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Cutting out draughts from older homes

Row of sandstone older properties

Enjoy a warmer and more comfortable home by following our guide to simple fixes for draughts.

At its most basic, draught-proofing is filling the gaps in a building, where heat escapes and cold air enters. Some people turn up the heating to counteract cold draughts; this warms your home but escaped heating costs you and emits CO2 emission unnecessarily.

A properly draught-proofed and insulated house helps reduce your energy demands and CO2 emissions as well as saving on bills.

Draught-proofing alone is not enough. A property’s thermal performance is also influenced by how we use our homes.

Below are useful hints and tips about draught-proofing and ventilation, including for owners of older and listed properties.

Savings

In England, Scotland or Wales, draught-proofing windows and doors of a typical gas-fuelled, semi-detached property could save you around £20 per year.

Draught-proof an open chimney when you’re not using it and you could save around £15 per year.

Draught-free homes are more comfortable at lower temperatures, so you can turn down your thermostat, saving even more on your energy bills.

How to draught-proof your home

You can complete many of our draught-proofing tips yourself if you are happy performing simple DIY tasks. Fitting foam strips and metal or plastic strips with brushes will go a long way to insulate many parts of your home.

Older buildings require extra care and specific materials, too. Consider calling a professional and always check if your building is listed - see below for more information.

If you are unsure about anything, the best thing to do is seek specialist advice from an installer who can assess your home’s needs.

Draught-proofing your home – be safe

Before blocking every gap you find, it’s important to remember that every property requires adequate ventilation. Proper ventilation allows moisture to be released, keeping our home fresh and dry and preventing damp and condensation.

Find out more about damp and condensation solutions.  

Ventilation is especially important for kitchens and bathrooms. Any rooms with open fires and flues must be adequately ventilated.

Don’t seal or block:

•            Extractor fans: these quickly remove damp air from moisture-dense rooms like kitchens, bathrooms and utility rooms.

•            Under-floor grilles or airbricks that help keep wooden beams and floors dry.

•            Wall vents: allow small amounts of fresh air into rooms.

•            Trickle vents: often found on modern windows, these let fresh air drift in.

Special care needs to be taken in houses that have internal gas appliances. All flueless gas appliances need some ventilation to operate safely. Fixed ventilation openings required for flueless and open flued gas heaters must not be blocked.

Finding draughts

curtain blowing with a draught

Draughts come into your house through gaps and cracks. Firstly, look for any obvious gaps – visible light under and around doors and windows is a good clue.

Listen for rattles and whistling noises, especially during high winds. Take time to feel for moving air – around doors, windows, floorboards, beams, skirting boards, and any air conditioning units. Check stairways and fireplaces, too. Oftentimes you can see curtains moving, a sure indication of draughts.

Windows

Draught-proofing strips work for windows that open.

Self-adhesive foam strips are cheap and easy to install, but may not last long. A longer-term but slightly more costly solution is metal or plastic strips with brushes or wipers attached.

Sliding sash windows need brush strips. Consult a professional if you have any queries.

Make sure you measure the windows well; too much material and the window may not close, too little and there may remain a gap.

Silicone sealant is best for windows that don’t open.

To replace windows, check out our information about energy-efficient windows

Doors

Outside doors can save a lot of heat and money if draught-proofed.

A metal disc cover for your keyhole is essential. Measure your letterbox and install a flap or brush, too.

Gaps need to be filled – use a hinged flap draught excluder or a brush to cover the bottom of the door and use foam, brush or wiper strips around the edges.

Draught excluders work well on inside doors, too – you can make a simple one from bags stuffed with spare material. Keep inside doors closed if they lead to an unheated room, to prevent cold air mixing with warmed air and flowing around the house. You need not draught-proof inside doors between two heated rooms as energy is not lost when warm air circulates.

Floorboards and skirting boards

With age and use, floorboards and skirting boards often expand, contract, and even move slightly.

A silicon-based filler works well to block any holes – check for gaps between skirting boards and the floor, too.

Fillers block permanently, so be careful how and where you apply them and wipe away any excess before they dry. Look for:

•            Flexible fillers.

•            Decorator’s caulk.

•            Mastic-type products.

Find out more in our guide to floor insulation.

Chimneys, pipes and cracks

Ask a professional to fit a chimney draught excluder if one wasn’t fitted during installation. Remember to remove the excluder if you light the fire! If you don’t use your fireplace, get a professional to install a cap over the chimney pot.

Silicone fillers work well for small gaps around pipes. Fill more significant gaps with expanding polyurethane foam. We have more information about insulating tanks, pipework and radiators here.

Old extractor fan outlets may need to be filled with bricks or concrete blocks and then sealed from both the inside and outside.

During your checks, if you find a large crack in your wall, check with a professional for possible structural issues. Fill small cracks with cement or hard-setting fillers – apply to electrical fittings on walls and ceilings as well as ceiling-to-wall joists.

Upstairs, downstairs

Attics and cellars can be colder than the rest of the house. Check that cold air isn’t creeping into your living space internally, too. Consider insulation, if you don’t already have it.

Larger projects

people relaxing at home with dog

With your home nicely sealed, it’s important to think about where the energy you are using is generated. Homeowners can reduce CO2 emissions and lower bills by investing in renewables for their property.

You could save the following CO2 emissions, depending on which existing system you replace:

Biomass boilers: save between 2.5 to 10.8 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually

Air source heat pumps: save between 2.15 to 10.5 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually

Ground source heat pumps: save between 2.5 to 10.6 tonnes of CO2 emissions annually

They can be much cheaper to run than other heating systems, too.

If you are thinking of a larger investment in home energy efficiency measures, the Green Homes Grant Scheme recently announced by the UK government will provide grants to householders of up to £5,000 for home energy efficiency measures. Low-income households will be eligible for grants of up to £10,000.

Find out more about the Green Homes Grant Scheme.

Homeowners can reduce bills further by applying for the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI), available until April 2021.

Older buildings and Listed Building Consent

Older buildings offer great opportunities for energy savings but come with provisos, especially if your home is listed, in a conservation area or built before 1919. The good news is you can improve the energy efficiency of your home without compromising its historic character.

Alterations and additions to listed buildings require listed building consent from your local planning authority.

Always check before starting any work; consent is required for the building and its curtilage, or surrounding area. Curtilage can include the garden, land and other buildings associated with your home, for example, stables or the lawn. Consent is crucial for larger projects like solar, pumps and biomass boilers – you can’t simply install solar panels in the garden.

It’s a criminal offence not to seek necessary consent, and not knowing is not a viable defence. You may also require planning permission. Your local authority can advise you.

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Tom Shearman's picture
Tom Shearman brings 25 years' of journalism experience to the Energy Saving Trust blogging team. He loves writing about renewables and energy efficiency, plus how policy can change people and the environment. His articles have been published internationally, he has co-written trekking guide books, responsible travel articles and short stories.