Understanding Structure And Services For Home Maintenance

When you become a person of property, it does not necessarily mean that you automatically own a home.

Bricks, mortar and a water-tight roof may provide you with shelter from the elements, but the property will not be a real home until you have tailored it to fit your family, furnished and decorated it to your taste and added those individual touches which turn a house into a home. Before you begin making major alterations or, indeed, seemingly minor ones, it is very important that you understand the basic structure of your property and how the various services work.

Once you have this knowledge at your fingertips you will know precisely what you can or cannot do to improve your home.


Recent developments in the building industry, and others in the pipeline, may well revolutionize house construction in the next 25 years, but as most of us buy a ready-built property , it is more than likely to be constructed of conventional materials.

The anatomy of a traditionally-built house can be explained as follows. The ‘skeleton’ consists of three main lines of structure – the front and back walls and the central internal partition or spine. These are restrained by being connected to the side walls and/or party walls, which in turn are restrained by the front and back walls and the internal spine. All of these walls are also restrained by the floors and roof, which ‘tie’ the walls back to strength, so walls ‘return’ at right-angles. Without the horizontal support by the floors the walls would be prone to buckling along their length. The roof connects the front and back walls of the house and ties the side walls to each other by means of purlins and battens.


Exterior walls will most usually be of brick, concrete blocks or stone, all of which are put together in the same way -with mortar or ‘bonding agent’ which holds them firm. This can be the weakest part of the structure and exterior walls of older properties built in this way may need repointing , to prevent damp penetrating and causing gradual deterioration of the property. In many older houses, the exterior walls are solid and therefore strong, but heat loss is high. The exterior walls of modern buildings are more likely to be cavity walls — two ‘skins’ with a cavity in between which can be filled with insulating material. Wall ties mortared into the joints hold the two skins together, the inner skin carrying the weight of the floors and the outer edges of the roof trusses.

This type of wall may be rendered, or partially rendered – that is, another surface is used to cover up the basic building material. This surface may be smooth ; slightly textured ; or heavily textured. It is usually painted with masonry or gloss paint to make it more decorative. Some Georgian, Victorian and Edwardian properties have partial decorative rendering , usually combined with brick or stone. Many other materials used in exterior walls are ethnic in origin – locally produced/mined flint, slate and so on. Timber-framed structures are braced for maximum strength and may be combined with ‘wattle and daub’ or clad with timber, usually overlapped and frequently called ‘weatherboarding’ – there are modern simulations in plastic and metal. 4-

Some exterior walls or part of an exterior wall can be tile hung.

In modern houses a damp-proof course is built into the exterior walls. This consists of a layer of bituminous felt inserted into the course of the brickwork, 15 cm above ground level and should never be covered with earth, plants or rendering. In older properties, there may not be a d.p.c. and if there is a problem with rising damp it may be necessary to install one. This can be done by silicone injections, siphonage, electro-osmosis, ‘tanking’, or by the even more drastic treatment of cutting into the mortar and inserting a new damp-proof course of lead, copper, bitumen-impregnated hessian or asbestos, or special polythene sheet. This is definitely a job for the professional builder or d.p.c. expert, and many offer a 20-25 year guarantee -make sure that you engage a reputable firm.

Party Walls are those which separate two properties. They are likely to be solid in an older house, so unfortunately act as a sounding board for noise. You can convert them to a ‘cavity wall’ by battening insulation board, wall board or wood cladding to the existing party wall. For extra insulation, roof insulating material can be inserted behind the battens.

Interior Walls can be made of brick, stone, concrete slabs, breeze block etc. and be of solid or cavity construction. They may also be load-bearing. If alterations are planned which include the removal of all or part of a load-bearing wall an RSJ must be inserted to prevent the possible collapse of the walls and/or floor above – a job strictly for the professional.

Non-load-bcaring walls may be stud partitions: wooden-framed walls covered with wallboard which can be timber, plasterboard, insulation board etc. They usually have a plaster ‘skim’ and can be decorated as any plastered wall.


A ground floor can be either solid or suspended. Solid floors have a hardcore base topped with concrete, then a fine concrete screed to d.p.c. level giving a surface for laying tiles or other floorcover-ings. Suspended floors consist of timber joists laid on low support walls covered with bituminous felt, and then finished with floor boards or flooring grade chipboard. Flooring above ground level is usually suspended – laid on joists which span the entire construction. If you plan to lay heavy flooring above ground level e.g. thick ceramic tiles, or want to install a large, heavy bath, the joists should be checked for sufficient strength to take the weight. Ceilings are finished in various ways – more often than not, with a plaster skim, although in some modern houses plasterboard is used for economy, and finished with a special textured paint or ceiling tiles.

