Property Clinic

Your queries answered


Q My house is 20 years old and has the old type wool/fibreglass insulation in the attic. I have no reason to suspect it is worn or obsolete but wonder if you think it would be time to replace it with a more modern insulation? If yes, what would you suggest?

AYour house is not particularly old, however, since the introduction of building regulations in the 1990s, there have been incremental changes in the requirement for better energy preservation and it is probable your insulation will be far less than current standards. About a third of a home’s energy might be lost into the attic so it is very worthwhile considering a number of factors to get the best effect.

The thickness or “loft” of fibrous insulation materials reduces, perhaps as much as 60 per cent over 20 years. With minimal thickness or poor installation, you probably haven’t noticed the decline so it is definitely time to look at options.

If you do not intend using the loft as accommodation, then insulating over ceiling level will be most efficient as it is wasteful to heat the bigger volume above by insulating at rafter level.

You should firstly consider fitting an appropriate vapour control membrane so that the chosen insulation can work most effectively – this will give you a better comfort factor too. Some roll material comes ready fitted with this material but be aware it is very important to prevent gaps.

Materials used by most installers will be quilt mineral wool (glass or rock wool), blown cellulose (recycled newspaper) or blown mineral wool (glass or rock wool). These should be an overall depth of 250mm-300mm depending on the specific material chosen. More insulation might be considered so ensure the structure can take the extra weight.

There are new ‘super’ thermal insulation materials available which have much better efficiency but you will need special circumstances to justify the extra cost. There are also several multi-layer materials, as well as aluminium-faced rigid foam boards, but ensure these have the right NSAI certification for your purpose and the installation detailing is followed.

Sprayed foam products are gaining in popularity, especially for rafter level insulation. However, as a building surveyor, I remain sceptical about this method as a panacea to all the problems claimed, especially the long-term effect on roof timbers.

It is very important to ensure there are no gaps in quilt insulation that can cause cold spots – good work is key and it is easier to get it right. With blown-in products, while they can be more costly, the better efficiency gained will pay off.

Other considerations are details around the water tank and pipes to prevent freezing, the electrical installation – especially potential for cable overheating, light fittings penetrating the ceiling that can overheat and the preservation of the important ventilation path at eaves level.

The work in your roof space to improve insulation will often be carried out unsupervised so it is essential to understand the requirements and to ensure you are getting a fully installed and trouble-free installation by getting proper advice.

SEAI grants are available using certified installers under the Better Energy Homes scheme. Houses built before 2006 may be eligible for €200 towards costs. If you have concerns about getting the most effective and trouble-free installation you should consult an appropriate professional.

Fergus Merriman is a chartered building surveyor and member of SCSI,

Q My next-door neighbour of 20 years has allowed his hedge and trees – which are entirely on his side – to grow from 6ft to 25ft in height, thereby darkening our livingroom. When approached on the subject, he maintains it secures his privacy and is not prepared to reduce their height or discuss the matter further. However he has created two 5ft x 5ft wide openings at garden level which impinge on our own privacy. Can anything be done?

A The question of hedge heights and the restriction of natural light to their homes causes upset and distress to many people. With an increasing number of people living in urban areas, the issue has become problematic and has led to Dáil questions.

The unfortunate news is that there is no legislation in Ireland dealing specifically with hedge heights or subsequent loss of light. Proposed legislation, as reported in recent years, has not materialised to date. Practitioners who deal with issues relating to boundary hedges eagerly await regulation as there are very limited options to residents who are distressed due to overgrown hedges and insensitive neighbours.

The only direct remedial action you are entitled to take is to cut the branches overhanging your property at the boundary line. You would also be entitled to cut the portion of the roots in your property, but this is inadvisable as you would be liable if, as a result, the hedge became unstable and caused damage. Any part of the overhanging trees cut by you must be offered back to your neighbour.

In relation to the 5ft x 5ft openings, you are entitled to plant trees or shrubs or place screens on your side of these openings to protect your privacy.

On the substantive issue of hedge heights, you may be able to make a case for legal action if you can demonstrate to the satisfaction of the court that you enjoyed a reasonable level of natural light to your residence for a period of 20 years and that the growth of your neighbour’s hedge has caused an unacceptable deterioration in the level of natural light entering your residence. This would require evidence such as dated photographs and, if possible, recorded levels of natural light in the rooms affected.

In view of the difficulties outlined, your best option may be to maintain good relations with your neighbour. Approach him at a future date and ask him to look at it from your side and try to involve him in proposing a solution or a compromise.

Patrick Shine is a chartered geomatics surveyor and chartered civil engineer

Q I need to replace some of the windows in my house, but I can’t afford to replace them all at the same time. I will start by replacing the two bay windows, one upstairs and one downstairs. I have a quote for uPVC of €3,000 and another quote for wood of €5,000. Ideally I would prefer the look of the wood, however cost is a very big factor. My main objective in replacing the windows is to achieve better insulation. Can you please advise if there is any difference in the preservation of heat in the house and if I should try to stretch my budget and go for the wood ones.

I know the €5,000 would qualify for the 13.5 per cent tax break spread over two years but that isn’t really a factor as cash flow would be my problem.

A We are assuming that you have existing single-glazed timber windows which you are now seeking to upgrade to double-glazed windows. Costs can vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but as the norm, uPVC double-glazed windows are generally cheaper than timber-glazed windows. Most window manufacturers can provide wood-effect uPVC windows, which can be cheaper than actual timber. It generally comes down to personal preference on the style of window. You must also consider that uPVC windows require little or no maintenance, whereas timber windows will need to be repainted at least every three years so that the structural integrity of the timber is maintained.

With regards to heat preservation (measured as a u-value) of the windows, uPVC double-glazed windows tend to be slightly more thermally efficient than timber double-glazed. Most window manufacturers offers ranges of different styles, and within these ranges, will offer a range of differing u-values. Heat preservation within a property is also determined by its construction and age and is dependent on the levels of existing insulation within the property. This, in turn, will determine the most suited window type for your needs.

In relation to your budget spend for replacement windows, there was a tax break announcement in the recent budget on home improvement works which cost between €5,000 and €30,000. Our understanding is that it is only applicable to registered builders. We would advise caution here due to the lack of information on this tax break, as a window manufacturer who will also fit the windows may not be classed as a registered builder.

In summary, replacing your existing timber single-glazed windows to either double-glazed uPVC or timber windows may not achieve an increased thermal efficiency of your property.

We would suggest you engage the services of a registered chartered building surveyor who would be able to advise you more clearly on the correct choice to make against the budget you have to spend and the current levels of insulation you have within your property, so that you can achieve your desired thermal efficiency.

Michael Ferry is a registered chartered building surveyor with the Society of Chartered Surveyors of Ireland

Send your queries to or to Property Clinic, The Irish Times, 24-28 Tara Street, Dublin 2. This column is a readers’ service. Advice given is general and individual advice should always be sought.