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Mad About . . .

How to Make your House more Eco as Winter Approaches

18th November 2021
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And the podcast is back. This week Sophie is having a maximalist existential crisis – listen to find out if she should ditch her cushions. And even the yellow sofa is making her stressed and she might be about to rip down her gallery walls in favour of a more streamlined look. Also on the show we interview Tom Pike, aka The Builder Husband (not mine mine’s The Mad One) and get his tips on how to make your home more eco-friendly and sustainable. He has tips from easy to expensive so listen in to see where you land. And there will be pictures of lovely rooms as it’s hard to make an air source heat pump or a draught excluder look sexy.

Sophie Robinson's large light filled sitting room is only used at night

Sophie Robinson’s maximalist sitting room

Heating our homes, generating hot water and powering our appliances means that around 22 per cent of the UK’s carbon emissions come from our homes, according to a news report last week as COP26 rumbled on in the background producing its own quantity of hot air. But it turns out that by making a few changes – some of them small – you can reduce your personal carbon footprint by around 25 per cent.

Now we all have different houses,  and different incomes so it’s about looking at what you are in a position to take on personally, says Tom. His first tip is draught-proofing.

“I used to go to so many houses where people would have called me in for a quote for solar panels for example and I would say ‘do you realise how much your windows are leaking’,” he says. That is the first, easiest and most affordable thing you can do to improve your house and your carbon footprint.

Matthew Williamson London home turquoise curved bay windows, round glass table and green dining chairs

Windows in period properties can be draughty

“If you have old sash windows you should look into getting them repaired but you can also draughtproof them yourself using a product from Reddiseals.com. This will be a large return for a small amount of money.”

Then look at your doors. Period houses often having badly fitting doors and, again, reddiseals, can sell you brushes that you can fit along the bottom of the door to prevent draughts. We have done this but the gap is too big so we have to use a sausage dog as well and need to get a professional in.

“If there is a large gap you can find a company who will router out a groove underneath the door and fit the brushes into it rather than just fixing something to the frame,” says Tom.

“So before you start thinking about spending lots of money on the big items deal with the issues you already have – doors and windows are the beginning.”

office of madaboutthehouse, burgundy half panelled walls, pale pink armchair, vintage wooden desk and monochrome geometric rugs.

my office is really draughty through the floorboards so I have layered rugs

Once the doors and windows are done you should look at the floors – particularly in period houses with exposed floorboards. And I know a gale blows up through mine. In my north-facing office in winter there is a vicious wind that blows up the back of my trousers when I am sitting at my desk so I have layered rugs over the entire floor.

Once again there is a relatively easy solution – DraughtEx – comes with a free fitting tool and you roll it and squash it between the boards. This is definitely on my to do list and I should add that my office is over the kitchen so this draught appears to be coming from outside from a vent between the kitchen ceiling and the office floor.

But be careful when it comes to vents – sometimes they are needed. Once again old houses tend to have vents which were there to regulate the temperature before modern heating systems were installed.

gold ceiling at madaboutthehouse.com

fireplaces can be very draughty even when not used

As Tom says: “You do not want a completely sealed house or you can get mould and humidity issues. If you have UPVC windows make sure they have trickle vents or you could have the same problem. They are obvious – above the window there will be a little thing that sticks out and if you don’t have them you can get them retro-fitted.”

And then, of course, there’s the roof. Does yous need insulating? On average 40 percent of he heat of a house is lost through the roof says Tom so if you can sort that out it will make a big difference. “Fitting 100ml of Rockwool insulation and  will make a huge difference.”

All this is, he adds, “low-lying fruit – maximum effect for what may not cost much. Do all this before you think about investing in solar panels or heat pumps.”

