Make a snap decision and protect your home from cold and flood
Poor insulation, ill-fitting windows and chimneys are among the biggest contributors to heat loss in homes, writes JOANNA ROBERTS
If there was any question in your mind about how well your home is protected against the elements, it was probably answered this week. There’s nothing quite like an unexpected cold snap to expose draughts and move weather-proofing to the top of your to-do list.
And with a flurry of severe winters in recent years, it’s worth looking at both short- and long-term solutions.
Stephen Parker, an architect and BER assessor, says he encounters two common problems in Irish homes: poor insulation and draughts from ill-fitting windows.
“Inadequate insulation in the attic is the biggest problem and one of the most easily remedied,” he says. “A lot of people might have put in 50mm 10 years ago, and that’s softened down. The recommendation now is to have 250-300mm of insulation.
“If you were starting from scratch you’d put a 150mm roll down and another 150mm roll cross ways over that.”
Val O’Brien, a chartered building surveyor, agrees. “Heat rises, so the vast majority of heat is lost through the roof. In a three- or four-bedroom house, you can double the quantity of your insulation for less than €1,000.”
Another quick fix that will make a huge difference is to seal draughts.
Parker says the “Rolls-Royce” of draught identification is a thermal imaging survey, but he recommends people check their homes by going round at night with a candle. When it flickers you’ll be able to see where cold air is getting in.
A few minutes with a caulk gun can eliminate gaps around poorly fitted windows, which Parker says are a particular problem in houses built in the past 15 to 20 years.
Fitting heavy curtains will also cut heat loss and this is a good option for period houses where you may not want intrusive work.
A longer-term measure is to have double-glazing. O’Brien says moving from single glazing to double will make a noticeable difference, both to warmth and to your energy bills over time.
He is less certain about the benefits of upgrading further: “Triple glazing is marginally better but you can get better double-glazed products than some triple-glazed windows.”
Other prime draught culprits include letterboxes (get one with a covered back), gaps around doors (use draught excluders) and air vents.
If you have what are known as “hit and miss” air vents that can be closed, then it’s acceptable to do so for a short time.
“You need to leave them open most of the year but closing them in a cold snap of a week or 10 days is fine,” says O’Brien.
While a roaring open fire might conjure up Dickens-esque images of a cosy home, it’s likely that your chimney will be one of your biggest sources of heat loss.
To prevent this, use a chimney balloon when your fire is out. They’re available for €15-€20, are easy to take out and will shrivel up if a fire is lit accidentally.
O’Brien’s top tip for a cosy home is to switch from an open fire to a wood-burning or multi-fuel stove.
“It’s such a good idea to go for a stove, in terms of capacity, running costs and comfort. A stove is 80-85 per cent efficient whereas with an open fire, about 80 per cent of the heat is lost through the chimney.”