Insulating your home on a budget

Tips & guides

20 March 2018

To really save money on your heating bills and improve energy efficiency this winter, you'll need to identify your home's insulation problem areas, and start looking for the most cost-effective solutions.

Every house is different, whether it’s a crumbling Tudor manor, a breezy country cottage or an efficient new build. But with average UK homes losing approximately 59% of their heat through their walls and roofs, it's vital that you find the most appropriate heat loss solution for your property, whether that's draught-proofing, cavity wall insulation or double glazing.

In this article, we look at why it makes sense to insulate your home, which areas of your home to target and ways to save the most money on your heating bills, including an evaluation of the amount you could save per year on heating bills.

Poor insulation will cost you money

Approximately £1 in every £4 spent on heating in Britain is wasted thanks to poor insulation. So bad is the problem that homes in the UK are some of the most expensive to heat in Europe, even though they are also the smallest. This could be due in large part to poor repair; according to an EU report released last year, 10 million British homes suffer from a leaking roof, damp walls or rotting windows.

Solving insulation problems means making your home both warmer and more energy efficient, which can ultimately help you save money on your heating bills. But it's also a way of increasing the potential sale value of your home: a government study last year found that implementing energy saving measures increases property values by an average of 14%, and up to 38% in some areas.

Identifying your home's problem areas

To get started, begin by using an online survey like the one available at the Energy Saving Trust to identify problem areas for you to target. Some local authorities and trusts also offer thermal imaging reports to quickly highlight which areas are leaking heat. Armed with this information, you can create a targeted plan to reduce your heating bills and save money.

Once you’ve identified problem areas, begin by draught-proofing. On average, draught-proofing saves £10 to £50 per year on your heating bills, and because draught-free homes are cosy at lower temperatures in winter, you could save and additional 10% on your heating bills on top of that figure.

Start by filling areas where pipe work leads outside, gaps around electrical fittings, the loft hatch, and ceiling to wall joins. Next, consider draught excluders for doors. They are cheaply bought or easily made with old clothes or fabric, a plastic bag and some sand. Window insulation can also be improved with thermal curtains or resealing. However, be sure not to block necessary vents in windows and walls while draught-proofing.

If draught-proofing windows isn’t enough, and your wooden frames are rotting, it's worth considering double glazing. As a budget solution, and to save money on your heating bills immediately, try temporary glazing, which involves placing secondary glazing film over single-glazed windows.

Insulate your pipework

Another common problem area is the heating system, as heat can leak from pipes and tanks before it even begins to be circulated around your home.

First, cover pipes with insulation. Pipe lagging or pipe insulation is cheap and readily available in DIY stores, making it a simple way to save money. Simply cut it to the desired length and wrap around the pipe, covering the joins in tape. Make sure the pipe lagging depth is sufficient for the size of the pipe: the smaller the pipe, the thicker the depth of the lagging should be.

If you have a warm water tank, this should be covered with a heatproof jacket. You can also increase your radiator efficiency by installing reflectors behind them.

Long-term insulation solutions

In order to save money, we sometimes have to spend it. These solutions tend to be more expensive, but you'll generally save money on your heating bills at a much higher rate. And when winter comes, you'll notice the difference.

Poor roof and loft insulation can result in 40% heat loss, but how you rectify this will depend on whether you have a sloping roof, flat roof or dormer roof (where something like a window protrudes from a sloping roof), and whether any loft insulation is already in place. As a rule, rock wool or another fiberglass insulation with a depth of 270mm will be more energy efficient to the tune of £350 per year for a detached house than having no insulation, and cost around £395 to install. But remember to leave a gap below your water tank to help prevent freezing in a cold loft.

With a flat roof, mineral wool or polyurethane layers can be installed to keep the heat in your home and help you save money. If you don’t have a loft, sloping roofs can be insulated using polyurethane spray foams. Because it's applied as a spray, polyurethane spray foams are also excellent for a dormer roof, although wool or fiberglass insulation can be cut to size and used instead. Whatever you’re fitting, remember to avoid gaps for a warm loft.

The floor is another key area to think about insulating to help you save money on your heating bills, as in the average home about 10% of heat loss is through the floor. Old houses with 'suspended floors' are most at risk, as all the heat essentially dissipates into empty space, and this problem is solved by lifting the floorboards and laying mineral wool insulation or blanket style insulation, supported by netting. For a detached home, this could save up to £120 per year after an outlay of £300 to £700. In more modern homes with concrete floors, rigid floor insulation can be installed for £900, and offers savings of £35 to £95 a year.

Wall insulation can also save money and maximise energy efficiency. The type you choose will depend on whether you have a cavity or solid wall. Cavity walls are much cheaper to insulate, and insulating will save you up to £250 per year, whereas solid wall insulation saves up to £460 per year for a much larger outlay; upwards of £4,000 for thermally efficient expanded polystyrene (EPS) boards or plasterboard.