A fifth of a home’s heat is lost through the loft and a third is lost through the walls. But there are steps you can take to cut down on heat loss.
To help make your home more energy efficient - and also cut your energy bills - there are a range of insulation grants and subsidies on offer to help with the cost of loft or cavity wall insulation.
However, this isn't as easy as it sounds as there are two particular problems. One is finding out who actually offers these grants and then, once sourced, finding out if you're eligible to receive one. The reason this is difficult is because the government keeps tinkering with the insulation grants: details of who offers them and who's eligible for them seem to be in a state of flux.
The confusion is compounded by the introduction of the Carbon Emissions Reduction target (CERT) which does not offer cash grants; rather it subsidises certain materials such as lagging material bought from DIY stores to enable householders to buy them at a discount (but not in Northern Ireland, which does not participate in the CERT scheme).
According to the Energy Saving Trust, 25% of all heat escaping from a home goes through the loft - the heat rises to the ceiling, which absorbs it and dissipates it through the loft. Insulating the loft means the insulation reflects the heat back into the room.
The insulation material comes in rolls and it is fitted into the space between the rafters, cut slightly wider and then tucked in to prevent gaps where the precious heat can escape. As the space between rafters has changed over the years as house design has evolved, the rolls come in a variety of widths to accommodate this.
CERT subsidies mean being able to buy rolls of lagging at discounted prices but, because of this subsidy, DIY stores often limit the number of rolls of insulation each customer can buy in a single transaction. This is chiefly to stop professional buildings contractors repeatedly buying their materials at a substantial discount.
Regardless of any grants, the subsidies on lagging products means buying the materials and doing the job yourself means any financial outlay will be quickly recouped by the savings made on your energy bill. The EST says insulating the average semi-detached house will cost around £300 (using 270mm thick lagging) and will take under two years to pay for itself.
Cavity wall insulation
If your home was built between 1920 and 1995, it's likely that its external walls are made of two layers of brick with a gap or cavity between them. Cavity wall insulation fills that gap, keeping the warmth in to save energy. If your house was built in the last ten years or so, its walls are probably insulated already.
Walls are a major source of heat loss, so filling the cavities with porous material means heat won't escape into the cavity from inside the house and cold air from outside the property won't seep in.
Unlike lagging, a loft or water tank, cavity wall insulation is not a DIY job and you'll need to call in the experts. It's vital you use a company that is a registered member of either the Cavity Insulation Guarantee Agency (CIGA), the National Insulation Association (NIA), or the British Board of Agrément (BBA).
Workers drill small holes in the exterior walls and then pump insulation into the empty cavity. The material is one of three different types - mineral wool, beads/granules or foam insulation - and the installation company chooses the one that best suits your property's construction.
The Energy Saving Trust says installation costs should be around £350 and, depending on the energy efficiency of the rest of the property, the payback time could be anything from under a year to three years.
How do I get an insulation grant?
There are three main sources for insulation grants: the government, your local authority and energy suppliers.
With the grants supplied by government, the eligibility criteria differ depending on which country in the UK you live. With some schemes you need to be receiving certain benefits, while others are available to anyone over a certain age, usually 70.
As with most things run by government, getting an insulation grant is far from straightforward. Also, the information and eligibility criteria can be changed on what appears to be a Parliamentary whim, so the best way to get up-to-date information is to check the links below:
- In England the scheme is known as the Energy Company Obligation (EST) (this replaces the previous scheme, known as Warm Front)
- In Scotland the scheme is the Energy Assistance Package
- In Northern Ireland the scheme is Warm Homes
- In Wales the scheme is NEST
The vast majority of the UK's local authorities (there are 433 in England alone) receive money from central government to provide financial assistance to better insulate properties in the borough. Again, there will be eligibility criteria, but local authorities tend not to run "first come first served" policy until the insulation budget is exhausted. Rather, out of a sense of fairness, they allocate a certain percentage of the budget to each of the authority's "wards".
This is to prevent homeowners in the more affluent suburbs - often professionals whose jobs give them an insight in how to "play the system" - applying for all the available grants and gaining an unfair advantage over poorer households.
The introduction of the Carbon Emission Reduction target (CERT) in 2008 compels energy companies to help customers make their properties more energy efficient.
Energy suppliers therefore provide a range of offers which can significantly reduce the cost of installing energy efficiency measures, mainly insulation. What's more, you can take up offers from any of the energy companies, regardless of which one supplies your gas and electricity.
And you can also take of advantage of the fact that energy companies currently find themselves in a bit of a political bind. Under CERT, energy suppliers are required to locate "hard to reach" groups of people and provide them with free energy efficiency measures such as loft and cavity wall insulation.
However, energy companies have been given little information by the government on how to "reach" these customers and even what constitutes "hard to reach" groups, so there's a sense of quiet frustration among suppliers who are forced into spending millions to find groups of people even the government can't identify.
Energy giant SSE said in July 2012 that the cost of searching out "hard to reach" groups had cost the company £100million in 2011.
So, ironically, the big energy suppliers are keen to find households in which they can install various forms of insulation so they can prove to the government they're "reaching out". If you don't ask, you won't get, so it's worth checking on the various supplier's websites or contacting them directly to see if you're eligible for a grant.
A badly insulated property will be expensive to heat, as the majority of the heat you're paying for gets wasted as it drifts through your ceiling and walls. Loft and cavity wall insulation of the correct type for your property is a good investment, as the cost of the installation is fairly low and the payback period reasonably quick. And if your circumstances warrant it, a relieved energy company just might foot the bill.