The next step is to sign up to to a green eco-supplier as the more of us that do this the greater the demand for green energy will become. I write this with the caveat that with the current gas supply issues we have all been advised at the time of writing not to switch suppliers so if you haven’t already done so (we did last Spring) then it might be wise to wait a little but it’s definitely one to add to the list.

the loft conversion at madabouthehouse.com

make sure your roof is full insulated

Now, onto the bigger stuff. An air source heat pump is a big investment that will also heat water very efficiently. In short an air source heat pump is a renewable energy solution that uses the environment to generate up to 75 per cent of your heating and hot water needs making you less reliant on electricity and less vulnerable to price fluctuations.

Tom says if you are replacing a boiler or upgrading your system there is currently a Government grant of a £5,000 single payment, but, he warns, you do need some outside space – it can go in a garden or on a roof. And yes even if  it’s -5 or -10 degrees it will still work. Prices range from £7,000 to £13,000.

There are also ground source heat pumps but these are much more costly to install so I mention them only for the sake of completeness.

Solar panels used to have to be massively subsidised but they have come down in cost now and you can pay them off in about five to seven years -it used to be 30. I see more and more of them from my London loft. Costs vary hugely depending on how many you need, and the type of building they will be fitted on.

my arada woodburning stove in the kitchen

the tin ceiling at madaboutthehouse.com

Now before we leave this a word about woodburners which are often regarded as the devil incarnate when it comes to energy. Tom says there is a misunderstanding: “Wood is not a fossil fuel – it’s considered a green source of energy. It grows and takes carbon out of the atmosphere putting it into the wood and then when the wood decomposes or you burn it, it releases the carbon back into the atmosphere. So it’s almost carbon neutral – depending on where the wood comes from. Local garage wood has been treated with chemicals and shipped in from aboard and wrapped in plastic but if you are buying kiln dried wood, which you are supposed to use for woodburners, then it’s a better source of fuel.

“However, when you burn wood it releases particulates that create pollution which is s different thing from a greenhouse gas, Modern burners are 90 per cent more efficient at burning the fuel and not creating the particulates and from 2022 all woodburners must be environmentally friendly. But if you can upgrade your old one especially if you live in a city that is a good idea.

my front door is very draughty

“It goes without saying that burning coal or oil is bad – anything that was created millions of years ago that has been stored in the ground will release carbon dioxide into the atmosphere when you take it out of the ground and burn it.”

A final tip is to future proof if you can. If you are doing some electrical work then consider adding the fuseboards so you can later add a charging point for an electric car for example.

I hope that has been useful. I should add that while Tom is an experienced builder who is passionate about the environment you must always do your own research.

Do have a listen to the podcast where we finished the show with our regular style surgery and this week we discussed what to do when you have different types of flooring in different rooms and how to make the joins work. It was genuinely more riveting than it might sound!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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13 Comments

  • Reply DrS 19th November 2021 at 5:14 pm

    An expensive option is wall insulation. Presumably pretty much every house with cavities has cavity wall insulation by now but anything older needs either internal wall insulation (can be done room by room and you lose a few cm from your external wall, apparently you can remove your plaster to minimise tthe impact or external wall insulation (probably needs the windows on the wall upgraded at the same time and if in a conservation area will need the cladding approved to match your current exterior). There’s no point having air or ground source heating until your house is as well insulated as possible.

  • Reply Elaine Sarchet 18th November 2021 at 5:03 pm

    What a great podcast and such good timing. Thanks.

  • Reply Catherine 18th November 2021 at 3:53 pm

    Oh welcome back to the podcast! I have missed you! Great episode and thanks for the name check!
    Tom is brilliant. I also really enjoyed his previous chat about getting the best out of your architect/ builder/ joiner. Really informative and sensible advice.
    But most of all I loved the more random chat and the laughter! Thank you!

  • Reply Pia 18th November 2021 at 2:55 pm

    In Sweden the ground source heat pumps are not that expensive.
    But then again when we bought our house it was heated with oil so that was just a terrible idea and we got it replaced at once 🙂 But it sure depends on what is in there to begin with.
    The comment for an outlet for an electric car is brilliant. I will add that in the plans for the basement renovation. Thanks!

