As the cold weather begins to set in, now is the perfect time to prepare your home ahead of winter to ensure that you can stay nice and toasty inside, even if the temperature outside drops significantly.
The key about keeping your home comfortable during the colder months is to slow the rate of heat loss out of the property. There are loads of ways to do this and in this blog we are going to tackle a few of the major improvements you can do to your home to keep it warmer this winter without having to break the bank.
The great thing about everything we suggest below is that there is some financial assistance from the Government to help pay for it, be it completely free under the ECO scheme (for loft and cavity wall insulation). Non means tested grants under GDHIF for boilers, solid wall insulation and windows or Green Deal finance, which is available on about 40 different energy saving measures.
These different schemes are all designed to help make the cost of installing the energy saving measures discussed below more affordable.
So lets begin!
Target the envelope of the home to keep it warmer!
The key is to target what’s known as the envelope of the house, which includes the floor, the walls (+ windows) and the roof.
If we can slow the movement of heat through these elements then the house will stay much warmer during the winter and the boiler won’t have to work very hard to keep it at the required temperature.
So lets take a look at each of these elements in turn.
Insulating your floors
It is estimated about 5-15% of heat loss occurs through the floors – so while certainly not the biggest area of concern, certainly one still worth considering.
There are basically two types of floor – suspended (where floorboards sit on joists) and solid (normally made from concrete).
The suspended floors can be insulated relatively cheaply using mineral wool insulation – this is done by first removing floorboards, and then throwing a net over the entire floor. This idea is to let the net sag between the joists and use the net as hammocks in which you can put the wool insulation.
By doing this, not only will you stop heat loss, you will also eliminate cold draughts. Obviously there is quite a lot of upheaval to do this since you need to remove floorboards. If you can access the underneath of the floorboards from a basement, then you can do this without having to remove them first and simply stapling the net in place as you go from joist to joist.
Insulating a suspended floor is a job we would only really recommend if you were going to be removing the floorboards anyway to be honest, however if the thought of this sounds little daunting you might just want to draught proof them to prevent cold draughts entering the home.
This can be done with a product like Draughtex ,which is a squidgy rubber sausage that is forced between the floorboards. Since the rubber tries to expand when it is in position it holds perfectly in position, stopping any cold draughts enter the room.
Solid floors are insulated by adding non-compressing insulation on top of the floor along with a vapour membrane (to prevent water entering the home), something like Kingspan PIR board or Celotex will do the trick. The problem with solid floor insulation is that it raises the height of the floor – or lowers the ceiling depending on how you look at it! If you need to retain the height in the room then you will need to dig out the solid floor, which makes the job more complicated and far more expensive.
Insulating suspended floors and solid floors can be done under the Green Deal and you can also take advantage of the GDHIF grant.
Insulating your walls
Similar to floors, here in the UK there are two main types of wall construction – solid walls and cavity walls.
Solid walls were pretty much a mainstay of any property built prior to 1935 and they are very common here in London. These walls are quite difficult to insulate and as such the cost of doing so is rather expensive (about £100 per m2 as a guide price). Solid walls can be insulated internally or externally, but the idea is the same, to add an insulating layer to the wall to slow the movement of heat across it.
Commonly 100mm of insulation is added to the walls, so if this is done internally it can take up a lot of space. If done externally you lose the feel of the brick, since the insulation sits in top of it and then gets rendered. The advantage of doing it externally is that it prevents penetrating damp; the walls act as a heat store when the heating turns off and you retain the full size of your home.
If your home was built after 1935, the chances are it has cavity walls – this cavity wall has historically been designed to stop water entering the home. The water can penetrate the first layer of brick, but when it hits the cavity, gravity pulls it down and so it never crosses the second skin of brick.
Nowadays these cavities are filled during the construction process either with wool or solid insulation board (+ a vapour membrane). There is a way to retrospectively fill cavity walls though and since the industry is now relatively well established (about 6m homes have retrospectively been insulated with cavity wall insulation) the price of doing these works is quite cheap (about £10 / m2).
The Government consider this along with loft insulation as the most cost effective ways to insulate properties, so much so they now offer cavity wall insulation for free for homes in the UK, but make sure any works done are carried out by a CIGA approved cavity wall installer – they provide you with a 25 year old warranty. It is worth mentioning that cavity wall insulation is not suitable for every property. If for example your property gets hit by consistent driving rain then insulating the cavities could lead to damp.
Whatever type of wall you have in your home, insulating it in some way is absolutely key to reducing heat loss – it is estimated about 35% of the heat in your home escapes through the walls if they are uninsulated. Obviously cavity wall is can be free in many cases, but the Government are trying to redress the balance and are offering generous grants to help homes cover some of the install costs for those that are forced to go the solid wall insulation route like the GDHIF scheme.
