Insulating An Old House Energy Efficiency Tips for Heritage Homes EcoMaster

Old houses and energy efficency

Heritage homes may be stunning and highly valuable in the housing market, but they offer a different dilemma to their owners: Renovating them is hard work and they can be expensive to run and maintain. 


Among the most difficult aspects to improve and maintain in almost all heritage homes, whether it be a Victorian, Edwardian, or a Queen Anne home, is thermal comfort – also known as thermal energy efficiency.  An old home composed of old and draughty chimneys, original double hung windows, lathe and plaster walls and high ceilings with ceiling roses makes it challenging for homeowners to make their living spaces thermally efficient.


In extremes of summer and winter, it is even more difficult to lock in comfortable temperatures because indoor air can easily be lost outdoors through a multitude of draught points.  As a broad generalisation, heritage homes are reasonably comfortable in summer, due to the height of the ceilings and solid walls, but they are especially frigid spaces during winter.


An extensive renovation would be the easiest recourse to solve this problem. But altering the original design of a heritage property would mean sacrificing its historical character and authenticity, as well as potential issues with Council and heritage groups.  


As always great care needs to be taken where any gas appliance is in use – this includes heating, hot water and cooking.  The outputs of gas being burnt are carbon monoxide and water vapour.  Neither are welcome in any home.  The best way to deal with this is to replace your gas appliances and go with a 100% electric home. 

The Best Energy Efficient Solutions for Heritage Homes 

Fortunately, there are less costly and non-invasive ways to regain thermal comfort and improve the energy efficiency performance of heritage homes. Insulating and draft-stopping older homes can significantly lower your carbon footprint and introduce a whole new level of thermal comfort that was previously thought impossible. 


Ohh yes, retrofitting can reduce your energy bill by up to 50 percent! Here are some specifics on how you can improve your home’s thermal comfort for the long term:

1. Draught Proof Your Chimney and Fireplace

Chimneys and fireplaces are notorious passageways for air. They are designed to draw out air from your home while you have a fire.  However your chimney does not discriminate and it sucks out the conditioned air from your home regardless of whether you are running a fire or not.   


In heritage homes, it is common to have multiple chimneys in your home – one in the living area and one in each of the bedrooms.   Blocking off your chimneys is a critical step in gaining improvement in the thermal comfort of your home. 

There are two main ways to stop chimney draughts:  

* Use a Chimney Top Damper. These are fitted on top of the chimney, the pivoting flap of the damper seals the chimney as it closes, blocking off draft.  It also stops larger items such as birds providing unwanted visits via your fireplace. 


* Install a Chimney Draught Stopper to help reduce heat loss and increase the efficiency of your heating system.  This will save you money on your energy bills. It can also prevent cold air from entering your home during winter, and hot air from entering during summer.  This will keep you more comfortable all year round.  A Chimney Draught Stopper is a high-density foam cut to fit firmly into the chimney throat that connects the fireplace and the chimney. 

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2. Draught Proof Your Doors and Windows

Prevent heat exchange in summer and winter by tightly sealing your doors and windows. Draft-proof your door by applying Draught Dodgers. These Draught Dodgers are a set of mouldings and compression seals fitted at the perimeter of doors (the sides and top) for a tight seal, blocking off the entry and exit of air. To prevent the air from sneaking under the bottom of your door, install a good quality Draught Excluder.


Filling gaps around your windows is a budget-friendly, and heritage-friendly alternative to replacing your old windows. Improving your casement windows by applying window draught proofing strips on your window frames to seal the gaps and cracks eliminates the need and expense of window replacement. 


For rattly double-hung or sash windows, use draught stoppers to block off air from the perimeter and centre join of your windows.  This is the only solution that will eliminate the draught from double hung windows. 


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3. Seal Off Gaps and Cracks

Gaps and cracks can appear in many locations in heritage homes.  Generally where one surface meets another is a good place to start looking.  When combined, these tiny openings in your home can negatively affect your thermal comfort.  Outside air can seep in through these spaces bringing hot summer wind or freezing cold winter draught into your home.  How you seal these air leaks is crucial in managing your thermal comfort in summer and winter. Look for these gaps and cracks around your windows, architraves, door perimeters, floorboards, and air vents. 

