Rotary Club of Reading

Draught Busting

The project commenced in January 2013 using volunteers form both TTR and The Rotary Club of Reading. Homes were visited on Friday and Saturday afternoons and the clients came from several sources, newspaper, radio and TV coverage, a local debt advice centre, via Reading BC Winter Watch Scheme and through our own contacts, even via the clients themselves.
The scheme was limited to those that were living in poor conditions and in fuel poverty especially if they were were families with young children and on benefit or were very elderly, it did also included those living in cold draughty conditions and who were under debt management. We would arrange to visit their homes and on our arrival we would explain what we wanted to do which was to first carry out a simple temperature survey with an infrared thermometer, recording the results and at the same time looking for problem areas in terms of draughts. We would then explain to the householder what we would like to do, and if they were in agreement we would carry out the draught proofing works there and then. This worked very effectively as a 'one stop shop' as we carried a draughtbusting kit with us which could cover almost all eventualities and in this way the whole process was generally completed efficiently within an hour and a half.
What we found you would not believe...
The things we found were horrendous and in a couple of cases beyond belief. Ninety per cent of the homes we visited had no insulation to their loft traps even though many had had loft insulation carried out under one of the grant schemes, don't they bother with the loft door? Forty five per cent had no draught seals on the trap either. More than a quarter of the homes we visited had no form of thermostatic control of their heating systems. Thirty per cent had no or failed draught proofing to the front door and the same proportion had no adequate inner letter plate flap.
The things that were almost beyond belief were the unnecessary or redundant air vents that had been left in place when no longer required, one of these was rendering a lounge unusable and had likely cost the occupant 1000 over the past five years, this was a 225mm x 150mm air vent directly behind a radiator! We reckon the rad was hung in front of it by the people who removed the old gas back boiler rather than properly dealing with the then redundant and no longer required ventilator. This coupled with big gaps round the loft trap was causing heat to sucked out of the lounge faster than the hot radiator could supply it. Then there was the lady living in the front downstairs room of a terraced house with a 30mm gap under the front door and she also had very draughty windows too. Her fuel bill was 140pcm and should have been less than 35 for the one room. She had been visited in her home by several in the caring professions yet none of them had reported her plight, by the time we got to her she had spent all her savings and was in debt.


