The pebble-dash and brick of our century-old semi has been hidden for more than a decade behind a new skin. The external insulation we fitted 16 years ago didn’t attract any grant. The contractors who fitted it only worked with large apartment buildings. So it was expensive to be ahead of the curve and pin slabs of bubblegum pink insulation onto the front and back walls of the house. But with that one step we banished our cold bridges.
You don’t want cold bridges. They are the parts of the walls where internal insulation stops – the joists between floors, or where walls meet roofs. When cold seeps in and meets your expensively produced warmth it can condense and produce damp and mould.
We have a retrofitting mountain to climb and a cultural leap to spend resources on things that we can’t see. We feel the benefits of our external insulation every day in cold weather but it’s not something we can show off. The camera on home improvement shows doesn’t linger lovingly on external insulation or floor slabs that keep us toasty. We eat with our eyes when it comes to home makeovers.
Dublin City Libraries have a piece of kit that might help you focus on the spends that save money. The Home Energy Saving Kit is free and available to borrow from libraries. It can tell you where your money is going when it comes to your energy bills. It’s also perfect for people renting, providing a mini energy audit to get the facts needed to talk to a landlord about where improvements can be made.
The kit contains simple things like a fridge thermometer to assess if you’re overcooling your food. It’s an appliance that stays on 24/7 so a small reduction in the cooling temperature can save money. There’s a heat and humidity sensor, a stopwatch you can use to assess the flow of water on your shower. Reducing it can reduce your water heating bills.
There’s also a futuristic heat sensor gun. If you have small people in your house this will be hugely popular. The sensor casts a light on the wall, changing colour to indicate colder parts that may need insulation improvements. It’s like X-ray eyes for wall insulation.
The simplest and cheapest element is a brass radiator key. Bleeding your radiators once a year is recommended to get rid of any air and help them run more efficiently. It’ll never be a glamorous or exciting job that you’ll rush to share on social media. But for a couple of euro a radiator key can be a properly sound investment.
Catherine Cleary is co-founder of Pocket Forests