It's heading for mid-winter and while we might not be ready or able to attack major improvements such as fuller loft insulation, there’s a lot we can do to tuck the house up against the invasive elements. Take a survey of each room, and tackle the micro issues that can damage your sense of comfort and increase those energy bills.
Even basic draught-proofing can cut your kWs by as much as 15%, saving 145kg of CO2 a year, and offers additional, real physical comfort for a small spend. To start – SEAI suggest ‘listen to your mother’ and close those interior doors between rooms. Then, take a hands and knees tour to source every small breeze on the upwind side of the house.
I use an incense stick to trace cunning breezes at floor level (adult activity only!). Gaps may exist at letter-boxes, between floorboards, around skirting boards, around attic hatches, where floor joists meet external walls and where pipe-work penetrates external walls and suspended floors. Inexpensive sealing products are widely available and come in compressing and sliding seals, fillers and sealants.
In an older house, 50% heat loss plus that annoying cold air ingress, can take place through gaps in windows and doors. Tailor every outside and interior door with draught sealing strips and brushes. For stubborn larger gaps in windows, layer insulation tape on top of itself until it seals the problem.
Lengths of brush edged seal are good for sash windows and wiper types can shore up a nuisance problem where compression styles are not effective. Ensure that light and power switches are all screwed tight to their backing plates, and apply your silicone based sealant, finished off with a wet finger on delicate joins between say a switch and the wall.
If you’re faced with a larger hole, a polite shot of expanding foam insulation will seal it from below, but go easy and wipe away excess product before it hardens.
45% of your heat can be leaving through cold, old walls, so why help it along by warming up the masonry instead of the room. Simple reflective panels are an oldie but a DIY goodie for radiators hung on outside walls with a low ‘U’ value (a pre part-L build, or one without any cavity fill to outside walls).
This roll comprises of a reflective foil side that faces into the room and an insulated polyethylene side that insulates it from the wall. Using something like a contact spray adhesive, the panel is cut to size and then slipped behind the radiator to send up to 45% more heat back into the room rather than into the wall.
For utter discretion, ensure you trim any visible vertical drop. Some panels come with a handy magnetic strip for installation or hang on small brackets (Radflek). Expect to pay in the area of €1.20 per metre of material with a pay back within one to two winters. Don’t lose standard kitchen foil – it will oxidise and crinkle, making it less efficient.
Together with lining curtains set over problematic windows you cannot afford to replace, consider placing heavy, floor-length curtains over exterior doors with low insulation properties too. You can either buy curtains as close to the right size as possible that are already assembled with a thermal lining, or have a go at adapting your own from existing window dressings.
For doors, the pole carrying the curtain should extend to allow the curtain to be pulled well back to one side. Velcro strips can all but seal the curtain to the wall when in use. Drape window curtains to the floor (not over any radiators) with a few inches to spare and try to cap them off with a pelmet, or hang them as flush to the top of the window recess as possible.
The main material should be 23cm longer that finished length of curtain – 10cm wider that finished width. The cotton ‘bump’ interlining will be 10cm narrower than width of main fabric (same as the finished width of the curtain) -30cm shorter than length of main fabric. The thermal lining is 14cm less than width of main fabric and 10.5cm less in length.
For full instructions, my favourite tipster is this from the National Trust and Lauren Guthrie in the UK (who know all there is to know about freezing, draughty buildings!). If you prefer blinds – a honeycomb cell structure can help insulate poorly performing glazing to some extent - useful for single glazed conservatories or early double-glazed models.
If you have a suspended floor with gappy boards, tile without UFH, or simply a floor with a poor ‘U’ value (set straight on a badly insulated slab) – cloaking the floor with carpeting and/or rugs will help to some extent. First of all, measure the space and set out to cover as much of the floor as possible with the rug and deal with gaps in conduits, boards and skirting and failing grouting as part of the project. Don’t ignore the top edge of skirting.
Dense, thick pile rugs will be ideal and should be set over further insulating material with a high TOG rating (3 Tog is excellent). Expect to pay around €5 per m2 for quality insulating/anti-skip underlay cut to size. Examine the rug from behind and bend it slightly.
If you can see daylight through the backing and pile – it’s unlikely to be much use for sealing up the floor. Layering rugs is on trend for AW 2019, but be careful not to create a tripping hazard with a variety of thresholds – put them under furnishings if possible.
Keep in mind that the tighter your insulation measure become, the more crucial it is to have a carbon monoxide alarm. It’s possible that a formerly draughty house has been leaching away a discreet lethal problem of gathering CO gas – from €12 for an alarm – don’t hesitate.
Even an older double glazed window can fail to perform and most of us cannot magic up the funds for replacement windows overnight. For single glazed or older double glazed windows not responsive to weather sealing, film sealing offers a quick, effective answer that can raise the performance of a truly awful window by as much as 90%.
It’s low tech and allows you to leave the curtains open by day to gather that vital passive solar gain – you simply apply the film with the supplied double sided tape, heat it with a hair dryer to create a clean, even surface and then trim the excess - that’s it. 1.8m2 panel, €14, from any good DIY store by Exitex (made in Ireland).
Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland offers an extensive publication on draught sealing types for domestic houses, together with grant aid for vulnerable householders on certain social welfare payments, seai.ie.