How to Insulate Solid Brick Walls in Old Homes (Without Major Renovations)

how to insulate solid brick wallsOver the past five years or so, I’ve really enjoyed the renaissance that has been going on in Midtown Sacramento. I love seeing all the new bike lanes, the farmers markets, the local restaurants, and, yes, even the nightlife. All these things have come together to revitalize the area in a big way. And Midtown has long been home to some of the most unique old Victorian homes in all of Northern California; this area deserves all the attention it gets.

There are just so many quirky old Victorian homes there and, with the neighborhood’s rebirth, many of them have started attracting homeowners in a big way. As you might expect, a lot of these folks have concerns about how efficiently an old brick home can be heated and cooled, and how high their energy bills might be. They also want to make sure that their HVAC systems are environmentally responsible.

We’ve talked before about how insulation can lower your utility bills and reduce the amount of energy used by your home’s HVAC system, but today I want to go into the specific ways that professionally installed insulation can benefit classic brick houses, i.e. how to insulate solid brick walls in old homes without major renovations.

The reason that so many folks want to live in the old brick homes sprinkled throughout Midtown Sacramento is that they love the way these houses look and feel. A major renovation has the potential to change that. There are, however, ways that a heating and cooling service can help you insulate your walls so that you can reap the benefits without having to sacrifice your home’s classic character.

How to Insulate Solid Brick Walls in Old Homes: Know the Basics

One of the reasons I’ve always admired Midtown is that I’m such a fan of old homes. Many of the houses built way back when, though, have load-bearing brick walls, which can present some problems when it comes to installing insulation. Knocking these walls down or doing some other sort of major renovation really isn’t a viable option for homeowners hoping to keep the character of their home intact.

how to insulate brick walls in old homesLuckily, there is more than one way to install the insulation you need to keep your heating and cooling costs down and your energy efficiency up. The single most important rule for accomplishing this is to insulate the exterior of the wall rather than the interior. Insulating the interior of a solid brick wall can be problematic for two reasons:

  • Covering up the brick: I’ve met a lot of homeowners in my years in this business and I think that, without a single exception, all of them who lived in homes with old exposed brick walls wanted to keep them that way. It’s just such a nice look. Insulating the interior eliminated this beloved character of their home.
  • Freeze and thaw troubles: Our area has what’s known as a Mediterranean climate, which means that our summers are very hot and dry, but our winters are damp and cold. Insulation stops the warm air generated by your furnace from passing through your brick walls and into the great outdoors, where it goes to waste. However, this means that if you choose to install interior insulation, in the winter, your bricks will be colder. When it rains outside, they will stay damp, which can, during the coldest nights, lead to them freezing and thawing a bit, permanently damaging the bricks or even causing them to fall apart. That’s why, in my professional opinion, it really is best to install exterior insulation for your solid brick walls.

The Importance of Choosing the Right Type of Insulation

Now, the thing about the homes in Midtown is that not too many of them have exposed brick walls on their exteriors, which is actually good because that would require you to have to choose interior insulation instead. Often times in Midtown, and throughout much of the rest of Northern California, the load-bearing brick walls have another material on the outside, such as wood or siding, creating a cavity of approximately one inch, where there is some air space in between that material and the brick.

This cavity is where your exterior insulation should be installed. But, it’s important to choose the right type. Here are some of the most common types of insulation, as well as the reasons that I personally suggest you should or should not use them for solid brick walls in old homes:

  • Expansive foam insulation: Any insulation that fits into this family is not a good choice for the cavity between a solid brick wall and the exterior surface of a home. The name—expansive—really says it all here. Foam insulation is liable to take up more than the one inch of space available in the cavity.
  • Fiberglass batting insulation: I also don’t recommend using fiberglass batting to insulate your brick walls as it generally needs to be installed during a major renovation or even principal construction.
  • Blown-in insulation: I’ve talked in the past about how blown-in insulation is highly recommended for Northern California, but this is especially true when it comes to how to insulate solid brick walls in old homes from the exterior. Blown-in insulation, also known as foam or spray-in insulation, is ideal for filling in nooks and crannies when a room has hard to reach spaces. This one’s a bit more expensive upfront, but this insulation makes a strong case for its long-term value. It does an incredible job limiting gaps and filling in voids around joist bays, as well as breaks near electrical boxes, wiring, plumbing vents, or blocking.

So, there you have it, the best advice I have about how to insulate solid brick walls in old homes without major renovations. The only other parting words I’d like to leave you with is that you should make sure to involve an experienced insulation company in this process. This is without question too tricky for a do-it-yourself job since the area we’re working to insulate is so small and therefore requires a good deal of precision.

This is without question too tricky for a do-it-yourself job since the area we’re working to insulate is so small and therefore requires a good deal of precision.

A good contractor can also ensure that you’re making the right choices for your home, such as whether you want to go with cellulose or fiberglass material. There are all kinds of little questions like these, and many of them depend on your unique home. Here at Bell Brothers, we have the decades of know-how and experience you need to insulate your classic old home without major renovations.

Stop wondering how to insulate the solid brick walls in your old Sacramento house and have a professional installation expert out to take a look today. Contact the experienced insulation professionals at Bell Brothers.

Wondering how to finance a new plumbing system in your old home? HERO is a unique financing option that helps California homeowners afford energy efficient upgrades to their home. Contact Bell Brothers, a HERO-approved contractor, to learn more. Our local HVAC, plumbing, and window specialists will walk you through the entire process, from applications to installation.

Image courtesy 14ktgold