Protect your House from Cold and Floods

Date Posted: 29.01.2013

Poor insulation, ill-fitting windows and chimneys are among the biggest contributors to heat loss in homes, writes JOANNA ROBERTS

If there was any question in your mind about how well your home is protected against the elements, it was probably answered this week. There’s nothing quite like an unexpected cold snap to expose draughts and move weather-proofing to the top of your to-do list. And with a flurry of severe winters in recent years, it’s worth looking at both short- and long-term solutions.

Stephen Parker, an architect and BER assessor, says he encounters two common problems in Irish homes: poor insulation and draughts from ill-fitting windows. “Inadequate insulation in the attic is the biggest problem and one of the most easily remedied,” he says. “A lot of people might have put in 50mm 10 years ago, and that’s softened down. The recommendation now is to have 250-300mm of insulation. “If you were starting from scratch you’d put a 150mm roll down and another 150mm roll cross ways over that.”

Val O’Brien, a chartered building surveyor, agrees. “Heat rises, so the vast majority of heat is lost through the roof. In a three- or four-bedroom house, you can double the quantity of your insulation for less than €1,000.”

Another quick fix that will make a huge difference is to seal draughts. Parker says the “Rolls-Royce” of draught identification is a thermal imaging survey, but he recommends people check their homes by going round at night with a candle. When it flickers you’ll be able to see where cold air is getting in.

A few minutes with a caulk gun can eliminate gaps around poorly fitted windows, which Parker says are a particular problem in houses built in the past 15 to 20 years.

Fitting heavy curtains will also cut heat loss and this is a good option for period houses where you may not want intrusive work.

A longer-term measure is to have double-glazing. O’Brien says moving from single glazing to double will make a noticeable difference, both to warmth and to your energy bills over time.

He is less certain about the benefits of upgrading further: “Triple glazing is marginally better but you can get better double-glazed products than some triple-glazed windows.”

Other prime draught culprits include letterboxes (get one with a covered back), gaps around doors (use draught excluders) and air vents.

If you have what are known as “hit and miss” air vents that can be closed, then it’s acceptable to do so for a short time.

“You need to leave them open most of the year but closing them in a cold snap of a week or 10 days is fine,” says O’Brien.

While a roaring open fire might conjure up Dickens-esque images of a cosy home, it’s likely that your chimney will be one of your biggest sources of heat loss.

To prevent this, use a chimney balloon when your fire is out. They’re available for €15-€20, are easy to take out and will shrivel up if a fire is lit accidentally.

O’Brien’s top tip for a cosy home is to switch from an open fire to a wood-burning or multi-fuel stove.

“It’s such a good idea to go for a stove, in terms of capacity, running costs and comfort. A stove is 80-85 per cent efficient whereas with an open fire, about 80 per cent of the heat is lost through the chimney.”

Weather-proofing isn’t just about keeping warm and saving on energy bills; it’s also about preventing damage.

According to Liberty Insurance, the main home insurance claim in winter is as a result of damage caused by escape of water.

Lagging your pipes and putting a well-fitting jacket on your hot-water cylinder will not only increase energy efficiency but also reduce the risk of becoming an insurance statistic. To prevent frozen pipes, O’Brien recommends keeping a minimum level of heat.

“In good, normal weather I’d recommend your heat is on for an hour in the morning and two to three hours in the evening. I’d extend it out for an hour or two in the cold.

“If you’re away, you could use a timer to make the heat come on every hour for 15 or 20 minutes at around 15 to 16 degrees.”

If you’re away for a long time, you should consider shutting the water supply at the stopcock and draining the system.

Check your insurance policy because houses may not be insured if they’re left unoccupied for more than 30 days.

During particularly harsh weather, O’Brien advises cutting down on water use so as not to empty your tank.

“The public mains could freeze and water might not come into the house as quickly. If you drain the tank you’ll do damage.

“You’ll get air locks in showers and pipes, which you’ll need a plumber to fix.”

O’Brien says snow only really becomes a problem when it starts to thaw.

“Roofs are not containers; they’re weather-proof but not water-proof. If you get water backing up it will pour through gaps in the slate when it starts to melt. There’s no damage externally but there’s damage internally.

“When the snow starts to melt, clean the roof,” he says.

Winter-proof your home

Think of your house as needing clothes. Give it a hat (attic insulation) and a well-fitted jacket (boiler lagging), and consider adding a blanket (external insulation).

Start at the top. Top up your attic insulation, particularly if it’s more than six-years-old.

Give your windows some TLC: Seal up gaps with caulk, use heavy curtains and replace single glazing with double.

Find the draughts using a candle, then eliminate them. Common culprits are letterboxes, doorways, and where services enter the building.

Use less water to prevent water levels in your tank emptying if the outside supply is reduced.

Use timers and thermostatic radiator valves to keep a minimum level of heat in the house.

Close over wall vents during a cold spell – they should be open for most of the year but you can close them for a week or 10 days.

Use a chimney balloon when your open fire is not in use. Even better, replace your fires with solid fuel stove.

Prevent leaks by keeping your gutters clean and clearing snow off your roof when it starts to melt.

Service your boiler once a year, ideally in autumn, and consider replacing an old model with a highly-efficient condensing boiler.

Look at how your house is organised. Use south-facing rooms as your main living space to get solar gains during the day.

Check if youre eligible for a grant from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland to carry out work on your home:

Have a professional energy audit done to identify what improvements you could make. This will cost around €200 and include a BER report.


Source : Irish Times, Property, January 24th 2013

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