Clearly Global Warming is what everyone is talking about, the effect upon our environment and the World that we may leave for our Children’s Children. There has been much written about the situation that mankind has made and if there is away forward, or have we responded too slowly and now looking at a lost cause?
Regarding the insulating of our homes, you may say, if the environment is that much warmer what is the need to insulate in a country like the United Kingdom where severe weather is less common and the likelihood of snow during the winter less likely and frosty mornings something that may become memories from our past?
The answer must be this, that most fuels that we use will have a negative effect upon The Earth and most fuels that are available to us are increasing in cost, with shortages potentially the case. It therefore makes good sense to look after the heat that we have produced and to retain it in the properties where we live and work.
Post pandemic the World has stirred and the economy’s which have laid dormant for months are using and absorbing all the natural resources which are available. Therefore, demand and prices are high, and resources available low. The UK store less gas than any other country in Europe. As a youngster I recall seeing the green gas storage tanks in virtually every town that I drove through, where are they now?
Please remember that properties that are well insulated do get a double bonus of good insulation, the first being warmer in the winter and the second cooler in the summer, which when you consider the cost and effect of air conditioning is a tremendous plus point.
Insulating your home doesn’t just make it more energy efficient, it is also one of the best things you can do to reduce your energy bills remember to look for cheaper energy deals that may be available and that you may be able to switch to. Insulating your home will make your house warmer and more comfortable, while also reducing its impact on the environment in the process.
What does insulation do?
Insulation – and draught proofing – protects your home against cold in winter and excess heat in the summer and can even reduce noise pollution (like the sound from a road or passing aircraft). What’s more, some key insulation measures are ‘low cost’, in that they pay for themselves in less than five years.
Other than low energy lighting, these measures have the best returns of all energy efficiency investments. Furthermore, if you decide to sell or rent your home, the rating that your home receives on an Energy Performance Certificate (EPC) will be improved.
How does the heat escape from my house and the cold get in?
There are five ways that heat can escape:
- Conduction – that’s heat moving through solids like metal or brick.
- Radiation – this is the heat you directly feel when you stand near a heat source. It is in fact infra-red radiation, and just another form of ‘electromagnetic radiation’ like radio waves, visible light, ultra-violet and x-rays – which all travel at the speed of light. If you take infra-red photos of your house on a cold, still night you can help see where heat is being lost.
- Convection – this is the natural tendency of warm air or water or other gases and liquids to rise, while cold air and water falls downwards. This often results in circulation of air and is the main principle behind central heating radiators.
- Air movement – draughts are a common form of heat loss, taking warm air from within the home and letting it out into the outside (and typically replacing it with cold air coming in). Another example is a wind blowing past a house, which will generally have a cooling effect on it. Water movement has the same effect upon your property.
- Evaporation – not a process that we naturally associate with heat loss, but if it rains on a hot summer day, after the rain stops, some of it may evaporate from the roof and walls, and this will cool the home considerably.
Where do I need to insulate in my home to protect myself from heat loss?
On a cold day, heat can escape from your home in all directions, – up, down and sideways. So, you should think about insulating the whole property and not just concentrating on one element.
- The roof
- The walls
- The floor
- The windows and doors
Many people make the mistake of assuming that heat only goes up – but only one form of heat transfer (convection) primarily moves up. Heat will travel in all directions. It is also known that heat will always travel towards cold.
If you adjoin another home, either through shared walls or through a floor that is in effect another household’s ceiling, or vice versa, you are fortunate as you will not suffer from heat loss, assuming the other side is heated as well. However, you will still need to heat your home, as you will not have heat gain either. The general rule is that the bigger the temperature difference, the greater the flow of heat. So, the colder it is outside, the greater the heat loss from your home.
How much heat is being lost from different parts of my home?
This depends on the type of house that you live in, whether it’s detached or semi-detached, or if it’s a terrace property, and if so, if it is mid or end terrace. When an EPC is being completed on a property, the heat loss perimeter is a significant calculation and will hugely affect the outcome. The larger, or longer the heat loss perimeter is, the more heat you will lose from it. If you live in a flat, the losses will be different again, and will depend on whether your flat is in the middle, at the top or at ground floor level.
