Webchat with Charlotte Lawrance

This is an edited transcript of a live webchat with Domestic Energy Assessor Charlotte Lawrance on 12 January 2009.  Charlotte has been working as an independent Domestic Energy Assessor since January 2008 and has two children under six and a third on the way, plus four dogs.

Charlotte: Hi, hopefully I will be able to answer as many questions as I can with answers that make sense! Unfortunately, there will be some questions that do not come under the expertise of a Domestic Energy Assessor but I will do my best.

Simplysally: Is it best to keep the heating in one room and leave the doors open or keep the doors closed? Scenario is a fairly-new build 2-bed flat so no horrendous draughts or badly-fitting windows.

Charlotte: Simplysally, if you have thermostatic radiator valves on your radiators and there are rooms that are not being used it would be more cost efficient to turn the radiators down in the rooms not being used and shut the door to that particular room

hunkermunker: What are the most important things one should do to one's house in order to maximise cost-effectiveness? I'm thinking things like doing work, such as putting insulation in loft through to a new boiler. Are there cons to cavity wall insulation? And is there an energy saver lightbulb that works with a dimmer switch? Actually, if you only answer one question on this thread, I would like it to be that one. Oh, also, is there a dimmer switch that doesn't buzz like a tiny angry bee is trapped behind it, because that makes me sad.

Charlotte: There are as you know various ways in which to save yourself money and reduce the heat loss from your home. If you want to start off small then change the lightbulbs to low energy as a first step. Then if you have cavity walls that are not insulated see about getting them filled. Insulating the loft to 270mm will also reduce your costs. Although you said you are not moving you could always ask a DEA to come and assess your property and produce an Energy Performance Certificate as that will highlight where you can save the most money and reduce your energy consumption.

Digiflux, come in two varieties – one that works with a dimmer switch, and one that works with a normal light switch. They are 20 watt bulbs. Am sorry but can't answer your question on the dimmer switch that doesn't buzz.

Lulumama: How much money should a super-duper condensing boiler, that is more than 90% efficient save over the course of a year? Our previous boiler was 20% efficient, and was either on or off and only had numbers 1 - 6 for temperature and seemed to be held together inside with tin foil and string! British Gas trying to charge us £245 a month based on last year's energy usage. <<faints>>

Charlotte: Lulumama – with regards to how much money and energy you will save by upgrading your boiler to a Band A condensing boiler I cannot give you exact figures without producing an Energy Performance Certificate on your property windows.

slackrunner: Is there anything I can do about our draughty windows (they're the original 160 yr old Victorian windows <shivers>) please? We want to move, so there's no point paying out the expense of getting double-glazing as we'll never recoup our costs in this market. We do have curtains and blinds in place already. Does that funny clingfilm that you put up at windows with a hairdryer actually work? And, is there any point of putting silver foil covered cardboard down the back of your radiators to reflect heat back into the room, or is that just a myth?

WilfSell: Is it worth fitting secondary glazing if we can't afford to replace the windows? What sort would be best? I want something more permanent than the film you blast with a hairdryer but less permanent than fully fitted secondary glazing - so I can take it down in the summer. Someone on MN said all this does is reduce draughts but I thought it was the air-gap between the two layers that works as insulation? To be effective then, does secondary glazing have to be completely sealed?

How can I tell if my walls are suitable for cavity insulation? How to find a reputable supplier? The various websites run by Energy bods are impenetrable and seem just to be advertising portals. Local authority no help either. VERY difficult to find out good information about whether to buy loose bead, fibre, the stuff that is sprayed with glue and what to ask of installers.

Same question for solar hot-water panels: they seem to be the double-glazing of the current era: peddled by sharks and charlatans. Please advise the average consumer on how to find good products and service.

Charlotte: Slackrunner and Wilfsell, when I assess a property I look at the windows to see if they are single, double glazed or secondary glazing – as this impacts on the heat loss. Double-glazing after 2002 is more efficient. Secondary glazing does reduce the heat loss and would therefore be a way of reducing draughts and heat loss. If like you, Slackrunner, you want to move and therefore don't want to pay to have double-glazing installed but I can't comment on the cling film type material, as it is not something I would look at when assessing a property.

Wilfsell, with regards to your question on solar panels I really wish I could answer it but I am a Domestic Energy Assessor and that isn't my area of knowledge. As I would advise anyone with regards to estate agents, solicitors and even DEAs – see if there are any kite mark schemes or professional bodies ie NAEA (for estate agents) RICS (chartered surveyors) and see who is on their list. If the company wishes to be part of a kite mark scheme or professional body then there will be certain codes of conduct that they have to adhere to.