An area of gap sealing that can be highly contentious is the sealing of wall vents. Often wall vents are drawing unwanted air from outside and straight through the wall cavity into the living space.  We advocate the blocking of the internal wall vent and leaving the external wall vent open to allow for ventilation of the wall cavity.  


Old homes were fitted with wall vents to provide a source of ventilation in the house. Before the days of air conditioning and modern heating systems, homes were often heated by coal or wood-burning fires. These fires would release smoke, fumes, and other pollutants into the air, which had to be vented out of the house to ensure good indoor air quality. 


It is important to retain your ornate wall vents as a key feature in a Heritage home but remove the draught.  Use a flexible, durable, mould resistant, non-toxic and water-based sealant to cover up these spaces, such as Fullers Ultraclear.   Ultraclear goes on white and dries to a clear finish, you can clean it up with water, it is non-toxic and low VOC.   So it will remove the draught from your ornate wall vents and be pretty much invisible. 


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4. Check Your Ceiling Rose


Many heritage homes feature ceiling roses in the centre of each room.  Occasionally we found that the ceiling rose was actually vented which means that your conditioned air was being drawn up into the attic space, being cooled in the attic and dropping back down in your room.  That convection current would leave your home completely impossible to heat.  


There are two ways of dealing with vented ceiling roses, and we recommend both: 


Carefully fill the gaps in your ceiling rose with Ultraclear 

Insulating over the top of your ceiling rose, taking great care whilst in the attic space not to damage the structure.  Polyester insulation is perfect for this as there are no itchy glass fibres that can make their way into your home. 


5. Top Up Your Ceiling Insulation

Adding a lofty layer of polyester roof insulation above your ceiling helps contain your heating in winter and prevent it from escaping your home. In summer, it helps absorb the heat that goes into your home through the attic. 


Without an adequate supply of ceiling insulation, your home will never be able to combat extremes of external temperatures.  Just a 5% gap in your ceiling insulation will reduce its effectiveness by 50%.  


Often heritage homes have not had anyone in the attic space for many years.  While there is a presumption that a beautifully presented home must have a good cover of ceiling insulation, that is often an incorrect assumption.  Existing insulation may not have a sufficient R value, it may have compressed over time or it may not be adequately laid with no gaps.  Click here to learn more.

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6. Insulate Under Your Floor 


Heat loss from heritage homes can be considerable, leading to increased energy usage and higher utility bills. Insulating underneath the home can help reduce heat loss, making the home more energy-efficient and reducing utility bills.  Without underfloor insulation, your timber floor boards (even though they are beautiful) will be the same temperature as outside.  Once your floorboards have been insulated, they will be much closer to your indoor temperatures.  


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7. Secondary Glazing for Your Windows  


Replacing heritage windows to make them more energy efficient is fraught with risk. Trying to achieve a sympathetic solution to the look of your home with modern material can be quite difficult.  


However, if you retain your existing windows and add components to the inside of your windows, you can have them behave like double glazing.  This can be achieved with our ecoGlaze® Double Glazing system.  This is available as an installed option in some areas and will be a DIY option shortly.   A crystal-clear acrylic panel fitted to the glass in your double hung windows traps a still-air between your existing windows and the ecoGlaze® acrylic panel.


This layer of air reduces the heat transfer through your glass window. ecoGlaze® Double Glazing can be applied to all timber windows and some aluminium windows. 


Heritage homes can be as energy efficient as new homes.  They just need a bit of care in selecting the right solutions and have them installed effectively.   Investing in quality home insulation and draft-proofing methods will improve your home life regardless of seasons. Besides reducing your financial burden, thermal energy efficiency will also improve the value of your well-loved heritage home.

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What’s Next?

We hope this article has helped you learn how to use simple ways to save on your utility bill. This in turn will help you on your energy and thermal efficiency retrofit journey to make your home more comfortable all year round, and reduce your costs and carbon emissions.  

Next, explore What Is R Value.

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