Can you make physical changes to "old "house to make it warm e.g add another layer of bricks, insulate etc

(41 Posts)
namechangeagain2013 Wed 06-Mar-13 12:27:50

Is it possible to make an old house warm? We live in a biggish house - old boiler and massive gas bils (depsite the fact I am so tight with the heating). I think there are 16 radiators in house. When heating up it feels like a sauna but he minute the heating is off the house gets cold. There is no happy medium. As for the keep it on low all day brigade well we already pay £3,000 on what I do (max 6-8 hours a day) a ridiculous amount of money and I jest not it would be over £5,000 if I did this.

Half of our house is modern (so bit warmer) half of the house is 1920s. It feels like a garage even with the heating on. It is freezing. The walls are cold. There is no cavity wall so there is nothing to fill/insulate. Can anything be done? I think I read somewhere that you could board the inside of the room but don't see how this works when you have windows and then have these set in v thick walls?

Anyone else had/solved this issue? Thanks v much.

nipersvest Wed 06-Mar-13 12:32:12

thick curtains, keep internal doors shut to trap in the heat, put those reflective sheets behind the radiators so the heat isn't being lost through the walls.

sympathies, our house is cold too. plan is to put a solid fuel stove in the sitting room so we can use up all the logs we have from clearing the garden. eventually!

namechangeagain2013 Wed 06-Mar-13 12:36:45

Thanks. That is not going to do it for us anymore. If it cant be solved properly we are moving so I just want to see if there is anything that can be done properly rather than tinkering round the edges. Shutting internal doors is not even tinkering- the place is freezing both sides of the door.

forevergreek Wed 06-Mar-13 12:39:59

You can add insulation onto the walls. On a kind of false baton wall, then it's boarded over and plastered ontop. Easy enough but probably not that cheap

Hattifattner Wed 06-Mar-13 12:47:34

sympathies OP - ou house is 250 year old, stone built. Brrrrrr.

Id recommend a new boiler - you will see a return on investment within 2-3 years. Our heating is on most of the time, we have similar number of rads and our gas is half of yours to heat the house.

curiousparent Wed 06-Mar-13 12:50:38

Have you looked at external wall insulation? It isn't suitable for all properties and it depends what the external aesthetics of your house are but this method is currently being used for various houses in order to help retain the heat. Kingspan are one supplier of this system - and they also do the internal insulation that someone else mentioned.

Might be worth a look!

curiousparent Wed 06-Mar-13 12:51:49

Meant to say it is rendered over the top - I have seen it done to brick wall houses but can be done to others too.

TigerFeet Wed 06-Mar-13 12:57:33

How draughtproof is it? We've just moved into a 1920/30 house and it is draughty and FREEZING. Most of the windows need replacing (which we knew when we bought it so fair enough) so we'll do that in the summer. In the meantime dh has gone round and put this stuff round all the doors and windows and this stuff to do some temporary secondary glazing. It really has helped, the temperature inside might be no better but we aren't sitting in a howling gale which makes it seem warmer.

Thankfully we have wall cavities so we'll be getting those insulated too.

Could you possibly cover the inside walls with some kind of insulating board? It would be a massive job and you'd have to replaster over and redecorate but if you love the house otherwise it would be worth it.

Also check your loft insulation to make sure that's as good as it can be.

Rather than heating the whole house could you just keep one or two rooms warm?

Flosshilde Wed 06-Mar-13 13:07:25

We live in a 30s semi and the first winter we were here it was freezing. We have had the walls checked and there are no cavities so we couldn't do cavity wall insulation. We already have double glazing.

Instead we:

- reinsulated the loft to modern standards, boarded it and put reflective foil over the roof timbers. This made a massive difference.
- new modern, efficient boiler, moved upstairs into bathroom rather than in corner of kitchen;
- covers over the two remaining open fireplaces (with ventilation holes in them), though admittedly this was more to stop DS falling into them than for warmth, but a useful side effect;
- draught excluding tape around front door.