Charlotte: Wilfsell, your house has to be constructed in cavity bond to be suitable for cavity insulation. That depends on the age of the property. There is an easy way to tell if your property has been built of cavity bond construction and that is the way the bricks are facing – have you just got a row of stretchers? Or is there a “pattern” i.e. stretcher, header x 10 etc. If it is just stretchers than it should be cavity wall and therefore suitable for insulation. I would, personally, ring your local council and see if there are any grants available and they then may recommend a particular company to use.

morningpaper: What temperature do you keep your house? What temperature is TOO LOW?

Morningpaper – too low with regards to a house temperature is a personal decision, I can't stand it if it is too warm but with little children in the house I have to keep the house warm. My heating is on at the moment at 19.

Pinkjenny: My husband and I chase each other round the house all day, him turning the heating off, and me turning it back on. Surely this is constant on and off malarkey is actually costing us more money? Would it (hopeful emoticon) be cheaper to have the heating on for longer periods, so that I don't have to keep switching it back on?

Clarissimo: Is it true that keeping your heating on a low (say 15) constantly is better cost wise than having it timed on something hotter (sorry ours doesn't have a temp guide) twice a day? I know people who argue both sides.

cath999: Hello, this may echo some of the above I am a full time mum and am at home most of the day and usually from 12pm. Is it best / most efficient for me to keep the heating on at a reasonable temp - our thermostat is set at 50 degrees F or have it on 2/3 times a day and allow the house to cool in between. Thanks x

Charlotte: Clarissimo, Pinkjenny and Cath999, it's nice to see that I am not the only one who has this argument with their husband! But although I am on the side of leaving the heating on at a lower temperature rather than switching it on and off all the time, as a DEA I don't have a cast-in-stone answer for you. When we assess a house for the EPC we assume that the main living room would be kept heated to a temperature of 21 degrees.

fishie: A domestic harmony question here. Dh has replaced all our bulbs with halogen or LEDs and it is gloomy. He likes it thus but I find it really depressing and am even longing for fluorescent strip lights. Any suggestions?

mysterymoniker: What sort of dogs do you have? Do you just put an extra one on each bed at night to save money on electric blankets?

Charlotte: Mysterymoniker, I have two Springer spaniels, both from the same litter we only had one originally but my brother asked us to look after his for a week or two back in 2007 and he has never come back for the dog! I also have two lurchers. I'm a bit mean and don't allow the dogs on the bed.

morningpaper: If the 'grant subsidised' cost of putting loft insulation in a 3-bed house is £200, is it cheaper or more expensive to do this yourself? I love the idea of using dogs as extra bed insulation

Charlotte: Morningpaper, with regards to your loft insulation it really does depend on the pitch of the roof, overall area needed to be covered and the ease of access to the loft hatch. So without seeing the property I couldn't comment.
WilfSell: Are energy monitors worth the money? Which ones work best and are most reliable?

Gizmo: Wilfsell, having just written a rather dull gripping paper on domestic energy displays I can tell you that they will all go some way towards helping you manage your energy consumption, but they won't necessarily agree with what your energy company is billing you. For something that does that, you'll probably have to wait until the country finally gets comprehensive smart metering, which is going to take five years as a bare minimum.

Sorry, to be more specific, you said: 'Are they worth the money?' There are quite a lot of studies out there that show people can make reductions of 5-10% on their energy consumption (sometimes much more) with the help of energy monitors. How much you personally can make probably depends on how energy conscious you are right now.

WilfSell: Thanks gizmo. We have been thinking about a smart meter for a while but have choice inertia. If they're all much the same, I guess we'll just give it a go. I suspect we consume far too much energy and will be able to make savings.

Charlotte: Wilfsell, with regards to energy monitors its a tricky one and one that as a DEA I don't have an answer to.

trinanz: Hi, do you know of any company that does green checks in your house as we 'high users' of electricity and I can't figure out why. Families I know of the same size and similar size house seem to pay less and do more, i.e. more dryer use, lots of lights on, things on standby etc... I would just like someone qualified and 'green' to come in and test everything including the meter and give me a report that says, here's why (or hopefully prove that there is a problem somewhere). And on that note is it possible to have an electricity 'leakage' - where the electricity is being drawn somewhere but not 'used' for anything - like a leaking tap?

