I’m a pensioner, how can I improve my heating on a tight budget?
Property Clinic: When funds are limited, invest where you will get the greatest return
Running your heating system on low heat for longer is more economical than running the system at high temperatures for short periods. Photograph: iStock
Updated with reader suggestion (end of text) on Thursday August 29th
I’m a 73-year-old pensioner with limited means. I live in a house, probably built in 1960, that I love and will never leave. I had double glazing installed about 25 years ago but now I feel draughts around the windows. My central heating is quite antiquated and the house isn’t insulated. I installed a wood-burning stove in my living room three years ago which is great. My kitchen extension is cold and I supplement the heat in the kitchen with a Superser gas heater. I cannot afford to replace the heating system or to insulate the whole house. Any suggestions that would help me would be greatly appreciated.
The best way to save money when heating your home is to improve insulation. This does come at a cost. Unfortunately, there is no easy fix without investment. When installing insulation, you have to pay upfront; you then save in the longer term.
You have made improvements most recently by installing a stove. Stoves are a great addition to a home as they reduce excessive heat loss that is typically experienced through an open fire. They make the burning of fuel a lot more efficient.
When funds are limited you need to invest where you will get the greatest return. I would start by insulating the areas of the house that you use most. It sounds like your kitchen is the priority here. Ceiling and wall insulation will greatly reduce heat loss.
Draughts mean that the air is changing in your house at a rate greater than what is required. This means that valuable heated air is being replaced by cold air entering from the outside. Draught-proofing doors and windows should help. Heavy curtains on the windows can supplement draught proofing.
I note that your heating system is old. If funds permit, you could look at putting thermostatic valves on your radiators. This helps to control temperature and reduce the running time on your boiler and can save as much as 40 per cent on your heating bills.
I would also reduce the temperature of your boiler or thermostat by 1 degree. This can save up to 10 per cent on fuel costs over the year.
Running your heating system on low heat for longer is more economical than running the system at high temperatures for short periods. It may be possible to introduce zones on your heating system without going to major expense. This would give you more control over the areas of your house that you heat at specific times of the day.
A condensing boiler adds greater efficiency and, coupled with better heating controls and zones, you should be able to recoup your investment in no time. Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI) offers grants under its better energy homes programme. This can be pursued once you have a clear idea of the upgrading you propose and have a contractor in place.
In terms of supplementary heating, I suggest that you use an electric heater. The gas fired system that you currently use introduces large amounts of water vapour into the air and this can result in condensation, dampness and harmful mould. This also has an impact on heating as damp walls can promote heat loss. Carbon monoxide is also produced when gas is burned and this can be dangerous.
It would be worth looking at your windows to ensure that the vacuum seal has not been lost in the double glazing. Double glazing has a relatively limited lifespan and this may account for the draughts that you are now encountering.
As with any issue when dealing with property, a holistic approach is best. Your local chartered building surveyor should be able to assess the many factors mentioned above and tailor a best-fit solution for you. This will ensure that you get the most value for money when improving your home. If you do not invest in improvement, you may find yourself pennywise but pound foolish.
Noel Larkin is a chartered building surveyor and member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie
* A reader contacted us to add the following information: The pensioner may be entitled to help from SEAI’s Warmer Homes Scheme and or from their local Energy Agency eg Energy Action in Dublin, who have a mandate to assist in the elimination of Fuel Poverty.