Houses Built in the 20th Century are Losing Heat, Losing Energy, and Wasting Money

By Joe Kearney Created: November 19, 2012 Last Updated: November 19, 2012
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There are thousands of homes, and possibly hundreds of thousands of homes in Ireland today that are wasting money and energy unnecessarily. 

Through the floor, walls, roof, chimney and windows, they lose heat to the outside. This may be great on a warm summer’s day when you may like a cool breeze passing through your house, but most people do not enjoy icy chills passing through their homes in winter.

New homes in Ireland are now required to be more efficient, as regulations introduced in 2008 ensure that every new home built in Ireland needed an air pressure test. This is a test to determine where draughts are coming into a house, so that they can be fixed before it is finished and occupied. 

Furthermore, each house sold in Ireland today, whether new or old, needs a BER certificate, and this has had the effect of creating a market for more efficient homes. Previously when purchasing a home, buyers would not know whether it would prove to be energy efficient or not.

Before these new regulations were brought in, many good and warm houses were being built; however, there was huge variation in the market, as it was not being regulated. Today there is a minimum requirement set in the Irish construction industry that every building constructed here must be reasonably efficient.

Architects, builders and engineers cannot sign off on a house without going through the correct procedures.

Any house built before the year 2000 would, in general, have had very little insulation in it, and if you go further back you would be lucky to see any insulation at all. Some new regulations did come into force in 1997, but they were not as strict as today’s standards.

There are a number of ways that homes lose heat, and there are a number of ways to prevent this from occurring. 

The most cost-effective way of keeping your home warm is to have a well insulated attic. This is probably the cheapest method of attaining an energy-efficient home, and should be the first thing that is looked at.

The walls are probably the next step after the attic. There is often very little insulation in the walls of Irish homes, but there are a number of options to remedy this. Fibreglass is insulation made of fine glass fibres, and was generally applied to walls between wooden battens. This method was fairly common in the 90s, but its relatively poor performance means many homeowners are now replacing it with more modern and effective materials. 

Another option, especially for hollow block walls, is to insulate those externally. External insulation is very effective; it’s putting insulation on the entire outside of a house, and it insulates 100 per cent of your house. There are grants in place for this and I can help people who are interested in obtaining those grants; please call me at the number provided for assistance.

If you have cavity walls, an even cheaper option for insulating your home is to pump insulating materials into the walls. This is a very cost-effective way of keeping heat in the house. 

Now let’s look at the floors. There are generally two types of floors: concrete floors and suspended timber floors. 

Timber floors generally allow air from outside the house to circulate underneath them in order to keep them dry. This can cause a huge problem in a room with a chimney. A chimney by its nature will suck the warm air out of a room -- it needs to do this to extract smoke from the fireplace. When you have a timber floor, the chimney has the effect of sucking cold air from outside into your home, not only draining heat, but adding cold air to the mix. 

For poorly-insulated concrete floors it is even worse, as there are few options other than ripping the floor up and replacing it with insulation and a new screed.

Part of the problem mentioned above can be resolved by using a pellet stove rather than an open fireplace. This will eliminate the draught from the fireplace. 

An open fire is approximately 20 per cent and a gas fire 30 per cent efficient; however, a pellet burner achieves up to 80 per cent efficiency. The reason is that it is a closed system, so you’re not creating a draught in the house. It burns the fuel very efficiently, and it consumes very few pellets to give an enormous amount of heat.

For nearly all the approaches mentioned above there are substantial grants in place to help home owners to better insulate their homes, save energy, and save money this winter. If you are interested in learning more, I’d be happy to take your call.

Joe Kearney is a chartered engineer. He is the founder of, and is one of Ireland’s leading energy experts, he can be reached on 046 904 6000.

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