Best ‘green’ ways to keep YOUR HOUSE warm this winter

Talina Edwards Architecture is a Ballarat-based studio, with a passion for sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes. We like to help answer your questions, this week we chat about the “Best ‘green’ ways to keep YOUR HOME warm this winter”. Last week we posted the “Best ‘green’ ways to keep YOU warm this winter” and next week we’ll finish with the “Best tips for more efficient heating this winter”.

Talina Edwards Architecture top tips

So, hands up if you’ve had the heating on at your place? Yes, us too! Ballarat doesn’t have a reputation for being one of the coldest places in mainland Australia for nothing! Hopefully you’ve taken on boards one of our tips from last week about to KEEP YOURSELF warmer…before turing the heater on!

But did you know that here in Victoria, the largest percentage of our home’s total energy use is for heating! On average, Victorians spend about $800 a year or around one third of the average home’s energy bill on home heating. If we can all reduce the amount of energy we use, the planet will be much happier…so we’ve compiled an extensive list of the best “green” ways to keep your house warmer this winter!

Of course, the best way for a home to be thermally comfortable, is for it be designed properly in the first place! It is possible to design and build a home that requires little or NO mechanical heating – simply relying on passive solar design principles (including correct orientation, adequate insulation, air-tight, internal thermal mass to store the heat, double-glazing, etc…)

But since we can’t all go out and build a new home right now (much to my disappointment!), in the meantime here’s some tips to help make sure your existing home can be as warm as possible! Many of these are cheap and easy to do, and can even be done if you’re renting. Other retrofitting ideas are more for homeowners which will cost $ now, but often the payback in terms of what you will save will be relatively quick.

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Best green ways to keep YOUR HOME warm:

1. Take advantage of FREE solar-heating during the day:  If you have a cat, you’ll probably notice they always manage to find these sunny spots! Ensure those north-facing windows have the curtains/blinds open during the day to let in the warm winter sun! (Bonus points if you have some ‘thermal mass’ inside which can help trap the sun’s warmth and keep the temperature stable inside for longer).  Also, if there are evergreen trees blocking the sun to these north-facing windows, consider replacing them with deciduous trees.

Image via cutestcatpics.com

Image via cutestcatpics.com

2. Close the drapes at dusk:  A single pane of glass can lose almost 10 times as much heat as the same area of insulated wall. it thick, heavy, insulated curtains to all windows and ensure they are closed at dusk to trap the warm air inside the house. You can add thermal liners (or even material like polar-fleece) to your existing curtains or even use old woollen blankets.

3. Install Pelmets: You know those wooden boxes that sit along the top of the window? They aren’t merely decorative (or daggy vintage decor), they actually are very effective when used with heavy drapes to keep the cold air out! See image below to help explain how the air moves around the room,  without getting into too much technical talk about thermodynamics!

4. Hang curtains (inside) over your external doors:  It is worth considering hanging a curtain/blanket over your external doors during the winter months when you’re home, to help trap the cold air before it enters the house. Even when gaps beneath the door are sealed (see more about that below), drafts can still get through the sides and tops of doors. You can hang them overnight, and take back down during the day.

5. Close external shutters: If you have external blinds or shutters, closing them at night will also help to prevent the cold air reaching the glass. Don’t forget to open them during the day to let the sun shine in!

6. Put down some warm rugs: Cover bare floorboards (after you’ve sealed any gaps between boards!) with rugs or carpets to help add a layer of insulation.

7. Seal up the cracks: Check for gaps around doors/windows/floors/old vents and stop cold draughts (air leaks), and have draught-stoppers (weather-strips) fitted to all external doors, plus you can use door-snakes or rolled-up towels. Not sure where drafts are coming from? Look for obvious gaps like visible light around doors and windows, or use a candle or lit-incense stick to help detect them. Drafts account for up to 25% of heat loss in your home, and can increase your heating costs by 20%!

8. Seal unused chimneys: Ensure unused chimneys are sealed to prevent heat loss or cold air blowing down (you can use a chimney balloon). Open fires are lovely to look at, but 90% of the heat goes up the chimney, so you’d be best to either seal up that chimney, or install a closed fire-box (slow-combustion wood heater) instead which is much more efficient.

9. Upgrade Insulation: Upgrade your ceiling insulation (and walls and floor too) if possible. Up to 35% of a house’s heat is lost through the roof (hot air rises) and the minimum R-value (resistance to heat flow) for ceiling insulation in Ballarat is R4.5 – so really we need double this amount if not more. If you have a properly insulated roof, you can save up to 45% on your heating bills!

10. Re-use heat in the home: Leave the oven door open when you’ve finished baking and you’ve switched it off, and you can do this with the dishwasher too to let the hot air escape into the room. Of course only do this if there aren’t small children and pets around who could get hurt.

11. Upgrade to double-glazing: Replace existing single-paned windows with double-glazing if possible. There are also retro-fit options to add a secondary layer to existing windows, and special films you can add to your single-glazing that can be as effective as double-glazing for a much lower price. For a really cheap DIY solution, you can add a layer of bubble-wrap to the inside of your existing windows over winter!

12. Rearrange furniture: Move things around a bit to ensure beds and couches aren’t up against external (un-insulated) walls. If you can, put bookshelves against external walls as they help provide an additional layer of insulation.

13. Don’t heat bedrooms: At least not overnight – the ideal temperature for sleeping is 16 degrees celsius. If you feel the cold, or have small children or elderly family members, then add extra blankets and a hot water bottle (or an electric blanket if you must – but not at same time as hot water bottle!)

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Stay tuned for next week, where we discuss greener ways to ensure your heating is running efficiently, so you’re not using excess energy or paying excess dollars for it!

Have you done anything to ensure YOUR HOME is kept warmer? What have I missed? I’d love to hear about it in the comments below!

We’ll aim to answer more questions about sustainable design, green buildings and healthy homes, also with reference to our local climate (Regional Ballarat area and Melbourne) in future posts. Don’t forget you can sign up to receive our monthly news  (over there on the top right-hand side of this page) so you won’t miss out on our posts!

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