Proud Co-Founder of Transition Town High Wycombe
Proud Member of the Low Carbon Chilterns Cooperative
Proud owner & retrofitter of Superhome 59
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The simplest and cheapest action you can take to make your home warmer in the north European winter is to stop unnecessary Draughts from getting in. At this point it is worth drawing a distinction between a Draught and ventilation. Ventilation is like the good flower you want in your garden and the Draught is the unwanted weed. They are both a flow of air into your house but what separates the two is the quantity and the quality. You only need a small airflow to keep the air fresh and this air can be prewarmed in a well designed house. A Draught, on the other hand, is just too much air at a low temperature and often just in the wrong place, ie, around doors or right where you sit.
So, kill your Draughts. It is easy and inexpensive. The methods shown here required a bit of shopping on the internet or a trip to a DIY store. However, if you are interested there are other means of stopping Draughts, by such means as rolled up socks in a pair of tights, that require little or no expenditure at all.
Yes, you read that right. A "Chimney Balloon" is an obscure device that is literally a balloon that you inflate inside your chimney to stop Draughts. You have to measure your chimney from the inside first. Easier said than done. Then you will need to look on the internet because this is not the sort of thing you could find locally. We got ours from Chimney Cowl Products who sold the smaller 9in x 9in type for just over £15. This suited our needs but it did seem a little expensive. We asked around and a friend of ours said she screwed up newspaper into a plastic bag and showed it up her chimney when it wasn't in use. This might work for you but not for us because our Post-Carbon Home is only about 25 years old so is relatively modern, has a small lined flue with a conical metal section at the bottom (see photo's).
This meant it would be difficult to get anything up the chimney without it staying there forever. At a later stage we are planning to fit a wood-burning stove. The stove will kill the Draughts for good of course so this was a stop-gap only (pun intended). There is already a coal-effect gas fire in the fireplace. Somehow we object to the idea of burning one fossil fuel to pretend to be another fossil fuel whilst all the heat just goes right up the chimney. That seems so crude and unnecessary in this day and age. This is the 21st Century for goodness sake. We can do better than that. So we stumped up the cash and bought the chimney balloon solution. It is poor value for money as the eventual bill came to over £30 once they added VAT, the cost of a tube to blow the thing up a nearly unbelievable £12 postage charge. Where do Chimney Cowl Products send these things from? The moon? Royal Mail second class postage would have been fine for a couple of quid. As we are assessing the product we paid the ridiculous price anyway - just to try it. However we suggest you shop around a bit more or see if you can't shove something else up your chimney instead.
The balloon is not very large with an inflation stalk taking up most of the space. The balloon is square shaped so it fits the chimney exactly. You can buy all kinds of shapes and sizes. It does exactly as it says on the instruction sheet though. You can't complain. It fits exactly. Shove it up the chimney, inflate, lock the valve to stop the air from coming out and remove the inflation tube. It hardly took any time at all. It fits very snug and there are no more Draughts down our chimney. You get a rather pointless little red tag to stick in your fireplace to help you remember that it is there. Just in case you have a senior moment. Joking aside - our friend did and filled her room with smoke! The chimney balloon will, as you can imagine, just melt if you light a fire under it. Bomb goes £30 of your hard earnt cash. I imagine the pay-back period is atrocious at this 'inflated' (2nd pun!) cost. But if you never use your fire then you had better get something like this. Don't forget that a chimney is just a big hole in the wall. It would be senseless to leave it open to the elements.
Our front door was not a big problem. Thankfully the builders or previous owners had fitted rubberised Draught excluder strips around the outside of the door externally. However after a recent cold-snap a brief period on my knees found a howling gale at the base of the door. This is easily solved. I popped down to B&Q (DIY Store in the UK) and bought an 800mm strip of rubberised Draught excluder for external doors. This was planned to fit to the inside of the door. Measure the door and then remove the rubber strip from the brass-effect mounting strip. Take a junior hack-saw and remove the excess from the metal strip. Slide the rubber strip back in and use pliers to snip off the excess at the end. Remember to crimp the ends to stop the rubber from sliding out.
Now for the tricky part. Put the Draught excluder into position on the closed door. Use a bradawl to make a hole for one screw at one end. Then screw on that end. Then go to the other end and try and get everything even. Secure that end with a screw (the pack came with screws supplied). At this moment open and close the door to see if the strip interferes with anything. We secured ours to the door so that it would not get trodden on by people walking through the door. This is only correct but you have to check you don't foul something else upon opening. In our case the strip would not seal properly as it caught of a strip of wood securing the end of the wooden flooring.
So I removed the strip and secured it again a couple of millimeters higher up and tried again. Success. Then secure in the rest of the screws. The strip is quite flexible so you can contour it if the door edge is not quite straight. This went well but the rubber strip would not seal tight to the bottom of the door frame as the two didn't line up. No problem. Take a section of "P" section foam Draught excluder (also available from any DIY store) and attach this to the bottom of the door frame (with the door open of course). Close the door and you should find a tight snug fit and no more Draughts.
