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Community and Q&A

Mid-70’s Ranch in NJ – Where to start?

steelwindmachine | Posted in General Questions on

I co-own a mid-70s 1200 sq. ft. single story ranch and are intending to modernize some aspects for another family member to move in.

The roof was replaced in 2016 with GAF’s premium level of shingles, vented snow guard ridge vent, and underlayment.

Otherwise, the remainder of the structure under the roof decking is 70s-vintage.

Windows are aluminum casing with wood sashes, single pane glass and overall in good functional condition except for one in the kitchen that is rotting. Could use new caulking around casing and pane to sash.

Fireplace in front living room, currently unused, flue closed, needs inspection since it hasn’t been used in many years. Some mold to clean up that seems to have developed from an old leak between the chimney and roof that has since been corrected via the roof replacement in 2016.

2×4 studs, r19 fiberglass bats in walls

red oak flooring through most of the home, vinyl stick-down tile in kitchen, tile in the only bathroom.

vented crawl on sand, dry and joists look like new. Some old termite damage. Vents are pseudo sealed with spray foam. Crawl entry from outside of house via very leaky metal vertical hatch.

Window ACs only installed in summer. Electric baseboard heat, electric hot water heater, stove (still has a barely functioning Tappan).

Pull-down attic stairs, R-19 between attic floor rafters, then covered over with 40 years worth of belongings that needs clearing out.

Siding is asbestos shingles – overall in good shape.

Bathroom vent installed in roof awaiting installation and connection of fan component into bathroom. Intending to use a Panasonic 80+CFM unit with insulated, mastic-sealed rigid ducting.

We’re going to reno the bathroom and kitchen and are considering a multi-zone cassette ductless AC system to eliminate the PITA of window units.

Heating costs in the winter are several hundred dollars a month. I want to try to get that down. Cooling costs in summer are so so, and house stays decently cool thanks to a lot of tree cover.

I looked into my local utility Home Energy Audits and it seems most of the approved contractors are crawl encapsulation/blown in cellulose outfits. Maybe that’s enough to start and get some of the up to $5k in allowable rebate money.

I know to make sure we address any moisture intrusion and as of the moment there isn’t anything outstanding.

Honestly, I’m not sure where to start after that. We’re not looking to gut the whole place, but want to make improvements that’ll reduce operating costs and make it more comfortable.

I’m very competent with DIY work and can do just about anything provided I have the tools and accessible educational content. Of course, there’s a line where I’m not against bringing in a contractor – such was the case for the roof.

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  1. walta100 | | #1

    I don’t want to be negative but absolutely every part of this house needs to be replaced if your goal is to own a high-performance home.

    Yes, you can make something a little better but you will never be happy short of a gut rehab.

    To my ear aluminum windows are the worst but asbestos siding is not far behind.

    Make a list of the parts of the house you are not going to redo the brick fireplace might be the only thing. You could keep the hardwood floors but they will need to be refinished.

    If you are not emotionally attached consider selling the house as is to a flipper take the money and use it toward building what you really want this place will break your hearts and budget.

    Note I think multi headed mini splits are a recipe for unhappiness.


  2. steelwindmachine | | #2


    Thanks for the suggestions. But, the house has no mortgage, similar sized/age houses are selling for $350k+ and renting for $2500-3500/month here.

    And, I am not looking to make this into a GBA Show House.

    With this context, I'm looking for advice on a sensible approach to make improvements without gutting the whole place or replacing elements that are functionally fine, but would otherwise open a can of worms if the "optimal" or money-is-no-object approach was taken like replacing the asbestos siding - residing the house wouldn't be a fortune if not for having to deal with the labor cost involved in precautionary measures and disposal.

  3. moe_wilensky | | #3

    I’d start with the NJ TRM ( to see what measures are available for incentives. You could use the savings calculations (not perfect but a starting point) to estimate the savings you can expect from the different measures.