For a typical house the walls will lose most heat, around 30% and up to 40%. The roof will be next at around 25%, probably followed by windows and doors at around 20%, and the floor (of your lowest storey) at around 10%. Quite a large loss will occur because of draughts and a lack of airtightness. Of course, draughts can also be attributed to floors, doors and windows, the walls or roof. It should also be known that some controlled ventilation is essential for reducing the risk of stale or damp air.
Do I need planning permission for insulation work?
In most cases, insulation work does not require planning permission from your local council. The exceptions may include external wall insulation and, in areas where there are conservation schemes, glazing.
Even if you don’t need planning permission, building regulations could apply, so check with your local council’s building control department.
What types of insulation are there?
Good insulation types
Good insulators include many products that typically have a structure similar to wool. In effect a good insulator will trap tiny pockets of air within a material which itself is also a good insulator. These include the very common mineral and glass wools, which come on rolls in blanket form, or in a somewhat denser form as batts or slabs.
Sheep’s wool is of course a great insulator, as are other natural fabrics like hemp and cotton – so curtains are good insulation products. Some mineral and glass wool style products are ‘higher density’ and therefore have greater insulation effect, typically about 25% greater.
Most wood and wood- based products, for example, MDF, plywood, and hardboard, are also generally quite good insulators – so wooden doors and wooden loft boards help keep warmth in the home.
Not surprisingly, paper is another a good insulator, including recycled paper, and cellulose from other sources such as crop wastes. Although flammable in its untreated form, it is treated to make it fire resistant for use as insulation. This is supplied in sealed sacks, but once opened is in loose form, which makes it suitable for installing in circumstances where blankets or batts won’t fit.
Polystyrene and similar products are generally good insulators. Polystyrene is sometimes referred to as EPS (expanded or extruded polystyrene slab) form. These products are also usually fire resistant, and much denser and heavier than the sort of polystyrene that is used for packaging. EPS is typically 50% more effective, for the same depth, as a standard mineral or glass wool product.
Closely related are spray foam solutions, which are typically polyurethane based. The foam forms on the mixing of two chemicals and it hardens, trapping tiny pockets of air. Because the foam fills crevices and gaps, it can also eliminate draughts and provide strengthening to existing building structures, for example roof tiles. Other foam solutions include adhesive strips for insulating around windows, doors, or loft hatches.
Some ‘insulators’ work by stopping the flow of air (draughts) through cracks and gaps, such as sealants (mastics). One of the cheapest sealants is papier-Mache, which you can make yourself from torn-up paper and wallpaper glue.
Another method of insulation is reflection. There are now multi-foil products, which are generally a sandwich of metal foils and plastic style insulators. These can be used to reflect radiated heat and are designed to insulate where there is not the space for wool, batt and EPS type products. Some polystyrene and other products are also coated with foils.
Good insulation material doesn’t just slow the process of heat loss, depending on its specific use, there are other properties that are important too, such as physical strength, fire resistance, resistance to mould, and non-toxicity; cost is another important consideration too.
Poor insulation types
Unfortunately, many materials with physical strength and which are therefore used in building construction, including metals (such as copper, steel, and aluminium), stone, brick, tiles, and concrete, are good conductors and have limited ability to insulate. However, some more modern versions of these materials have been designed to have construction strength but lower heat transmission than in the past, for example, modern breeze blocks.
Water is also a bad insulator, which means that anything that soaks up moisture will usually conduct heat away quite quickly. Moving air also takes heat away quickly even though air that is prevented from moving, generally when trapped in tiny pockets, makes a good insulator.
Here are some of your quick wins that will not break the bank.
These are the type of small tasks that any of us could do at home with little or no cost and a minimal amount of experience.
1. A digital thermometer
Digital thermometers that record the maximum and minimum temperature since last being reset can show you just how warm or cold different parts of your home are. This is basic tool that will help you to identify specific rooms in your home that need attention. Working on the basis ‘if you don’t measure it, you can’t manage it’, thermometers are a good investment.
2. A plug-in thermostat
If you use an electric heater without thermostatic controls, your heater will continue to generate heat and use electricity even after a room is warm enough, which is a waste of energy and money. A plug-in thermostat can solve this. You plug the heater into the plug-in thermostat, which is in turn plugged into a power socket, rather like plugging an electrical device into a time switch. You can then set the temperature you want on the plug-in thermostat and once it hits that temperature, it cuts off power to the heater.