Roofs can be pitched or flat. A sloping roof is usually a timber-frame construction, which can be clad externally with root tiles , slate, wood , asphalt or even thatch. Sloping roofs can be gabled or hipped. Flat roofs may be covered with a liquid bitumen which is poured on, roofing felts or asphalt, and in some older properties can be finished with cement in part.

Rainwater goods

Rainwater from the roof flows away via gutters and down-pipes, usually called ‘rainwater goods’.

Old gutters and pipes were made of either cast iron or bituminized asbestos, but modern pipes and gutters are nearly all made of plastic, which is easy to cut, lightweight, does not rust and can be installed by a competent amateur. Plastic piping can be left unpainted, in its grey form, which blends with most exterior materials, or you can paint it to blend with existing ‘rainwater goods’.


Water, electricity and gas mains services are normally connected to a house, but in some remote country areas none, or only one, of these services may be available. Main drainage is another service not available everywhere. Most houses in towns and villages are connected to the sewerage system but again, in remote areas, it may be necessary to have a septic tank or cesspit, in which case contact the local council to find out what arrangements are made for emptying/cleaning it.

When you take over a property it is absolutely vital that you know where the stopcocks are located so they can be turned off immediately in emergencies such as an overflow. If there is more than one stopcock make sure you know which one turns off what. Similarly, find out where the electricity and gas main controls are so they can be switched off when necessary.

It is also sensible to know and understand the internal runs of gas and water pipes and electrical wiring, so you can avoid damaging them during building or decorating work.


Water comes into the house via the ‘rising main’, connected to the local water authorities’ main which runs under the pavement. Your responsibility for the pipe begins at the outside stopcock, normally situated in the pavement or at the entrance to driveway or path. Usually this can be turned on and off only by the local authority but, in an emergency, you can always turn off at your own stopcock on the rising main — this is often sited under the sink, although it can be hidden away in a cupboard, under basement steps, beside the front door and so on. Unlike gas and electricity, water is not metered. It is paid for as the water rate direct to the local water authority, which is part of the local council.

Basically, domestic plumbing and water systems are simple, but if you have an older property, which has had various improvements made over the years, you could find that two types of systems are involved. Try to understand your own system as quickly as possible- if necessary going through the house with a qualified plumber.

Cold water system

Most rising mains have a branch pipe ‘teed off from them, a few feet above floor level. This usually supplies the cold water tap to the kitchen sink. This is fresh water and the one that should be used for drinking and cooking purposes. Water that has been stored in a tank should not be used for drinking unless it is first boiled. If there are branch pipes from the main to garden or garage, these are usually fitted with their own stopcocks so they can be switched off independently during the winter.

In some houses the cold water to bath, basin and lavatory is also teed off from the rising main and this is called the ‘direct’ system. But in most properties the water supply to the bathroom, lavatory and so on are fed from a main storage tank located in the roof to ensure that there is no possible risk of contamination to the drinking water supply. This is referred to as the ‘indirect’ or ‘gravity’ system, and a pipe from the rising main is taken up into the roof to supply the cistern, the water being controlled by a ball or float valve. This floats on top of the tank, automatically closing off the flow of water into the cistern when it is full. As water is used, the float sinks, opening the valve to allow water to refill the tank. An overflow pipe, which takes water outside, should prevent it from cascading down the outside of the property if anything goes wrong with the inflow/outflow.

Water rises to the tank by means of pressure, but runs into the taps, downhill, by gravity. The higher the cold storage tank is above the outlet, the greater the pressure. This is important if you want to install a shower, as there must be sufficient ‘head of water’ – difference in height between tank and outlet – for it to work properly. This is another good reason for installing a shower downstairs, separately from the bathroom.

The cold water cistern also supplies the wcs, which work in a similar way to the cold storage tank – a ball valve floats inside and when the chain or handle is pulled, water flushes the lavatory, emptying the cistern; the ball or float sinks, opens the valve and the cistern refills. There is also an overflow pipe, which should go through the outside wall and project some inches; when an overflow pipe gushes out water the cistern in the roof or at the wc needs attention.

