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Cutting out draughts in older homes is not as tricky as it sounds

•   Older properties ripe for comfort improvements
•   Unique character can be preserved with mindful draught-proofing
•   Ventilation a key consideration

Old dog at the window of an old houseDraught-proofing is a cheap and effective way to save money and make your home more comfortable. But those living in older or period properties can be put off by the unique characteristics of the building.  

In actual fact, these properties are among the most ripe for making some good improvements in comfort, as well as savings on bills. They tend to have lots of gaps and areas where heat may leak from the building and cold air can enter – so it stands to reason that blocking them up will result in noticeable improvement. 

Preserve period features

Draught-proofing is also well suited here because it improves the thermal performance of a home without requiring you to replace period features, such as doors or windows. Many draught-proofing products are designed to be discreet, ensuring they have little or no impact on the aesthetic or character of the property.

It's not entirely plain sailing, though – there are few things you need to consider in old and sensitive properties, not least ventilation. 

Keep your building breathing

Some degree of ventilation is required in any property to let it release moisture, and therefore prevent damp and condensation from building up. 

In a sense, the sheer number of gaps and openings in older homes is something of a plus, as it means you should be able to do some draught-proofing whilst still maintaining adequate ventilation. But a really important note to the most meticulous draught-proofers is that you can be too thorough. 

In short, you should not totally seal the building – and it's most important to maintain ventilation in kitchens and bathrooms, since this is where most moisture is produced. You should also ensure that any rooms with open fires or flues are adequately ventilated. In particular, ensuring that no wall or window vents, underfloor grilles, airbricks or extractor fans are blocked is key. 

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Good product choices make big differences

It’s important to make sure you use the right kind of draught-proofing product in each area. Some areas, such as wooden floors and window frames, will expand and contract with everyday use, so will require materials that can tolerate movement. In some areas, you may find that warping of wood means there is not a uniform gap to fill, for example around your door or window, meaning you need to choose a draught-proofing solution suitable for the space.

Energy Saving Trust has more information on insulating different areas, but as always, if you are unsure about anything, the best thing to do is seek specialist advice from an installer who can assess your home’s needs.

Good advice from other organisations

Historic England also has some good resources, looking specifically at period properties.

Iain McCaig, a Senior Architectural Conservator for the heritage organisation, notes that some older properties can be less energy-hungry than more modern properties, but said: “It is accepted that the energy performance of many older buildings can be improved, and this will help them remain viable and useful, now and in the future.

“Draught proofing can yield significant energy savings. However, it should be always form part of an integrated ‘whole house’ strategy that aims to balance energy efficiency, heritage significance, and the health of building occupants.

“The contribution that good building maintenance makes to energy efficiency is often overlooked – damp walls and badly fitting windows and doors reduce thermal performance.”

Where to focus your efforts

There are a wide range of different areas you should consider for draught-proofing in an older home:

  • Doors – you can draught-proof around the edge, and in letterboxes or keyholes
  • Windows – this could include draught-proofing round the edges or installing secondary glazing
  • Suspended floorboards – sealing the gaps between floorboards and around skirting boards
  • Chimneys – chimneys which are not in regular use should be draught-proofed
  • Pipework
  • Loft-hatches
  • Electrical fittings

Cutting heating costs – next steps

With a number of older properties being in rural areas off the gas grid, there are additional, more advanced improvements that can be considered after those draughts have been cut out, if practical. 

Biomass boilers and air source heat pumps or ground source heat pumps could be one such consideration. They can be much cheaper to run than other heating systems (such as coal, electric storage heaters or LPG) and Scottish homeowners can get paid for the heat they use through the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).

Share your thoughts with us in the comments below, or tweet @EnergySvgTrust. Discover more blogs about energy efficiency in the home and read our content article about home energy efficiency.

Gary Hartley is Energy Saving Trust's expert blogger. He has extensive experience researching and writing on a number of topics, with particular expertise in sustainable energy, policy, literature and sport. As well as providing regular blog content, Gary has also been published in numerous magazines and journals.

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