A warmer welcome

I reckon there are three topics that feature in most, if not every, newspaper these days - the fighting in Iraq/Afghanistan, the second is terrorism and the third is global warming.

I reckon there are three topics that feature in most, if not every, newspaper these days - the fighting in Iraq/Afghanistan, the second is terrorism and the third is global warming.

I don't think I can add much to the discussions on the first two, but global warming is something we can all affect, just by the way we occupy our homes.

It never fails to amaze me that, despite all of the media coverage about saving energy and reducing our carbon emissions, a large number of the homes I inspect are very poorly insulated. This is all the more surprising when we think that by improving the insulation of our homes, we will save ourselves considerable annual running costs.

So where are we missing out?

The most obvious is inside the roof. Most people are adamant that their roof is insulated. It probably is - but at a very inadequate level. The thickness of insulation we now consider to be adequate is 150mm - 6 inches. I wouldn't mind betting that unless your roof was insulated within the past five years it isn't 150mm thick. At best it will be 100mm (4 inches) and most likely 50mm (2 inches) or less.

A further factor we don't appreciate is that the longer the insulation is in the roof the thinner it gets. It's not that it wears away, but it compacts down. It has the same number of mineral fibres but the all important air that should be trapped inside gets slowly pushed out. As a result, insulation that was 50mm (2 inches) thick when it went in 20 years ago, is just 25mm (1 inch) thick now. Not a lot of use.

The second area is cavity wall insulation.

Modern houses have very good built-in wall insulation, but not so those that are 20 or more years old. The very old houses with solid stone or brick walls cannot have cavity insulation but that still leaves an awful lot that can.

Double glazing is a good energy saver. Most new houses have had double glazing for quite a few years now and many older homes have had windows replaced, so I suppose this is the one measure we as owners are getting on top of.

The final area is the boiler and the radiators. The latest boilers are extremely efficient at converting the gas we buy into heat. Probably as good as 90% efficient. Old boilers, however, are nowhere near that. They are nearer half, 45-50% efficient. With the addition of thermostatic radiator control valves to regulate the temperature in each room you can transform your original heating system into a far more economical one.

This may seem like a lot of work but it isn't. Nor is it very expensive to do.

Pay back, considering the way that energy costs are going through the roof, will only take a few years. And you will be doing your bit to combat global warming.

All of this may seem like the tree-huggers' mantra, but beware - from this June you will need to prove how energy efficient your home is, should you want to sell it.

As part of the Government's Home Information Pack, all homes will need an Energy Performance Certificate before they are put on the market. This will rate your home in one of seven bands, from very efficient grade A to very inefficient grade G.

While I'm not as naive as the government in thinking that energy efficiency will be a significant factor in anyone's choice of a new home, it may become so when we start to compare just how inefficient our homes are, relative to our neighbour's.

* Peter Fall is a former president of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors. He is managing director of Clear Building Survey, www. clearbuildingsurvey.co.uk

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