In some modern properties, the plumbing pipes, outflows etc. in the bathroom and wc are all concealed behind ‘trunk-ing’ or panels. Always check where the overflow pipe goes so that you can cope in an emergency.

Hot water system

In order to get hot water, water must be fed from the cold water storage tank to the place where it is to be heated. Usually there is a hot water cylinder, which in most houses is situated in the bathroom or in a linen cupboard on the landing. This supplies the hot water taps throughout the house by means of gravity feed, and as water is drained off via a tap, the cylinder refills from the cold water tank in the roof

Very often the water is heated via a boiler or back boiler , but an electric immersion heater is also built into the hot water tank to provide hot water during the summer so the boiler can be switched off Sometimes hot water is provided solely by an immersion heater, in which case it is a good idea to have a ‘split-level’ system -this is when there are two immersion heaters in the tank, one providing a more economical top-up service.

Very often the boiler also provides hot water for central heating radiators. Because hot water rises and cold water falls, the boiler must be placed below the hot water cylinder. This is why most boilers are in the kitchen, with the hot water tank on the first floor and the cold water tank in the roof In flats, bungalows and properties with little space for complicated plumbing, it may be necessary to stack the cold and hot water tanks on top of each other. In this case a form of instantaneous water heating may have to be provided at some of the outflow points.

As water heats in the boiler it rises to the top of the hot water tank , forcing colder water down to the bottom of the tank where it is then reheated by the boiler, passes up to the top and so on. In order for this cycle to work efficiently the pipe taking heated water to the cylinder must be near its top, and the one for the cooler water near the bottom – these two pipes are known as the ‘flow’ and ‘return’.

Most boilers are thermostatically controlled, so that the water does not get excessively hot — the thermostat automatically switches the boiler’s heating mechanism off if the tank is hot enough and no water is drawn off. However, there is a ‘safety valve’ built into most systems in case of overheating – a pipe rises from the hot cylinder to the cold storage tank, so that hot water can be harmlessly discharged. If you hear the water in the tank boiling, run off some of the excess — but don’t waste it, use it for a bath, shower, washing or washing up. NOTE: heating water by any fuel is expensive, so hot water cylinders should be lagged or fitted with a ‘jacket’ to prevent heat loss.

There are instantaneous ways of heating water, powered by gas or electricity. These can take the form of small individual heaters or geysers, placed over basin, sink or bath; some have flexible taps which can be used to fill the bath and then pushed round to serve an adjacent basin.

There is also a multipoint gas and electric system, whereby one instantaneous multipoint heater connected direct to the water main provides hot water to several points. The development of the gas ‘balanced flue’ means the heater can be sited anywhere in the house, so long as it is against an outside wall. As you open the tap to run the water, it automatically switches on the gas or electricity supply at the heater, to reheat cold water flowing through the multipoint.

A storage heater operates rather like the bathroom or linen cupboard hot water cylinder. It contains its own internal heater , is usually powered by electricity and placed near a main draw-off point— like the kitchen sink – but can supply the bathroom as well. When bathroom and kitchen are far apart it may be best to have two separate heaters. This system should not be confused with the ‘night storage’ system of central heating, which runs off cheap electricity available only at certain times of the day/night. However, electricity to heat the various water systems described here can be supplied at a cheaper rate during off-peak hours, if connected to a special meter.


In many older properties there is a two-pipe drainage system, which diverts waste flushed from the wc down a separate soil pipe from that for the waste from sinks, baths and basins. In newer properties a ‘single-stack’ drainage system discharges all wastes into a single main waste stack, contained within the perimeter of the house. This is visible from outside only as a small, capped pipe extending about 45 cm from the roof. An older house, converted or extended since a change in the Building Regulations during the 1960s allowed this type of drainage to be introduced, may combine both types.

The outlets have a ‘trap’ to prevent smells from the drains coming into the house – the water in the traps acts as a barrier. The simplest form is a U-bend in the pipe which retains water after the appliance is used, forming the barrier; T?’ traps have horizontal outlets and ‘S’ traps have vertical outlets, and all traps must have some means of access so they can be unblocked if necessary.

Health factors

It is very important that drainage systems should avoid ‘siphonage’ from one trap to another and the possible rush of contamination. Water pipes from wash basin, bath etc. must be as short as possible, have minimal fall, and be connected to the main stack in such a way as to prevent the possibility of their outlets being fouled or blocked by discharge when the lavatory is flushed.

