Warmer homes, lower bills

A thermal image showing where
heat is being lost from this house.
Are you spending money heating the air in your garden and unecessarily boosting the salaries of energy company executives? Almost certainly, yes. This is because the vast majority of our houses are badly insulated, draughty and inefficiently heated. Dormers, as seen in this picture, are notorious for leaking heat as, unless built recently, will not be insulated. You can EASILY save money by taking simple measures, that include simply understanding the ecology of your house and your interaction with it, as well as the usual no-brainers - draughtproofing, plus installing cavity wall and loft insulation.
Contact me for one-to-one advice via suegreenbuilding@live.com. I can also arrange thermal imaging of your house, to identify priorities for improving the building fabric to save energy. In the meantime, remember priorities are:

  1. you, and how you behave in the building, will strongly influence the energy you use - almost certainly you will be able to save energy (and £) by making small changes in the way you operate heating and lighting controls;
  2. deal with the building fabric, before spending money on a new heating system; draughtproofing and insulation are key; build a porch to act as an unheated buffer zone to the outdoors; replace single-glazing with the best type of double-glazing you can afford or (if you have money to spare, triple glazing);
  3. lag hot water pipes wherever possible and especially if you are refurbing the kitchen or bathroom; increase the lagging on your hot water tank (if you have one) to 100mm or more;
  4. learn to appreciate and use the power of the sun through passive solar gain, such as a conservatory on a wall orientated south (but do NOT install a radiator or heating here);
  5. review the heating and ventilation system, and install appropriate solutions as part of a whole house plan that can be implemented over a 10+ year period. For those off the gas grid, consider the future price of oil (the only way is up) before replacing an oil boiler another oil-fired one.
  6. consider internal or external wall insulation - especially important solutions for solid-walled houses - by 2050 I predict that every solid-walled house will be superinsulated either internally or externally; begin to install IWI  whenever elements of the building are being refurbished (e.g. replacing kitchen units). See my blog for some personal experience of installing External Wall Insulation.
  7. consider renewable energy AFTER all the main stuff, like insulation, has been done (although if you want to benefit from the Feed In Tariff, the best rates are now tailing off).
Finally, a plea not to install a wood burner if you can access the gas grid. Domestic wood burners create a lot of particulate pollution and also emit a lot of CO2. Environmental Health officers across the country are now seriously concerned about the large number of wood burners being installed in towns and cities. These threaten targets to reduce particulate emissions. Pollution from your woodburner could make your neighbour's asthma worse, or make breathing for a child or adult with chronic lung disease more difficult.
    Ventilation, condensation and mould

    Condensation happens when there is a combination of two things: high relative humidity and a cold surface. So both of these need to be addressed in houses which suffer from this problem. Solutions are (1) adequate ventilation and (2) eliminating cold surfaces. A common origin for moisture is from your occupancy: showers, baths, washing floors, drying clothes. Without adequate ventilation, the moisture in the house will condense on the coldest parts of the building fabric - and mould will subsequently grow in these damp sites. As houses become increasingly well-insulated, a good ventilation strategy is essential, including active ventilation from kitchens and bathrooms to quickly evacuate steam. Single-room heat recovery vents are relatively cheap and will recover heat as air is exchanged, preventing heat energy being lost from the building. Unless you have mechanical ventilation and heat recovery, avoid drying clothes in the house in winter wherever possible. Alternatively,  put an airer up in the bathroom, close the bathroom door and open the window during the day when the heating is not turned on. Building a covered drying area outside is also recommended if you have the space - as in winter it can be impossible to dry your washing outside.

    One of the problems that is becoming apparent is incomplete installation of cavity wall insulation, and the lack of any insulation above windows and soffits. This means the tops of walls on the top floor of a house are very cold in winter and this is where moisture condenses and mould grows. This can be particularly bad in older 'modern' houses where the internal blocks are of dense concrete. With my business colleague, Paul Buckingham and a local builder, we have set work to address this on my own house by removing part of the roof and putting insulation against the wall plate above the soffits. More about this can be seen on my blog.