OliviaMumsnet: trinanz, I think Charlotte has just answered your question, in her answer to Hunkermunker.

'Although you said you are not moving you could always ask a DEA to come and assess your property and produce an Energy Performance Certificate as that will highlight where you can save the most money and reduce your energy consumption.'

(She really is an efficiency expert.)

Charlotte: A qualified Domestic Energy Assessor can perform an Energy Performance Certificate on any residential property and will then produce a report telling you exactly where you can save money and what to do to insulate your house to a better standard etc. They are non-biased and will not be trying to sell you anything i.e. double glazing etc.

trinanz: Thanks for your response, I will definitely look into get an assessment - does it look at electricity consumption?

Charlotte: Trinanz - it will look at how to save you money and lower your energy costs (i.e. your carbon footprint and energy consumption) so it won't tell you to switch energy providers but it will provide you with professional advice on how and where you can save money within your home.

morningpaper: I'm confused by the seemingly conflicting advice that 1. I need to keep my house 'aired' to stop mould and condensation (so keeping air bricks and window air-vents OPEN) and 2. The resulting bloody chilly draught that courses through the house. Which do I do?

Charlotte: Morningpaper, with regards to airing the house vs. the condensation vs. keeping warm - it is necessary to allow natural ventilation through a property, I can't believe the amount of properties I visit that have shut the vent on their chimney breast (this can lead to a significant build up in condensation and damp). I would never recommend blocking or closing airbricks – they are there for a reason.

JulesJules: I find a long-haired cat works very well as free electric blanket! Not that she is free really, of course... <thinks of vet bills and cat food> I would also like to know if it is worth getting those foil backs for radiators, and if so, can you just do it yourself with cooking foil, (?how) or is it worth buying them? Can you get low energy bulbs that don't take 10 mins to warm up? The one in our bathroom drives me nuts. I too am confused by the condensation/ open a window thing while you are paying to heat the air - which Morningpaper asked about.

Charlotte: Julesjules and slackrunner – with regards to foil behind the radiators it is a good question but it's one of those items that as a DEA I don't have to consider. Obviously, if you can reflect the heat back into the room it has to be considered a benefit.

OliviaMumsnet: Charlotte, on the windows thing - what if you don't have double-glazing after 2002? Would "proper" secondary glazing make a difference to a rating?

Charlotte: Olivia - double glazing after 2002 is more energy efficient so you will get a better rating than if you have double glazing pre 2002. "Proper" secondary glazing will make a difference and improve the rating on the EPC so it is better than if you just had single glazing but double-glazing is more energy efficient and saves more heat.

Porpoise: So how do you get a DEA to come to your house? And is it very expensive?

Charlotte: Porpoise - there are various ways, you can go on the CLG website which will then allow you to search by postcode for a qualified DEA or simply google them. DEAs are not very expensive and when you think about how much advice you are getting without a sales spiel very much worth the money.

champagnesupernova: What are the most common inefficiencies that will make a difference to a house's rating?

Charlotte: I wish there were common inefficiencies to all properties but in the area I cover in Leicestershire there are so many different types and styles of property so it really varies! Basically an inefficient boiler, single glazed windows, solid walls or cavity walls with no insulation and no insulation within the loft (if I had to say any was common it would be a poorly functioning boiler and a low level of insulation within the loft) that appear most frequently.

Woolfell: Assuming all possible energy saving and insulation things have been fitted, what would you do next as a strategy for micro-generation?

gizmo: Charlotte, do you have any views on what, if any, forms of microgeneration are worth investing in? I expect the answer will be different if I am looking for microgen that washes its face financially, rather than microgen which is most effective at reducing your carbon footprint.

Charlotte: Woolfell and Gizmo – tricky question and personally I do not have any views at present on micro-generation as it is not something as a DEA that I am focusing on. Obviously if I was assessing a house that was creating its own energy that would impact on the Energy Performance Certificate.

The Government defines microgeneration as the production of heat and/or electricity on a small-scale from a low carbon source. Microgeneration can provide low carbon energy to a range of building sizes including homes, businesses, schools and communities. The most useful information I have found with regards to different types of micro-generation is on this website.

CatMandu: What is your background/experience?