Rainwater, too, has to be disposed of. This is collected in gutters along the roof, normally discharged into vertical drain pipes and from those into a drain. The underground drains connect up with the main sewerage system. There is usually an inspection chamber for the drains within the boundary of the property; this will have a trap at the outlet to prevent sewer gases from coming up the pipe into the house. Inspect drains regularly and clean them out when necessary, as well as keeping exterior gutters/drain pipes clean and clear of blockages.


Gas is mainly used for cooking, heating and hot water, although there are gas powered fridges and other appliances available. There are also portable cylinders to power appliances such as free-standing

Below left: the old type radial system of wiring. This can still be found in some older properties.

Below: the modern circuit system by which outlet sockets are connected to a continuous loop or ring of cable – one for upstairs, one for down. Cooker, waterheating and lighting all have separate fuses and circuits connected to a meter which records the amount of gas used. This is read quarterly and the householder charged accordingly. Some houses have a pay-as-you-use meter, which is also the property of the local Gas Board. This is a more expensive way of buying gas.

Gas is piped from the meter to the fixed appliance, and if gas is your choice for heating and cooking, when contemplating buying or renting a property, it is wise to check that a piped supply is available. Many houses have cooker, boiler and water heater gas points in kitchen and bathroom, and points for gas fires/pokers in living rooms and bedrooms, and even if they have been plugged because they are disused they can be unplugged by the gas fitter when he comes to connect your appliance. But if there is not a gas supply from the meter to the place where you plan to fit an appliance, you could face a large extra bill for the cost of running a gas pipe from the meter. Just because there is a gas appliance in your kitchen already, it does not mean you can run several appliances from it – you cannot ‘branch off gas pipes in the same way as for water. If a boiler or cooker is on a time clock mechanism for example, it must have separate pipe runs, because when a sudden surge of gas fills the pipe as the appliance is automatically turned on, there could be ‘blow back’ which might extinguish the pilot light on another appliance using the same pipe to supply gas. Gas pipes can be laid under floorboards , or neatly run parallel to skirtings.

Safety factors

Gas must be treated with respect, so call in the local Gas Board to advise you on any problems, and if your plumber/buildcr/kitchen specialist is involved in the installation of a gas appliance, have the Board round to check that all is well, and their approved gas fitter to connect the appliance to the supply. NOTE: if you use gas for central heating or hot water it is worth having a contract arrangement with the local Gas Board for servicing and emergencies. Always have gas appliances serviced annually.


Electricity comes into the house via a service cable, terminating in a sealed box which contains a fuse for the positive ‘phases’ and a terminal block for the neutral. This service unit is mounted on a board alongside the electricity meter which monitors the amount of electric current used. The meter is read quarterly and the householder billed accordingly. Adjacent to the meter are the main switch and fuses and/or a circuit-breaker. If you want to take advantage of off-peak electricity for storage 47 and water heating the Electricity Board will install a special meter with a time clock which automatically switches on the supply during the off-peak period.

A network of wires and cables takes the electricity to various parts of the house -these are called circuits, and have different current ratings and colour codings according to the job they are to do: 5 amp ; 15 amp ; 20 amp ; 30 amp and 45 amp. These are used for domestic lighting, heating, water heating etc; the 45 amp is used for large electric cookers.

The whole installation is protected by the Board’s service fuse, and each circuit is individually protected by a rewirable or replaceable fuse at the fuse box or, with a modern installation, at the circuit-breaker. These fuses protect the system, but modern electric plugs are also fused. If an appliance is faulty, a plug or circuit is overloaded, or there is a sudden surge of current, the fuse may ‘blow’, either at the plug in the point, at the fuse box or circuit breaker, cutting off the electrical supply to the appliance or to the circuit. These fuses can be mended, replaced or reset, after the fault has been traced and corrected. Older fuses have to be rewired with fuse wire of the correct amperage, modern ones with a new cartridge fuse. It is possible to place fuses in a circuit-breaker in any order, but preferably the fuse of the highest current rating should be next to the main switch, with the remainder in descending order. At least one spare fuse unit should be included when installing or rewiring a system, to allow for further additions/extensions to the system.

Ring main circuits

Most modern homes are wired for power on a ‘ring main’. The main cable runs from the consumer fuse board, circles the house supplying electricity to the various socket outlets and points, and returns to the fuse from which it started. Individual appliances should be fused according to their output so that a ‘blow’ does not harm the cable. For heavy output appliances, like a cooker, separate radial circuits are used and these require specific fuses — a cooker may have a 30 or 45 amp fuse, and must have a proper cooker box with switched socket near the appliance.

