Insulating your home - the big and little measures that could help slash your energy bills

12th Feb 19 | Lifestyle

Almost every aspect of your home can be insulated, and your wallet will thank you in the long run. By Luke Rix-Standing.

house energy efficiency concept

Insulation is probably not the first thing you think of when you wake up in the morning. To put it bluntly, it’s a bit unsexy: No house guest is going to be bowled over by the mineral wool you’ve installed in the walls; there’s none of the visual heft of a redecorated lounge.

But in terms of worthwhile home improvements, insulation can improve a homeowner’s experience in more ways than one.

Why bother insulating?
Three main reasons: Comfort, cash, and carbon dioxide. An insulated home retains heat far more effectively, so will help ensure you feel warm and snug and sealed off from the elements when winter strikes. Effective insulation can also save you a great deal of money in the longer term – potentially hundreds of pounds a year.

“You’ll see a financial benefit straight away,” says Dave Robson, managing director of InstaGroup (instagroup.co.uk) and board member of the National Insulation Association. “Your boiler will be able to maintain your chosen temperature without using as much energy, which has a direct impact on your energy bill.”

A thermal representation of heat loss
A professional can scope out heat loss with all the various tools of the trade (Thinkstock/PA)

A home that guzzles less gas inevitably cuts carbon emissions too, and if you’re unsure how efficient your home is, Robson says it’s worth having it  assessed. “Most companies that deal with energy efficiency will come out to your house and do a survey,” he says, “and they’ll tell you exactly what needs doing.”

Simple switches that add up
Insulation may sound quite technical, but making your home more heat-savvy can also be as simple as buying a nice furry rug. Soft furnishings provide an extra barrier to radiant heat loss, and even a poster or picture on the wall can aid retention. For bigger gains, consider a thick woollen carpet or wide wall hanging, and ‘dress’ any bare windows with curtains. “You get a lot of heat loss through your windows,” says Robson, “so for us that’s basic housekeeping advice.”

Cozy home concept
Snug as a bug in a rug (Thinkstock/PA)

Draught-proofing can be a simple but effective measure too – and DIY-friendly. After all, all you’re doing is, quite literally, papering over the cracks.

Self-adhesive foam strips work wonders for covering gaps around windows, door frames and loft hatches – a cheap and easy buy from your local hardware store. Consider a keyhole cover for your front and back door – a small metal plate that stops the wind from whistling in – and shore up your letterbox with a letterbox brush.

Cracked walls can be mended with a dollop of cement or hard-setting fillers, while a professional could install a suitable draught-stop into an out-of-service chimney.

Remember, when blitzing cracks and crevices, it’s essential not to block any of the intentional ventilation needed to air out your home. Extractor fans, underfloor grilles and trickle vents should all be left undisturbed.

Red sausage dog draught excluder
The perfect guard dog for a windy day (Thinkstock/PA)

Portable draught excluders for the bottoms of doors are cheap, available off-the-shelf and come shaped as tube trains, sausage dogs and any number of other fluffy animals. Despite their simplicity, they work pretty well.

Alternatively, pay a professional to draught-proof your whole home in one fell swoop. It’s comparatively costly – the Energy Saving Trust estimate a £200 price tag for a typical semi-detached property – but will save on time and effort, and, depending on your skill level, could yield far sturdier results.

A structural shift
Simple measures aside, the biggest heat losses will be coming from the within the very fabric of your home. Warm air rises, and estimates suggest that an uninsulated home suffers roughly a quarter of all heat loss through the roof.

“If your house has loft space, that’s probably the easiest thing for a homeowner to check,” says Robson. “It’s simple and pretty cheap to get topped up and can make a huge difference to your bills.”

According to the Energy Saving Trust, loft insulation in an uninsulated, gas-heated semi-detached house costs an average of £300, but can save an average £135 in energy bills annually – paying for itself in two to four years.  A pretty good deal when you consider that well-installed loft insulation should last around 40 years.

House loft with rock wool insulation
Loft insulation can help slash energy bills (Thinkstock/PA)

If your loft space is for storage only, you can simplify the process by insulating the floor with strips of mineral wool. DIY-savvy homeowners can attempt this themselves – but remember, this is no IKEA flat-pack. Research the process thoroughly and, if in doubt, send for the specialists. Insulating the roof itself should always be done by a professional, usually with rigid insulation board or spray-on foam.

Don’t forget the walls
If loft insulation is your home’s snug bobble hat, wall insulation is its cosy winter coat. First of all, you need to know what sort of wall your property has. Most UK homes are either ‘solid wall’ – single slabs of brick or stone – or cavity walls, that leave a space between two layers of concrete or brick.

The age of your house is often a giveaway, as homes built before the 1930s are generally likely to be solid. There are other, more mercurial clues: “If your home is made of entirely horizontal brick then you’ve probably got a cavity,” says Robson. “If you have a mixture of bricks laid horizontally and end-to-end, that’s generally a sign that the wall is solid.”

Cavity walls installed in the last 15 or 20 years probably already have some insulation, otherwise both types can benefit. Solid walls insulate extremely poorly and haemorrhage heat and money, but can cost in the thousands to insulate properly.

Cavity walls are much more effective insulators, but householders may still benefit from insulation that can be installed at a fraction of the cost. Homeowners should not even consider attempting these tasks themselves – call in the professionals and get an assessment up front.

Once you’ve ticked off roof and walls, completionists can even insulate their floors. “It’s not done a huge amount because, practically, it’s difficult, as you’ve got to get underneath your property, which isn’t always possible,” explains Robson. “If you live in a park home, it’s easier to do and a really good idea.” Most modern floors have at least a dash of insulation built in during construction, and it minimises the cold floor shock of of the morning bathroom floor.

Pimp your pipework
Uninsulated water tanks and pipes exude heat too, driving up the energy – and money – required to warm your radiators and shower.

A jacket for your water tank costs £15-20, and should come with instructions for assembly. Pipes can be protected with foam tubing that you simply slip on, provided you buy the right size. Potential pitfalls come from accessibility – if your waterworks are hard to reach, you may need a professional after all.

According to the Energy Saving Trust, DIY insulation of a water tank should pay back its price in around three months.

© Press Association 2019

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