Property Clinic

Energy-efficient homes, damaged boundary fence and problems with dry walling

You can take some small steps initially to improve the thermal efficiency of your house, including increasing attic insulation, fitting seals to doors and closing off small holes and gaps to the perimeter of rooms, particularly at floor level behind the skirting board

You can take some small steps initially to improve the thermal efficiency of your house, including increasing attic insulation, fitting seals to doors and closing off small holes and gaps to the perimeter of rooms, particularly at floor level behind the skirting board


Q We live in an urban detached house built in the late 1990s, measuring about 176sq m (1,900sq ft). As we look towards retirement and spending more time at home, it occurred to us that we have not given much thought to how energy efficient our house is. Oil-fired central heating is our main source of energy and we use electricity for cooking. We have one fireplace which we rarely use due to the hassle. The house can be cold and our south-facing kitchen-cum- livingroom can take a lot to heat it. Some of the family think that we do not have enough ventilation. Neither of us is of a DIY disposition.

I would like your advice on how to proceed to make our home as comfortable and as energy efficient as possible for the long term. Are there people with the necessary knowledge and experience available who could advise? I am aware that there are people who do BER ratings for dwellings etc but, I think this can be a hit-and-miss experience in terms of quality. We live in the midlands.

A In the 1990s the energy regulations were less efficient and your house will have basic insulation but probably only 100mm fibreglass in the attic and 50mm polystyrene insulation board in the cavity wall.

You can take some small steps initially to improve the thermal efficiency, for example, increasing attic insulation to 300mm, fitting seals to doors and a weather bar to external doors, and closing off small holes and gaps to the perimeter of rooms, particularly at floor level behind the skirting board – it is worth taking off the skirting board and re-sealing this floor wall juncture.

Longer-term considerations include filling the cavity with pumped insulation and/or dry lining the internal face of the external walls, and upgrading windows (although if they are double glazed at present the return on your investment will be minimal and may not be worth the additional capital expenditure).

A new boiler and/or burner may be required. Consider installing heating controls, thermostats, etc. I would also consider putting in a small stove as an open fireplace is inefficient.

A 1990s house should have adequate ventilation but check that wall vents in each habitable room are clear and, if a toilet or bathroom relies on mechanical ventilation, check the fans are working, have a suitable overrun and that the extraction duct terminates externally. If the length of extract duct pipe from the fan is too long, a stronger fan may be required.

Consider the services of a surveyor or architect who will evaluate the property, assess the level of insulation, ventilation and general compliance of the house with the building regulations and make recommendations to upgrade. They may even assist you with some cost advice.

SEAI is offering the Better Energy Homes Scheme grant, which gives assistance specifically for the energy-efficiency upgrading to residential dwellings.

The Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland Home Renovation Incentive Guide (available at will inform you about what you need to know when you are organising to have renovation work done on your home and would like to avail of the tax credit provided in Budget 2014.

Pat McGovern is a member of the building surveying professional group of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland ,

Q Who’s at fault for a damaged fence? Two sides of our garden face a field that a farmer uses for grazing cattle. They often eat leaves on our back hedge, which isn’t a big problem, but they have regularly trampled our wire fencing in the process – a few times we’ve come out in the morning to find cattle in our garden. We have tried electrifying the top strands of the fence, but we think keeping the cattle away should be the farmer’s job. In the past he said that his legal advice is that by electrifying the fence we’ve assumed responsibility for the problem. More recently, he has set up his own single-strand electric fence, using plastic stakes. We’re pleased about this, but we’d be happier if he would install his own strong timber fence as well, a metre or so from our garden. Or perhaps he should dig a ditch at the edge of his land, to keep his cattle a safe distance from the boundary. What rights and responsibilities does each of us have?

A Boundary fences between residential developments, including one-off houses, and fields containing cattle present particular problems. When originally determining the legal boundary between such land uses, it is prudent that an agreement be made between the parties to put in place a livestock-proof fence. Such fences should take account of the environment in which they are located. A typical suburban garden boundary fence may not suffice in a rural environment. To be effective in discouraging mature cattle from trespassing or reaching over to garden vegetation, a fence needs to be robustly constructed to a height of about 1.5m. In your case the fence is clearly not fit for purpose.

Responsibility for fence maintenance rests with its owner, unless there is an agreement that the adjoining owner will maintain it. Fence ownership depends on which side of the legal boundary it is located. Your deed map should determine your legal boundary.

In most situations such as yours, the physical boundary, ie fence, hedge, etc, is located on the residential property. In the absence of an original agreement on the boundary fence, in relation to materials used, position of the legal boundary and maintenance, the situation is unlikely to be resolved unless you and the farmer try to reach agreement on upgrading and maintaining the fence. You are responsible for maintenance of the existing fence because it’s likely to be on your property, as you have suggested it is your fence. Therefore the farmer should accept responsibility for repair to the damage to the fence as his cattle trespassed on to your property. Your suggestion that the farmer dig a ditch is not advisable, as to be effective its needs to be deep. It then presents safety issues, it may hold stagnant water, the disturbed ground may cause weed growth and is likely to be unsightly. Electric fences, as put in place by the farmer, are usually effective in restraining livestock.

It appears that you need to reach agreement on the construction and maintenance of a higher timber or wire fence above the level of the existing fence.

Patrick Shine is a chartered geomatics surveyor and a chartered civil engineer

Q I upgraded a 50-year-old home four years ago with all mod cons . I got all the external walls dry walled internally and the outside walls replastered to moderni se the look but to also assist in keeping damp out.

I am having issues for the p ast two years whereby shadow marks of the mushroom -type large nails/holders that were used to hold the dry wall to the old walls are seeping through the plaster and paint, requiring me to repaint the walls again (besides the original coat they got before moving in I re-did the paint two years ago). I sourced “cover stain” paint from the paint store to hide the shadows of the nails, yet they are coming through again.

So before I repaint all the walls again, have you any suggestions as this is driving me crazier than normal .

A I have encountered this difficulty many times and I am sorry to advise there is no easy fix. The basic problem comes from a misunderstanding of the physical forces at play by contractors and of the term “dry” lining, or as you put it, “walling”.

I suspect poor workmanship is a factor here. The situation is worsened by adding a waterproof layer to the outside and the damp mushroom shapes are probably caused by use of incorrect fixings that form a cold bridge.

All heated buildings create an imbalance between the outside and inside ambient conditions; the more heat, the greater the difference between water as vapour inside and water as liquid outside. We create huge quantities of water vapour through normal activities such as bathing, cooking and simply breathing inside the house, which will condense on any cold or outside surface to equalise the imbalance.

Water vapour travels through most materials with relative ease until it reaches a cool point where it turns to water, this can be slowed by a vapour barrier on the warm side. The cement render you have applied does slow the flow but at the wrong place where water forms in the wall because it cannot evaporate out. Your wall structure then gets wetter and colder, eventually showing as damp spots on the inside surface. I have even encountered situations where frost has formed in a wall behind a poorly-installed lining.

If internal lining was the only feasible solution for your property, then better fixings and a vapour-control layer on the warm side could have prevented condensation on the cold places causing your damp spots; a permeable layer on the outside would have helped water vapour breathe away.

A coat of paint might temporarily hide the unsightliness but won’t resolve your difficulty. I would be concerned about potential structural damage or unhealthy living conditions and recommend you consult a qualified professional. An external wall insulation system (EWIS) might be considered to improve the situation. SEAI may have grants available.

Fergus Merriman is a chartered building surveyor

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