The house is now really toasty and warm. We have the heating on low and our gas bills are reasonable.

Internal and external insulation is an option but the major drawback of the former is that it makes your rooms smaller and the latter that it is ugly and often people avoid doing the front of the house (for that reason) and therefore is a bit pointless.

namechangeagain2013 Wed 06-Mar-13 13:11:59

forever greek - i think that is what I am talking about I just think it must look very odd when it comes to doing this around windows? Also I assume it is done so it does not make rooms look significantly smaller. What sort of person would do this?

I will have a look at the external insulation but our house is big and I expect the cost even to make the whole house in keeping even if we don't insulate the whole house will be in the several tens of thousands confused.

Tigerfeet It is not draughtty - the windows are fairly new it is the building itself. It is just cold.

OhMyNoReally Wed 06-Mar-13 13:20:07

Maybe thicker underlay and wool carpets. Perhaps new radiators that bounce heat and new windows Everest do some that bounce heat into the room, we looked at them before we moved but they were too expensive.

namechangeagain2013 Wed 06-Mar-13 13:25:49

Flosshilde - that is v interesting.

We live in a detached house so no one to insulate either side but the principle must be the same. Part of the loft is a room and the other half is boarded out probably has no insulation at all which must cause heat loss. But I don't see how insulating there will help the loss through the walls on the ground floor or am I missing something? Also why does moving boiler to bathroom help? We do have a huge inglenook fireplace which probably does not help though no idea how to deal with that (we never use it).

PigletJohn Wed 06-Mar-13 13:26:43

you have thick loft insulation, you have draughtproofed, and you have carpet (not bare boards) downstairs.

So most of your heat loss will now be through the solid, non-cavity walls.

It s possible but very expensive to apply insulating foam slabs to the outside of the house, and render or clad over that. However it will change the appearance of the house. It is worth considering if the house has got to be re-rendered or re-clad anyway.

More cost-effective is to line the inside surface of the external walls with insulation and plasterboard, skimmed, over that. You will have to move switches, sockets, skirtings. Rigid insulating foam is a better insulator than mineral wool, and only has to be half as thick. Kingspan make special boards for the purpose with a plasterboard skin on an insulating slab. You wil lose a few inches off the width of the room. As well as reducing heat loss, the house will warm up faster.

You need a vapour barrier on the inside surface to prevent warm, moist air from the house getting behind the insulation and causing condensation.

If you have good access under the ground floor, you can insulate between the joists, but mist not block ventilation. It will not save as much as the loft and wall insulation.

Value for money, double-glazing costs most and saves least. Draught-proofing costs least.

PigletJohn Wed 06-Mar-13 13:29:04


you say^"When heating up it feels like a sauna"^ which indicates that your heating controls need improving. No point in overheating it. Have you got a room thermostat? Have you got TRVs? How old is your boiler? What colour is your hot-water cylinder? How is it, and the hot pipes, insulated?

namechangeagain2013 Wed 06-Mar-13 13:29:46

ok major point - parquet floor and stipped wood and tiles downstairs - no carpet smile - would this make a huge difference?

PigletJohn Wed 06-Mar-13 13:34:31


soaccidentprone Wed 06-Mar-13 13:36:45

have you tried contacting green deal

they do an assessment of your energy etc and produce a report on how you can best save money on your bills.

would it be possible to insulate under the floor?

thick curtains, draught excluders at the doors, check your loft insulation levels.

namechangeagain2013 Wed 06-Mar-13 13:42:45

no idea on the ps. yes room thermostat or rather one theromstat for the house but it is a big house. Is that what you mean? have trv on some not all - some (and now this shows age) seem to have some sort of wire coil on them that is supposed to be some kind of control but I don't know how. Boiler old (20+) but whenever people come to look at it I get the they don't make them like that nowadays, why change it if it is not broken etc etc so we never have.

