Conserving energy in the home has a positive effect on both the environment and (more importantly to many people) the size of our household bills. The ways that we heat, light and insulation our homes plays a big part in the amount of energy that can be saved.

Over half the energy that we use in our homes is for heating water and rooms. It’s therefore important that the most efficient use is made of these systems and that steps are also taken to slow down the rate of heat loss from your home.

Of course, it is important to consider how worthwhile any action will be. From a financial point of view it may not be worth doing something where it could take 20 years or more to recoup the cost (installing solar heating or solar tubes for example) but on the other hand, a new hot water cylinder jacket may repay itself in about a year. There is also the consideration that anything done to save energy may increase the value of your home in some cases.

Insulation and draught proofing

If you think back to your science lessons at school you may remember that heat moves from hotter areas to cooler areas. If you apply this to your house you can see that heat will go from the living areas into the roof area and then from there into the outside air. Of course there are other routes such as any gaps around doors or windows (or even through the walls and windows of the house).

In the vast majority of houses, insulation is the most important way of saving energy that you can undertake since it has the greatest effect on energy bills. It is claimed that insulating the average house can reduce the amount of heat lost by at least 50% !

Draught-proofing is one of the easiest and cheapest methods of saving energy. It stops air getting into or out of a room in an uncontrolled manner, cutting draughts to a minimum can reduce your energy consumption by between 10% and 30% . You should remember though that, like you, the house needs to breath – both so that gas appliances and coal fires work safely and to reduce any risk of condensation in the house.

Draught proofing doors and windows is relatively easy, cheap and effective (a typical house would cost around £50 – £100 pounds for materials and save in the region of £20 – £30 per year in fuel costs, meaning that any work would pay for itself in about 3 years). There is a wide selection of types of draught excluder most of which come with instructions, although if you are at all uncertain it would be worth checking how to fit them in a DIY book.

Areas to look at are gaps around doors and windows, although it’s worth leaving a gap at the top of internal doors to allow air to pass between rooms. While you are at it have a look at excluders for your letterbox, these are normally a set of brushes that stop the wind but allow letters etc to pass though. You should check that the products conform to British Standard BS7386 if you are buying draught excluders in the UK.

Do not block off any air bricks in the wall, these are needed to ensure correct ventilation and blocking these can be dangerous.

Hot water pipe and cylinder insulation

If you have ever touched a hot water pipe while your hot water system is on you will have realised just how hot the pipes can get, and this is all heat that is being lost. Lagging your hot water pipes and the cylinder will mean that the water inside does not lose heat so quickly and thus takes less energy to keep it to the required temperature. An airing cupboard will still be warm enough to air clothes after the cylinder and hot water pipes have been lagged.

Modern houses will have a pre-insulated hot water cylinder that has factory fitted fitted foam insulation, however older properties may have either a bare copper cylinder or a poorly fitted jacket, both of these latter examples will lose a lot of heat. Fortunately a new jacket and pipe insulation is cheap to buy, easy to fit and pay for themselves quickly.

A hot water cylinder jacket should cost no more than £15 and will save in the region of £12 – £25 per year in fuel costs. They are generally easy to fit (we would recommend letting the cylinder cool down first to save yourself from burns) and you should be able to fit a new jacket in less than an hour depending on the amount of space around the cylinder.

If you lag your hot water pipes for the whole of their length you should be able to turn the temperature of the hot water down a little, there will also be less of a wait for hot water comes out of the tap once it has been turned on. There are two areas you should consider insulating, between the boiler and the hot water cylinder and at least the 1st metre of hot water pipe going from the cylinder to the taps. The insulation should cost in the region of £12-£15 and will save between £7 to £15 per year depending on your usage of hot water. The easiest type of pipe insulation to fit comes in foam tubes that are pre-split along it’s length and is about 20mm thick, and to insulate the pipes in your airing cupboard should take no more than 15-20 minutes.

Loft Insulation

It is estimated that insulating your loft could save you up to 20% of your heating bill. Installing loft insulation yourself is likely to cost in the region of £100 – £150 depending on the size of your loft (treble this if you have someone in to fit the insulation for you) and will take the best part of a day to fit. A fully insulated lost should save about £60 to £90 per year meaning that it could take two or three years to start saving on the initial cost.

Of course, if your loft is already insulated it may just need toping up to the current recommended thickness (250mm or 10 inches). If your current insulation is more than 150mm (6 inches) than you may want to look for other savings as the cost of the additional insulation may not be worth while in financial payback terms.

You should bear in mind that with 250mm of insulation in the loft it is unlikely to be of any use for storage unless you build up the loft joists to allow you to put some boards down over the top of the insulation. You should also remember that the loft needs to be ventilated (do not put the insulation right up to the edge of the eaves) and also that any cold water tanks and pipes in the loft need insulating (and maybe a certain amount of heat around them) to stop them from freezing in the winter.

Wall insulation

Insulating the exterior walls of your house can save you up to 20% on your heating costs as will as cutting down noise and reducing condensation on the exterior walls.

Most types of insulation for solid and cavity walls need a specialist contractor to install them. If you are considering this type of insulation you should get several quotes and make sure that the firm doing the work is a member of a recognised trade body.

Window insulation

The cheapest and easiest way of insulating your windows is to use thick curtains (lined if possible) and close them at night. Double glazing – having two panes of glass in the frame rather than one – is common in windows but only 10% of heat is lost through the windows in a typical house and the cost of double glazing (several thousands of pounds if installed professionally) makes the payback period in financial terms unattractive. Having said this, if your windows need replacing due to age or rotten wood then it may well be worth considering.