It’s something affecting all of us when the days turn darker and colder, and that’s how to insulate your home for winter.
Fortunately, there are effective and simple methods and tricks when it comes to insulating your home which will reduce heat loss and also, more importantly, help to lower your heating bills.
We live in an old 1850’s rural property that had pretty poor insulation and eye-watering energy bills when we moved in. We’ve taken several measures to better insulate our home and so this article is based heavily on our own personal experiences.
So, let’s take a look at some of the potential solutions. While the most obvious will have a cost, we also take a look at some low-tech ways of insulating your property and keeping it warm.
Insulating your roof and loft
Since a quarter of the heat being lost from your home is through the roof then insulating your attic or loft is an effective and simple way to reduce heat loss.
The big attraction for loft insulation is that it will remain effective for 40 years so it will recoup its cost many times over with much lower bills.
For those lofts that are easy to access – and if you have no condensation or damp issues – then it’s a straightforward process to insulate the area and you could potentially do this yourself.
This was one of the first measures we took as our roof only had 200mm of loft insulation rather than the recommended 300mm (we actually took ours to around 400mm). However, as I have asthma and our roof space is quite tight, we decided to get someone in to do the work for us.
It cost us around £400 to top up our roof space and the work was done within a single morning. I can’t say there was an immediate noticeable effect but it definitely seems to have helped keep the upstairs rooms a little warmer.
If access to your loft joists is easy, then you can use rolls of mineral wool insulation. If you’ve never done this before, then you lay the first layer between the joists and then a second layer at right angles to cover the joists and take the installation to the required depth.
If you are planning to use your loft for storage purposes, or you want to lay boards over the joists, then you need to be aware that insulating between these joists will mean raising the floor level so you can fit more insulation beneath it.
Fit insulation between the rafters
An alternative solution is to fit insulation between the rafters, those are the roof’s sloping timbers and you can use insulation board or foam insulation.
This alternative solution, you will need to appreciate, is a specialist job and it’s unlikely you will have the skills to carry it out successfully.
Another solution is to create a living space using insulation materials and plasterboard to create it.
Should your loft space be inaccessible, then you can hire a firm to blow insulation into the awkward space and if your loft is damp, then you need to resolve this issue first before insulation is fitted.
For those with flat roofs, then you may need to install the insulation from underneath, but be aware of condensation issues.
Cavity wall insulation
After the roof, a cavity wall may be responsible for a third of an uninsulated home’s heat loss so this is worthy of investment.
Usually, a home that has been built from the 1990s should have wall insulation to help retain heat but older homes may not have any wall insulation whatsoever.
In the UK, a house will either have a cavity wall or a solid wall.
Cavity walls have been used in most homes since the 1920s and a cavity is essentially the gap between the concrete block brick on the interior and the outer brick wall.
Before this time, homes in the UK had solid walls so there is no cavity – but they leak around twice as much heat as a cavity wall will.
On our current home, we actually have both. The original building is solid wall construction, but there’s an extension that was added in the 1980’s that has cavity walls.
We had bonded bead cavity wall insulation added to help with heat loss in the extension. Basically, someone came and drilled holes in the external walls at various points. Then, they used a special gun to blow special polystyrene balls into the wall.
As the balls pass through the gun, they are coated in a special glue that causes them to stick together once in the wall and the glue has dried. This then creates a breathable insulation inside the cavity, and since there are still lots of air gaps between the balls, there’s no danger of causing penetrating damp.
We paid around £800 to insulate our double-storey extension this way and the work only took a couple of hours. It all happened from the outside too, so it was non-intrusive. The only downside is that for many months we would find stray polystyrene balls in our flower beds and wildlife pond.
Still, they definitely made a difference to the thermal efficiency of our extension and so didn’t regret it.
Insulating a solid wall
Sold walls are much more difficult and expensive to insulate than cavity walls. That’s because there’s no existing gap where you can add insulation, so you have to create one either from the outside or inside.
Insulating the outside is the best, most effective way to do it, but also often the most expensive. It involves insulating boards or materials being added to the external wall, then a coating of render added over the top.
Not all buildings will be suitable for this type of external wall insulation as you’ll need good access around the building and enough roof overhang to accommodate the extra wall thickness.
We looked into this as an option for our solid walls on the original part of our house but unfortunately, our roof doesn’t overhang the wall enough to be able to do it.
