I find it impossible to keep my home warm in cold weather. What should I do?

Property Clinic: The key to retaining heat is to minimise the number of air changes

Trying to heat a draughty house is a bit like trying to heat a car in winter with the windows down

Trying to heat a draughty house is a bit like trying to heat a car in winter with the windows down

 

I live in a south-facing three-bed semi built in 1979. The attic is floored. I have double glazing, a porch, gas central heating, and a wood-burning stove in the lounge. Despite all this the house still feels cold and draughty in the winter months. Can you suggest any improvements I can make and what grants, if any, are available?

Noel Larkin writes: Draughts are caused by cold air entering a house from the outside. Warm air must first escape from the inside to allow chilled air enter in its place. This escape can be through chimneys or vents and in older properties through the building fabric at the abutment of materials and at openings or pockets in the construction. The addition of double glazing, a stove and porch can all help in preventing heat loss but your house remains draughty. Heated air can be lost as quickly as it is generated and this is usually even more noticeable on windy days when internal air changes are more rapid. Trying to heat a draughty house is a bit like trying to heat your car in winter with the windows down.

Dating from the late 1970s, your house predates the introduction of building regulations in 1992 and is therefore less efficient in terms of thermal performance. Insulation standards are now high and draught proofing and air-tightness membranes are installed at the construction stage. Sealing tapes are placed at weak points where building materials meet each other such as around windows or where there may be a tendency for openings to occur when building materials shrink or move as they invariably do. Even when drylining is to be used the inner face of the external walls is now given a plaster finish to seal them. New houses must pass an air-tightness test to meet the regulations.

When carrying out any home improvements a holistic approach is best

The key to retaining heat in your house is to reduce the number of air changes. If there are any remaining open flues that are not being used you should close these with a chimney balloon. These inflate inside the flue preventing the escape of air. A warning tag normally remains visible to remind you of their presence. Make sure your kitchen extract fan has a closing flap that closes when the fan is not being used. Any clear visible gaps or openings in the external walls that may allow the easy entry of air should be sealed. Replacement windows can sometimes be undersized to aid ease of insertion into the existing openings and large gaps can remain at the reveals. Check externally around windows and doors and reseal with mastic if required. There may also be scope in some cases to pump additional insulation into the external wall cavity. You would need to first establish the type of wall construction used as this can vary. Regrettably most speculatively-built homes will incorporate hollow blocks and will not have a cavity that can be treated.

If you have a suspended timber ground floor you’ll need to seal around all walls at the floor wall junction as air circulates below the floor and can enter at gaps. The fact that your attic is also floored may have had an impact on where insulation is present and if possible you should improve this by adding an additional layer and you should limit the escape of air into the attic from below. Downlighters are the greatest offender when it comes to an easy route for the movement of air into an attic. All downlighters should be covered with suitable fire rated covers. This allows the placement of insulation over the fitting but also eliminates air movement and draughts. Make sure there’s a draught seal around any attic access hatches. Other simple measures internally such as heavy curtains and draft seals to doors will also help.

There are a range of grants available depending on your particular circumstances and depending on the extent of improvement you propose. In some cases there are even free upgrades available. Full details can be found here.

When carrying out any home improvements a holistic approach is best. Get some advice from your local chartered building surveyor or BER assessor and they will be able to guide you in the right direction. They will also be able to help in choosing the most suitable grant options and should have builders on their books that specialise in the type of work needed. New houses have mechanical vents to maintain a healthy environment so be sure to keep this in mind when sealing up your home.

Noel Larkin is a chartered building surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie

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