Feeling the chill: Insulate your home and lower bills
Insulating your home will significantly lower your bills. But apart from saving cash, new EU rules require homeowners to certify how energy efficient their houses are before they sell, writes John Cradden
With this being one of the coldest winters in 20 years, any draughts in your home that you might have forgotten about amid the warmer winters of recent years will probably now have made their chilling presence felt.
Needless to say, properly insulating your home is a no-brainer, not just in terms of warmth and comfort, but also in significantly reducing the cost of your heating bills.
Furthermore, new EU regulations that came into force last month means that all homeowners who want to sell their houses are required by law to obtain a Building Energy Rating (BER) certificate, which shows how energy efficient it is -- how much it costs to light and heat.
While it may seem like nothing more than another layer of paperwork to add to the already massive bundle that has to be worked through to sell a house, the scheme is an incentive to encourage homeowners to invest in making their homes better insulated, and, in doing so, help reduce carbon emissions as well as save money.
The residential sector in Ireland produces 24pc of our annual CO2 emissions, according to Sustainable Energy Ireland (SEI). Many Irish homes built before 2006 were poorly designed or equipped when it came to insulation, with the result that many homeowners have had to fork out on huge heating bills.
In fact, the Government estimates that one million of the country's 1.7 million houses need better insulation.
All new houses built since 2006 have had to comply with the Building Regulations 2002 standard, which requires the fitting of high-quality insulation and heating controls, among other things.
You can make your home better insulated by a number of simple jobs with equipment or materials that don't cost the earth, but if your BER rating is likely to be poor, you may need to invest thousands more to bring it up to scratch.
However, there is good news for homeowners in this situation, as the Government has just launched an ambitious €100m national insulation programme, which will provide grants towards fitting better insulation into some 50,000 homes this year. The grants will be available in March.
To qualify for the scheme, which is being administered by SEI, householders will still have to pay the bulk of the costs of an insulation job.
For instance, the scheme will provide a maximum grant of €250 towards the cost of attic insulation, which is one the cheapest and simplest. This counts for about one-third of the estimated €830 bill.
If you want external wall insulation, which is the most expensive insulation method, you can apply for, up to €4,000 under the scheme to offset the €19,000 that such a job would be expected to cost. There are also grants available for heating control upgrades, too.
All of this will, no doubt, help the improve BER ratings for houses across the country.
However, the big question for many is what effect BER ratings will have on the market value of their homes?
"It will potentially take a little time before it becomes ingrained enough in the Irish psyche to impact on house prices, but, nonetheless, it provides a bargaining chip for buyers in a buyers' market," says Ted Laverty, managing director of online tradesman directory onlinetradesmen.com.
Jeff Colley, editor of sustainable building magazine 'Construct Ireland', suggests that the sharp fall in property prices will see BER ratings having a much greater impact than they would have if the housing boom had continued.
"Over the past 10 years, we had a situation where many people knew that the houses they were buying were not great in terms of energy efficiency or build quality in general, but their belief that house prices would continue to rise caused many people to settle for less and impulsively buy for fear of missing out," says Mr Colley.
"The downturn has shifted the power towards the buyer instead, and I think buyers have become a lot more interested and knowledgeable in terms of energy performance than builders may have assumed."
Mr Colley also expects banks to take BERs very seriously.
"It's logical, if banks are to develop more rigorous lending criteria, then BER becomes a key factor when stress-testing people for loans and mortgages.
"If a bank lends money to someone to buy or build an A-rated home, they'll know the homeowner is more likely to be able to afford to repay their mortgage, as they'll be less exposed to energy price rises and the need for energy upgrade work. They'll also have a more valuable asset should they be forced to sell," he says.