Having a baby on the way is a good motivation to get some of the things done around the house that will make it more comfortable and make your heating and cooling more efficient, saving on your bills and your greenhouse gas emissions. In Victoria, more than half of our household energy use goes on heating, so insulation is a good place to focus on to make a difference.
To keep the heat inside in winter and outside in summer you want to seal the cracks and gaps in your house as much as possible. Most houses have enough gaps that if you added them all together they’re the equivalent of having a window being left open all the time.
Shading your windows in summer can reduce the amount of heat coming through them by an impressive 70-85 percent. Because in Australia our sunshine hits us from the north, deciduous plants lining your north-facing windows are a good way of providing shade in summer and letting sunshine in in winter. The same goes with west-facing windows, to protect you from the hot afternoon sun in summer. You could also use shade cloths, external blinds, eaves and awnings to do the same thing. You can also get removable reflective mesh that you just stick on with Velcro dots, so you can take it down in winter.
Up to 40 percent of heat loss from your home in winter is from uncovered windows. Hanging thick curtains will keep the heat in. Ideally they should be lined with that rubbery backing. Ready-to- hang curtains are pretty affordable ($80 – $180), or you might want to make them yourself or look for a set second-hand. When they’re closed, these will also keep rooms nice and dark and help your baby to sleep. Blinds are only effective at keeping the heat in when they sit up against the window frame and are not slatted. So roller blinds and roman blinds can keep the heat in because they are one continuous piece of fabric, but venetian blinds don’t because they have slats that the cold air moves right through.
To make your curtains work well, you also need pelmets. These are the boxes which cover curtain rods, and to keep the heat in they need a top, not just sides. You can get them installed by a custom curtain installer, or you just make them yourself.
Double glazing also helps prevent heat loss and gain through windows. If you can’t afford it there are now some cheaper alternatives – films that are designed specifically for being added to existing windows. Failing that, sticking on some good old bubble wrap will help do the job!
The best thing you can do is have insulation installed in your ceiling, because it can reduce your heating and cooling energy use by a whopping 45 percent. Getting insulation batts installed should cost about $1500, for a standard installation. Foil insulation should cost about $250 plus installation. With rising energy prices, ceiling insulation is a smart way of avoiding big bills in the future. You could also consider putting insulation in the walls and under the floor. If you’re a renter, head to our tips for persuading your landlord to install insulation.
We would recommend either glasswool or polyester batts in the ceiling to keep the winter heat in, with a rating of R3.5 or higher. A layer of double sided foil insulation stapled just below the roof line will also help keep the summer heat out.
Downlights are a fire hazard when you have insulation above them because they get really hot. You can get downlight covers but the best option is to replace downlights with an energy efficient alternative which doesn’t heat up.
Installing foil insulation can cause electrocution when it’s accidentally stapled into live wires, or when the covering around the wires deteriorates over time or is chewed on by rodents, leaving live wires in contact with the foil. Houses often have their electric cables just above the plaster ceiling, so putting the foil away from the ceiling and just under the tiles or tin of the roof can cut the electrocution risk while still keeping your house cool in summer. Of course bad wiring is dangerous with or without insulation, so make sure yours is in good condition.
Smaller spaces are easier to heat and cool, so where possible close doors to seal off a smaller living space. If you can’t install doors to seal off spaces, even hanging curtains or blankets will make a big difference to your comfort levels. Don’t leave heaters on in empty rooms. If you have central heating, turn off unused rooms at the control panels. If you can’t do this, go and close a vent or two in empty rooms (but no more or the system won’t cope).
Babies should not be allowed to get overly hot or cold. Babies naturally have cold hands or feet, so check your baby’s temperature by feeling their tummy. In winter if the room isn’t draughty and the baby is well clothed and blanketed, there should be no need to heat their room through the night. Prevent your baby overheating by buying a timer switch that turns heaters off and then back on prior to the baby waking. Make sure you read the safety information available through Maternal and Child Health Centres.