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No escape

big open loft 27 2 12Insulating your home will save you money and reduce unnecessary energy waste.

With household bills rising all the time, it’s more important than ever to ensure that heat is not lost around the home. So to make a great reduction in your heating bills, invest in some good insulation. The major benefit of insulation is that it holds the heat inside the home, reducing your need to use central heating systems or other heaters.

Lofty aspirations
Insulation is probably the most important energy-saving change you can make. Your home can lose around 25% of its heat through the loft space, so it is worth investing in good insulation. The Energy Savings Trust ( suggests that adding 270mm of loft insulation, which will cost you about £100 to £350 to have installed, could save you up to £175 annually on your energy bills. This means that you can recover the cost of the work in only two years and you will save 720kg in carbon emissions per year.

How to insulate

  • If access is easy to your loft and your joists are regular, you can use rolls of mineral wool insulation. The first layer is laid between the joists – the horizontal beams that make up the ‘floor’ of the loft – then another layer is cross-laid at right angles to cover the joists and make the insulation up to the required depth. If you are confident doing it yourself, then give it a go, or you could call in a professional.
  • If you use your loft for storage then you need to insulate between the joists with mineral wool, as above, but then you’ll need to lay insulation boards on top. You can buy boards which have mineral wool bonded to them, which means you only have to lay the insulation once. You need to make sure you don’t squash the mineral wool because it won’t be as affective.
  • If you use your loft as a living space, it is possible to insulate the roof of your loft with plasterboard, between the rafters. To insulate properly you may have to use plasterboard over the rafters as well.
  • The other option, if your loft is not easy to access, is to have blown-in insulation installed by a professional. He will use special equipment to blow loose fire retardant material made of cellulose fibre or mineral wool into the loft.
  • Another way of insulating your loft – if the joists are irregular or the wrong distance apart to be able to make laying matting difficult – is to use loose fill insulation which comes in bags as cork granules, vermiculite, mineral wool or cellulose fibre, which can be poured between the joists to the right depth.
  • Remember that once you have insulated your loft, your house will be warmer – and your energy bills reduced – but the roof space above will be colder. This means pipes and water may be more likely to freeze in particularly cold weather. You will need to insulate them as well to stop this from happening. The cooler air in your insulated loft could mean that cold chills sneak through the hatch, as well. Fit an insulated board to prevent this and put strips of draught-excluding material around the edges of the frame to stop air escaping into your house and making it cold.

Hollow it out
In most homes built after 1920 the walls are made up of two layers with a small air ‘cavity’ in between. If you have an unfilled cavity then you could be losing a considerable amount of the heat from your house. By installing insulation in the cavity, the average house could reduce heating costs by 15%. The cost is, on average, £500 but it is a long-term investment as it could save £90 a year from the heating bill of a typical household and therefore pay itself off in a little over five years. There are three types of material that are generally used for filling cavity walls and they are; mineral wool, urea-formaldehyde foam and polystyrene beads. Once they are installed they can remain in place for the life of the building as they are resistant to water penetration and allow moisture to escape through walls. If you are looking for a more eco-friendly option that does not conduct heat well, you could use sheep’s wool, hemp, flax, cork board, cellulose (from recycled newspaper) or straw. However, although eco-friendly, these types of material can become susceptible to fungus and pests and often need to be routinely replaced.

This article was first published in at home with Sarah Beeny in December 2011. [Read the digital edition here]

Photograph: Getty Images

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