  4. walta100 | | #4

    If you are set on replacing the siding, I think the smart move would be to replace the aluminum windows with new construction windows at the same time.

    If you want to turn a profit as a land lord forget about energy efficiency do not spend money on things like insulation, high-end heat pumps, windows or siding. All the renters care about is it clean, does the roof leak and does the toilet work. Buy the lowest first cost items fully expecting to replace and repaint after each tenant.

    Mortgage or no mortgage does not change how much you could sell it for or what it will rent for the market decides the numbers. A coat of paint and a new kitchen will change the numbers new windows and 20 SEER AC unit not a penny.


  5. steelwindmachine | | #5

    Walta, good points that aren’t entirely on point for my situation.

    this is for a family member who is a co-owner of the property and not some stranger renter.

    my question had nothing to do with minimizing the cost to fix up against maximizing profits.

  6. Andrew_C | | #6

    One thing to think about as you consider various projects as part of any rehab you might undertake, especially DIY, is that this pre-1978 home has lead paint. So lead abatement has to be part of any plan. Any time you touch any wall that has been painted, this should be a concern. Outside as well.

  7. steelwindmachine | | #7

    Andrew, thank you for that reminder!

    I will test for piece of mind. Though all the rooms were repainted after 1978 with Ben Moore, and then a few more repainted in the 90's. Trim is all stained wood.

    Asbestos siding is painted, so I'd suspect if anywhere was likely to have lead paint, it'd be there.

  8. Expert Member
    Michael Maines | | #8

    I like 1970s homes—they are typically built in predictable ways, using durable materials. That the home hasn’t been “remuddled” is a benefit.

    Aluminum casing on the windows—do you mean wrapped with aluminum trim coil, or something else? I am familiar with solid aluminum and aluminum-clad windows but not wood sashes with metal frames. In any case, don’t caulk the glass; if you want to keep the original windows, this is a good chance to restore them properly, using glazing compound. Replacing the windows would significantly increase your energy performance but the return on investment is very long. If you could add storm windows it would make a big difference in efficiency and comfort without costing as much as all-new windows.

    Can you tear the chimney and fireplace down? They can be charming but as a heating appliance they have been outdated since the wood stove was invented. Or consider adding a fireplace insert so it can be used occasionally and actually provide some heat. Maybe convert to a gas-fired insert for reduced carbon emissions.

    If you decide to replace the siding, it would be the perfect opportunity to add exterior insulation and a rain screen, and air-sealing—this might be a good place to use a self-adhering WRB.

    Red oak flooring is durable. If it’s looking worn, you can refinish it. It can be pretty affordable to hire it out but it’s also DIY-friendly with rented equipment.

    Semi-vented crawlspaces can be fine, as yours seems to be, or they can be mold factories. Is there insulation or air-sealing in the floor system?

    Air-sealing the attic and hatch, and adding more attic insulation, usually has very good ROI.

    Asbestos siding is very durable; as long as none of the shingles are friable—allowing asbestos particles to fly around—it’s usually best to leave it in place.

    Ductless A/C units will be more efficient than window rattler A/C. There can be efficiency issues with multi-zone heat pumps but they seem to be more of a problem when used in heating mode. The upcharge to add heat to the A/C units is minimal; I’d consider it for backup heat, or for primary heat, depending on what the house has for central heat.

    The usual things to address beyond what you’ve mentioned would be upgrading the kitchen, upgrading equipment such as water heater and furnace, and replacing or tuning up exterior doors.

  9. steelwindmachine | | #9

    Michael, thank you for the detailed advice!

    To address some things you pointed out:

    The existing windows have a metal frame from the outside of the house that has a white cracked caulking between it and the siding. The window consists of an upper sash and lower sash with single pane glass in each, a vertically sliding metal sash with a single pane of glass (storm window) and another vertically sliding metal sash with a screen. You can unlatch and move these sashes up and down via spring loaded thumb pulls on each. I'll try and get a picture at some point if that's at all helpful.

