One of the major advantages of being an architect, discovered when I was designing the layout of my own home, is the ability to really tailor my home to my personal priorities… and since one of my big priorities is being frugal, that’s a pretty big deal. Why? Because how a home is designed can have a huge impact on its heating and cooling costs—and those can account for more than half the energy used in a home. If you’re looking to introduce some serious wiggle room to your budget, attacking the heating and cooling costs in your home is one of the best ways to go… which is what my guide is all about. Welcome to The Ultimate Guide to Home Insulation and Heating!
All About Insulation
I’ll warn you now: Insulation is going to be my major focus here, and for one simple reason: It’s easily the best way to get the most out of every pound spent on climate control. It doesn’t matter if your heating and cooling apparatus are 99.9% efficient if drafts are robbing you of its benefits, after all. Not only that, but well-installed insulation pays for itself in next to no time.
Additionally, insulation is one of the best ways to upgrade your home. When you start with a new build, as I did, it goes without saying (or it should) that you’ve planned for a very high standard of insulation. Historically, however, insulation standards in the UK have been abysmal, so the older your home is the more room for improvement you probably have.
Types of Insulation
Heat travels in all directions, despite the common misconception that it only travels upward (one type of heat loss is due to the upward movement of warmth, but not all!), which means that you’ll have plenty of options for insulation installation. Obviously, it’s ideal to well-insulate every face of your home, but since that may not be practical (and probably isn’t practical all in one go), you may want to prioritize certain areas.
Roof and Loft Insulation
In a completely uninsulated structure, up to 25 percent of the home’s heat can be lost through the roof. Keeping in mind that loft insulation is relatively inexpensive and can save a very significant amount each year, and lasts for up to 42 years, it’s easy to understand why many homeowners decide to start with this option. For example, the typical installation cost for loft insulation in a detached home is around £395—and the yearly fuel bill savings can be up to £240. So, in less than two years, you’ll have paid for installation and you’ll have a good four decades of additional savings to look forward to!
Cavity and Solid Wall Insulation
Even more heat escapes through the walls of a home—up to 30 percent through cavity walls and nearly 60 percent through solid walls. Cavity walls are essentially hollow shells, whereas solid walls don’t feature this cushion of air, allowing more heat to be lost.
Most homes built after the 1920s will have this style of wall, which features two layers separated by a gap. Insulating cavity walls means filling that gap. While wall insulation is a bit more pricey than roof/loft insulation, it’s still very well worth it—cavity wall insulation will pay for itself within 4-5 years.
Because solid walls lack the air-filled gap that characterizes cavity walls, insulating them is a somewhat more extensive (and expensive) undertaking. There are two types of insulation that can be used for solid walls:
- Internal Insulation
Internal insulation of solid walls is accomplished in one of two ways: interior rigid insulation panels, or by building a stud wall inside and then filling the space between the inner and outer walls.
Pros: Generally less expensive
Cons: Reduces the area of rooms in which it’s been installed; is somewhat disruptive to the household, requires door frames, etc. to be removed and then reinstalled, and requires that issues related to damp be solved prior to installation.
- External Insulation
External insulation requires the installer to affix a layer of external insulation to the outer wall, and then cover that wall in plasterwork, which can be finished in a number of different ways depending upon one’s aesthetic preferences.
Pros: Less disruptive, doesn’t reduce floor area, renews outer wall appearance, is more effective at reducing draughts
Cons: May require planning permission, is more expensive
Floor insulation is pricier and takes somewhat longer to pay for itself, but can still be a great way to build your savings over time. I opted to insulate the ground floors of my home, as well as the flooring in the room over the garage—rooms over unheated spaces lose much more heat than those over heated spaces.
Other Insulation Issues
In addition to insulating my walls, roof, and floors, I also think it’s critical to control draughts in the home. Not only will doing so save you money due to less heat lost, but you’ll also feel more comfortable with your home at a lower temperature.
Finally, I also insulated my water heater, pipes, and radiators to minimize heat lost through these devices—it’s extremely simple and effective.
All About Heating & Hot Water
Staying up to date is the key here: if your boiler or electric storage heaters are aging, it’s important to replace them. And even if they aren’t, regular servicing is a must. Central heating (i.e. using a boiler that fuelled by gas or oil) is generally less expensive than electric heating.
Using Grants to Subsidize Improvements
Whether you’re building a new home or looking to improve your heating and cooling costs in your existing home, you must look into the various energy grants available. Well, I suppose you don’t have to, but why would you turn down free money?
What is an Energy Grant?
An energy grant is money (or a voucher that represents the same) that can only be used for some specific, outlined purpose. Usually, only certain people are qualified to receive energy grants. Some of the qualification terms may include:
- Receiving government benefits
- Tax credits
What Types of Grants are Available?
- Free boilers and/or insulation
These grants are typically offered by energy suppliers as part of deals they have with other groups and organizations promoting efficiency
- Winter Fuel Payments
This is a special government benefit for those on pensions or over a certain age; it is an annual, tax-free payment of up to £300
- Cold Weather Payments
If you qualify (typically those eligible for pension credits), you can receive £25 for every seven consecutive days of 0°C weather during the winter
As you can see, there are numerous ways to reduce your heating and cooling costs. Almost every household I’ve visited is simply paying more than they need to be for climate control, whether because they’re not taking advantage of available grants, or because they don’t know about or are unwilling to invest in proper insulation. Don’t let your hard earned money go up in smoke this winter!