I’m writing this article in November and to be honest, it’s still fairly mild during the day, but the nights are certainly getting colder and it won’t be long before the cold and wind of winter really bites. With that in mind, how can you keep your home warm, without just turning the heating up and seeing your home fuel bills rocket?
To help you, we have put together a simple guide on beating the winter blues, with 5 easy-to-implement steps on not only lowering your home heating costs, but also some top tips on how to keep your property warmer, for less money.
First off, I bet hardly anyone reading this enjoys the winter time, am I right?
So if you want to enjoy winter time, you need to be safe, secure and warm in your home, and there are a variety of things that you can do, some cheap, some requiring investment, to make your home warmer, more inviting and more relaxing so let’s take a look.
Having a cold home can affect far more than your comfort and in some cases, it can badly affect your health too.
Not many people realise that living in a home that is permanently cold can actually affect your HEALTH?
This is especially true for the older generation, people in their “Autumn years”.
Some time ago, the charity Age UK published some interesting, if scary, research highlighting the fact that cold houses were they said a “major factor” in almost two out of every five winter deaths in the older population. They also published data to suggest the colder it gets, the worse the winter mortality rate becomes.
They pointed out that not only does this cost the NHS a lot of money each year in treating older people who have suffered in the cold, they did point out that in many cases, the problem could be avoided. Interestingly, data published by them suggested that colder countries than ours, such as in Scandinavia, suffer far fewer winter related deaths, so where have we gone wrong?
Older people suffer the worst from cold homes but equally as important, if you yourself have a cold house, no matter what age or gender you are, it’s going to have a negative effect, so let’s bring out some positive vibes for you today!
As you can see, keeping warm in winter is not just a case of personal comfort or financial irresponsibility, it’s paramount to get it right in the cold months and we are going to show you how.
Here’s how to lower your heating bills and warm up your home at the same time.
There are some ways of keeping the heat in your home that, to be honest, don’t need explaining, such as having double glazed windows fitted so rather than stating the obvious, here’s a few tips and tricks you may not have thought of.
TIP ONE: INSULATION: The obvious starting point.
Starting with the most obvious form of getting your house warm, insulation, in various guises, can dramatically reduce heat loss in the home, meaning your heating has to work less hard to bring warmth into the house without it instantly escaping again.
Most home insulation products are measured on their “R value” which is a quantifiable scale of the retention of heat per each individual product or system, so when looking to insulate, always go for a high R value.
There are various types of insulation, some you can do yourself, some requiring a tradesman, but briefly they are:
- Cavity wall insulation. Holes drilled into the exterior wall (see above) and the cavity filled with beads. There are major drawbacks to this, which can be read here.
- Loft insulation: A tried and trusted method of keeping heat inside the home, relatively cheap and in some cases you can do it yourself.
- Spray foam insulation: This is a system we are not too familiar, with but it involves spraying an insulated foam to the undersides of the roof,
- Exterior wall insulation: This type of external wall covering can be very expensive but highly effective in stopping heat loss but this has to be done by a specialist company
- Thermal wall coatings: Similar in approach to the above but more accessible and versatile than exterior wall insulation and comes in a variety of colours, and is guaranteed for 20 years. A clear anti-damp version is also available.
TIP TWO: Making sure your heating is working as effectively as possible.
There are various ways we heat our homes but the majority of houses, in the UK and Ireland anyway, is via gas-fired central heating.
How to bleed a radiator
With central heating, a good idea before winter is to bleed the air from your radiators to ensure maximum efficiency.
Start with the radiators at the top of the house first, with the heating already warmed up but not too hot. You need a bleed key (available from any DIY shop) and the bleed valve is usually at the top, like this photo shows
If you feel across the radiator itself and bits of it are cold, then air is trapped inside which will restrict the free flow of hot water throughout your heating system. This can sometimes also bring noises such as knocks and creaks from your heating whilst in operation.
After bleeding, check the operating pressure on your boiler as after bleeding, sometimes you need to introduce more water into the heating system to compensate for the space in the pipes that previous contained air.
There are of course gas fires, coal or wood fires, wood burning stoves, forced air heating, underfloor heating and ideally a combination of heat sources, especially in older homes, all of which can bring great benefits in comfort but unfortunately great financial benefits for the greedy utility companies that supply the fuel.
My secret heating weapon
As mentioned before, I live in a Victorian home with my family and with floorboards with gaps, high ceilings, big windows and large rooms, it can be tricky to heat, especially in the depths of winter, but we have a secret weapon!
An oil fired RAYBURN oven (above) which is almost the same as an AGA but a bit smaller and crucially you can control the heat, whereas on an AGA you cannot, it is a fixed heat.
They are very much touted as lifestyle things for the upper middle class however those who know me will know I am not pretentious (!) and I have to say the oven was fitted into the house in the late 1960’s so we kind of inherited it rather than bought it.
