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What I Wish I Knew Before Buying Our Home

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This winter has been brutal in Michigan. We bought our condo last March, moved to Calgary from May-October for my husband’s job, and are finally settled in back home for our first winter. I originally thought spending winter in Michigan would be less harsh than in Calgary but they don’t seem to be any different these past few months! What’s worse is that we learned our condo is poorly insulated. I feel like this “polar vortex” we’re experiencing outside in Michigan is also occurring inside my home!

20140226 - thermostatOur electric bill has been awful. We initially set our thermostat to 65 degrees Fahrenheit but noticed our heater was constantly running and our home never felt like it was 65 degrees. I thought our place would be relatively warm in the winter because we share our East and West-facing walls with the condos on each side and we have high quality windows that are only 4 years old. It turns out that our wall facing South is poorly insulated and is FREEZING to the touch. The dishes in our cabinets that share this wall are ice cold and we’ve had multiple occasions when we hit negative-degree weather where the pipes under the kitchen sink froze. Thankfully nothing burst but it was really inconvenient having to leave the cupboard doors opened overnight and come down to a chilly kitchen in the morning. To make matters worse, the heating ducts run along the North and South walls so when “heat” comes out of the upstairs bathroom vent I mistake it for air conditioning. Why did they do that? At least we’re saving water by taking super fast showers.

Our solution to this icy madness isn’t really a solution. We turned the thermostat down to 60 and dress in a million layers. Our 7-week old baby girl seems to love living in her sleeper that makes her look like a little teddy bear. I sort of wish I had an adult-size bear suit for myself. We also bought insulated glass blocks to replace the cheap basement window, put in a second pane of glass above our front door, and used weather-strips to seal off any cracks around our front door. I’m not sure what else we can do to fix this problem since it would involve insulating the entire side of our home.

On the upside, friends who rented our condo while we were in Calgary said they didn’t have to use the air conditioning over the summer because our place seemed to stay cool enough by opening a couple windows. My hope is that the cost of our winter electric bills will be offset by lower bills in the summer. I still wish we would have known this situation before buying the condo. We had moved from a one-bedroom apartment where our bill was never more than $25 so I didn’t know what an average utility bill looked like for a 1,200 sq. ft. condo. I know my husband and I can suck it up and dress warm but we were hoping to rent out this condo down the road after we bought a house. The heating bill might not go over so well with renters. At least we’re learning what questions to ask and what to look for when we start looking for a more permanent home. If you have any tips I gladly welcome them. Thankfully it’s almost March and we’ve recently experienced temperatures above freezing!

Is there anything you wish you knew before purchasing your home?

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AUTHOR Derek

My name is Derek, and I have my Bachelors Degree in Finance from Grand Valley State University. After graduation, I was not able to find a job that fully utilized my degree, but I still had a passion for Finance! So, I decided to focus my passion in the stock market. I studied Cash Flows, Balance Sheets, and Income Statements, put some money into the market and saw a good return on my investment. As satisfying as this was, I still felt that something was missing. I have a passion for Finance, but I also have a passion for people. If you have a willingness to learn, I will continue to teach.

16 Comments

  1. Oh man, that really sucks. We have similar heating challenges in our rental. The first floor is the garage, with the living room above it. I can feel a breeze of cold air come up from the garage when I’m in the living room. Like your place, our heating duct goes through the coldest part of the place before getting to our living room. We’ve had to close it, because by the time it gets to the living it’s freezing cold 🙁

    I’m going to caulk up the garage ceiling today (where it meets the wall), since we’re getting another polar vortex blast this week. Hopefully that will make a dent in it.

    • At least it’s a rental! I’ve considered a space heater for the bedroom and just using it as our main hangout area since it’s large enough.

  2. At least for the pipes, you can buy foam insulating wraps, which should help reduce the freezing frequency a bit.
    I know some people add heavy curtains in front of their doors to reduce drafts.
    We have been getting major cold snaps this year too, my clothes are freezing when I take them out of the drawers. It makes me want to crawl right back into bed!
    Aside from reinsulating the side of the house… that’s a tricky one!
    You may be able to add another layer of insulation in the roof/attic, which will help a bit and is pretty affordable to do.

    • Good call. I was thankful we left Calgary before it got cold but it doesn’t look like our weather has been much different!

    • Haha. But don’t we always just want to crawl back into bed?? I know I do! 🙂

      • Very true. I tried to treat Nora like a snooze button and convince myself that she’ll turn off if I just wait it out. So far no luck 😉

  3. I think if I kept the thermostat at 60 my wife would move out to a hotel. haha

    Sorry to hear about your struggles, hopefully Spring comes soon!

    • We have friends who are the same way. The wife would rather shell out a ton of money than live in an igloo 😉 lots of layers!!

  4. Why not have a programmable thermostat where you can simply set it to go way down at night when you’re sleeping (60 or so), and then back up to 68 a little before you wake up for work, and finally back down about 1/2 hour before you leave for work?
    That’s what we did, and it has literally saved us $800 at least this year. Now, granted we had the thermostat when our house was built, but a programmable one costs like $40 at Home Depot or Lowes and is very simply to install.

    • Not a bad idea. However, I can’t tell the difference from 65 and 60 degrees since it feels so cold regardless! Thanks for the tip, Chris.

  5. Well, I can say that this is a very rare winter in terms of how cold it has gotten and more importantly, how long the cold has persisted. We’ve had 10 days or more in each of the last four months where the high temp for the day was 10 degrees or more below zero. Consider that in the 100 months before that, we had that happen twice. Yes, that’s a lot of numbers to digest, but the bottom line is that it’s very unusual and I think if you can make it through this winter, you’ll never be THAT cold again.

    One thing to look at is whether you have an attic and how it’s insulated up there. If you’re putting heat into the unit, it’s going to go up, and if you have little or no insulation up there, it’s going to just keep going. Adding some insulation in such a small unit would be very cheap but could pay off big time. As far as the ‘south side’ problems, you’re probably stuck with those.

    • We haven’t taken a look in our attic other than during the inspection but I don’t remember what it looked like. We’ll have to investigate. I hope we never have another winter like this one!

  6. A couple of suggestions for little fixes. For any doors you can get a couple of the Door Draft Blockers. They are about $15 each. I bought one for my son’s family since the house they are renting has a huge gap at the bottom of their front door. They really help. I have also installed the outlet insulation covers for all the electric receptacles and light switch covers. Hope that helps.

    • My grand-mom used to make those “draft dodgers” as she used to call them. A little bit of fabric, either some foam or quilt batting, and some stitching along the seam. Attach with double-sided tape (or sew a magnet on the seam to stick to a metal door), and viola.


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