Sunday, January 28, 2001

The Britton/Bourke home

Every morning, Kai Britton, 13, stands in front of the bathroom register to get warm. His father, Britton, likes an overnight temperature of 55 degrees.

        “They call me the Simon Legree of heat around here sometimes,” jokes Mr. Britton, 41, referring to the villainous character from Uncle Tomıs Cabin.

        The family of three lives in an old home with solid walls that are difficult to insulate, so they try to compensate with a low thermostat setting at night. Everyone sleeps under down comforters and on top of electric blankets.

[photo] The Britton/Bourke home
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Michael Bourke (left), Ernest and Kai Britton
        The thermostat is programmed to go up to 73 degrees in the afternoon, when Kai gets home from school. The familyıs December energy bill was $291, compared with $123 for the same month last year and $116 in November.

        For a long-term investment, energy auditor Jim Snodgrass says insulation could be installed over the basement ceiling. That would cost $1,019 if the homeowners did it themselves and save about $120 a year, for payback in 8.4 years.

        Fortunately, the Britton/Bourke home has storm windows. But theyıre the old-fashioned kind running along ropes attached to lead weights in the walls. The weights keep the windows open in the spring, but they also require extra space in the walls, which doesnıt help the heating system.

        Not much can be done to properly insulate walls in old homes, Mr. Snodgrass says. One consolation: “The walls are super-thick brick, so itıs kind of like a type of insulation,” he says.

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