How can I prioritize projects on my 1940s tract house?
I’m in the process of closing on a house in Redwood City, CA, climate zone 3, in a FEMA AE Flood Zone. The house is a 1940s, 1000 sqft tract home with shingle siding,
1×3 or 1×4 edit: 1×12 inch plank sheathing, an insulated ceiling with lots of penetrations from can lights, a semi-finished loft that connects garage, attic and living room, a wall furnace for heating, and a recently encapsulated crawlspace.
Things we need to do:
1. Install air-source heat pumps to replace the existing furnace. Given that we’re in a flood zone, I’d like to place these in the attic, which, if I understood https://www.buildingscience.com/documents/insights/bsi-074-duct-dynasty, means I should insulate the top or bottom of the roof, though not sure how to apply his advice in a coastal climate with no snow-load.
Things I’d like to do:
1. Install a dedicated ventilation system and/or air seal the house to deal with smoke from the frequent wildfires.
2. Insulate and air-seal the roof, walls, and crawl-space.
3. Remove the old chimney and fireplace that we’re not planning on using and is taking up a good deal of floor and garage space.
4. Maybe finish the remainder of the attic for storage/play space, as #2 is on the way.
Things that we’re interested in avoiding:
1. Smoke infiltration from the increasingly bad fire seasons.
2. Extreme damage from flooding.
3. Poor heating/cooling performance or comfort from the lack of insulation and air-sealing.
4. Structural issues due to the age and construction style of the house.
5. Mildew/Mold in the crawlspace contributing to poor air quality.
6. Fire danger because of the lack of fire-resistant siding.
Note on 4: The inspection pointed out that some collar ties had been removed, there was a “normal amount of sagging for a roof of this age and structure,” and there’s a long, horizontal crack in the perimeter foundation of the exterior wall of the garage (you could get a dime inside it, but maybe not a quarter).
Note on 5: The crawlspace was “sealed” by the previous owner and they installed a sump-pump, but I haven’t been able to check if they sealed the vents and it doesn’t look like there’s any insulation. There’s still some mold down there, but it could be that the company didn’t remediate it properly. Also, given that I’m in a flood zone, would it make sense to install an insulated flood-vent product like https://smartvent.com/?
I don’t have a complete picture on the state of any of these issues because I only have limited access to the house at the moment, but if there’s something you think would help answer any of my questions, please let me know and I’ll try to figure it out next time I’m able to go over there.
– First, is this a nightmare, or am I blowing this out of proportion? I’m a semi-informed consumer with no professional building experience and too many podcasts under my belt, so I don’t know if these are standard issues that can be ignored or addressed on a reasonable budget, or if I’m buying a money-pit.
– Second, what should I prioritize? I don’t have the time or money to do a gut renovation, which probably makes air-sealing and insulation complicated. Are there ways around that? Do I take the siding off and put on exterior insulation? Rebuild the roof so I can condition the attic and put up something more substantial than 2×4 rafters? Finish conditioning the crawlspace (they appear to have only put in a CleanSpace liner)? Ignore all of this and get a thicker jacket and an ice-maker?
– Third, how do I find people I can trust to do this work with and for me? I’ve talked to plenty of techs that seem confused by my questions and concerns. Am I overthinking things? Are these considerations not important in the Bay Area, which historically has a really mild climate and no snow? (I’ve been trying to use https://www.cityofpaloalto.org/civicax/filebank/documents/63358 but people are either hard to get a hold of or have backlogs of work. Also, super jealous of Palo Alto, which is subsidizing performance audits almost entirely).
Sorry if that’s a lot. Not really sure where to go from here.
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