In our opinion insulating the walls of your home is just about the best thing you can do to help keep your home warm this winter. Even when the colder weather does hit, your home will stay nice and cosey!
Worth touching upon here is windows since they are normally found within the walls. Many people assume that windows are going to be the best investment in terms of improving the energy efficiency of your home – probably because they too have witnessed those terrible window adverts on TV (and yes we are talking about you Safestyle!)
Well the truth is the windows are the real weakness in terms of heat loss. Even a brand new window is still comparatively rubbish compared to a properly insulated wall in terms of the speed at which heat escapes across it.
So yes, while a single glazed window might let in a huge amount of cold air (and let warm air escape), spending £500 to replace it shouldn’t really be a priority because there are things that you can do to your home to make a much more substantial difference. Don’t misunderstand this though – we are not saying double glazing is bad – undoubtedly it will improve the comfort of any room with it installed – but it just isn’t as good as the adverts make out – so we would definitely not make it your no.1 priority to help keep your home warm this winter!
Insulating the roof space
This is the number 1 best way to keep your home warm this Winter – put lots and lots on insulation up in the loft!
The reason is that it is seriously cheap to do either via ECO – where it tends to be free, or as a DIY job (a roll costs about £15 from B&Q). Loft insulation will help save you heaps of money since about 30% of the heat in the home escapes through and uninsulated loft space.
Despite the fact you can get it done for free by the energy companies under the ECO scheme, if you want to store bits and pieces up in the loft you are going to need to do this as a DIY job.
We have written detailed instructions on how you can do this HERE, and honestly it is really easy so well worth doing!
We recommend installing the loft insulation to a depth of about 250-300mm. This will take the u-value of the roof space down to about 0.16 – which is in line with building regulations (i.e. what a new house today needs to be insulated to).
Even though loft insulation is so easy to do, it is estimated only about 70% of homes with a loft here in the UK have had it insulated – we really do recommend it as the no.1 way to keep your home warm this winter!
One area that people seldom insulate (or at least draught proof) is the chimney. Even though it only gets used twice a year, they feel the need to keep the chimney open all year just in case! It is really worth blocking it with a chimney balloon or chimney sheep if it is not in use since cold air rushes down chimneys if they are not lit and likewise the hot expensive air produced by your heating system escapes just as readily.
These sheep / balloons cost about £25 each, so definitely a worthwhile investment!
Draught proofing around doors and windows
Although the gaps around doors and windows are much smaller than a chimney, they still let in really cold air that can rapidly cool down your home. The key to stopping these little pesky draughts is draught proofing – small strips or rubber that form seals when they come into contact with on another, which simply stop cold draughts in their tracks.
Common places to draught proof are around the loft hatch in the ceiling of your home, around any windows you may have (although new windows tend to be pretty well draught proofed) and on the bottom of doors with door brushes.
So once you have done all that, the home should be pretty good heat loss wise – in that heat doesn’t readily escape in the cold winter months. Minimising heat loss serves two purposes – firstly you can actually get your home to your preferred temperature and secondly it will stay at the temperature longer meaning your heating system doesn’t have to work as hard.
The key to all of this is to keep your home at the same or improved comfort levels, but using the heating system less to achieve that. You can use intelligent heating controls to heat certain rooms to different temperatures if you are really looking to cut your energy bills but for most of us it is enough simply keeping the house at a nice comfy temperature.
Putting in a more efficient heating system
As a final point, you might want to consider replacing the boiler.
We have already covered how you can calculate the yearly energy savings of swapping out your old boiler for a new efficient one.
A new boiler is obviously a great way to lower your energy bills, but unfortunately the days of free boilers are now all but over. There is green deal finance available to help cover some of the install cost, however exactly how much finance is made available depends on the energy demand of the house where it is going to be replaced. If it is a small 1 bed flat, then the energy savings from replacing that boiler would be far smaller than a detached 5 bed property and therefore the amount of finance made available will be far lower.
In terms of costs, the cost of replacing a boiler starts at about £1750, but costs can spiral depending on what else needs to be done (i.e. if the boiler needs to be moved, if you are replacing a heat only boiler with a combi) – it can however really be worth doing if you have a particularly pre-historic boiler in your home.
There you have it – lots of ways to keep your home warmer this winter!
So there you have it – a quick summary of what you can do in your home to keep it warmer this winter. Obviously winter is still a long way away, but we appreciate that most works in properties take place during the summer months in anticipation of the cold!
If you have any questions or feedback on what we have written here, please have your say in the comments below!