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Keep warm; spend less

Posted by Cathy Debenham on 24 October 2011 at 5:28 am

Being cold is miserable. Yet, as energy prices rocket, lots of people will be cold this winter. The dominant narrative about how to get round this focuses on knocking the big six energy companies, and urges us to swap supplier to find a lower price.

While I don't argue with this, it's also a great way to get a sore head from banging it against the proverbial brick wall (a recent Which? investigation found that often the big six don't tell enquirers about their cheapest tariff, even when asked to do just that).

Much more empowering are the numerous cheap and practical things we can do ourselves to make a significant difference to our comfort, warmth, and often our wallet as well.

I've been thinking about what my top three home improvements are for increased energy efficiency, and this is what I came up with:

1. Living room floorboards

When we moved into our house we ripped up all the old carpets and sanded the floor boards (if I'd realised what hard work sanding was I might have stuck with carpets, but that's another story). Most of the boards are good, but in the living room there were some big gaps, and some holes where radiators had been removed.

The problem: a howling draught around my ankles every evening which was both uncomfortable and annoying.

The solution: tape that you fold in half lengthwise and push down between the floorboards - it springs out and closes the gap. It only took 90 minutes (I know because there was an important football match on in the background) for quite a large room. If the some of the gaps hadn't been so wide, and uneven, I would have used a tube of mastic. Both tape and mastic are available from your local DIY shop. Then I stuffed some bubble wrap down the radiator holes to finish it off, and now I can sit in warmth and comfort.

2. Loft and cavity wall insulation

So easy, and so quick to see the reward in lower bills, more warmth - or hopefully both - but this will depend on how cold you are before you get it done. We just rang the local Energy Saving Trust (EST) advice line (0800 512 012) to find out what the best local deal was, and the contractors came round and did each job in a couple of hours.

We had to clear the loft first - although as we'd only just moved in that was easy. Getting round to doing this appears to be one of the barriers for many people. But it is worth it, honestly! If you haven't got any insulation in your loft now, insulating it will save you around £175 a year on your heating bill, and will pay back in less than two years. The annual saving is a bit less for cavity wall insulation, but it still pays back the initial cost in less than three years according to EST.

Of course you can do the loft yourself, and subsidised lagging materials are also available from your local DIY store, although according to the Energy Saving Trust you won't save much. This is because all the big energy companies are offering discounted (or free, if you qualify) installation.

3. More draught busting

I'm not much of a one for gadgets, but last year I did fall for the Black & Decker thermal leak detector. It helps you work out where the heat is leaking out of your house, so you can put most of your effort into the places where it really makes a difference. Have a look at my video to see it in action.

As a result, we have really improved the seals around our kitchen door, in the hope that we'll be warmer this winter as a result. If asked to guess where our priority areas were before I got the detector, that wouldn't have been on the list.

At £39.99 they are not cheap, but if you club together with friends or neighbours you can get a lot of use out of a shared one. Or see below for how you can win mine.

Share your stories and win a Black & Decker thermal heat detector

Starting tomorrow we will put our favourite practical home improvement ideas on our facebook page each weekday until the end of November. We'd also like to hear your stories. What are the most effective things you've done? Is it the improved comfort that's been most important result? Or is it the money saving? How easy to do was it? Have you got any great tips to make it easy for others to copy.

And as an incentive to send in your stories, the person who sends the best one will win my Black & Decker Thermal Heat Detector (worth £40), and we'll publish your story on the YouGen blog. All you have to do is post it on Facebook, or email it to us. The closing date for entries is 30 November 2011, and we'll announce the winner in December.


If you have a question about anything in the above blog, please ask it in the comments section below.

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2 comments - read them below or add one


Anthony525Comment left on: 26 October 2011 at 5:48 pm

Rippa, the way things work is, heat always moves to cold.

As warm air rises, your heat disappears through the crack to be replaced by cold air coming in through another hole somewhere else.

Then you spend your money heating all that new cold air.

Go round your home with a candle or joss stick to find where the cold air is coming in, seal the hole, then seal the crack.

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rippa700Comment left on: 26 October 2011 at 10:52 am

We have cracke between the ceiling and the oak beams. I'd guess that warm air goes out there so would the detector help or would it only find where the cold air comes in?

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