The other side of the coin
The other side of the coin were single parent families with the heating on too warm; one with the windows open in January as it was too hot inside. We closed the window and explained how to control the boiler the hard way using its own thermostat and the necessity of making constant small adjustments. I have applied for a future grant to install programmable thermostats in cases like these. Another family seemed to think summer clothes were OK indoors so had their heating up to 27C when there was snow outside in March. Their heating bills would have been 40% higher than necessary. In contrast to this one retired gentleman was noting down his meter readings and rationing his heating to match his budget, this was so simple and so impressive I asked if I could take a photograph of him and his notes. He has open air vents in both his bedroom and lounge that were likely relics from the sixties, I blocked them to kill the through draught having noted his new fan-flued boiler and electric fires. It seems all wrong to me that he pays over the odds per unit of energy used simply because he uses a key meter.
What we typically found
During a typical visit we would use over a tube of decorators caulk sealing various gaps and cracks, apply draught strips or seals to several openings often including the loft trap. We would seal gaps and cracks between windows and window boards, under window boards, round frames, round pipes in airing cupboards and under the sink or bath. Gaps and cracks in floorboards were common and these let cold air into homes they are both time consuming and tricky to deal with and were often left for them to deal with either during or after our visit with rubber spongy special seals. More common were the draughts emanating from under skirting boards even from internal walls upstairs! The most difficult of all draughts are those that lurk behind dry linings, fortunately we didn't see many of these on this scheme but they will form the subject matter of a future article.
There are many more stories to tell, but just one more about the family who did everything right yet for them it had all gone horribly wrong. They have a shared equity scheme with a major housing association which places all responsibilities for repairs and upkeep quite inequitably on the occupier. The householders have very prudently installed new windows, cavity insulation and had the loft insulation checked. The new upstairs new windows didn't shut leaving horrible gaps which let in draughts and cold, the firm that installed them had gone bankrupt so trading standards couldn't help and litigation was pointless and would take too long and cost too much anyway. We arranged for new hinges to be fitted to solve the problem. The cavity insulation caused problems in lots of odd places with condensation, damp and mould, this was as a result of the fact that it did its job in making the walls warmer where it was installed correctly but any part of any wall that was not insulated or any misses or gaps were left the walls cold and awful problems resulted. A friend came and did a thermographic survey and we may publish this one day too. There are some more general issues with cavity insulation that concern me as it always stops at the top of the cavity leaving an uninsulated section of wall between the soffit and the wall plate. I believe that this is in contravention of Part L1b of the building regulations. The inspection of the loft insulation which reported that all was OK was far from correct. For a start the loft trap through which the inspection was carried out had 5 to 10mm gaps each side and was itself uninsulated, the loft insulation was insufficiently thick and it could, at the time, have been topped up free under the government CERT scheme, bits were missing and it was not quite reaching the wall plate leaving the edge of the ceiling cold. These factors all combined to produce the perfect conditions for condensation and mould growth resulting in very unhealthy living conditions. The family had done the right kind of things yet are living in the most appalling conditions that I have ever seen.
The housing association were less than helpful, the cavity wall installation guarantee was used to get a rectification survey but I anticipate going back to sort out the thermal bridging and missing insulation problems hopefully with some grant funding to pay for scaffolding and materials.
The problems encountered where there were no thermostat were not isolated or necessarily confined to older heating systems, many were on new ones where it would have cost the landlord a couple of hundred pounds extra to have one put in (with no benefit to himself), we also saw some cases where thermostats had been put in the easiest place for the installer which was often the worst place in terms of energy saving and control of living room temperatures. We talked to all the clients about how they ran their heating system and offered advice and energy saving recommendations as a part of our remit.
What did it cost?
The least that we spent on a property was 1.50 and they would save 40 p/a through reduced heat losses, were they to take our advice about heating control a further 120 p/a would be easy to achieve, on average each client has cost just under 25 and annual savings are estimated to be in the order of 100.It should be noted that it is always easy to make the first lot of savings and further savings become increasingly difficult. The biggest savings were for lady mentioned above approaching 600 p/a for a cost of say 30. The returns on draught proofing are always good but the 2600% return on 1.50 looks more like the interest on a payday loan than the return on draught proofing a home. In all cases the savings in the first year have always been greater than the cost of materials.
We surveyed the clients after the end of the scheme of those who responded they all felt that they had benefited from the DraughtBusters visit, and all had draught proofing measures carried out and felt that their home now felt less draughty. Two thirds of the clients said that they would have paid someone to carry out the work. Forty per cent reported problems with condensation. Only one person on the scheme did not think that they would save any money as a result of the draught proofing, indeed they may be the only realist as they were the one who had a budget for heating and adhered to it rigidly being cold when the money ran out! They will now be warmer for longer and this is a problem with saving energy as we tend to use more when we can afford more.
Some comments received about the Draught Busters, 'the DraughtBusters were very helpful, efficient and gave me lots of information/tips to further improve the heating efficiency of my home'; 'The guys were friendly and really knew their stuff'; 'They helped and advised on a lot of things and have made real improvements'.
The lowest temperatures we found in homes were 8.3C, 11C and 12C were not uncommon. The highest was 27.3C in a bedroom which was ridiculously high. The biggest temperature differential between the ceiling and the floor was 12C in a building with drylined walls.
I would like to thank the Reading Borough Council Winter Watch Team, my TTR volunteers and those from Reading Rotary Club without whose support this project could not have been the success that it has been.
Tony Cowling

Related links

• Draught Busters website Go visit >

• Report published in Green Building Magazine Summer 2013 Download >