Heating & Energy - What no one is telling you
Updated: Apr 14
…Its insulation. But we’re not talking about a bit of fibreglass chucked in the loft. We’re talking about a serious overhaul of almost the entire UK housing stock, pre 2000s.
When you think about it, it’s a miracle a lot of UK houses get warm at all. A great proportion of UK houses are old. A good deal were built in the 1930s, and Victorian period
Victorian properties were built back when we had a practically unlimited supply of cheap ‘homegrown’ coal. Cold? Chuck more coal at it!
Old victorian houses had bear floorboards, with a bit of a rug in the middle of the room if you’re lucky. Vents under the floor led straight outside and helped keep the subfloor dry. After all, under the floorboards was just mud! Single glazed, wobbly old sash window, draughty doors, solid brick walls, fire places and chimneys!
Victorian houses are a nightmare for heating efficiency. Yet they are common place, and even desirable.
Then you’ve got millions of 1930s houses. These are a bit like Victorian properties, but more likely to have an un-insulated brick cavity. Which are still terrible, thermally speaking. Just slightly less terrible.
Houses built prior to the 1950/60s were not built with central heating in mind. Many older homes have ventilation built in to tackle the risk of condensation. Which was fine, back when heat efficiency wasn’t a priority.
Houses have slowly become more thermally efficient and air tight. Modern new builds are great at retaining heat, and and built specifically to exclude draughts. Their main downside is a low thermal mass, as they’re built of insubstantial materials such as plasterboard and stud walls. Older, brick and stone buildings hold on to their heat a lot better
If the UK has any hope of moving over to a low carbon heating future we have to insulate all these older houses. Low carbon heating is part of the solution, with insulation being the absolutely vital other part. However, not only need to update our homes we need to update the way we think about heating and energy in general.
What you’re not being told is that this is going to cause a lot of upheaval, and a lot of money.
Insulation can be fitted externally, in a cavity, or internally. Depending on the type of property you have and its method of construction. Houses with suspended floors can also have insulation fitted below them, or between joists. Solid floors can also be insulated, at the expense of floor height.
Unless you’re wealthy enough to pay for this in one go, we’re going to have to take insulation and heating upgrades step by step; and we need to start ASAP. Every time we refurbish or decorate a room we should consider insulating the walls, floor or ceiling. On top of that we need to think about upgrading our radiators and pipework.
Again, another point not often discussed. Radiator BTUs or KWs rating are based on much higher flow temperatures than boilers typically produce nowadays. Certainly higher than any future low carbon system will produce. Because of that we need to upsize our radiators. Or fit more. Or fit underfloor, the biggest radiator of them all.
If you can upsize your radiators now you can start lowering your boiler temperature, saving fuel. This will also give you some idea of how your house would perform with a heat pump, for example As they typically output much lower temperatures to radiators.
Improving system efficiency in the short term can also be aided by cleaning your system. Flushing out all the sludge and scale build up. Fitting an inline filter for future protection. Fitting smart controls and/or weather compensation will also help boost efficiency and lower consumption.
The key for the average UK household is incremental change. Insulate where you can. Upgrade radiators and controls as you go. We need to re-think heating, energy consumption and the nature of our houses. We need to start talking about the ways in which we can do it. There is no one solution to energy efficiency. A heat pump, solar or hydrogen fuel is part of the solution but these won’t work in isolation.
So next time you fancy redecorating your living room, have a think about the fundamentals while you’re at it. Insulate as much as you can, and speak to a heating engineer about upgrading pipework and radiators
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