Easy ways to give your home an energy boost

Wall insulation, triple-glazing and heat pumps will save you money in the long run

For every unit of electricity you put into your heat pump, you get about three or four units of heat out. Illustration: iStock

For every unit of electricity you put into your heat pump, you get about three or four units of heat out. Illustration: iStock

 

With home comfort more important to us than ever, ensuring our homes are warm and our fuel bills are low is becoming a priority. Energy efficiency expert Tomas O’Leary of MosArt says there are lots of ways to make a home more energy efficient, allowing you to save on fuel bills and reduce your carbon footprint.

“Don’t cut corners,” O’Leary says. “When you’ve got one opportunity to do it right, you should push it to the max and you will reap the benefits in terms of energy savings, comfort and wellbeing.”

He advises getting a BER (Building Energy Rating) done before doing any kind of major work within the home. This will provide a benchmark of the condition of your home and guidance on how to improve your home’s energy efficiency.

The SEAI website has a list of recommended BER assessors throughout Ireland. O’Leary warns against choosing someone based on price. “There is a lot of work involved in getting a good assessment done. The cheapest won’t necessarily be the best.” He suggests speaking to a few people and choosing the one you feel is the most experienced.

Heating

When it comes to heating systems, there are a number of options to choose from and O’Leary recommends upgrading to “a heating system based on electricity you generate yourself”.

He recommends a move away from oil and gas systems. “These kinds of heating systems are 95 per cent efficient,” he says. “Whereas a heat pump, for example, is 100 per cent efficient.” For every unit of electricity you put into your heat pump, you get about three or four units of heat out.

Just bear in mind that a heat pump will only work if your home is really energy efficient. So it’s something you would install as part of a larger renovation project.

“Our electricity grid is getting cleaner and cleaner, with more and more wind energy supplying electricity,” says O’Leary. So using electricity to power our heating makes good financial sense and is an environmentally friendly choice too.

External insulation

Making sure your home is well insulated is critical to ensuring your home is comfortable, your fuel bills are low and your carbon footprint reduced. “From an efficiency viewpoint it’s always better to put the insulation on the outside rather than the inside of the house,” says O’Leary. He likens it to putting a tea cosy on the house.

With external insulation you won’t have the disruption of works in your home and you won’t lose any internal floor area. This is a more costly alternative to internal insulation and rates vary across the country. You should expect to spend €100-€140 per square metre.

The cost will also depend on the thickness of the insulation. “Don’t skimp on the thickness,” warns O’Leary. Always go for the maximum thickness you can afford.” He recommends 150mm but adds that it depends on the product you use. There are stiff insulation boards and fibre-based insulation boards. Some thinner boards will provide the same amount of insulation as thicker products depending on the specification.

Internal insulation

In some cases internal insulation can make sense, for example if you are planning major internal renovations or if you live in a protected structure where you can’t make changes to the facade.

The thickness of the internal insulation you choose is very important. Unlike with external insulation, thicker is not better. Too much insulation can actually cause issues with mould.

“Most of the major insulation suppliers will do a condensation risk analysis for you,” says O’Leary. He advises contacting them with information about the build of the walls you intend to insulate. They will then be able to calculate the optimal thickness for your home.

Windows

Upgrading windows to either double or triple glazing is a really worthwhile investment. Not only will replacing your old windows with more energy-efficient glazing make a significant improvement to the comfort of your home but also contribute to reducing your heating bills.

“If I was doing a major renovation on my house I would definitely go with triple glazing,” says O’Leary. Triple glazing is a more expensive option to double glazing but the benefits are worth the additional cost. “You are only saving short-term by choosing double glazing,” says O’Leary adding that triple glazing has become only a bit more expensive than high-performance double glazing. It’s worth taking your time when choosing windows. “Do your research and buy the very best product you can afford.”

It’s a good idea to install triple glazing on all faces of the house, even southerly facades. Often people favour just double glazing over triple on southerly aspects because of the extra sunlight, but O’Leary suggests when choosing your windows always think about the energy performance at night time too. “At night when it’s zero degrees outside, there is no solar gain, so it makes no sense to have only double glazing in any part of your house.”

Denise O’Connor is an architect and design consultant @optimisedesign

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