Saving money at home - whatever the weather

Updated / Monday, 5 Mar 2018 14:42

Insulating your home can slash your energy bills - but it's about more than rolling out some fibreglass in your attic

A bout of bad weather can be quite a shock to the system - but so too is the inflated energy bill that comes a few weeks later.

But no matter how the weather is now, it’s never a bad time to make your home more energy efficient. Done right it will save you money while keeping you cosy - with an extra bit of warmth coming from the knowledge that you’re doing your bit for the environment too.

The easy wins

While the real benefits of energy efficiency take investment, there are some simple things that can give immediate savings.

Switching to more energy efficient bulbs is a good example of that - and while the returns may not be breathtaking, they’re not to be sniffed at either.

An LED bulb is more expensive than a halogen equivalent but that difference should be recouped within a year and, as they have a considerably longer lifespan, you won’t have to replace them as often.

With each bulb saving you a few euro each year, that adds up to a decent sum of money once multiplied across all the lights in your home.

Another easy change is to block draughts in the house. This can be done by adding draught-excluding seals to doors or by using a chimney flue balloon when your fire is not lit.

The savings from this are hard to quantify - but you should immediately feel the effects by way of a cosier home.

Insulate yourself against big bills

If you want to make real gains you may need to consider making a real investment.

The Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland recommends that insulation should be the first port of call for any efficiency-focused home improvements - as even the best heating system in the world would be wasteful in heat-leaking home.

But doing that right involves more than a few rolls of fibreglass in your attic - proper insulation  includes your walls as much as your roof.

The SEAI estimates that an average home loses 20-30% of its heat through walls and up to 30% through the attic - so good insulation could cut heating bills in half.

The cheapest option for wall insulation involves pumping small polystyrene pellets into the external wall.

This can cost around €700-€1,000 for a semi-detached home, with the SEAI offering a €300 grant against the cost. However that is only suitable for homes built with proper cavity walls, meaning many buildings will be incompatible.

An alternative that is suitable for all home types - and perhaps one of the most straight-forward available - is internal ‘dry-lined’ insulation, often referred to as Warm Boards.

They are essentially plasterboards with a layer of insulated material on the back that can be put on any wall (or ceiling) that’s exposed to the outside.

They are then skimmed like normal plasterboard, leaving a normal-looking but well-insulated wall.

Warm boards are relatively cheap to buy - around €25-35 per 3 meter squared depending on the thickness of the insulation - and one added up-side is that you can install them on a room-by-room basis.

Again, the SEAI offers a grant for their installation - ranging from €1,200 to €2,400 depending on your home type (though that is based on the entire house being dry-lined at once).
The final and most expensive option is external wall insulation, which sees slabs of polystyrene attached to the outside of a house before it’s covered in a solid render to make it weather-proof.

Costs will vary depending on the number and size of your external walls but a standard semi-detached house may cost anywhere between €10,000 and €15,000 to insulate using this method.

In that instance an SEAI grant of €4,500 would help to soften the blow, though that amount is lower (€2,750) for apartments or mid-terrace houses and higher (€6,000) for detached homes.

Turning up the heat

Once your home is better equipped to hold the heat, you can turn your attention to the heat itself.

If your boiler is getting on in years it may be worth replacing it with a more efficient model - for example a condenser boiler, which gets more heat from the fuel it burns.

Should your boiler still has some years left in it, make sure you are at least keeping it serviced - as that will ensure it is running as efficiently as it can.

You can also look at the way in which your heating system makes use of your boiler’s output - as proper controls can make a significant difference to your costs.

A 24/7 timer will allow you to keep tighter control of your heating schedule, while a thermostat will ensure the temperature stays steady - stopping the house from overheating in the process.

If you can add in zones this will allow you to heat separate areas of the house - or the water - independently, meaning you are not turning on every radiator just to make your living room cosy in the evening.

The SEAI no longer offers grants for boiler upgrades but can give €700 towards improved heating controls.

More heat than from light

With all that in place you should see huge savings on your energy bills, however there is the potential to shave even more off your annual outgoings by reducing the amount of heat you’re paying for.

This can be done by a few methods - including the installation of solar thermal panels, which uses daylight to heat your water.

Jokes about Ireland’s lack of sunshine aside, these panels will - at the very least - boost the base temperature of your water, meaning your boiler has less work to do when you do want to warm your home.

An average installation could cost around €5,000 but the SEAI estimates that they could cover 60% of a household’s heating needs each year, with a grant of €1,200 on offer for their installation.

Another option is the installation of a heat pump - which pulls in warm air from the outside to help heat your water and, in turn, your home.

It works in a similar way to your fridge, transferring warm air from one place to another, and while running one will elevate your electricity usage it should cut your heating costs dramatically.

This can be a more expensive option than solar - costing around €9,000 to install - but there will be a €3,500 SEAI grant available from April on.

Efficient use of resources

Some energy efficient changes can be done with ease and minimal expense; some can be done as part of bigger home improvements, while others require major investment and plenty of consideration.

If you expect to be in the same home for many years to come the right investment could save you big time in the long-run. Just make sure you consult reputable companies - and get plenty of quotes - before you make a final decision on what the right move is for you.