So, we were forced to look into insulating our solid walls internally.
This involves adding battens to the internal walls and then adding insulating materials and plasterboard to create a kind of stud wall in front of the solid wall. While it can make a drastic difference to your energy bills it can be quite expensive and disruptive and you’ll also make your rooms smaller.
As some of our rooms were already small with three external walls to insulate, we decided against this method. Instead, we have had to accept we have poorly insulated walls and do everything else we can think of instead.
Insulating water tanks and pipes
Another way to insulate your property to help keep it warm is to lag the water tanks and pipes as well as looking to fit reflector panels behind your radiators.
This will help reduce the amount of heat that is being lost and you’ll also find that hot water will remain hotter for much longer so won’t spend as much heating water up for warming your home.
Most people are able to insulate a hot water tank and they can buy a hot water cylinder jacket and you simply follow the manufacturer’s instructions to fit it. These cost around £15.
You can insulate pipes using foam tubes, though you’ll need to buy the correct size before fitting them.
You should also consider radiator reflector panels, which are a low-cost option and are affixed behind the radiator to reflect heat back into the room. They are a great idea if you are installing them on uninsulated solid walls.
This is something we are in the process of doing in our house. Each time we redecorate a room we remove the radiator and add reflective insulating foil behind it. It’s basically like a silver coated bubble wrap and, when installed carefully, is hidden behind the radiator and is barely visible.
Insulating your floor
Most people will not consider insulating their floor but you can fit insulation underneath floorboards which could save you around £40 a year. You can also seal the gaps to reduce draughts between the skirting boards and the floor.
It’s also worth considering for those homeowners with an integral garage that any floors above this unheated space should be insulated to prevent heat from being lost through the floor.
Our home has a solid ground floor without floorboards and so this is something we will be looking into as we redecorate the downstairs rooms.
Adding floor insulation means your floor level will rise a little, so you’ll need to consider skirting boards, pipework, and doors may all need adjusting to accommodate the extra floor height.
One of the most effective and cheapest ways to save energy and lower your heating bills is to use draught-proofing.
The aim is to block any unwanted gaps that allow cold air to enter your property and warm air to leave it. By blocking these gaps you will use less energy for heating your property and you will be saving money.
One of the big benefits of properly draught proofing a home is that draught-free homes are more comfortable at a lower temperature so homeowners can turn down their thermostats and enjoy savings on their heating bill.
To do this in our current home, all we did was buy a couple of tubes of decorators caulk. When the weather was cold and a little breezy, we went from room to room holding the backs of our hands around any door and window frames, or anywhere else there may be a draft.
Any drafts we found, we filled them with the caulk. Though it’s worth pointing out you don’t want to overdo this. Some level of draughts is actually a good thing as it will help reduce condensation and keep your home well ventilated.
How do you keep your house warm in the winter?
There are various ways to keep your house warm in the winter months, and here we look at some of them.
You should ensure that radiators are bled to ensure there are no air blocks to prevent the full functioning of the radiator.
Also, we mentioned earlier about placing something behind the radiator to reflect heat and you could simply use tin foil for this purpose. You can also buy foil that has been specially designed for this job.
Another important tip to keep your room warm is to avoid placing items such as furniture that covers the radiator as this will absorb the heat. One of the first things we did in our house was remove the ‘radiator shelves’ the previous owners had put directly over the top of ours.
It’s also worth getting a heating engineer to check your radiators have been sized correctly. Any that are too small for the room may benefit from being upgraded. While it won’t save you money as such, it will make the room feel warmer, and that might mean you’re less tempted to turn the heating up!
Curtains & blinds
One of the best ways to protect your home from losing heat is to use heavy curtains, particularly those with a thermal lining.
Some websites may recommend using PVC shower curtains as a way to insulate the windows to prevent heat loss too and you could place curtains in front of the door which will help to add a layer of protection.
There are also special energy-efficient blinds you can use. These have a honeycomb structure with a heat reflective coating inside and are the option we went with in our home.
We found that curtains only slowed down heat loss a little as the cold air would still come through the gaps around the curtain. However, with blinds we could get a tighter fit, plus we then installed plastic runners either side that narrowed the air gap significantly.
We have been very surprised at how effective this approach has been. The downside is that we get more condensation on the windows in winter simply because the air between the blind and window is so cold (this shows how well they work!).
