Energy efficiency is – or should be – a pressing concern for homeowners. Wasting energy harms the environment, but it harms your wallet, too. It’s more difficult, after all, to heat a building from which heat is able to constantly escapee. It’s like trying to carry water in a leaky bucket.
Fortunately, energy-savvy homeowners have quite a few different tricks at their disposal to help get those energy costs under control. In this article, we’ll run through a few of them.
Efforts to keep a home energy efficient will inevitably focus on insulation. Let’s consider the basic science: if a body of hot air and cold air are placed next to one another, the heat will be drawn from the former to the latter until the two are equal. In practice, this means that heat will drain from the inside of a house to the outside. In order to prevent (or at least, slow) this transfer, we must place an obstacle in the way.
Doors and Windows
Anyone who knows anything about energy efficiency will tell you that the weak points of a house are its doors and windows. This is where the insulating material is necessarily at its thinnest. More substantial doors will generally do a better job of retaining heat, and windows can be made better insulators through double glazing – in which two sheets of glass are used, with a layer of inert gas (or an inert gas like argon) in between. Unfortunately, such windows may not be and option for owners of listed properties, as they tend to give the window a warped look from the outside.
As well as keeping heat in, doors and windows must also be able to exclude draughts. The problem with many doors and window frames is that they are made from wood, which will expand and contracts in response to seasonal changes in moisture and temperature. Over the years, this rhythm will steadily cause the gaps between the wood to grow, which will give heat the opportunity to easily escape the building, and cold draughts the opportunity to enter.
Before we can prevent those pesky draughts from stealing their way into our property, we must first identify where they’re coming from. This is largely a straightforward matter of common sense – older doors and windows will generally more vulnerable than newer ones.
If you’ve got the sort of windows that open, then draughts can be excluded using strips. These come in several different forms – foam strips are cheaper, but their metal and plastic counterparts are more substantial, and longer lasting. If you’ve got windows that slide, you might instead consider brush strips, while for permanently-closed windows a silicone sealant might be preferable.
Gaps around the bottom of a door can be plugged using just about anything in a pinch – from a rolled-up blanket to a pillow. If you’re looking for a more permanent solution, then you might instead consider a brush or a hinged flap. Ultimately, however, old, draughty doors will have to be replaced with new, more substantial ones.
Of the doors in a house, those on the outside are the more important, and the front door most important of all. For this reason, it’s the most deserving of attention. Keyholes and letterboxes represent vulnerabilities; in order to minimise draughts, they should be plugged. Where keyholes are concerned, this can be done by fitting a cover, which comes in the form of a small metal disc which hinges down over the hole. Such items can be bought from any good DIY store, and installing them is usually quite straightforward.
While doors and windows represent obvious chinks in the building’s armour, it’s also worth considering its walls – which constitute most of its outer surface area. Walls can be made to be better insulators through cavity wall insulation.
A cavity wall works through a similar principle to double-glazed glass. It consists of two thin walls with a gap in the middle. If your house is more modern, then this may be filled with insulating material, which can be either mineral wool, beads or granules, or foam. Houses built in the last hundred years will have a cavity wall, which can be filled with insulating material.
As a general rule, you can spot a cavity wall from the outside of the property. If the bricks are all laid lengthways, then this is a sure sign that the cavity is present; if some of them are laid at a right angle to the wall, so that only the shorter end of the brick is visible from the outside, you can be fairly sure that it’s a single solid wall.
The Energy Savings Trust estimate that the costs of installing cavity wall insulation will be recouped within the first five years – the larger the house, the greater the potential savings.
The metal pipes which carry hot water through a house are also vulnerable to losing heat. This can be addressed by insulating the pipes. Foam rolls can be used as an insulating sleeve, and large gaps around pipework can be filled using special polyurethane foam, which expands as it dries and sets hard, thereby ensuring a tight fit around the pipe.
Whilst installing insulation throughout your house can help to minimise unwanted heat transfer, it is not a magic bullet – even the most well-insulated home can still suffer if its occupants indulge in wasteful behaviour. Both water and energy can be wasted as a result of long showers, overfilled kettles, and taps that run constantly during teeth brushing sessions – as demonstrated rather succinctly by this video from the Energy Savings Trust.
Other ways to improve the energy efficiency of your home include installing smart meters, which allow homeowners to observe changes in their electricity and gas consumption at a glance. This in turn enables them to make better, more informed decisions about their home energy usage, and eliminate wasteful behaviour. The government intends that all homes and businesses have smart meters installed by the year 2020.
Posted on: 10 October 2015