I have notice in one room 2 small holes in wall close close to the rads (they are in wooden rad cases) which is a draft. I think they are there in case we suffocate oursleves from the inglenook fireplace that we never light. Does anyone know if it is illegal to take them away as it is like having a mini mini window open all the time. Having said that they are not in the bedrooms above that room and those rooms are freezing too.

Thanks for all these helpful replies.

PigletJohn Wed 06-Mar-13 13:59:12

You might have a splendid old boiler such as a Potterton Profile. A new one will probably not last 20 years, especially if you change to a combi. Tell me about your hot-water cylinder.

As an old boiler cannot modulate its flame size in response to demand, you could try turning the boiler thermostat down a bit so that the radiators are less hot. This will prevent the sauna feeling.

Have a look at your room thermostat. It should be set to about 20C. Again, unless it has been fitted in a cold room or the hall, it should turn the heat off when the rooms reach their comfortable temperature, (again avoiding the sauna) and back on as soon as it drops a bit. Modern digital thermostats are far more precise than old ones. If you change it, go for a programmable stat that will give different temperatures at different times of day and different days of the week. This also improves comfort and efficiency. It is sensible to have the room stat fitted in the room that you use the most.

namechangeagain2013 Wed 06-Mar-13 14:09:33

can I get back to you re hot water cylinder as I am not home - I will. I think boiler has some sort of name like aztec or similar - again I can get back to you on this. We have been told combi no good as house too big (and what happens if someone wants shower and someone runs tap downstairs etc etc). There was talk about fitting a megaflow but I may be getting confused about what this does. Thermostat is in the hall.

you have given me lots to think about.

ibbydibby Wed 06-Mar-13 14:18:05

We were in similar-ish position, asked builder for suggestions. He (as suggested upthread) thought insulated plasterboard best bet, fixed to batons on original wall. Windowsill replace with deeper one, so window cavity just a bit deeper than used to be, if that makes sense.

This winter we have really noticed difference - if we had been out all day, no heating, come back and living room icy cold, now just "not warm" if no heating all day. Similarly, cam down one morning in Jan (when much colder), sat and ate breakfast thinking room did not feel as if heating was on (but not icy cold). Discovered central heating had failed (low pressure, easily fixed). Point is that had we not had the insulation done, I would not have been able to tolerate sitting there and eating breakfast.

We are really glad we had it done, hoping to get other walls done this year.

namechangeagain2013 Wed 06-Mar-13 14:21:23

so you just has one wall done?

didimisssomething Wed 06-Mar-13 14:21:38

I have a big, old single skin house - we thermoboarded some of our walls and it made a huge difference - you do have to move sockets and window frames so it isn't cheap. We didn't do every wall but concentrated on those with the biggest external surface area IYSWIM. This wasn't a DIY for us though as its quite a big job - used a builder and very pleased with the results!

PigletJohn Wed 06-Mar-13 14:22:10

thermostat in the hall was quite normal 50 years ago, but not now.

I agree a combi would not suit you.

A megaflo is a different sort of hot water cylinder, but not relevant to your heating problem today

The ventilation is probably for the open fire. If you block up the fireplace (except for a ventilation hole) it will reduce draughts.

MinimalistMommi Wed 06-Mar-13 14:30:00

Have you thought about installing wood burner for winter? They're meant to throw out so much heat, but I guess you need to find source of reasonably priced seasoned wood...

Flosshilde Wed 06-Mar-13 14:39:24

Insulating the loft doesn't help with heat loss through the walls but a great deal of our heat loss was through the roof - this is why the loft insulation made such a massive difference. Stopping this has actually made the walls feel warmer simply because the house is warmer.

We have thermostatic valves on all our radiators as well - this regulates the temperature in each room as necessary and avoids some getting v hot (DS' with one outside wall) vs some not hot enough (kitchen, 3 outside walls). The thermostat in the hall stays at 21deg.

