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How to Save Energy in Older Houses

There are a number of practical ways you can save energy and reduce your bills.

If you are making repairs to your home, you could take the opportunity to add some energy saving measures at the same time. This is often the best way to save energy in a cost-effective way. You should check first whether you will need permission for these changes (see Consents and Regulations for Energy Improvements).

Assess your home

You need to look at the building as a whole to identify the most suitable improvements, taking account of the following:

  • How energy is being used. The first step is to assess where and how energy is currently being used in the building, including how and when rooms are being used and heated. How efficient are your current appliances?
  • Your home's construction and condition. It's important to fix anything that might adversely affect your home's thermal performance, such as badly fitting windows or damp walls. You could ask a surveyor or architect to carry out a condition survey on your building.
  • How well it currently performs. The location and orientation of your home and its exposure to the elements are key issues that can affect thermal performance. Are there draughts, and if so what is causing them? Are there areas where condensation occurs? Both of these issues will have an impact on energy use. Specialist technology can help you get more detailed information. A fan pressurisation test can gauge the extent and location of air leakage, while thermal imaging can show where the most heat is being lost.
  • Those parts of the building that give it its special character.  Understanding what is significant about the character of an older building is key to improving its energy efficiency. Speak to your local authority conservation officer if you’re planning to make changes to a listed building or to a building in a conservation area.

Following these steps will help you assess what work might be needed in the short or longer term, and allow you to focus on those areas that need the most attention and will give a reasonable return.

Quick fixes

Before you think about improving its energy efficiency, make sure your building is in good repair. The smallest defects can have a big effect on energy performance.

  • Carry out basic maintenance: A faulty gutter can lead to damp walls, which will reduce their energy efficiency. Make sure your gutters are clear and drainpipes are not cracked. Check that external ground levels adjacent to the building are not higher than any damp proof course or floor structure. It's also important that you do not miss out any areas and that the cause of any damp is correctly diagnosed. See Understanding Decay for further information.
  • Stop draughts. Rotting or ill-fitting windows will let in cold draughts. They’re rarely difficult to repair - many companies specialise in overhauling original sash windows. Repair is always preferable to replacement, as the windows of a building are a major part of its historic character. Stopping draughts can improve comfort and reduce the need for heating, saving energy and money. Even heavy curtains and simple draught excluders can make a difference. Although most heat is lost through windows and doors, chimneys and floors can be a source of draughts as well. See Sash Windows (this page may be useful for other types of window too) and Draught-Proofing for more information.
  • Lag hot pipes and hot-water tanks. A 75mm-thick hot water cylinder insulation jacket can stop three quarters of the heat loss from a hot-water tank and is easy to fit.
  • Install attic insulation. Roof insulation at ceiling level is a quick and inexpensive way of improving the energy efficiency of your home. Even if you've already had it installed, it's worth checking to make sure it's deep enough and there are no gaps round the edges.
  • Upgrade your heating. Modern boilers are much more energy-efficient than their predecessors of even 10 years ago, using less fuel and producing less CO2 for the same amount of heat. Some condensing boilers convert up to 90% of the fuel used into heat, as they also capture some of the heat that would otherwise be lost out of the flue. If work to your heating system involves taking up a floor at ground level you could take advantage by adding insulation to the floor structure at the same time.
  • Install thermostats. With the use of intelligent thermostats or thermostatic radiator valves you can control the level of heating in individual rooms, and so stop heat being wasted on rooms that are not in use.
    You could also consider other forms of efficient heating: biomass, for example, which is renewable organic material such as wood or plant waste. A wood-burning stove and a boiler can provide both heating and hot water, reducing C02 emissions by up to 90%.

For more ideas go to the Energy Saving Trust's website, a non-profit organisation that provides information and advice on energy efficiency in the home.

Larger-scale work

If you want to save even more energy there are bigger steps that you can take. These are often only cost effective if they are carried out alongside repairs. For more information on repairs see Looking After Your Home

Insulation

There are several types of insulation you could install, either for roofs, floors or walls. See  Insulation for more information.

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