03 March 2008

Home is where the Hearth is

It has been a very cold day in Ireland today, and even here - in the "sunny" South-East - the temperature stayed at 1°C all day. In the afternoon even some snowflakes were spotted, and in the Midlands there were reports of some more serious snowfall. This is quite unusual weather for this country, especially in March. But as most of us must know by know: the world's climate is changing and this does not always mean global warming.

The fire in the hearth has been burning since the early morning, and despite its best efforts to heat my little old cottage, it still feels quite cold in some of the rooms. So I took some advice from a nice magnet (pictured below) that sticks to my refrigerator and spent most of the day with my laptop in front of the fireplace. And I did indeed feel the truth of the old saying: Home is where the hearth is.
Magnet Design & Copyright by Mayfield Communications

The unexpected cold spell has brought home - literally - a problem familiar to most people: Here in Ireland about 95% of all existing houses are not properly insulated. So no matter how much I put on the blazing fire, a significant proportion of the heat is lost because the walls and roof of my house are more than 100 years old and were built when no one thought or even knew of the fine art of energy conservation.
Cottages, meant to accommodate the working underclass, were built cheaply and fast, and many a clever builder made a few extra shillings by cutting corners on the quality of walls, foundations or other parts he could get away with. Even though the house has meanwhile been modified and modernised several times, it is still an old building without proper insulation.

The vast majority of people in Ireland live under similar conditions, and even most of the new houses, built during the "Celtic Tiger" boom, lack the environmentally friendly energy-saving devices which are by now common standard - at least for new buildings - in most countries on the European continent. Once again Ireland seems to trail far behind the rest of Europe, even though we are now fully aware of climate change, carbon footprints and energy saving.

In many of the other EU countries the government provides generous grants to people who are willing to put modern insulation and other energy-saving measures into old houses, and people take it upon themselves to improve their buildings and save energy and the environment at the same time. But no such programme exists here in Ireland. While the government, and in particular
Fianna Fáil, is happy to see more and more new houses built in a very short time, no one gives a thought to energy conservation.

Not even the fact that the Green Party is now a coalition partner of FF in the government has done much in this direction. Neither John Gormley, their party leader and Minister for the Environment (who seems to be obsessed with energy-saving light bulbs), nor Eamon Ryan, the Minister for Energy and Natural Resources, have yet come up with an attractive grant scheme that would
encourage the owners of old houses to properly insulate them.

Forget the changing of light bulbs and grand new energy schemes that won't be effective for many years! Help us to save energy on a wider scale by insulating our houses in the way our European neighbours on the continent can do it already. The energy savings would be massive, we all would benefit from it greatly, and the environment in Ireland would become cleaner and a lot more pleasant. Home is where the hearth is, and if our hearths can warm our houses more efficiently, we all have better homes and a better life.

The Emerald Islander

1 comment:

batticdoor said...

How To Reduce Your Energy Bills / Energy Conservation Begins at Home

Imagine leaving a window open all winter long -- the heat loss, cold drafts and wasted energy! If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan or AC Return, a fireplace or a clothes dryer, that may be just what is occurring in your home every day.

These often overlooked sources of heat loss and air leakage can cause heat to pour out and the cold outside air to rush in -- costing you higher heating bills.

Air leaks are the largest source of heating and cooling loss in the home. Air leaks occur through the small cracks around doors, windows, pipes, etc. Most homeowners are well aware of the benefits caulk and weatherstripping provide to minimize heat loss and cold drafts.

But what can you do about the four largest “holes” in your home -- the folding attic stair, the whole house fan or AC return, the fireplace, and the clothes dryer? Here are some tips and techniques that can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

Attic Stairs

When attic stairs are installed, a large hole (approximately 10 square feet) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only a thin, unsealed, sheet of plywood.

Your attic space is ventilated directly to the outdoors. In the winter, the attic space can be very cold, and in the summer it can be very hot. And what is separating your conditioned house from your unconditioned attic? That thin sheet of plywood.

Often a gap can be observed around the perimeter of the door. Try this yourself: at night, turn on the attic light and shut the attic stairway door -- do you see any light coming through? These are gaps add up to a large opening where your heated/cooled air leaks out 24 hours a day. This is like leaving a window open all year round.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add an attic stair cover. An attic stair cover provides an air seal, reducing the air leaks. Add the desired amount of insulation over the cover to restore the insulation removed from the ceiling.

Whole House Fans and AC Returns

Much like attic stairs above, when whole house fans are installed, a large hole (up to 16 square feet or larger) is created in your ceiling. The ceiling and insulation that were there have to be removed, leaving only leaky ceiling shutter between the house and the outdoors.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a whole house fan cover. Installed from the attic side, the whole house fan cover is invisible. Cover the fan to reduce heating and air-conditioning loss, remove it when use of the fan is desired.

If attic access is inconvenient, or for AC returns, a ceiling shutter cover is another option for reducing heat loss through the ceiling shutter and AC return. Made from R-8, textured, thin, white flexible insulation, and installed from the house side over the ceiling shutter with Velcro, a whole house fan shutter cover is easily installed and removed.


Sixty-five percent, or approximately 100 million homes, in North America are constructed with wood or gas burning fireplaces. Unfortunately there are negative side effects that the fireplace brings to a home especially during the winter home-heating season. Fireplaces are energy losers.

Researchers have studied this to determine the amount of heat loss through a fireplace, and the results are amazing. One research study showed that an open damper on an unused fireplace in a well-insulated house can raise overall heating-energy consumption by 30 percent.

A recent study showed that for many consumers, their heating bills may be more than $500 higher per winter due to the air leakage and wasted energy caused by fireplaces.

Why does a home with a fireplace have higher heating bills? Hot air rises. Your heated air leaks out any exit it can find, and when warm heated air is drawn out of your home, cold outside air is drawn in to make up for it. The fireplace is like a giant straw sucking the heated air from your house.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a fireplace draftstopper. Available from Battic Door, a company known for their energy conservation products, a fireplace draftstopper is an inflatable pillow that seals the damper, eliminating any air leaks. The pillow is removed whenever the fireplace is used, then reinserted after.

Clothes Dryer Exhaust Ducts

In many homes, the room with the clothes dryer is the coldest room in the house. Your clothes dryer is connected to an exhaust duct that is open to the outdoors. In the winter, cold air leaks in through the duct, through your dryer and into your house.

Dryer vents use a sheet-metal flapper to try to reduce this air leakage. This is very primitive technology that does not provide a positive seal to stop the air leakage. Compounding the problem is that over time, lint clogs the flapper valve causing it to stay open.

An easy, low-cost solution to this problem is to add a dryer vent seal. This will reduce unwanted air infiltration, and keep out pests, bees and rodents as well. The vent will remain closed unless the dryer is in use. When the dryer is in use, a floating shuttle rises to allow warm air, lint and moisture to escape.

If your home has a folding attic stair, a whole house fan, an AC return, a fireplace, and/or a clothes dryer, you can easily, quickly and inexpensively seal and insulate these holes.

Mark D. Tyrol is a Professional Engineer specializing in cause and origin of construction defects. He developed several residential energy conservation products including an attic stair cover, an attic access door, and is the U.S. distributor of the fireplace draftstopper. To learn more visit www.batticdoor.com

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