Retrofitting your home: ‘The heat is retained for up to three days’

Whether basic or more elaborate, getting work done on your house such as insulation, solar panels, a heat pump and an energy-efficient zoned heating boiler is environmental and cosy

Daniel Wyse and his partner live in a four-bed bungalow in Crosshaven, Co Cork. The house was built by Wyse’s partner’s father in 1999. It was always a cold house but, now that the attic and cavity walls have been insulated, the building energy rating (BER) has gone from D2 to B3. A new boiler with energy-efficient zoned heating was also installed.

The basic retrofit cost €2,750. Wyse says a grant of €300 was given for the attic and another €300 for the insulation of the walls. This work was done last August by Envirobead, an insulation contractor in Cork. Now, grants covering 80 per cent of the cost of minor works such as those carried out in his house are available. The new boiler cost €2,500 after a grant of €700 was awarded.

Wyse was spending a lot of money on coal for the back boiler. The new boiler uses oil. Ultimately, Wyse and his partner, who plan to move at sometime in the future, want a self-sufficient house. “But that won’t happen until there’s better technology. I’d love to have solar panels fuelling a heat pump, keeping the house warm at all times. We’ll see in years to come how much electricity the panels can gather.”

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Describing himself as very environmentally conscious, Wyse studied environmental engineering at the former Cork Institute of Technology. He works in a pharmaceutical company.

For now, he is happy with the work that has been done to the house in Cork’s maritime village. “The insulation in the walls and attic works well, with the heat retaining a lot better than it used to. If I turn on the heating today, it might drop one or two degrees the next day. Before, the house would go from 21 degrees to 13 or 14 degrees. Now, the heat is retained for up to three days.”

There was virtually no disruption to the household (which includes pets) when the attic and walls were insulated. “Envirobead were in and out in one day and they did all the paper work. There was bigger disruption when the boiler was put it. It took about two days and there was a lot of drilling holes in walls.”

The holes in the walls were filled in and Wyse and his partner painted the house themselves after the work was done. It was due to be painted anyway. They also bought a stove for the fireplace which cost €3,000.

Wyse is positive about the experience of retrofitting on a small scale and is looking forward to a more sustainable future. “My advice is to do the research and see what’s out there and what the different contractors are charging.”

Given the hike in the cost of energy and the threat to supplies created by the war in Ukraine, he is relieved to have had the work done. “The amount I spent wasn’t that much, about €10,000 for an energy rating that went from D2 to B3. The bills are lower. During the summer, you can see the heat. The work was meant to be done for the winter but the thermostat in the house is 22 degrees today [on a hot July day], which is ridiculous.”

A woman in Limerick, meanwhile, who had a deep retrofit carried out on her three-bedroom semi-detached house, says she is often surprised when she opens her front door and discovers it’s cold outside.

“Everything I own has gone into this plus a loan,” says Mary, who doesn’t want her full name disclosed. The deep retrofit, completed last year before more generous grants were announced, has resulted in her home going from a BER of G to A3.

The deep retrofit cost €53,850 plus a fee to environmental consultant Superhomes in Co Tipperary of €1,425. Superhomes contracted Metro Developments to carry out the work. The grant for the work was €15,900. (Now, close to half the cost of a deep retrofit is covered by the new Home Energy Upgrade Scheme.)

Mary’s house, built in 1955, was structurally sound and had cavity walls which were insulated as part of the retrofit package. It had been a cold house with just two storage heaters, in the hall and the landing. “On a cold morning, I’d get up and put on the heaters and go back to bed for half an hour.” Now, there is underfloor insulation downstairs. And there are vents that take out any stale air and bring in fresh air.

“I have the upstairs temperature set at 18 degrees and downstairs at 20.5. It takes about 3½ days to reduce the temperatures as the house is so well-insulated.”

What she most appreciated about retrofitting was that she didn’t have to concern herself with engaging plumbers, electricians and painters. “It was a one-stop shop.”

Mary moved out of the house in June 2021 for 16 weeks while work got under way.

Retrofitting and renovating are, she says, “incredibly stressful but the outcome is worth the pain and sacrifice” in the interests of a cosy home.