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air tightness blog post

If you live in a draughty house, you will know it: the internal doors slam shut when the wind blows, and you have exorbitant heating bills and a vast collection of woolly jumpers. As winter creeps up, those working from home may become more aware than usual of the temperature drop. When you’re sitting at your computer all day, draughts can become uncomfortable.

It’s not just older houses that let in draughts, says Brian McIntyre, programme executive at the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland. “You can have all the insulation in the world, but it’s down to workmanship,” he says. “If the draughts aren’t sealed, even if you have a new home, you’ll feel it. Even if you have triple glazing, it isn’t a lot of use if the windows aren’t fitted properly. Air is opportunistic. It’ll find a way to get in if it can.”

Luckily, the first steps towards draught-proofing your home are cheap and easy to do yourself.

Find the source
Before you start squirting sealant into every corner and crevice, find out where the air is coming in. There are simple ways to do this, says Martin Cooney, director of Irish Energy Assessors, in Corballa, in Co Sligo. “Put your hand up to the window and you will notice cool air, or hold up a light piece of paper and it will move from the force of the leak,” he says. “This can be done anywhere in the house.”

Alternatively, use a candle, says McIntyre: “Watch for when the flame flickers.”

Main culprits
Your first port of call is windows and doors. With windows, look at where the opening meets the frame, says McIntyre. “Older windows with timber frames that are maybe 20 or 30 years old perhaps aren’t sealed. Even PVC windows can be 15 years old and have damage from opening and closing.” Replacement seals are easy to find in hardware shops (Weatherstrip, pack of two 3.5 metre strips, €9.15, screwfix.ie).

Next, look at where the window meets the wall. “The problem is most likely to be underneath the window boards, so run sealant there,” says McIntyre. “Draughts happen at the sides, too, but you often paint around windows, which helps to seal them.” (Evo-Stick silicone sealant, €7.99; woodies.ie)

Seal external door frames in the same way as windows, says McIntyre, who recommends a brush seal on the bottom of the door (draught excluder, from €7.99; hardwareireland.ie).

Cooney suggests contacting your window manufacturer if you want to make sure the seals fit correctly. “I recommend replacing external door and window seals every five or six years,” he says.

According to Cooney, an open fireplace is “the biggest leak anyone can have in a dwelling”. The answer is a chimney balloon (De Vielle chimney balloon, from €24.95; hardwareireland.ie). “Remember, you cannot light the fire when the balloon is inserted,” he says. It takes only a minute to take out, but this solution is for fireplaces to be used only occasionally.

Another area to investigate is your attic hatch. “Get a foam seal with an adhesive back and simply stick it on. Anyone can do it.” Just don’t go wobbling about at the top of a ladder on your own.

Vents are another place to look. “Black hole vents [€19.20 each; goodwins.ie] create a maze inside that stops the air blowing in directly. You can also put a hood outside over the vent so you’re not at the mercy of the wind,” says McIntyre.

Cooney suggests inserting safety caps on sockets when they are not in use and also checking under sinks.

“A waste pipe is 50mm but sometimes the hole in the external wall is 100mm wide or more,” he says. He recommends removing everything from under the sink and squirting in expanding foam (€5.55; screwfix.ie). This also applies to lavatory pipes.

It also pays to look in your hot press, say both experts. “My in-laws had a 15cm hole with pipes going through to the attic. It was like a gale coming down,” says McIntyre. Expanding foam will fill the gaps, but make sure you clear out the press first as it can be messy.

Add furnishings
Soft furnishings can make your home cosier. Put out snake draught excluders by doors at night, layer rugs over wooden floors and fit heavy curtains if you have blinds (draught excluders, from €8.50, wayfair.co.uk).

What next?
If you have filled every nook and cranny and can still feel the breeze, it’s time to call in the experts. Cooney offers a draught-detection test. “We install a fan in the front or back door and run it on depressurise mode. We then go around with a smoke gun, noting and photographing any leak. This is done with the homeowner so they can see every leak. It takes about 1½ hours and the homeowner receives a full report.” So don’t just reach for another jumper and whack on the heating — the solution may be simpler than you think.