How can I save energy at home?
How draught-proof is your house?
Everyone knows they should improve the insulation in their houses, but draught-proofing tends to be taken for granted. Even the phrase “draught-proofing” brings up images of draught excluders made out of old stockings and rolled-up newspapers, and maybe we all think we’ve got beyond that. But, even in new houses, it’s quite possible for up to half of heat losses to be due to ventilation.
I was shocked to discover that, in a well-sealed living space, the normal assumption is that all the air is replaced due to draughts every hour – so all the hot air being produced by your central heating needs to be replaced every hour. The situation is even worse if you have an open fire-place – in that case you can expect the air in the room to be changed five times an hour. And comfort isn’t just about temperature – even a relatively warm draught feels uncomfortable, and the easy answer is to turn up the thermostat and burn more fuel.
So, what can be done about it?
Well, it seems like the first thing to do is to block the chimney – a chimney balloon is cheap and does the trick, what’s more it can be deflated and removed for the times you want a fire.
After that, it depends on your house and whether the leaks are obvious. If not, the easiest way of tracking them down is with smoke. There are specialist smoke pellets, but these are really designed for tracking down faults in flues, and they produce more smoke than you probably want in the living room. Alternatives are joss-sticks, or if that sounds too 60’s, a snuffed out candle – but don’t forget to disable your smoke alarm before you start.
Windows and doors are likely culprits, and there are various rubber and foam strips available to reduce the problem – but if the gaps are big, then more serious joinery work may be called for. Letter boxes are maybe less obvious problems – wall-mounted external boxes are better, but if you already have a letter box, consider one of those internal boxes to keep the dog away from the post. Cat-flaps are difficult too – in the days when we had cats, we never found a solution to that one, but if any reader can help, let us know.
Once you’ve dealt with the obvious gaps, check out the junctions at the top and bottom of skirting boards, between door/ window frames and walls, and around pipes into the house – for electricity, water, overflows, in fact anywhere there’s a joint or a hole. Suitable materials for sealing the gaps are decorators caulk or expanding foam.
But don’t forget that we do need ventilation.
Most houses these days have extractor fans which remove moist air from bathrooms and kitchens, and the more the other gaps are blocked up, the more we need these. In other rooms, trickle ventilation from window frames is normal, and if you have a boiler or stove in the room, normally there will be a vent to ensure it gets enough air. Don’t block any of these!
The motto for newly built houses should be “Build tight, ventilate right” – so we get the ventilation when we want it, where we want it. Mostly though, especially in older houses, the amount of ventilation depends on how windy it is, so even if it’s the right amount on still days, the draughts whip around our ankles when the wind gets up. So, even with older houses, we should be taking back control and getting rid of the draughts.
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