A Review of the Haynes Manual
What the energy giants don't want you to know about cutting bills
A review of the Haynes Home Insulation Manual by Charles Clover, 7th April 2013
"It was snowing. A bitter wind was rattling the door of our larder and I was wondering how much extra this unseasonal cold spell would add to our old house's annual heating bills. Then a wonderfully topical new book arrived in the post. It was a Haynes manual - familiar to anyone who has tried to fix a car or motorcycle - but on another increasingly complex subject: Home Insulation.
You may call me sad - as Mrs Clover did, until she discovered some of the tricks it contains include the stopping of draughts - but I was transfixed.
So when you think about it, insulation is a topic whose time has come. Energy prices keep rising and will continue to do so to pay for wind farms and nuclear power stations. We are more receptive to the notion that £20 notes are slipping through cracks in walls windows and roofs you can save two thirds of your heating bills by insulating your home properly, that is, of course, if it has no insulation at all, but there are sizeable gains to be made by topping up any job done more than a decade ago, when we didn't take insulation seriously. An investment in insulation continues to pay dividends, unlike that in the new kitchen.
There are two obstacles - besides the cost of actually installing the stuff - torpor and trust.
Torpor because you may desire you can't face the hassle of hiring an army of workers to empty the clutter from the attic. Trust is trickier still, because who, actually, do you trust?
We certainly don't trust the energy companies after one supplier - SSE - was fined a record £10.5 million by OfGen, the regulator, for selling customers tariffs that turned out to be higher than their original deals.
Further fines could be levied on companies, including British Gas, that were meant to have installed insulation in vulnerable customers' homes under two government schemes but apparently failed to do so.
The managing director of British Gas, Phil Bentley, who with salary and bonuses trousered £3.1 million last year, is fond of blaming the size of our energy bills on Britain's draughty old properties. Making our properties less leaky is the only guaranteed way of getting back at creeps like him. Again the question: who do you trust to do this?
I would like to trust [the current] energy minister [who] offers us the opportunity to put the cost of energy-saving improvements on our future electricity bills. But the jury is still out on the skills of the contractors he has empowered, or the wisdom of the advisers who decided [the] recipients had to pay annual interest of 7% or more on the investment, secured on the property, which might make it harder to sell.
Nor do I have faith in [the energy companies who] are supposed to top up the money you get from the [government insulation scheme].
I do however trust myself. I also trust [the authors of] the Haynes Home Insulation Manual, for this book shows that the most economical and architecturally sensitive way of insulating your home is to do it yourself; that includes commissioning somebody else to do the tricky bits such as cavity wall insulation. Many of the tasks involved - which [the book] rates for difficulty from 1 to 5 - are jobs any fit person can do.
Even so, things have moved on a long way since all you could buy with fibreglass wool and sticky backed foam draught excluder. Now there is a baffling variety of strips and brushes for draught proofing your doors and windows - a job that rates a "one hammer" symbol, that is, dead easy, on [the book's] scale. There are new kinds of Perspex secondary glazing that can make it easy to deal with old windows in winter. There is new thinking about old houses, which ought not to be insulated with materials that cause condensation. [The book] delights in new products made from old materials such as sheep's wool, cellulose and cork - much less unpleasant to work with than fibreglass wool.
Then there are smart solutions: [the book] suggests that - as in the case of our nightmare front attic - people leave old lathe and plaster ceilings up and screw new kinds of insulation underneath them to avoid the mess of taking them down. And there are simple tricks you can learn, such as coating metal windows with Vaseline so that the mastic sealant doesn't stick to them on one side and the windows will open.
Ian Rock [one of the book's authors] made a couple of striking observations when I spoke to him. He said he had received almost no assistance from some quarters of the industry when he was researching [the] book. I bet he didn't. This is information the professionals do not want you to know. Trade associations have an interest in hiding the fact that insulation is something that can be done by amateurs or commissioned cheaply, if people understand what they are doing. Even he is surprised at how little energy companies are doing, despite all their obligations, to publicise the savings that can be made.
[The book authors] must be congratulated for de-mystifying insulation just as an army [of contractors] are about to try to pull the mineral wool over our eyes.
As with the Haynes manual I had for an old Ford, you may end up not doing the work yourself, that you are far less likely to get ripped off.
"Spending £14.99 - or less - on a Haynes Home Insulation manual might just be one of the most cost effective investments you will ever make".