Charlotte: CatMandu, When I left school after doing A-levels I went to work in sales, then ended up working as an administrator at a large nationwide surveying company. After looking after the surveyors I just found it really interesting and funded myself through a Diploma In Surveying Practice at the College of Estate Management – the goal was to become a Chartered Surveyor. During this time I had my little girl (she is now fast approaching 7) and the Government was talking about bringing out the HIP. I thought it would be an ideal way of working/gaining experience whilst finishing off studies to be a surveyor. To get more experience I went to work as a valuer for an estate agents and then as a trainee surveyor at a different surveying office. I then completed a Diploma in Home Inspection (was on the first ever course for this) and SAVA/NHER course as a qualified Home Inspector. But just when I was finishing my final course I had my little boy and went on maternity leave. At this point the housing market was getting quiet and I was offered redundancy which I took. So since January 2008 I have been working for myself as a Domestic Energy Assessor, which I love.

WilfSell: Should those of us with more children (and dogs) feel more guilty about our domestic energy consumption?  And therefore make more effort to reduce it?

Charlotte: Wilfsell, with regards to your final question about guilt and more children dogs etc I try and reduce my energy consumption – partly due to the affect it has on the world and partly due to the cost. I don't feel guilty about the fact I have children and four dogs because I feel it all balances out.

OliviaMumsnet: Would an assessment by a DEA include advice on e.g. local council grants for help with insulation stuff etc?

Charlotte: A proper DEA should not recommend individual companies. The Energy Performance Certificate does not, at this time, include advice on grants so it is always worth asking your Local Council for advice on what grants are available - and be persistent! My mother in law lives in a LA house and I did an EPC for her last year, because she is a pensioner and on low income the Local Authority have come round and increased the insulation within the loft as well as putting cavity wall insulation in.  So if you ever get stuck for something to get older relatives for a present (who are often very worried re the size of their pension and heating costs) get them an EPC.

champagnesupernova: What exactly is involved in an assessment? What do you look at? I only ask because we had a structural survey done for our remortgage and the surveyor was here for less than 15 mins. What sort of things do you look at?

Charlotte: Champagnesupernova, hate to say it but a full structural survey by a RICS surveyor should take A LOT longer than 15 minutes!

  • When I assess a property the first things I look at is the external parts - is it house/flat etc, mid terrace or semi, type of brickwork and approximate age of the property. A DEA should also take a few photos at this point (for when they get audited by their accreditation body).
  • Once in the property I am looking to see if there is internal insulation on solid walls, type of boiler, lighting, if there are any fires or additional heat sources such as storage heaters etc. I will also be checking the flooring - is it solid or suspended timber etc? I do admittedly count the lightbulbs that particular myth about DEAs is true! and the windows (double or secondary glazing or single?). Are there TRVs on the radiators and is there a hot water cylinder?
  • I then have to look in the loft to see how much insulation is fitted.
  • DEAs do not look at anything such as white goods - the assessment is purely based upon the fixed fittings so thermal curtains don't count.
  • Once I have gathered that information and taken measurements of the original property + any extensions it is time for me to upload all the information onto my computer.
  • I personally normally send a pdf of the EPC within 24 hours to the client and am then available for any questions after that.

champagnesupernova: Good to know what's involved, thanks Charlotte. What's a TRV??

Charlotte: Thermostatic radiator valve - well worth having even if you have an older boiler as it gets you better results on an EPC and enables you to lower the temperature in specific rooms (great if you have a room that hardly ever gets used) without having to touch your room stat.

OliviaMumsnet: Charlotte - I know you're running out of time, but before you go please can you advise me on how best to insulate a cellar? Loft is done but cellar is FREEZING and chills the whole ground floor and the staircase above it [BRR] Thanks

Charlotte: Is the cellar in use? If you have a cellar I am assuming you have suspended timber floors for the ground floor (above the cellar) and I would highly recommend insulating the floor to save heat that way.  With regards to actually insulating the cellar it is always going to be tricky as too much heat retention given the issues of damp within cellar even when unused and it may well cause additional problems.

OliviaMumsnet: I think we'll have to do more via the floor then.

Just time to say a huge thank you to Charlotte for answering all of our questions and wish her best of luck with the impending arrival. If you're looking for more information, have a look here

Charlotte: Thank you Olivia - was very nervous but it's been fun. I hope everyone feels I answered their questions properly and that I explained the process of a EPC well. A good link for anyone looking for a DEA is www.communities.gov.uk/epbd.

I, personally, cover the Leicestershire and Warwickshire area so if I can do anything to help please let me know - charlottelawrance@yahoo.co.uk.

For more energy advice and tips from Charlotte, read a transcript of our live webchat with Charlotte, or find more information at www.direct.gov.uk/epc


Last updated: 8 months ago