    There is one fixed picture window with abutted opening narrow windows on the sides with the storm/screen combination and then 5 windows total from the bedrooms and one window in the kitchen that is currently sealed shut due to leaks that I need to determine if they're still present or not and repair. So, 8 windows that open/close.

    I can bring up the chimney situation to my family and see what they want to do. Initially they wanted to get it functional again as originally designed more for nostalgic use than to practically heat the house. I can also look into and suggest an insert. The house has no gas hook-up. Maybe it will at some point later, but not now.

    Zero insulation under the floor or in the crawl. It's been bone dry down there and I cleared out miscellaneous debris. Like I said, the joists/wood looks like its fresh off the store racks except for a very tiny area that hosted some terminates years ago. We do have a pest control termite plan in place and get regular inspections and treatments as needed.

    Phone, cable and CAT5 cables had been run into rooms by drilling up through the floor! I'll be re-routing wiring into the wall cavities and sealing the holes with appropriate wood plugs/glue and spray-foam for the wall-cavity entrances unless someone suggests a sensible alternative method.

    I fully intend to air seal the ceiling from the attic and will advise putting a attic stair cap/cover to mitigate that giant air leak. There are two old ceiling fans in the kitchen area and will be air sealing those openings unless the family decides to ditch or change the fan(s) configuration.

    The house is heated via electric baseboards. The living room and kitchen areas are connected via a large pass-through that also forms a T with the hallway that leads to the bathroom and three bedrooms. I was thinking of using one cassette with by-pass vent to cool the living room+kitchen and then use three smaller units to independently condition each of the bedrooms. These rooms are VERY small. I haven't done a Manual J, but even with leaks I'm suspecting a 5000 BTU unit would be plenty for each, but intend to better confirm the cooling load using SlantFin's app-based calculator.

    Kitchen has modern fridge, but will get a new electric stove and microwave and maybe dishwasher. And, new washing machine. Dryer is new. Hot water heater is a 10+ years old, dual element electric on a electrotechnical timer that shuts power down to it overnight.

    There are two doors. A wooden front door that I intend to improve/replace the weatherstripping and a barely functioning glass sliding door into the kitchen from an attached porch that will get replaced with a new Anderson, Pella, Marvin or equivalent quality unit.

    1. Expert Member
      Michael Maines | | #11

      Your windows sound like triple-track storm windows, not real windows. If that's the case, it would probably make sense to install better windows.

      Running communication cables up through the floor is pretty typical. A bit of caulking or spray foam would address the issue.

      Getting off electric resistance heat will save you money in the long run. Your water heater is probably nearing the end of its life; upgrading to a heat pump unit will pay for itself within a few years. With a well-insulated unit, turning it off at night won't save much energy.

      Sliding doors are always leaky. Can you replace it with a patio door or similar swinging door, perhaps with one operable and one fixed leaf?

  10. steelwindmachine | | #10

    also, luckily I have a close friend who specializes in hardwood flooring who will be assisting with rehabbing our floor :)

  11. steelwindmachine | | #12


    We will likely get quotes for new windows, but I expect that would open a can of worms with the asbestos siding. Surely the wall opening will need to be adjusted either by cutting larger or filling in some how and obviously the old siding is a no-go.

    A heat pump hot water heater would be great, but I don't know that there is anywhere in the house that could afford the air volume to give it the best chance of efficiency. I will investigate further and am glad to be aware of it. The existing hot water heater is in a closet that's also occupied by the washing machine and dryer. The closet is enclosed by two wood slatted french doors.

    Will certainly suggest looking into a hinged, single panel glass back door as opposed to a slider.

    Thanks again for the great suggestions!

  12. walta100 | | #13

    When shopping for windows understand you are not interested in replacement windows! They are custom made to fit inside of the original aluminum frames and your goal is to remove 100% of the aluminum that conducting heat from indoor to the outdoors. What I am saying is installing new construction windows and new siding are one operation.


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