In terms of the boiler, ours was old and condemned and its position in the kitchen was no longer to modern regulations. The effect of moving it to the bathroom is that the radiators are more efficient, plus it heats by itself the top of the stairs which is where our highest ceiling is.

We didn't block our vents in the rooms where the fireplaces are and also kept ventilation holes in the fireplace covers to allow air to circulate. You could do something as simple as a piece of timber over the fireplace, painted in a design or colour to suit.

QuickLookBusy Wed 06-Mar-13 14:43:48

We had similar problems when we moved into our very old house..

2 things which have made a difference

A wood burning stove- amazing, would never be without one, we leave the doors open and it heats half the house.

Changed the boiler. We only did this last year and wish we'd done it much sooner. We have used about a third less gas than we did in the winter before. When we had it fitted we also had a "flush" thingy done technical term to the rads. They now get warmer much more quickly and we have the rads on number 3/4 rather than the 6 we used to have them on.

sybilvimes Wed 06-Mar-13 14:58:36

We have a potterton profile boiler. Engineers give us the ' they don't make them like that anymore' speech too.

Well, I bloody well hope not 'cos we are planning to change this spring and if the next boiler wakes up the whole house with its banging and kettling every time it comes on, I may actually go insane.

Also, I am very much looking forward to a reduction in my gas bills as well as a full nights sleep thank you so very much!

Sorry for hijack op.

PigletJohn Wed 06-Mar-13 15:13:40

hee hee!

the banging and kettling can (usually) be dealt with by a chemical clean at modest cost, or other less modest work. You will actually have to have the system comprehensively cleaned and a filter fitted before the new boiler goes in, to prevent it getting clogged with the existing load of sludge and sediment in the pipes and radiators.

Too late for you now, though.

In my case the new boiler and associated work knocked about 30% off my gas bill, but cost over £3k so was not justified until the boiler old became irrepairable.

PolterGoose Wed 06-Mar-13 18:57:46

I would seriously think about some form of wood or solid fuel stove in the inglenook. Not only will it heat the room but if you keep it ticking over the residual heat in the chimney will create a low level background warmth. Even better if the chimney is in the middle of the house.

mumteacher Wed 06-Mar-13 20:14:42

Couldn't you get a new boiler fitted through the green deal? Btw way looking for recommendations of green deal assessors if anyone can help.

MorningHasBroken Wed 06-Mar-13 20:48:06

Some ideas here, energy saving trust

steppemum Wed 06-Mar-13 21:01:31

take the wooden covers off the radiators!

carpet will make a huge difference

change boiler, and put thermostats on every radiator

get a control panel for the heating that puts it on different temperatures during day/evening

Either use the inglenook, (with wood burner) or get a proper chimney balloon that seals it off (this alone will make a massive difference)

namechangeagain2013 Fri 08-Mar-13 12:22:44

right sorry this has taken some time the boiler is Mexico 2 (snigger at me gurssing at "Aztec"). The water cylinder is a lime green? it does not seem to be insulated it is just a metal thing and no idea what the "hot pipes" are. How will insulating the hot water cylinder help the heating? (sorry if this question is dense).

Can I fit that chimey balloon thing myself and if do where do I get one?

Can I bung up any ventilation holes - these are nowhere near the fireplace (about 12 foot away in the outside walls each end of a 25 foot room?)

Thanks all.

Gabilein Fri 08-Mar-13 16:55:44

I live in the coldest house in Oxford. Even my olive oil gets cloudy. I am now doing external and internal insulation. Plus double glazed windows, plus plus.
Also I am writing a blog about it.

PigletJohn Fri 08-Mar-13 17:52:01

the green colour of the cylinder will be the factory-applied coating of rigid plastic insulating foam. Poke it with a thumbnail and it will leave a mark. Green means it might be about ten years old, and while not as efficient as the latest blue ones, or a white one, is OK. It will have large copper pipes going into near the bottom and near the middle, these will be very hot while the boiler is heating the cylinder, so should be insulated with foam lagging such as Climaflex or an own-brand alternative, as thick as will fit, on the pipes around the cylinder and around the boiler. This is a cheap and easy DIY job if you have a breadknife.