Safety factors

Electricity is a clean and instant form of energy, but must be treated with respect. If handled wrongly it can cause an accident or injury – even death. Never try to do any major electrical work yourself, such as rewiring a house, and if you do minor jobs, have them checked by a qualified electrician or the Electricity Board before switching on the current.


This can be expensive, and the system selected should suit your requirements and be combined with adequate insulation to give maximum benefit. Whichever system you prefer, it is wise not to put all your eggs into one basket: oil and solid fuel deliveries can be problematical sometimes; power breakdowns and energy shortages may mean that electricity is cut off or gas power reduced. Also, if solid fuel, oil or gas fired central heating systems are small bore and powered by an electric pump, water does not circulate if there is a power cut or failure, so the radiators go cold!

Nevertheless, central heating is much the most efficient and comfortable form of heating so long as the house is properly insulated, and an efficient central heating system is much cheaper than having individual room heaters.

The most usual form of central heating is the ‘wet’ system: water is heated by a boiler and distributed through pipes to radiators and/or skirting heaters. Also, you can connect to this type of system special heaters which are fed with the hot water like a radiator, but fan assisted to pump out the heat when necessary.

Warm air is another popular system, whereby air instead of water is heated and ‘ducted’ throughout the house, usually there are vents at skirting level.

There are also heated ‘structures’ to let out warmth: underfloor heating, storage radiators or oil-filled radiators.

The first decision to make is: which fuel to use. Nowadays there is relatively little cost difference between the three major fuels – gas, oil and solid fuel – but there are other aspects to consider.

Gas is the most popular because it is readily available ‘on tap’ and does not require storage space. It is relatively clean and safe, but as all systems can go wrong at some time or other do enter into a service agreement with the local Gas Board. Some gas systems do not need a boiler – the ‘master’ radiator will also act as a boiler.

Oil needs a storage tank, which should be sited far enough away from the house so that it is not a fire risk, but readily accessible for fuel delivery.

Oil may be a little more expensive than the other two fuels, and its future uncertain, but it is clean and easy, although some people with sensitive noses say that oil boilers smell!

Solid fuel may be slightly cheaper than gas, but requires storage space. Ideally solid fuel should be stored outside, but close by so that bringing in the fuel is not too laborious a chore. Some older town properties have a convenient cellar with delivery chute from the pavement, so that fuel can be delivered by hopper instead of in sacks. Solid fuel boilers can be fed by hopper too, which means they only need filling/ashes emptying once in 24 hours, but they are dirtier than other types of boiler and humping fuel can become difficult as you get older. Some solid fuel systems can be fed from a back boiler which means you get the advantage of a glowing fire combined with radiator and hot water supply. They are usually suitable only for small properties since the number of radiators which can be supplied from a back boiler is limited. A disadvantage is that you cannot switch off the source of heat instantly — if you need to switch off suddenly, the boiler must be damped down, or the glowing fuel be removed. Some wood burning or multi-fuel stoves can also heat water and provide cooking facilities.

Electricity is clean, compares favourably in price, and such heating systems are not usually connected to a boiler. The night storage system, where special heaters filled with insulated blocks take in cheaper power during off-peak time, provides 48 49 continuous warmth; heaters can also be fan assisted to heat a room quickly. The other form is underfloor or overhead heating: cables are embedded into the structure of floor or ceiling and connected to the main electricity supply. As hot air rises, the warmed floor method is better than the ceiling type; on the other hand, should the system go wrong, it is easier to take down a ceiling than dig up a floor.

Right for your lifestyle?

Apart from fuel costs, the advantages and disadvantages of storage, ease of control and regular maintenance and cleanliness, also think about your lifestyle. Something which can be switched on and off or controlled by a time clock is most practical for a family who are out all day; if there is somebody at home all the time, the solid fuel back boiler combined with a fire in the living room may be ideal.

Before reaching a decision, contact the producers of the various fuels , read their literature and listen to their ‘sales pitch’ —they will also supply you with a list of heating engineers/contractors. Contact several of these and ask them to call to discuss suitable systems and installation costs. Always obtain several estimates before making up your mind and ask about the extent of domestic upheaval necessary during installation.

