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The Upgrade: How to keep the heat inside this winter

To find out more about keeping your house warm this winter spoke to an expert from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

NOW THAT THE summer is nothing more than a fading memory it could be worth giving a thought to how best to heat your home.

Making changes to keep the heat in can seem like a cumbersome move. However, it can bring big savings, and make your home a more comfortable place to live.

To find out more about what steps to take this winter spoke to Tom Halpin, information officer with the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland (SEAI), about the best ways to keep the heat in.

Nobody likes having workmen in. With that in mind what can a person do to make their home warmer?

TH: There are a number of no cost measures with heating. Everybody has a timer and a thermostat. The thing to do is to actually set those correctly. Some people might turn on the heat an hour and a half before they get in – which is far too long.

We talk about the 30 minute rule. That is to turn these things on 30 minutes before you need them.

You can go between rooms and adjust the heat on the individual radiators. Some people can be a little bit nervous about playing about with their radiators but that’s what the adjusters on them are for.

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Alright – I’m not mad about adjusting the radiators every time I enter a room. Is there an easier way to do that? 

TH: The deluxe, Rolls Royce approach is to have you home split into different heating zones. Your home could be three zones. Your first one would be the downstairs, the second would be the upstairs or bedroom area. The third zone would be your water.

The traditional non-zoned heating system would heat all the radiators and the water in one loop.

With the zoned system, when the kids are coming in during the afternoon the bedrooms don’t need to be heated. They only need to be heated later in the evening before you go to bed. At which time you might not want to be heating the living room.

If a person had a bit of money to spend what would you recommend? 

TH: The very first thing is that you need to do is insulate, insulate, insulate. You are looking at three main areas that heat goes out of your home. Your roof, your walls and your windows. Attic insulation is absolutely key.

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With the roof we typically recommend a person installs up to 300 mm of quilt insulation. That could cut heat loss by 15 – 20% in the home.

To insulate your walls, wouldn’t you have to, err, get new walls?

TH: You are probably losing about 25% of heat through the walls. They can be insulated one of three ways depending on how your house is contructed.

If it is made of two walls – a cavity wall insulation – you can insulate in the cavity by blowing polystyrene beads into it. They set into a solid board as such.

If your walls aren’t a cavity wall insulation – you can dry line the inside of them with 3 to 4 inchs of insulation. This would be covered with plasterboard on the inside of the home.

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Or you can do external insulation. This is where you literally wrap the whole wall with a very think layer of very high performance insulation. This would be the most effective method for keeping the heat in.

Could you expect this stuff to pay for itself over time?

TH: With attic and cavity wall insulation (€1,000 – €2,000) you can expect to pay it back in a matter of you know three to five years. With the dry lining (€4,000 – €5,000) – maybe 8 to 10 years. With the external wall insulation (around €10,000) you’re talking considerably longer.

Putting this sort of thing into an old house would be a whole hassle, right? 

TH: If you took an old house that had a really bad crumbling plasterwork on the outside that needed to be redone you are going to pay the bulk of the cost of putting in a new heating system when you redo the house.

If you have an old heating system in there it can be a bit of a challenge to get it working in zones. But if you’re putting it in there new as part of a major refurbishment it can actually work out much better.

I’m sure everyone would do these things if they had the money. But what if they don’t? 

TH: We have two schemes. The Better Energy Home scheme which is a grant scheme that provides part payments for people. The grant varys from €200 for attic insulation all the way up to €3,600 for external wall insualtion.

People who are getting the work done, they apply first, get the grant offer, get the work done and claim the grant afterwards.

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Click here for more information about grants. 

The other scheme is the Better Energy Warmer Home scheme. That is a free service provided to eligible home owners who are in receipt of certain social welfare allowances.

Anything dodgy the people out there might want to look out for when getting work done? 

TH: You’re making an investment into your house. Ask around. Before you get any of this work done talk to friends and talk to neighbours about what they’ve gotten done. Whoever your getting to do the work ask them for references.

We always advise people to have a contract. Even a very basic contract.  There can be expectations that people miss. We have a model contract on our website for people who are getting grant aided work done.

Nothing worse than having the heating pack up during the winter. How can that be avoided? 

TH: If you get your boiler serviced there is less chance of it breaking down during the winter. If there is something wrong, it can be fixed, and if there is something about to go wrong, they can alert you to it and you can decide whether to repair it.

Freezing pipes in the attic and the tanks freezing are two other risks. Freezing pipes can cause leaks and significant damage in the property. That can become more exacerbated if people insulate their attic because the pipes are then more exposed than they were before.

Tom Halpin’s tips on better heating your home this winter

  • Make sure your thermostat is on a timer and set to the correct temperature. 
  • Insulate your home starting with the attic.
  • Take advantage of the grants offered by the SEAI.
  • Be careful about who you hire to make the changes to your home.
  • Properly insulating your pipes and tank and having your boiler serviced can help avoid breakdowns in the winter.

Find more ideas on how to improve your home here.

Also: Our floor space is increasing and our energy use is decreasing