Our letter box did have a twin brush seal installed at some previous point. However it was worn out, bent and broken. Within a couple of weeks of us moving in, the tape holding it together gave out and it fell apart. Useless. The letter slot is larger than the standard at 9cm high rather than 8cm. This is because the outer flap folds inwards so the extra cm allows the flap to not foul the flow of letters. All well and good but a trip to B&Q showed they only had the 8cm variety of letterbox brush seals. No problem though - the previous owners had nailed a strip of white hardboard along the top edge of the internal door to block off the extra 1cm of space. This fix was a little flimsy but good enough for the purpose.
The old brush seal was removed and the new one simply slotted into the same position. Mark the positions of the new holes with a bradawl and screw on the new brush seal. The only bit of fun in the entire job was applying transparent mastic sealant around the edge of the new brush seal and white hardboard section. This was (obviously) to stop Draughts coming around the side of the fitting but also helped secure everything as the fixture is a bit 'plasticy' and flimsy. I am sure after the postman has shoved small packets through it one hundred times it could just snap and fall off... So it needs all the added strength you can give it. Job done.
***NOTE added 29th April 2009*** We had a problem with this fit you should be aware of. There was insufficient clearence between the letterbox flap and the brush strip. Since the flap opened inwards it would jam open against the brush! The brush had to be removed and a batton strip added between brush and door to give adequate clearence. Now the flap closes correctly. Something to keep in mind.
Door update - April 2012
|1) A Thermal Image taken in early December 2011 showed the inside of the front door & what we already knew - the front door on the north side of the house was relatively paper-thin and leaking heat. It is a 1980's-vintage wooden door. The darker the blue the colder the area - this revealed the inner frame is cold whilst the single-pane glass window and letter box are colder. It is about 3C outside. The letter box is a tough nut to crack as it had already been treated. However the inner frame and single-plane glass could be upgraded as a DIY task.|
2) So here we are in April 2012 - with a bit of time, some daylight and some clement weather. So we start work. This photo shows the door before work started. Note that the thermal images didn't show any significant problem with the locks but we decided to add a cover for the key-hole which we will come to later. There wasn't much of a draft problem around the frame either but we were concerned that the way we had insulated the frame meant that the top and bottom corners got pushed out making the draught-proofing less effective in those corners. So we decided to apply another form of draught-proofing on the inside of the door.
3) This upgrade would require filling the inner frames with polystyrene plugs. Being an old metric door the inner frame is 1 inch deep. Luckily enough Wickes sell an inch thick sheet of polystyrene. (Still an unbelievable £5 a sheet.) This was cut to shape and inserted. I tight-fit meant that no glue was required to hold it in place. Later on any small gaps were filled with Wickes "Instant Grab Adhesive" so as to provide a continuous barrier. One concern about this form of upgrade is the possibility of trapping damp inside the door frame. We considered spraying the door with an anti-fungal treatment but decided not to as this would only have been effective for a few months and may have introduced the damp we wanted to avoid. So we did without. If damp rots the door from the inside then - one day - we will need to replace it with a uPVC unit.
4) The same Wickes "Instant Grab Adhesive" was used to attach an acrylic pane that fits neatly inside a recess over the existing glass pane. We wanted to find a small offcut in the offcuts-bin at Homebase but none was available so we had to buy an entire sheet only to use one small corner. This cost about £18. After first install some damp condensate formed inside the glass but this didappeared after a few days. As this is not a sealed unit and is surrounded by a "breathing" porous wood surface then this is going to be a common occurence.
|5) Fitting the acrylic panel.|
6) Using the Wickes "Instant Grab Adhesive" again the polystyrene plugs are secured.
7) To cover up the polystyrene plugs we chose a water-resistant MDF wall panelling ("EASipanel") set available from Homebase. They were not cheap - about £30 for four - an absurd price. A lot of careful measuring and mark-up allowed us to cut the panels to shape. The panels join together along a slotted-edge so each upper and lower panel is in two-parts - as is visible in this photo. Conveniently one of these edges formed the edge of the window panel. The panels were cut on a bench-saw with only one small section using a jig-saw.
8) First the panels were glued together (we used PVA) then the Wickes "Instant Grab Adehsive" was used in large quantities across the polystyrene panels in beads. Then it was just a case of positioning the panels over top and nailing them into position.
|9) The door with the over-panels in place. The panels were chosen because they had an embossed wooden pattern that resembled the wooden door.|
10) After a swift sanding-down comes a drop of gloss white paint. The door was originally an oppressive dark-brown. It may have been a mistake to have skipped the undercoat. It too two coats of solvent-based paint and two coats of water-based paint to achieve the final result. We recommend a non-drip paint. At this point we also used white sealant to make a neat job around the acrylic window panel - some masking tape helped.
