes wrapped in plastic like a hay bale, and you need a machine to break it up so it fits through a hose to inject it into the wall. Of course, this only works if the walls have no insulation to begin with.

With some older houses, the insulation behind the wall may have fallen down, in which case it's possible to inject cellulous. Otherwise, it's necessary to remove the old insulation, which most people find cost prohibitive.

People should be aware that this procedure creates an enormous amount of dust. I always try to prepare people for this, but nothing seems to do it justice. Fortunately, the dust settles pretty quickly and can be cleaned up easily with a shop-vac. Still, it tends to linger for some time. If you have central air, the situation is a little better, since the system itself will help clear the dust out faster.

People should also look at attic insulation. Most older houses don't have enough insulation in the attic, if at all, so they get a lot of heat escaping through the roof. Code for new home construction is R38, which can be reached with about 11 inches of cellulous insulation.

The cost of re-insulation depends on the size of the house and the amount of work involved. For example, with plaster walls, it may be more difficult to locate stud bays and drill holes. The insulation itself is fairly cheap, but it's the labor involved that can drive up the cost.

In the end, re-insulation makes a lot of sense. It's fast, relatively inexpensive, and saves a lot in heating and cooling bills down the road.

David Killmeyer