We’ve even noticed in a morning when we first open the blinds, you’re hit with a blast of cold air from behind the blind. It’s really quite amazing how good they are.
While double- and triple-glazing is an effective way to keep your property warm, it can be an expensive option.
For those who don’t fancy paying for it, then you can buy a special film that is placed across a single glazed window to create the double-glazed effect, though it’s not quite as effective.
To do so, you use double-sided tape and attach the film to the window frame and fix it in place by using a hairdryer.
Remember though, you will be unable to open the windows without having to break the seal first. Having said that, the packs of film are very cheap.
In our house, most of the windows are relatively new and so do not need replacing yet. However, there were a couple that needed replacing and so we went with triple-glazing instead. It cost us a bit more but we felt it was worth it, especially for the extra security triple glazing provides.
Over time, we’ll gradually replace all of our double glazed windows with triple glazed ones, however, the benefit isn’t enough to justify it unless you’re replacing the windows anyway.
We also mentioned earlier about draught-proofing and you can simply use plastic or metal strips with wipers or brushes attached to seal any gaps in the windows and you can fit draught excluders around the frames and hinges of doors.
For homes with chimneys, you are losing heat through it so you could buy a chimney balloon which are cheap and is placed just inside the chimney entrance in the room. It’s then inflated and will prevent any incoming cold air or heat escaping.
Remember, you will be unable to start a fire without removing the chimney balloon first.
You’ll also need to be careful not to create condensation issues inside the chimney breast.
Our property has both chimneys blocked off since the fires are not in use and it made the property more energy efficient and less draughty.
If you have an unused room then switch off the radiator, close the door and effectively seal it with draught-proofing so cold air does not move into the rest of the property.
However, be careful not to let the room become so cold that freezing pipes are a potential issue.
You should cover your floorboards since around 10% of your property’s heat loss will be through them. You can use blankets and rugs and if there are cracks in the floorboards, then buy some filler – particularly the fillers that will tolerate movement as skateboards and floorboards can contract or expand.
How to insulate your home for winter questions
Questions you may have about how to insulate your home for winter:
How can I make my cold room warmer?
For anyone asking, ‘How can I make my cold room warmer?’, then the information above will help.
The trick is to insulate the room properly so the heat that is generated is retained for longer so you don’t run up big bills.
You may even need an additional plug-in electric heater to generate heat in short bursts whenever it’s needed.
We use additional plug-in heaters in the rooms we use for offices. Since we work in front of a computer all day, the lack of movement often means we feel the cold more. However, in spring and autumn it’s often not cold enough to justify having the whole house heated, so we use plug-in heaters to only heat the rooms we are using.
Also, during the day, keep the room warm by using sunlight and at night use thick curtains to preserve heat. To really ensure you are insulated properly, it might be worth getting an energy performance certificate which may highlight the areas where insulation can be improved.
How can I insulate my house better?
The first step is to consult with a professional to see what type of insulation work may be necessary and how much it will cost.
This article is aimed at highlighting how you can insulate your home effectively for a cold winter and if you are unable to carry out any relevant work, then you will need an expert to do it for you.
The National Insulation Association is a great place to start.
How to insulate a house cheaply
One of the big attractions for those wanting to insulate a house cheaply is that all of the measures are essentially cost-effective.
Insulating the loft is the best way of keeping your home warm and this insulating material is cheap.
There’s more cost involved when opting for cavity wall insulation and double glazing since these are specialist products and you’ll need to hire a firm to carry out the work.
However, this saving should make a return on the investment within five years and that will help offset these costs – and don’t forget that you can carry out simple and cheap tricks such as draught-proofing doors and floors and using heavy curtains for your windows.
Why is my house so cold even with the heating on?
Depending on the age of your property, if your house is cold, even with the heating on, it’s likely that you have an insulation or heating problem. Essentially, your heating system isn’t providing enough heat to compensate for the amount of heat your property is losing.
The only solutions are to either upgrade your heating system (or, perhaps, simply turn it up!) which will cost you money, or upgrade your insulation. Whilst upgrading insulation can be quite costly initially, it’s always the preferred first step as you’ll insulate once but save money on energy bills forever!
Again, you could hire a professional to analyse where heat is being lost by using special cameras and they will make recommendations as to the work that is required.