Where does your home heating go? Your external walls and ceiling are the main areas where you are losing heat. Depending on whether you are in a flat, terraced house or detached, percentages will vary. But the general rule of thumb is that you lose about 35% of your heat through external walls (less for those of us in flats) and 25% through your ceiling (less for those in mid-floor flats). So insulation really really does make a massive difference. I live in on the top floor of a 1930’s sandstone flat, and so wall cavity insulation isn’t an option for me, but we did have a professional contractor install loft insulation right after we moved into the flat. In retrospect, I should have done this myself, as it really isn’t difficult, but you live and you learn! We have 270 mm, which is the recommended thickness, and all water piping and tanks have been insulated as well. If you do any greening in your home, I recommend insulation as a first step. Our radiators always went on overnight during the winter before we had loft insulation installed, and now the heating never comes on at night! Single glazed windows can account for a further 10% of your heating loss (more on windows to come) and the other various holes, leaks and draughts in your home can cause a further 10-15% of your heat loss. Even the queen has problems with heat loss at Buckingham Palace, so it really does effect us all. Anyhow, it’s this 10-15% that the post below takes a look at in more detail.
This week I’ve been busy testing the whole flat for signs of draught and then researching the best ways to eliminate my precious warm air from escaping the flat. How to you “test” for draughts you ask? Well, yes you can go around on your hands and knees and up on ladders using your hand to feel draughts. But a much easier and clearer test is to use smoke or a feather. It still requires a bit of crawling and climbing, but you can get these smoking sticks (think incense sticks, which would do the trick too) or a feather to take around your home. Pick a blustery day to do this, close all windows and doors and try to get your kids distracted so they don’t whip around the room, as it’ll make the draughts much easier to find. Thankfully, picking a blustery day in Scotland is pretty easy, but keeping my two kids still and distracted while mommy is crawling around the living room floor looking for gaps in the skirting isn’t so easy!
These are the top 7 places to concentrate your draught identification efforts:
- External doors – look around all four edges of the door, and around your letterbox if you have one.
- Electricity sockets on external walls – Some homes loose quite a bit of air through these, and if you’ve ever had your external walls insulated, I bet you’ll remember the foam insulation poking it’s way through these after the installers left!
- Floor skirting and along floorboards. Any gaps in the skirting, like in closets and near doors are good places to look first, but if your knees can handle it, try to crawl the whole length of your external walls.
- External holes or conduits into your home. These are places where holes have been made to bring in water, gas, electricity, phone, internet pipes and cables. They should have been sealed when they were installed, but all seals eventually fail, so it’s worthwhile to have a check and see if you should reseal.
- Windows – test around all sides of the windows and by the seals in the window sill.
- Chimney – even if you have a door, chimney balloon or pillows to keep out the draughts if you test this on a windy day you may be surprised
- Attic or loft hatch – Be careful on a ladder, but again go around all the edges to see if any air is getting through
OK, so now you know that you have a draught or two or three, what can you do about them?
Have a look around a DIY store or the internet and you can find a wide range or products. Draught proofing your front (and side/back ones if you have them) door is usually going to be the lowest hanging fruit. It very likely is leaking and letting a good percentage of your warm air out into the cold outside. What can you do about doors?
- Install a strip at the bottom of your door with a little brush to keep out draughts. But make sure to measure the width of your door so you purchase the correct size strip. Being a wee bit too impatient, I didn’t so this, and so have a strip that doesn’t quite match the bottom of the door – Doh!
- Install a draught-proof letter box slot with double flaps and brushes inside. Your postman may curse you, but your heating bill and wallet will be happy, as this is a pretty big area for cold air to creep into your home. Plus it will keep nosey children from peeking into your home. Not that mine have EVER done that before… 😉
- Seal all four edges of your door jam with felt/foam/rubber tape. This can be a bit fiddly, so you’ll really need to make sure that you have properly cleaned the door jam. Here’s a brilliant link that helps identify which edges of the door jam you should seal so that your door still closes properly. Some of these work on windows too.
- If you have older skeleton keys, then chances are you have quite a bit of air moving through the keyhole. You can get covers for the keys that help, but if you don’t use the lock any more, you may want to try stuffing it with a little bit of cotton wool to prevent draughts. I have two old locks, one is quite old and huge, but I really like the antique look of it, despite it leaking warm air like a sieve through the keyhole cover. So I just plugged it up and the draught is gone now!
- Draught roll/animal. Your grandmother probably has one, and you know why? Because they work! Just like a tea cosy works. You can make one out of old socks stuffed with fabric or plastic bags, or you can buy a posh one to suit your taste.
OK, so now your front door is draught-proofed, what next?
Skirting, gaps, holes, electrical sockets
I’m a big fan of the spray foam insulation that you can get in a can for those little nooks and cranes between skirting boards and the floor, and around electrical sockets. My top tip for using this is to do it on a day when you have lots of time, as it really doesn’t keep well once you’ve used it, so try to finish your entire home in one go if you want to get the most out of your can. Another tip for these, is to take it easy, as you will be amazed at just how much expansion these foams do. You can always add more, but cleaning it up is a bit of a pain. Personal experience speaking here! For more detailed areas like around windows, you may want to reseal old cracked or shrunk sealants that no longer work. These sorts of silicone-based caulk come in different colours or clear, depending on the finish you are trying to match.
Chimneys should all be sealed off when not in use. You can get inflatable balloons that work nicely and are fit for purpose. I have gone the budget route, and bought a few cheap pillows and just stuffed them up my chimney. But make sure to take these out if you ever plan on using the fireplace! Thankfully I never use mine, but I have heard a horror story from a friend who forgot about the chimney balloon and then started a nice fire only to get a room full of smoke! Yikes!
Attic/loft hatches should also be insulated so that all of your hard work and efforts to insulate your loft are not lost. I have yet to find a solution to insulating my loft hatch though, as it’s a wooden sliding door, so I can’t add anything to the top of it otherwise it won’t slide open. Any ideas out there for me that don’t involve replacing the whole hatch??