What to do about the existing housing stock?
Many of the articles and the focus here concern new construction, but this is an aging country with a mostly sufficient existing housing stock that dwarfs the new construction market by orders of magnitude. And these houses have the kinds of problems that make informed builders like you guys cringe.
I’m visiting my cold midwest hometown for the winter and noticing all kinds of things about the houses here I didn’t see as a child so many years ago. Houses here are large but have extremely poor levels of insulation. Many have been retrofitted with can lights everywhere. Countless additions have low-slope cathedral ceilings with nothing but fiberglass in them that leak and get condensation. Many attics are full of thin layers of asbestos. Nearly every house has a wet and moldy basement with a dehumidifier running 24/7, and some have humidifiers in the air handlers that pump moisture into the rest of the house to make up for all the drafts. Every house is peppered with two dozen or more 80 year-old wood double hung windows that are inoperable in summer and leak air like crazy in winter. These houses are saved from backdrafting, mold, and indoor air quality problems by their high rates of air leakage.
These are beautiful old houses with features like solid masonry walls, lovely interior plaster, and breathtakingly beautiful, irreplaceable details that are just not made anymore, like exotic solid heartwood doors, trim, and flooring likely harvested at gunpoint from the lands of now-exterminated indigenous people halfway around the world.
Nobody is going to tear down these homes anytime soon and replace them with OSB-and-vinyl McMansions with defined air barriers and ICF foundation walls. And the cost to bring these houses up to spec by air sealing, insulating, adding mechanical ventilation, replacing windows with architecturally appropriate modern versions or adding high-quality storms, fixing combustion problems, and replacing the mechanicals with smaller, more efficient units would be staggeringly high with little payback from the perspective of the average homeowner who wants pretty finish materials and high square footage. Most retrofit contractors are clueless or unable to suggest fixing problematic elements like can lights that homeowners won’t get rid of. So what’s the solution here?
GBA Detail Library
A collection of one thousand construction details organized by climate and house part