Owning a home

Winter-proof your home

5 min read


When Jack Frost starts knocking on your door, it’s time to make sure your house it up to its optimum temperature for your family’s comfort.
Before you worry about heating your home, it’s important to ensure that the heat doesn’t just hang out for a few minutes before exiting via the gap in the front door, the badly sealed windows or the un-insulated ceiling. All the energy created to heat your home, be it wood, electronic, gas, or solar will be wasted if your house is poorly insulated and too well ventilated.

The areas to take into consideration and the percentage heat loss for these areas are:

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To make this easy to understand here’s an example (accuracy within 10%.)

Take a three bedroom 1960s brick house, corrugated iron roof, solid timber floor, carpet in bedrooms, hallway and living areas, vinyl to bathroom and kitchen. At construction, this home was built without insulation. It was fitted with curtains in the bedrooms and living rooms, but no window treatments to kitchen or bathroom.

Let’s do the math and see what we have.

Ceiling: Solid plaster
Roof: Corrugated Iron
During the day the sun can heat the roof space up to about 25c. At night it will drop to the same temperature as outside. The coldness of this space draws heat towards it. Because heat rises the loss is a maximum of 35%

Windows: Wooden frames with 3 or 4mm glass. 
Bedrooms and living areas with curtains drawn will still lose 10-15%, about half of maximum. Front and back doors are glass, so hallways leading to these lose 25%. Kitchen and bathroom the same. 

Walls: Bricks will absorb heat from the sun only on the north side of the house, so when the temperature drops there is some heat trapped in the cavity between brick and internal linings. The cavity is 150mm wide and filled with cold air, attracting a higher percentage of the houses internal heat, so the maximum 25% escapes.

Floor: Carpet over solid timber floor provides some insulation, but bathroom and kitchen will take the maximum heat loss – overall about 8%.

Air Leakage: Being an older home with wooden joinery a few gaps will let in cold air or attract warm air to escape, especially the louvered toilet window and the gaps under the front and back doors. Probably losing about 5%.

So if we turn the electric heater, the heat pump, the gas fire, the wood burner and the oven on, with all the internal doors open and trying to heat the whole house we are losing close to 90% of the heat generated.

So what can be done to improve heat loss?

Firstly, insulate: Put R3.2 insulation in the ceiling, saves 30%. Under floor polystyrene saves 8%.

Walls are a bit tricky as there is no easy way to insulate other than to remove the wall linings. Brick houses of this era had no building paper, so this needs to be fitted between studs and nogs to prevent insulation from touching the brick and to leave a cavity between brick and framing. Do this to save 25%.

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The glass is a big one, but removing and replacing with double glazed units is possible. Replace curtains with heavy thermal drapes, and replace front and back doors with either double glazed glass or cover with drapes. Same for bathroom - replace with 12mm thermal glass, heat loss now only 5%.

Seal around any loose-fitting joinery and plane window sashes so they close tight. Fit seals if necessary, losing only 2% air leakage.

By doing this you’ll have spent a few dollars but you’ll only be losing 12-15% of the heat you’re pumping in. In a few winters the savings will outweigh the costs and with proper insulation the house will also be cooler in the summer.

So how should we go about heating your house?

Heat pumps are popular because they are reverse cycle, meaning that they heat and or cool, so provide year round comfort. As a heater they are quiet and energy efficient. Larger under floor models can be retrofitted into older homes and vents enable warm air to be pumped into bedrooms, hallways, living rooms, and even bathrooms. Because the air comes in at floor level and hot air rises, they create a warm environment quickly.

Inbuilt or portable gas fires give instant warmth, but gas causes condensation. Unless you have a ventilation system to draw fresh warm air in to your home then you should maybe look at alternatives.

Wood fire, log fire, wood burners. The open fire is pretty much obsolete and the closed in log/wood burner has taken its place. The spectacle of open flames is something that gives a sense of warmth and many would say it’s the only way to heat your home. To some the thought of getting the wood, drying it, chopping it and stacking it is all too much of a chore. To others, it’s what makes life worth living. There is just something about a fire.

Electric/fan forced heaters. For small spaces these can provide a burst of heat to take the chill off the air, but pricey if used all day every day.

Electric panel heaters. These are ideal for bedrooms and hallways. A thin element heats up a panel of fibre cement and the heat is released slowly.They’re also low voltage so are reasonably efficient to run.

Whatever you choose, choosing to insulate will save you money in the long term, making it a solid investment.


Home loan top-ups

Pay for home renovations, big purchases, and/or events and if it's insulation or heating you need, you could be eligible for a special home loan top up.

Find out more today.