Economical Heating Systems

Better to be warm but undecorated and unfurnished, than look fantastic and feel cold. Central heating is expensive, disruptive and complex to install, but it is a good investment and an excellent solution to heating problems. There are many different heating systems to choose from. Basically, the categories are: a fire with or without back boiler/radiators; under-floor heating; warm-air heating; a hot water boiler with radiators (sometimes incorporated in a cooker); and unit heating (convectors or radiant). There isn’t space to go into detail here, but solid fuel, gas, electricity and oil companies will be able to give you all the information you need. If you can’t afford central heating or are in rented accommodation, you could build up a system of storage radiators or other heaters — a combination of radiant and convected heat is best. Whatever your system make sure it’s quiet and doesn’t dry the air too much. Most important of all, make sure you minimize your heat loss by installing thorough and efficient insulation throughout your home.


Damp is the worst heat eater — do your best to eradicate it. Windows let in draughts and lose heat through the glass. Self-adhesive rubber or foam draught-stripping will keep

out cold air and dust, as will shredded newspaper, which is cheaper. Double glazing will keep heat in and possibly noise out, but condensation can cause problems. Factory-sealed units (two sheets of glass with space between, to fit directly into your window frame) are comparatively cheap, although the gap in between the sheets of glass isn’t really big enough to cut out much sound. You can add an independent secondary frame, which can be opened, to your window your-

A room full of interest. A fire blazing in the hearth provides a welcome focal point while the shelves packed with books and the comfortable furniture draw you further into this homely, ‘lived-in’ room.

Self, or ask a specialist firm. An easier do-it-yourself method is to attach a second frame directly on to your existing window.

Heavy curtains will, of course. Help keep in the heat more than light-weight ones. Remember that, if you stop all ventilation, you’ll have dreadful condensation, but you can help by producing less steam yourself (turn down the thermostat on the water heater; buy a kettle with an automatic switch) and so avoid the necessity of throwing open a window. Outside doors allow great gusts of warm air to escape.

Do you have a porch you could glaze to provide an air lock, or could you build an internal lobby? If not, treat your door as a window.

More heat is lost through the floor than most people realize. Damp floors are, of course, especially bad; you should take them up and put down a damp-proof membrane. A handsome stone floor that you don’t want to disturb should be sealed with polyurethane to stop rising damp On a sound floor, an insulating floor covering — foam-backed carpet, vinyl sheeting, cork, for instance will work wonders.

Have you insulated your loft? If you can’t get up there, how about treating your ceilings with an attractive material which will cut out heat loss, too — cork, tongue and groove boarding. Etc. Heat rises, especially up the chimney: a throat restrictor and tray will ensure air for combustion comes from outside, not from your warm room. Unused fireplaces should be blocked off though it’s probably best to do it in a way that’s temporary: a fireplace can be a valuable and welcoming focal point. If you are sure that you will not want to utilize the chimney again, it can be blocked off (an air brick must be inserted) and the recess plastered round. Tiled or simply painted and then filled with plants, your fireplace can still provide a very attractive focal point for your room.


Out-of-character fireplaces can be replaced simply by putting an electric or gas fire in the recess. Or it may be possible to alter fireplaces sufficiently by painting them another colour which blends better with the room.

Alternatively, your fireplace may already have been painted and, by stripping it down, you may reveal something well worth preserving. One young couple removed pink gloss paint from their large living room fireplace to find what appeared to be black marble. This was only a fake finish though, over a fine, dull black slate which is now a showpiece and the central feature of their home. You may find you can rearrange the draught on an existing fire by running a tube or pipe from the outside direct to the foot of the grate. Stoves, either solid fuel or wood burning can be extremely attractive and can be kept going all night.

Your flue may be much bigger than you need, especially if you’re installing a slow burner of some sort. To adjust this you could fit an asbestos pipe and fill in around it with insulating cement. Your radiators needn’t stick out like sore thumbs either; bulky ones can be put in a recess, or they can be painted to match the colour of the walls.


If you’re settled and comfortable living where you are but need more space, it’s obviously important to consider making your property grow by using space that’s wasted now — converting your attic or cellar, or adding extra space in the form of an extension. There are many regulations covering this and you must take professional advice from builders and local planning authorities on both what is practical and what is legal. You must think very hard, too, about what will look right; you can easily ruin the outside appearance of a house by incongruous additions. You will also have to check that there’s nothing against changing or extending your home contained in the deeds of the house.


Any work involving your roof may bring to light all sorts of defects and weaknesses, so be prepared to spend more than you think. Depending on the authorities in the part of the country in which you live, you may have to build a permanent staircase to your attic if it’s going to be ‘habitable’ — that is, a living room or bedroom. If it’s just for storage, you may get away with a ladder. But in either case there must be headroom of at least 2 m (6ft 6½ inch.) as you go into the attic space. In a ‘habitable’ attic the ceiling height must be at least 2.25 m (7ft 6in.) over half of the unobstructed floor area, but you can reduce the total floor area with built-in cupboards.

A dormer window is another very acceptable Way of getting a larger area, plus sufficient light. Although roof lights are the easiest windows to install, they may not be allowed by the by-laws governing ventilation, and they can make a low attic extremely hot. A dormer will open up new vistas and, if inverted, can give space for a tiny roof garden or balcony. When choosing your window, remember that maintenance may be difficult; if so, pick something with a tough and long lasting finish.

If your attic is too small to use as an extra floor, you could still use it as a gallery by opening it up to the floor below (this won’t have so many legal restrictions). Then part of your top floor will have an impressive, high ceiling, with some sort of staircase to an informal, unusual, cosy balcony. This is liked particularly well by youngsters, although the elderly may find it rather too open and more like an adventure playground.

Of course, either in a full conversion or a balcony, weatherproofing and insulation are imperative; you stand to lose a high percentage of your heating if it’s neglected. You can weatherproof the underside of your roof by spraying on a sealer to stop leaks. It will last 25 years. Boarding nailed on to the joists over a layer of glass fibre will give added insulation and will look very pleasant. Make sure your attic floor joists are strong enough to take continued walking. Plywood or block-board will be cheaper than floor boards. Carpeting will give added insulation and soundproofing. One good way of using the lowest corners of your sloping ceiling is to build beds under them.