10 Pieces of Advice for Warm, Dry Homes

There are few things less exciting than talking about energy efficiency. Watching bowling on television comes to mind, or perhaps filling out a government form. Also, changing nappies.
In order to hold your attention, I’ve recruited my cat, Billy T., to assist me. Billy T. knows all about solar gain and insulation. She always finds the warmest spots in our home. 
She is a walking, purring, home energy audit. However, some would deem it inappropriate for me to bring her along during the home energy audits I’ve been performing as part of Project HEAT (Home Energy Awareness Training).
Project HEAT is a collaborative partnership of over 20 Whanganui organisations, businesses, individuals, and The ECO School. So far, the programme has provided 8 neighbourhood presentations, 60 home energy audits, and a DIY workshop on window blankets. This can be considered a strong example of a “by the people and for the people” grassroots initiative. Good on all those partners involved.
The home energy audits are roughly modeled on a programme funded by many Councils across New Zealand called Eco-Design Advisors. I’ve worked with the Eco-Design Advisors from Hamilton City Council and Kapiti Coast District Council. Both have been extremely supportive by offering advice and suggestions.
Over the course of 60 audits, I’ve observed enough poorly designed homes to come up with a standard set of suggestions for reducing heat loss, reducing condensation, and saving power. I’ll share those here in the space remaining, although many of them have already been explained in past columns over the last 14 months, and on our blog over the last 30 months: www.ecothriftydoup.blogspot.com
Windows first, because glazing can account for as much or more heat loss as ceilings. There are five basic suggestions I make to nearly all householders I’ve consulted.
Heat loss through glazing can be reduced by:
• Curtains with pelmets
• Floor-length curtains
• Curtains with the rail fixed to the wall
• Window blankets
• Double-glazing: replacement, retrofit, plastic DIY.
In our home, we piggy-back multiple of these strategies on every window and glass door. For example, for our French doors we have a pelmet, a floor-length curtain, and a window blanket. Next to it is a replacement double-glazed window (our only one) with a pelmet over a Roman blind, and a window blanket. In the lounge, we have used plastic DIY double-glazing, a pelmet, and a floor-length curtain. Each layer adds that much more insulation.
Next, draught-sealing. Sealing draughts can be done by the average person in three ways:
• Foam window and door seal
• Door-mounted draught excluders
• DIY draught blockers
Finally, reducing interior moisture and condensation. The ‘best’ two ways to do this are:
• Lay polythene beneath the home to reduce rising damp
• Run a dehumidifier as needed
We do not use either of these, as we do not have condensation problems because we are on sand (no rising damp) and we actively limit moisture inside our home. But many homes on clay or peat can benefit greatly from properly installed polythene. Additionally, many homes can benefit from running a dehumidifier in the far reaches (aka, bedrooms) that, in many cases, are polar opposite the single, fixed heat source be it a gas heater or a wood burner.
A dehumidifier in a cold, damp bedroom offers three benefits simultaneously: 1) It reduces moisture. Duh! 2) The process of ‘changing’ water from gas to liquid releases heat. (Yeah, Science!) 3) The motor generates heat. Three in one – not bad!
Oh, and one more piece of advice, but it will have to wait for next week. 

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