3. An electric blanket
Electric blankets can be a way of compensating for a chilly bedroom. Most electric blankets are designed to fit below the bottom sheet, they are typically used to pre-warm a bed. During this pre-warming phase they have a relatively high -power consumption, around 100 watts for a double sized bed. Once you are in bed, an electric blanket must be turned down to the sleep setting. This setting uses about a quarter of the electricity, typically around 25 watts, which is equivalent to a couple of mid-power low energy light bulbs. However, many people turn the blanket off altogether once they get into bed.
One alternative to an electric blanket is a hot water bottle, although this is not necessarily more energy efficient, especially if you do turn the blanket off once you get into bed – which is a good habit to get into. Neither option should be a substitute for sufficient bedding, or an appropriately warmed bedroom. It’s important to ensure that any bedroom is not too cold, especially if the sleeper is elderly, unwell or a young child.
4. A brass radiator key
A brass radiator key is a useful investment for bleeding your radiators, which releases the gases caught in a radiator causing it to be cold towards the top and reducing its efficiency. It is worth paying extra to invest in a brass key, rather than buying a pressed steel one, as the latter tend to be easily broken. Many modern radiators don’t have the standard square valve head — if that’s the case you’ll need a screwdriver as well.
5. A radiator shelf.
A radiator shelf just above a radiator helps to throw heat forward from the radiator into the room, rather than letting it raise up to the ceiling. You can buy purpose-made radiator shelves, which clip easily onto most radiators.
6. Radiator reflector panels
Radiator reflector panels can stop heat being wasted from the back of a radiator into an external wall. They are especially useful in older homes where the walls are solid, which rules out the option of cavity wall insulation. You can buy radiator reflector panels or radiator foil, or you can make your own by cutting a piece of cardboard to size and covering it in the type of kitchen tin foil you use for cooking. You’ll need a long stick and double-sided tape to attach them to the wall behind the radiator.
8. A carbon monoxide alarm
Getting rid of draughts and unnecessary ventilation is a major way of reducing wasted heat, saving money on your energy bills in the process.
A carbon monoxide alarm is not energy-saving but you need to invest in one before you make any changes to reduce draughts or alter the ventilation in your home. This is in case you block a source of essential ventilation by mistake, such as for a fuel burning device that doesn’t have a balanced flue, for example, an old boiler. It’s a good idea to have an alarm anyway; carbon monoxide (CO) is highly toxic, but impossible to detect without an alarm because it is colourless, odourless and tasteless.
9. Expanding foam
There are some simple solutions to draughts. Expanding foam, which comes in an aerosol can, is useful for filling holes in brickwork. If you upgrade your boiler, for example, any new boiler will have a balanced flue, meaning you no longer need an air ventilation in an external wall in the area where the boiler is sited. So, the obsolete airbrick could be filled with expanding foam. One word of caution though: many gas fires still don’t have balanced flues, so don’t assume you can block up a room vent just because you are upgrading a gas fire. It’s also important to keep clear any ventilation in roof spaces or under the level of floorboards.
Another heat saving measure is to fill medium-sized gaps in floorboards with papier-Mache – this is easy to make, you just mix wet wallpaper paste with torn newspaper – which is easy to press into the gaps. It’s a very effective and inexpensive solution, assuming you’re not intending to expose the floorboards as a feature.
Smaller gaps that allow draughts can be filled using a tube of sealant. You may need a simple steel caulking gun, or the sealant may be packaged so you can use it without one. It works well to fill gaps around doors and window frames.
12. A letterbox flap
A letterbox flap to keep out draughts at your front door is another inexpensive investment, especially useful if the outer flap doesn’t fit or return to its position very well.
13. Draught seals
Ill-fitting doors and windows can be a source of draughts. There are a variety of draught seals or sealing strips that can be used around doors and windows in order to reduce draughts and stop the unnecessary loss of warm air.
Windows and doors will also benefit from heavy or lined curtains, especially if they are only single glazed.
15. A chimney balloon
A chimney balloon blocks the cold air that falls down a chimney, as well as preventing internal warm air from being drawn up the chimney when it is not in use. The balloon can be deflated and taken out of the fireplace as and when you need to use it. If you are looking for a more permanent solution, and don’t have plans to use your fireplace at all, it is best to get a qualified tradesman to cap the chimney at the top and shut it off at the bottom, as this will be more energy-efficient.