Have you just shivered through winter, wondering why your heating costs were so high, yet you still couldn’t keep warm? Don’t be too hasty in thinking your heater is on the blink. It could be your poorly insulated home. If your home is old and drafty it’s definitely going to be hard to keep warm. But even new homes that have met the compulsory 6 star energy rating can do a poor job of keeping the warmth in.
In Australia new homes must be built to a minimum 6 star energy rating, calculated when the house is designed, taking into consideration the materials used, the orientation on the site and the floor plan layout. It’s all theoretical, assuming the home is built according to the plans, by builders that take care to ensure work is to a high standard, without any gaps. Research though has found that the average new build is more like a 4 than a 6. Soon testing of new builds will commence, ensuring new buildings are relatively airtight. But whether your house is new, old and creaky, or somewhere in-between, it could save you a lot of money to identify and close all the potential air leakage gaps.
Have a count of all the holes in your ceiling, such as downlights, exhaust fans and heating or cooling vents. Because heat rises breaches in the ceiling will cause your expensive heating to disappear into the roof space. That’s not going to keep you warm. Other potential leakage spots could be the manhole, vacuum vents, electrical sockets in the wall, gaps around plumbing fittings, and gaps in the floor boards. Your local hardware store will be able to advise on the best product to use to fill the gaps. As for vents, there are new vents available now that will close them off when not in use, or look at Heatsaver vent covers (www.heatsaver.com.au) to cover them over. If your downlights are the older style of halogen I recommend replacing them with modern LED lights. The modern fittings are better sealed and they’ll be cheaper to run.
Doors and windows are common culprits of leakage too. Turn off your lights inside and get someone to stand on the outside your doors with a torch. Everywhere you can see the light coming through is an opportunity for warm air to escape and cold air to enter. Well fitted seals (weather seals around the opening and weather strip at the bottom), also available at the hardware store, will make a big difference. You could ask a carpenter to adjust the door if there’s still some gaps, buy a cheap door snake for a remaining gap at the bottom, or even consider a replacement door. Do a little research to find someone you trust will supply and fit with minimal gaps.
Windows are important for letting in light and potentially some warming northern sun during winter, but they’re very bad at keeping the cold out. Well fitted double glazed windows will probably do a better job than your current windows, but if that’s too big an expense then you should fit weather seals and review your window coverings. Whilst not a modern styling feature the fact is that heavy drapes with pelmets are the best window covering for insulation. Not your thing? Well at the very least consider putting an invisible pelmet, sitting out over the top of the window. It only needs to be a slim piece of ply wood to make a difference.
The last suggestion I’m going to make may not be something you can resolve easily, but if possible consider how you can zone areas of your home for heating and cooling. Why heat all your home if you’re not using it all?
The simple answer might be to close some doors to contain the heat in the areas you’re using, but that may not work if you have central heating and an open living space.
Great design should include zoned living spaces. These could include the ability to close off part of the open living space for intimacy, noise reduction and economy of heating and cooling. If you’re considering building a new home that’s cheap to run then make sure you get the right design and the right builder, who can provide a well insulated, air tight, comfortable and healthy home that you will enjoy for life.
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