How can we improve energy efficiency and reduce our heating bills when there is no insulation in the attic?

January 2013

Question

We bought a three-bedroom semi-detached house in Dublin in September and the heating bills seemed relatively normal. However, as it got colder, we noticed the bills started to increase significantly. We didn’t take much notice of the Building Energy Rating Cert at the time of purchase but have since found out that there is no insulation in the attic. This seems strange to us. What can we do to improve the energy efficiency and reduce our heating bills?

Answer

Unfortunately, with older properties, it is not particularly strange to find that there is no insulation in the attic.

It is likely that all houses constructed post-1992, that is after the introduction of the building regulations, will have insulation.

However, even at this, the level of insulation will be much lower than current standards and expectations, as there has been a dramatic rise in the insulation standards required for houses over the past few years.

Many people have taken the opportunity to upgrade the thermal insulation standard in older properties over the past few years. However, there are still many older properties out there with no insulation at all, and it is clear that you have acquired one of these.

The Building Energy Rating (BER) Certificate should have identified this but, as you said, you didn’t take much notice of this at the time. A pre-purchase survey would also have clearly highlighted the shortcoming.

The situation can be easily improved by insulating the attic and there is a grant available towards the cost of this from the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland.

The attic is perhaps the most important part of the house to insulate, as heat tends to rise and thus a lot of the heat loss goes out through the roof. You will certainly notice a significant improvement when the attic has been insulated, as well as a corresponding reduction in your heating bill.

There are other areas you could consider insulating, including the windows and external doors, and ground floor and external walls, and it would be well worth having these examined to establish the benefits of upgrading their thermal insulation.

All of the above measures will help give you a much better insulated house and, ultimately, reduced heating bills.

A further option is to look at the actual heating installation itself and see if it can be improved. This could be simply a matter of having the boiler serviced, to ensure that it is operating at maximum efficiency.

However, if it is an old boiler, improved controls could be added to allow for better control of the heating installation, or it could be replaced with a more efficient condenser-type boiler.

Again, there may be some grants available for this, depending on the level of work required.

Val O’Brien is a member of the building surveying professional group of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland.