Ask the Remodeler: Figuring out how much wall insulation you have

Ask the Expert Home Improvement
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Q. I have an old house with the original insulation, but about 30 years ago, we had fiberglass insulation blown in. I was working on an exterior wall recently and discovered that the builder had tacked what appears to be leftover building supplies to the wall. I also found that the blown-in insulation was only at the top of the wall. I suspect the leftover materials interfered with the process. I am concerned that this may be a common problem in my walls. Is there any easy way to tell whether a wall is partially insulated? What would be the best way to repair it?


A. The best way to get a handle on this is to have a qualified professional do an energy audit. This would involve, among other things, a blower door test while doing a room-by-room evaluation using an infrared camera. Done properly, the infrared camera can show the cold and hot spots in the walls, ceilings, and floors. This will indicate where the insulation has stopped because there is an obstruction in the wall, allowing cold air to come in and warm air to leak out. Armed with that information, the professional can produce a detailed report for how to tighten up your home.


Q. While getting our gutters cleaned last fall, we were informed that the fascia board behind a 24-inch aluminum gutter had rotted. The company recommended taking the gutter down, replacing the fascia board, and then installing a new gutter. They said the old gutter (which looks fine and is 22 years old) will not go back up properly, so they always recommend a new one. Do you feel this is a correct assumption? In replacing the fascia, would you recommend a wood or a composite replacement?


A. We see this a lot: rotted wood behind the gutter. I would definitely go with composite to replace the fascia board. We typically do replace the aluminum gutter once we have taken it down; it rarely goes back up the same way. So much of the cost you are dealing with is the labor, so it makes sense to have a new gutter installed. The material costs are marginal at that point.


Q. Recently I came across what looks like an oil pipe, capped, sticking out of the ground 4 or 5 inches in the backyard of a single-family home built in the 1930s. The pipe is at least 10 yards from the home and about a foot and a half from the property line. There is an electrical conduit with a receptacle, very old with no electricity, sticking up from the ground about a foot away from the pipe. There is no ventilation pipe anywhere to be found. The owner of the property has no idea what this is or whether it should be of concern. How do we find out what it is?

P.K., Dedham

A. It sounds like that could be an old well pipe. The old receptacle could have been for a pump. The best place to start would be to head to town hall to see what they have for utility records, old survey maps, etc. There may be information there about the companies that have worked on the property, the permits filed, etc. That would be your best bet.

Mark Philben is the project development manager at Charlie Allen Renovations in Cambridge. Send your questions to [email protected]. Questions are subject to editing. Subscribe to the Globe’s free real estate newsletter — our weekly digest on buying, selling, and design — at