Design/User Researcher. Currently bridging the gap between Market and User Research at Monotype. Ex BBC Audience Researcher. Former Director of Mark Boulton Design and Five Simple Steps.

Keeping warm in a house made of stone

Keeping warm in a house made of stone

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We bought a two hundred year old stone cottage two years ago. It was charming and full of character. We moved in and discovered it was also really rather cold. The previous family had happily lived here for twenty years but had made most of their improvements many years ago. Many things needed replacing or improving. Slowly, as savings have allowed, we have been making changes to try and make it warmer and work more efficiently for us as a family: 

1. We put insulation in the loft spaces. Even a nineties extension didn't have any above!

2. We dug up the (non damp proofed) floor in the kitchen and put insulated board beneath a new slab. 

3. We opened up the old (filled in) chimney breast between the dining room and kitchen and installed a double sided beast of a log burner. We also upgraded the existing chimney breast and log burner in the lounge.

4. We installed a new (oil) boiler and hot water cylinder and upgraded most of the single skin radiators. 

5. We recarpeted the children's bedrooms and opted for decent quality underlay.

6. We hung heavy wool blanket curtains downstairs and good quality lined ones in the children's bedrooms.

7. We overboarded the two end gables in the two coldest rooms with insulated plaster board - daughter number two's bedroom and the lounge.  

8. We upgraded the master bedroom and bathroom with underfloor heating in the bathroom, insulation under the bedroom flooring and a reconditioned industrial radiator.

9. We took away the very old aluminium and PVC windows and doors and replaced them with bespoke double glazed wooden ones. The glass in the front is also acoustic glass as we live on a fairly busy main road.

10. We've used soft furnishings like wool blankets and sheep skins to snuggle up under if things get really cold! 

With all of these changes we're definitely starting to see the pay off. The house is still cold on a cold day if the heating is off all day - for example it was down to seventeen degrees celsius yesterday before I manually switched the heating on at 4pm. This is a two degree improvement on average though as it regularly dropped down below fifteen degrees at night when we first moved in. 

With the house being stone, it will always take a while to heat up but the key is to keep the ambient temperature higher. If the heating was on all day, we'd certainly keep the house warm but we'd use too much oil. Instead in the winter we have the heating come on for a few hours in the evening to warm the house through and make the bedrooms comfortable for sleeping children. They stay around nineteen/twenty degrees. Then we use the log burners to take the inevitable chill out of the air and push the downstairs temperature up to a more comfortable level (otherwise I have to sit underneath a blanket all evening as the stone/wood floors make it much colder downstairs). 

The log burners have been a brilliant way of improving air flow through the house. We still find the lounge has cold, dank pockets of air but we make sure we light the fire and air the room regularly. The log burner fans we have also push the air around and into the hall and up the stairs. If I'm at home alone working during the daytime, I'll often light a fire in one of the rooms and work in there instead of the (still cold) family room/work space, as it's more cost efficient and less wasteful than burning oil to heat the whole house.

I do feel lucky that we've been able to make these improvements and are in a position to make such choices, as I know that others are not so fortunate. Having a cold, damp house rather than our last well insulated, modern house, has really made us think carefully about how we consume energy and make careful, practical decisions that will help our house function well for another 200 years!

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Workplace exclusion

Let children be children