You can have one fitted yourself if you want but bear in mind they cost several thousand pounds and you will take some time to recoup the outlay. As they are made of cast iron they are also VERY heavy and can only be fitted on the ground floor.
Even though our Rayburn is 50 years old, it belts out the heat in the winter time. One point to note they need servicing every 6 months and as they cannot be turned off and on again, as with other heating, we switch ours off in the summer and have it serviced and lit before winter.
A service on a Rayburn or AGA oven usually costs between £110 and £130 and must be done by a qualified engineer.
We cook with it (obviously) we dry washing on racks next to it and it provides a constant warmth throughout the entire rear of the building, including warming the rooms upstairs, directly above.
TIP THREE:Pay attention to the floor!
You could be a self confessed expert at keeping high heating bills at bay, but many people often overlook what’s under their feet: the floor.
My old house in Devon is a pig to heat in the winter unless I practice what I preach (and i do) and a good example is our wooden floors, pictured here. These boards were laid in 1882.
What stories this house could tell. Servants, cooks, coal fires, no TV, phones or electric lights, the old railway at the front, trams running at the end of the road, horses, everyone wearing hats (!), so much history in one place.
In the winter time we lay rugs down (which go back into storage in spring) and this can drastically reduce heat loss through the floor, because essentially you are placing a form of insulation down onto the floorboards, which can only help.
We also make sure any of the wider gaps between floorboards are filled as there is a void under the floor which if not kept in check, can bring cold draughts upwards and into the house.
This is the same with marble or tiled floors, remember it is just for the winter, but make sure they are of the non-slip variety for obvious reasons.
TIP FOUR: Attend to any problems with your walls.
Your exterior walls are something that really need to be in good shape, especially before winter time, and it is something that is often overlooked and conveniently forgotten about in the dark winter evenings but you SHOULD pay attention to them.
A badly maintained exterior and one without a weatherproof wall coating will make your home feel cold, in fact the interior walls themselves will also feel cold, meaning your heating has to work extra hard, which means that your bills will be high without a wall coating.
Cracks and hollow render on the outside of your house not only look terrible, they can allow moisture to enter the wall, causing damp and mould inside the house. Damp and mould can cause serious health issues and will NOT be solved by opening a window now and again!
If you do not know what an exterior wall coating is, well, it is not paint, although it looks like it, but it is an advanced covering for the exterior of your house that keeps the weather at bay, reduces heating bills, and has the added benefit of not needing repainting for up to 25 years.
Prices start from around £3,500 for a small house and you can find out more about how much it would cost by emailing us.
TIP FIVE:Draughtproofing, the lowest cost way to ensure a warm home.
Draughts, wind, usually cold, entering the home is something in most cases can be rectified very easily and cheaply and will give instant benefit. Draughts typically come from around front and rear doors, through floor boards and through badly fitted or old windows, like this one.
Draughtproofing can be bought from any DIY or hardware store, online, or sometimes you can pick it up in those “pound shops” and this is definitely something to do before winter arrives, and you will thank me for telling you this!
You can buy Stormguard Rubber Self Adhesive Weather Strip from B&Q for about £4, and an internal letterbox draught excluder, from Wickes, for £6, so this is not going to break the bank.
You can also get one of things I used to call a “door sausage” (!) which is a long, heavy item that is placed at the bottom of your front or rear door and stops the wind coming in underneath. You can also get a brush insulator for your letterbox, again, you wont pay more than a fiver for it and you will reap quick benefits.
People with single glazed windows can do an easy trick whereby you put cling film on the inner panes of glass, forming a thin air barrier which, although rudimentary, will stop some heat loss, for only a few pennies.
My house is still cold, is there anything else I can do at home to keep warm?
There certainly is!
If your home still feels like an igloo, maybe you haven’t yet implemented the steps we outlined above so in the mean time, here’s a few bonus tips to get you on your way:
- Wear more clothes! Yes I know it’s like teaching granny to suck eggs, but the more clothes you wear, the warmer you will be at home so dig out those old wooly jumpers, scarves and hats and get yourself warmed up.
- Exercise or at least, keep moving: Yes I know this is not very relaxing but I assure you if you are freezing at home, moving around will warm you up, go on, try it!
- Buy thick curtains, or if money is tight, find blankets or something similar to hang over the curtain poles at night, anything covering your windows will help to retain that heat.
- Be consistent with the heating. If you live in a larger house like I do, when switching the front room fire on, it can take up to an hour for the room to start to feel warmer, so you will use more gas if you keep turning it off an on for short periods.
I hope that the above tips will be useful for you and even if you carry out just a few of the above pointers, you WILL have a lower than expected heating bill after the winter, you should be in better heath and you should have benefited from a nice, cosy, warm home.
Keep warm and enjoy the winter!