When discussing installation, make sure you will get just what yon want. Radiators, skirting heaters or other heaters need not be placed under windows or where you plan to place a favourite piece of furniture. Try to think long term, and if you have not already planned your furniture positions , try to do this before deciding where to position radiators.

All modern central heating systems are thermostatically controlled and most boilers are operated by time clock, so you don’t have to have them running all the time. Ideally the main temperature thermostat should be placed in the coldest part of the house ; don’t ever have it positioned in the main living room, especially if you plan a supplementary form of heating there.


Even if you have an adequate system of central heating, it is wise to have some supplementary forms of heating, in case of power or fuel failure, or to switch on during cool spring, summer and autumn evenings when you may not want to activate the central heating system.

It makes sense to have a few portable heaters, such as electric fan heaters and convectors, and an oil-filled electrically-operated radiator to act as a heated towel rail during the summer. They all heat up quickly and can be used in different rooms. Gas portable convector heaters and oil heaters are also practical, so long as they are safely positioned and adequately guarded. They can be used for supplementary heating in winter too, and to keep the chill off garage, shed and so on.

If you don’t have an airing cupboard, there is a tubular electric heater which can be put at the bottom of a cupboard to warm it for the purpose of airing linen. Wall-mounted infra red electric heaters provide a safe means of heating bathrooms, nurseries and playrooms.

For main living rooms there is a wide choice- you can have an open fire to use as well as/instead of central heating, a slow- burning combustion stove or a wood-burning stove. There are gas fires, some complete with log-burning effects, and electric fires similarly designed to look like a ‘real fire’. The choice is up to you, but it does also depend on the various points already discussed under central heating fuels, and the ease of installation. So think the project through thoroughly first, and get as much advice as possible before making up your mind. It may even pay you to shiver through one winter in a new property before reaching a final decision!


If your home is properly insulated, the saving in terms of energy and money will be considerable- you can cut your bills by as much as 50 per cent. Also, you may be eligible for a grant to help with insulation, so find out about this first.

The roof

As hot air rises, start with the roof, and work down. The recommended minimum thickness for roof insulation is 7.5 cm , but 10 cm is even better, and triple loft insulation of 15 cm better still. You can use two main materials: glass fibre, supplied in rolls which are unwrapped and laid between the joists, and loose-fill – granules of purpose-made polystyrene or vermiculite which are poured between the joists.

Insulating a loft can be done by most do-it-yourselfers, but if the joists are not boarded over remember not to step off a joist into the gap, or your foot will go through the ceiling below! If you insulate between the ceiling and joists and then lay a floor, you will have even better insulation; flooring grade chipboard, hardboard, plywood or boards are all suitable. If you use glass fibre, wear protective clothing, gloves and a mask – a man’s fine cotton handkerchief will do. Loose-fill granules are easy to use and good for packing into awkward corners, but can move around in draughty conditions, so fill the cave area to more than the required depth.

Alternatively you can opt for professionally applied loft insulation – spun mineral fibre or a foam similar to that used for cavity wall insulation ‘hosed’ into place by a contractor.

Do not insulate the floor area under the cold water tank as the rising hot air will keep it from freezing up. Always make sure there is some ventilation in the loft to prevent condensation.

Lagging the hot and cold water tanks is essential if heat is not to be wasted, or the water freeze

Above: insulation can help to cut out noise as well as conserve heat. A typical timber/plasterboard wall is flimsy and far from soundproof, but it can be improved by creating a cavity wall as described, with insulation material placed behind the new surface.


The exterior walls of a house allow 35 units of heat to escape so wall insulation is the next priority. If you have cavity walls the cavity can be filled with foam, polystyrene beads or mineral wool, but this is a job for the professional, as it is vitally important that the damp proof course is not affected. Engage a reputable contractor, preferably one who is a member of the National Cavity

Insulation Association and make sure that the materials used have a certificate of approval.

There are several ways of insulating solid walls. You can fix insulating board, wall board, wood cladding etc. to the inside of the wall using battens, which immediately creates a cavity between the solid wall and the back of the board or wood which can be filled with various insulating materials. You can also fix fabric to the wall by means of battens or a special track method. This looks extremely decorative, is practical as the fabric can be removed for cleaning, and at the same time you can slip a special ‘quilt’ of glass fibre or insulating material behind it. You can also cover the exterior walls with wcatherboarding or tiles fixed on battens and, again, cavity wall insulation material can be used in conjunction with this treatment.