The Mexico 2 I can't find, there area lot of Ideal Mexico models, ranging in efficiency from about 70% to about 80%, it is a non-condensing boiler and I will guess has a cast iron heat exchanger and will be simple and not much to go wrong. A modern condensing boiler would be about 90% efficient so could save you between a seventh and an eighth of your gas usage. This alone would not cover the cost of change, but will be a benefit when your old boiler dies.

It is likely that with this old boiler, even if it is running well, by this time there will be a lot of sludge and scale in the system. For example, you might find cold patches at the bottom or the middle of some radiators, and the boiler may bang when hot, or make a noise like a singing kettle coming to the boil. It can be cleaned out in various ways, of varying cost. Cleaning it out will improve the efficiency and economy, as well as giving greater heat from the sludgy radiators, but I can't quantify that.

If your TRVs are equally old, they may be sticking or failed, so that they no longer maintain rooms at the desired temperature, so reducing comfort or economy. It is fairly easy and cheap to change them if you are fond of DIY plumbing, but will be fairly costly if you have to pay someone. It is best done in the summer when heating is no longer required.

Your house will be warmer and feel more comfortable if you carpet those wooden ground floors. If you have access underneath them you can insulate between the joists. This is laborous and dirty unless the floors are being lifted for some other reason, for example they are chipboard and are being put on the bonfire.

Some people will tell you that you need to change to a Combi boiler, this is not correct. Modern condensing boilers are available as Combi, heat-only, or conventional, and you are free to use a HW cylinder of various kinds.

If you block up the ventilation holes in the room with the fireplace, I am sure you will forget to unblock them if and when you or a future person lights the fire again. A local chimney sweep can advise best on how to handle the chimney to prevent draughts, and what ventilation is required. He will also know if you can DIY, and he will know who are the local tradesmen who will make a good job of it.

Green Deal has been mentioned a couple of times - as part of this the energy companies are obliged to subsidise the cost of expensive measures such as external or internal wall insulation, regardless of income. I don't know the specific details but you can call the energy saving advice service for advice on this (think it's 0300 123 1234 but you might want to google it!)
Slight word of warning on the Green Deal though - it's basically a type of loan that is paid off through a charge on your electricity bill. In theory you shouldn't pay any more a month than you did before (as you should now be using less energy so I should all balance out) but as a loan the rates aren't that competitive - about 7% I think.

pluCaChange Fri 08-Mar-13 22:38:50

Oooh, Gabilein, may I just offer you the technical term for what happens to your olive oil?


Isn't that a wonderful word (even if the phenomenon in your house is shocking!)?

Sinkingfeeling Fri 08-Mar-13 22:59:59

Great blog, Gabilein. I take issue with you though - I live in the coldest house in Oxford. wink

duchesse Fri 08-Mar-13 23:07:52

We've recently switched to a biomass boiler because we couldn't afford to heat it with gas. Although we now have a smallish mortgage to pay for the installation, our fuel costs have gone right down. Hopefully we'll be able to get renewable heat incentive payments as well.

One thing that we also did is put in double glazing throughout, insulate under the floating main room floors (there was actual wind coming through it before we did that), and last year we took down all the sloping ceilings in our bedrooms and had the roof space insulated to above modern building regs. All this has made a difference.

We've also found that if the house is damp it feels colder. Running a dehumidifier might help a lot in making your hose feel warmer at the same temperature and it costs less to run than heating- might be worth a try. We use it in the back kitchen to dry the washing in the winter. It's worth its weight in gold I reckon.

AliceWChild Sat 09-Mar-13 09:28:31

You buy chimney balloons online and yes dead easy to fit yourself and make a huge difference.

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