Many people would be surprised how many dollars are flying out the door each day through draughts in their home. According to the Australian government, 15 to 25 per cent of heat loss in winter is from air leakage. The good news though is that this is one of the easiest things to fix. A DIY way to detect leaks is to light an incense stick (preferably on a windy day) and wave it around suspected areas of leakage – cracks, vents, windows, doors – and if smoke is being blown back into the room, hey presto, you’ve identified a leak and that area will need to be sealed. You can either investigate doing this yourself or call in a tradesperson, depending on your skill level. In the meantime, even good old-fashioned draught excluders – or door snakes – are an easy way to make a difference.
Some older homes, and even not so old, have insufficient insulation, which results in valuable warmth lost via ceilings, floors and walls. Check your insulation levels and talk to a specialist about upgrading. The cost is very likely to be recouped in savings in time. (And remember, come summer, you’ll be more comfortable and save money on cooling).
Bear in mind there’s no one-size-fits-all approach to insulation. It needs to be designed with the year-round local climate in mind so be sure to take this into consideration.
As well as checking for leaks in your windows and making sure they’re well-sealed, if you experience cold winters, it may be worth considering double glazing as the investment could pay for itself over time.
Also consider the material of window frames as this is a crucial factor in their thermal efficiency. Timber and PCV windows have much greater efficiency than aluminium, though many people opt for them as they’re cheaper. Aluminium windows, though, are now available in varieties with ‘a thermal break’, which improves efficiency.
Check the rating of any windows you buy – Australian windows are rated for thermal efficiency by the Windows Energy Rating Scheme (WERS).
Even if you live in a heritage property and want to preserve your original windows, there are possibilities for upgrading their performance in winter without replacing them. You can install film over them, or an extra layer of glass can be retrofitted over existing windows. There are specialist products that can do this without compromising how they look but provide the benefits of double glazing – warmer in winter, cooler in summer and even noise reduction.
I have a friend who was regularly shocked at her astronomical winter gas bill only to find out her husband had been turning the heating up to 28 degrees during the day when she was at work. Up to 20 degrees should really be sufficient for most people. Tell colder members of the family to wear appropriate winter clothing. It’s a no-brainer when it comes to saving money.
It sounds pretty obvious, but having solid and well-sealed doors and keeping them shut all through winter, especially to areas where you are heating, is another easy way to save on energy.
This is especially important for larger homes. You’re wasting energy when heating the whole of your house but using only a small part of it. Block off rooms that are not being used at all in winter – such as guest bedrooms and storerooms. Depending on what sort of heating you have, ensure radiators are turned off in those rooms and keep doors shut. Some central heating systems will even allow you to create zones that have their own thermostat, allowing you to only heat the areas you’re using.
If you have access to northern sun in winter, eastern sun in the morning or western sun in the afternoon, ensure there are places to enjoy the free energy. On cool but sunny days you can bask, lizard-like, in the rays and forget it’s really winter.
Another way to make use of the winter sun is to expose any areas of ‘thermal mass’ in your home – a concrete or tile floor or a wall of bricks. Because the angle of the sun’s rays are lower in winter, they can penetrate any north-facing glass so the exposed thermal mass can absorb the warmth then slowly emit it back, even after the sun has gone down.
Ceiling fans aren’t just for summer; they have an important role to keep you warm in winter too. Because hot air rises, warm air collects towards the ceiling and many fans come with a reverse winter setting that moves this air downward. This is especially useful when trying to heat areas with high ceilings where lots of hot air will be trapped. According to Beacon Lighting, using fans on the reverse setting can save up to 10 per cent on heating bills.
Window treatments have a key role to play in keeping warmth in and cold out, and this is one area that doesn’t have to break the bank. Simple design tricks will help your curtains or blinds work to maximum effect. If curtains are well-fitting and touch the floor, they’ll form an effective barrier to stop cold air entering and warm air escaping. A pelmet adds even more protection because it stops the rising hot air from escaping. A double layer will give you even more thermal performance, especially if using fabrics that have good insulation properties. And don’t forget this investment will pay off during summer too, to keep hot air out.
Be sure to regularly check that your heating systems are working. Check the flues are clear, that seals around slow combustions are working, and that your gas heating and/or fireplace is working efficiently. Keeping heat systems well maintained will pay off in the long term.