Floors can be very draughty, particularly when there are wide gaps between the boards, and solid and suspended ground floors can both contribute to heat loss. Thick carpet with a good underlay helps, and this can be laid on top of a ‘lining’ of newspapers or special felt. When the floorboards are really bad, gaps should be plugged, using filler, papier mache or fillets of wood. If there are great gaps round the skirtings and the surface is uneven, cover the entire floor with flooring grade chipboard, hardboard – rough side uppermost – or plywood. Take care not to pierce water, or other pipes, with nail or screw. If there are just gaps at the skirting, cover them by tacking on strips of wooden coving or beading.

Solid floors can be hard and cold, but you can put in a wooden floor, using the batten method on horizontal surfaces in the same manner as for vertical ones. This ‘floating’ floor will be warmer because of the layer of air trapped between and can be surfaced as you wish. Do not put insulation material between the layers as this could cause a condensation or damp problem.

Doors and windows can be just as draughty – large single-glazed windows, or those with ill-fitting leaded lights are the worst. Installing double-glazing is the best answer, but if you can’t afford this at the moment, use self-adhesive foam draught-proofing strip. Gaps round windows can also be plugged with mastic and there are special kits which will seal leaded lights. Heat loss through windows can be remedied by combining blinds with heavy lined and interlined curtains, or use insulating lining. You can also buy special insulated pleated blinds which cut heat loss, particularly when combined with curtains. Ill-fitting doors can have a special strip fitted to the bottom on the inside with bristles or a flange which clear the carpet as the door is opened and sink back firmly, keeping out the wind, when the door is closed. A foam or kapok-filled ‘sausage’ is another good draught stopper. And so are old-fashioned door curtains, suspended on a portiere rod, which rises as the door opens.

Fireplaces can be draughty, too. If disused they can be boarded up with a sheet of chipboard, hardboard, ply or laminate, but should be adequately ventilated to prevent damp seeping through the chimney into the breast. A more permanently scaled fireplace should have a cowl or cap put on the chimney and again should be ventilated.

Don’t become so draught-proofed that you leave no air circulating, as this can lead to condensation problems. Never block a ventilation outlet for a gas appliance; and never permanently close air bricks, wall or window ventilators.


The best way of cutting heat loss through windows is by double glazing. When having a new window installed it is well worth spending the extra money and having it double-glazed. This should be a proper sealed unit – the two sheets of glass hermetically factory-sealed and sealed into the frame. Various types are available, some more sophisticated than others. For example, Venetian blinds can be built into the gap between the two sheets of glass and controlled from inside the room – ideal for large picture windows, patio doors and sloping roof ‘lights’.

Double-glazing cuts out noise too, so if you live near an airport or motorway, or in a busy street, double-glaze as many windows as possible, particularly the bedroom ones, but bear in mind that the space between the two panes of glass must be at least 10 cm to cut out noise effectively. Old windows can be removed and replaced by a sealed unit, often referred to as a ‘replacement window’ rather than double-glazing. The frames can be of wood, metal or special plastic extrusion, and there are companies who will carry out this work for you. Most are bona fide and reliable, but beware – there are some. ‘cowboys’ and ‘moonlighters’ in this business. Get a written estimate, and don’t part with any money until you are sure the job will be adequately done, with any damage to decorations/property covered by insurance or compensation guaranteed. The normal arrangement for a fairly costly job of this sort is to pay one-third on signing a contract or accepting an estimate, and to pay the bulk on completion of the job to your satisfaction.

Secondary sashes

The other form of double-glazing is by ‘secondary sash’ – this means putting a second window complete with frame inside the existing window surround, or it may even be attached to the existing window frame. It allows the original window to remain unchanged but gives the advantage of double-glazing. The inside secondary window can be opened, and may be hinged, sliding or even fixed if you don’t want to be able to open either window. This type of double-glazing is not as efficient as the prc-sealed type, so ensure the inner frame or window can be removed for cleaning/decorating, wiping up condensation etc. Also make sure you are not left without any form of ventilation because of a completely sealed inner unit. Again, beware of ‘cowboys’. NOTE: some cheap polythene or plastic ‘secondary sash’ systems are sold as do-it-yourself double-glazing, but these are not really very satisfactory — they are not particularly cheap or easy to install, they only last for one winter and they do not allow an uninterrupted view. 52

Understanding Structure And Services For Home Maintenance

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