  • Reply Karin 18th November 2021 at 12:01 pm

    Renovating a house here and did a huge amount of research on the topic 🙂 The air source heat pump heats water only if you choose a model with the boiler insert, by default it is not installed. Also, it needs to be hooked up to electricity so if there is an outage or some other problem with the electric grid you are going to be freezing. Yes, it’s more economical, but if you don’t have underfloor heating with circulating water as the heat carrier or radiators already installed its going to be that much more expensive to install. So, as a backup I’m also putting in a wood burner that restores heat in its masonry so if there is a winter storm and no electricity for some time I can at least have heat 🙂 Oh the joys of living in a forest 🙂

  • Reply Nicola 18th November 2021 at 10:15 am

    When we lived in a draughty Edwardian house in the UK we put up a heavy lined curtain across the front door. The amount of cold it kept out was incredible and it was relatively cheap to do.

    • Reply DrS 19th November 2021 at 9:32 am

      English Heritage has a lot of information on how to keep old properties warm and heavy curtains make a tremendous difference. We’ve got thermally lined roman blinds in our hallway and even with double glazing they made the hallway much warmer. Then in the summer when it was hot they kept the whole house cooler (we have 3 south facing windows in our hallway). Win win.

  • Reply Jon Legg 18th November 2021 at 9:34 am

    Ref Air source heat pumps-at low temperatures they do not work efficiently and may only heat your water to 50 degrees.That may require additional external or in-room insulation and larger radiators -at what cost?They are also noisy,what’s that going to sound like where they are fitted in every home?Whats the CO2 cost of taking 20 million perfectly efficient gas boilers and throwing them in a skip alongside the radiators and piping?Do we also believe these grants are free?They come from taxation,why should poor people pay taxes so that rich people can pat themselves on the back for being environmentally sound?Same would apply to electric cars which attract grants and are little more than rich peoples toys.

    By the way,Air source heat pumps run off electricity!From the National Grid!And you can’t be directly connected to “renewable “ sources on that Grid.On Monday morning at 9.00 am after the COP26 meeting closed and everyone was back at work only 5.2% of the energy being used in the country came from wind and solar power as we are under weather conditions that did not suit renewables.Thank God for fossil fuels,they saved the day again.

    • Reply Ann Wall 19th November 2021 at 3:06 pm

      I appreciate that you’re trying to give a balanced view but I would have thought other forums might be better for this sort of, in my view, rant. Fossil fuels may well have saved that day but sadly those same fuels severely jeopardise future days.

  • Reply F Olla 18th November 2021 at 8:35 am

    Useful round-up of a subject I was literally thinking about when I got up this morning in my cold period home! Can I add another tip? My parents recently had underfloor insulation added to their Victorian terraced home. This is possible because there’s sufficient crawl space beneath the house – and Scottish government grant-aided it, so it cost them nothing. As did a new more efficient boiler. Their draughty abode is now much more cosy and less expensive to heat.

  • Reply Susan Moreau 18th November 2021 at 8:35 am

    My top tips:

    i) invest in good quality woollen underwear – ah the joy and the glamour of merino long johns!

    ii) make thermally-lined curtains, good for both heat and sound insulation. I found Lauren Guthrie’s approach on Youtube five years ago. The results continue to bring pleasure and relief to my leaky Victorian sashes.

  • Reply Anne K 18th November 2021 at 8:01 am

    Thank you for this post! We just bought a house from 1976 in Germany and are currently doing nearly all of the above before we move in. New Windows, new frontdoor, an extension, installing floor heating, solar panels and a heat pump. But I am so looking forward to finally moving in when it’s done.

  • Reply Georgina 18th November 2021 at 7:41 am

    There is no need to use kiln dried wood which uses energy to dry it, wood just needs to be stored and seasoned. Those of us that use a wood burner as a heat source are thinking two years ahead!

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