14 low-tech ways to keep your house warm over the winter
By Tom Heyden BBC News Magazine
There’s growing concern about price rises from British energy companies. Here are cheap ways to save money when heating your house.
Householders are regularly being advised to install double glazing, thorough insulation and overhaul their inefficient heating system. But apart from those often expensive tactics, what can be done cheaply and quickly to keep your house warm?
1. Use tin foil. One way to prevent unnecessary heat loss from radiators, particularly on those attached to external walls, is to use heat reflective aluminium foil behind the radiator. This prevents heat disappearing through the wall by reflecting it back into the room, says Sophie Neuburg, energy campaigner for charity Friends of the Earth. Foil specially designed for the purpose can be bought for under £10. “You can even use good quality kitchen foil,” says Carl Brennand, assistant manager of website Moneymagpie, although it’s generally not as effective.
2. Thick curtains are one of the main ways to protect your house from losing heat through the windows. Curtains with a thermal lining are a relatively cheap option, says Brennand. “The thicker the better,” adds Archna Luthra, consumer analyst at moneysavingexpert.com. If you don’t want to splash out on new curtains you can line them yourself with materials like cheap fleece, says Brennand. “You can even use PVC shower curtains,” he suggests. And it’s not just windows that can have curtains. Placing a curtain in front of doors to the outside adds another layer of protection. And it doesn’t even need to be a curtain. “My gran used to have an old rug that she used to pin up over the back of the front door,” says interior designer Claire Potter.
3. But let the sunlight in during the day. It’s important to try to use as much natural – and free – heat (in the form of sunlight) as possible. Window shades and curtains should be kept open during the day, advise Age UK. Closing your curtains as soon as dusk falls will maximise your house’s potential to retain that heat.
4. Double glazing is heat-efficient but it’s relatively costly. If you can’t afford it, why not fake it? “There’s a special film that you can put across [single-glazed] windows” that can imitate the same effect, albeit to a lesser degree, says Neuburg. You can attach the film to the window frame using double-sided tape and then fix it using a hairdryer, she says. There’s a downside. You won’t be able to open your windows without breaking the seal. But a pack to cover a medium-sized house would be about £15, estimates Potter, so it could just be redone from time to time. Potter, who has no heating system in her house, says one batch of film has lasted about two or three years as she has small windows. Alternatively, self-adhesive foam strips can help seal any gaps in the edges of windows. Metal or plastic strips with brushes or wipers attached cost a bit more but will last longer as a result, according to the Energy Saving Trust. These can also be used as draught excluders around the hinges and frames of doors.
5. Stop heat being lost up the chimney. It’s now fairly common to have fireplaces that are merely decorative. If you’re not using yours then you should consider a chimney balloon, says Potter. “There’s an amazing amount of heat that can be lost through an open fireplace,” she says. A chimney balloon, made from a special laminate, can be bought for about £20 and works by being placed inside the chimney hole, just out of sight. It’s then inflated until it completely shuts out any incoming cold air or escaping heat. Just be sure not to start a fire without removing it. There are also woollen chimney insulators on the market. But again, make sure you remove them before starting any fires.
6. Watch out for mini-draughts. “Lots of draught comes through the letterbox,” says Potter. It’s worthwhile putting an extra barrier there in the form of a “brush”. They may be a nightmare for junk-mailers trying to force through that 15th pizza takeaway offer, but they could prevent a chill breezing through the house. The same goes for keyholes, which can be protected with “simple circular (keyhole covers) that slip over the top”, says Potter, especially with the older, wider keyholes. Cat or dog flaps can also be filled with some sheep’s wool insulation or pieces of blanket. “It’s amazing how even a small draught can make a room a lot colder, so if you can cut that bit of air out it immediately makes a difference,” says Potter.
7. DIY draught excluders are one lesson people can learn from previous generations. “Old-fashioned draught excluders work well,” says Potter. “In the past it wasn’t unusual to have a ‘sausage dog’,” says Potter. For the uninitiated, “sausage dog” draught excluders are vaguely reminiscent of the shape of a dachshund and typically rest at the bottom of doors, stopping heat escaping through the gap between door and floor. Anybody who’s ever been smoking inside a room that they shouldn’t will probably be aware that almost any material or piece of clothing can be used to wedge the space. And simple draught excluders can be made from cutting an old pair of tights and stuffing them with socks, says Luthra. But the more ambitious can go further. “If you really want to go all out you can decorate them,” she says. The stuffing can be almost anything from rice and lentils to gravel, suggests the website Singerdiscount, which also provides a relatively simple guide.
8. Clear your radiators. Try and avoid placing large pieces of furniture in front of them. At least in the short-term, the sofa you love by the radiator is absorbing heat, says Neuburg.
9. Putting a shelf above the radiator, especially if you have high ceilings, can also help channel the warmth, adds Neuburg. But it’s important not to place things on the radiator itself, she says, “You can put a shelf above it to stop the hot air rising directly above it.” This is particularly the case if the radiator is below a window with curtains, where warm air would be trapped between the window and the curtain.
10. Shut up unused rooms, says Neuburg. Keeping doors closed will prevent cold air moving into the rest of the house and contain the heat you’ve generated in a smaller area.
11. Cover bare floorboards. Floors account for as much as 10% of heat loss if they’re not insulated, according to the National Energy Foundation (NEF). Carpets came into being for a reason, says Potter. Those with wooden flooring have to deal with heat loss. Rugs and blankets can help mitigate this and have the added bonus of keeping your feet warm. “Sometimes it’s just the psychological element,” says Potter. But if there are cracks or gaps in the flooring it’s a good idea to squirt some filler into them, advises the NEF. “Floorboards and skirting boards can contract, expand or move slightly with everyday use, so you should use a filler that can tolerate movement,” suggests the NEF. These are usually silicon-based.
12. Insulating your whole house professionally can seem expensive to some. But DIY loft insulation is a possibility. Rolls of foam insulation are cheap, says Brennand, and three rolls of 8in deep foam should be enough to give most lofts an important layer of protection. Mineral wool (such as Rockwool or Rocksil), glass fibre and recycled paper products all work well, according to the NEF. But remember to wear a facemask, goggles and protective clothing if you do it yourself, and leave sufficient gaps around the eaves to avoid condensation, the NEF warns.
Help from your energy supplier
If you’re on certain benefits and own or privately rent your home, you might be eligible for help with energy-saving home improvements under the Energy Companies Obligation (ECO) – a government energy efficiency programme brought in this year.
Find out more here
13. Don’t undo your work by having an inefficient loft hatch, says Potter. “Some people might have a lovely insulated loft but the loft hatch might be an old timber one that’s not insulated,” she says. Insulating it can be done with same self-adhesive strips as for window and doors. It’s also worth checking that none of your roof tiles is loose or missing. “If you have loose tiles or a damaged roof then you’re going to get water that can get into your loft and as soon as the insulation gets wet it loses its efficiency,” she says. Although the difficulty of checking may be the biggest obstacle, if it’s safe to do so then a single tile or so can be relatively cheap to replace.
14. Setting timers on heating is important. “It’s a myth that keeping it on all day is better,” says Luthra. If it’s very cold, the timer should be set to switch the heating on earlier, rather than turning the thermostat up to warm the house rapidly, according to Age UK.