11) Here we are nailing on the internal door draught strip. The one we chose was from B&Q and designed to be used just on the frame. We couldn't use it as designed so had to fix a strip to both door and frame so they over-lapped. This worked well but meant we ran out of strip on the upper-left of the door (just visible). To this day we have been unable to locate long enough sections of draughtproof strip to cover an entire door of THIS nature. You can buy the strips for the bottom of the door - but to do so would have meant buying lots of those sections making the project prohibitively expensive. As it was; the sections we purchased still cost £19. The paint we already had.
12) The finished article looking like a new door. The result is also more soundproof.
|13) A close-up of the door-lock showing the small cover. This item was added later and is available from most DIY stores - we purchased ours from B&Q. it was a dissappointing item as it was too stiff to work. So we had to bend it, oil it and work it to make the cover drop in front of the keyhole. However it left a large gap between the cover and the hole somewhat defeating the purpose. These items are quite expensive so choose wisely.|
14) There was limited space around keyhole and the draught strip fouled the lock cover. So we cut a small fragment of the strip away to allow the lock cover the swing clear.
Conclusion: We are pleased with how this job done worked out but it still cost us an eye-watering £80 for a relatively simple improvement. However, compare that to the £800 it might have cost to put in a UPVC door. It will see us good for a few years. We'll check out its performance in the winter. For now we can say that during a cold, wet and windy spell at the end of April it made a detectable difference to the feel of the entry hall.
New photo 15) Picture taken 22nd December 2012 with external temperature about 10C. This photo cannot be compared to the one taken a year earlier because of the different external temperature, but note how the letterbox remains the coldest point. The insulated panels are now as warm as the internal walls - a massive improvement. The frame should be behaving the same as it was before but the window is a bit warmer. The small cover over the keyhole is also doing its job. It seems we have two small thermal bridges at the bottom of the door corners. This hallway is now much more comfortable than before.
One of the first DIY tasks, when we came to this new HQ, was to sort out the dreadful fit around this internal door that leads from front door to lounge. The door is warped out of shape and, although it closes well, it leaves vast gaps around top, bottom and side. So the first thing we did was to get a roll of "P" section foam strip and stick it around the inside of the door frame. This gave it a tight fit and stopped it from rattling. It also stopped most of the Draught but we recognised early on that we would have to come back and fix the door underside. There was a gap big enough to put your fingers under.
You may ask why if we have sealed in the front door why would we bother with this one? Well, think of it as security in depth. You may wish to answer the front door and not let in a Draught so having a good seal on the inner door to this 'air-lock' is essential. Besides it is all good 'belt and braces'. The Draught excluder chosen for this job was also from B&Q and was a brush-type. You have to use this on internal doors because unlike external doors there is no lip underfoot for the seal to butt-up against. Hence the seal has to be in contact with the floor making a brush variety more appropriate. Fixing this in place is essentially the same procedure as for the rubber seal on the external door. Measure the width and then cut off the excess. Crimp the end of the brush to stop it all falling out. Press into place against the closed door and mark the holes with a bradawl. Then just screw it in place. Do open and close the door a few times during this to make sure the door seal doesn't jam against anything. Sometimes floors are uneven so be careful. There were not enough holes in the strip so I added an extra one at one end. Job done.
The Conservatory and the doors leading to them are somewhat of a joke. The doors are the original wooden ones for the house so have no double-glazing. Hence the conservatory is the second layer of glass! It is better than nothing but the conservatory isn't double-glazed either. It will have to go - as will these wooden doors. However, that is for the future. The doors do fit very well and still have the original seals around them. However the seals at the bottom had perished whilst there was no seal where the two doors joined. We removed any ineffectual seal and cleaned up. Then we took our favourite "P" section foam strip (we get through a lot of this stuff) and stuck it around the edge.
Well, almost. There wasn't quite enough space for the sealing strip between the doors so the doors would not lock properly afterwards. Hence it was a matter of taking to the lock with a file to open the hole out a little. Job done. Again.
All the windows in the house are double glazed so there is no more work there. Within a few months of moving in we did get the old wooden doors between garden & garage, and from the kitchen-to-garage, replaced with modern double-glazed security doors. Hence no Draughts there. However, there is always more to be done in future:
We can fit additional plastic glazing panels to those wooden doors to the Conservatory. This would be a cheap and cheerful solution to keeping the lounge warm before replacing the doors completely. You can buy thin film plastic but if you have a small child they will just tear it.
There is also an old wood-framed, single-glazed, window in the garage that is original to the house. Obviously we don't heat the garage but it does form a thermal barrier to the kitchen next to it, and the bedroom above it. The garage houses an occasionally warm car and a warm boiler. Hence if that heat can be retained for longer it will help keep the rest of the house warm too. The garage door was replaced by a roller unit that is made up of foam-filled metal slats. That offers up quite a good thermal barrier plus it seals much better than the old 'up-and-over' garage door. This is all to the good. Hence we are considering getting some secondary glazing for the garage window too.
As we say - think of defence against cold and Draughts as coming in depth. Don't rely upon just one layer, fix two or more for added warmth.