Tuesday 6 September 2011

Nice priest holes – shame about the heat loss

I live in a dormer bungalow built in 1968. Many houses of this style were built in the 1970s and they can be seen all over Norfolk. The design owes nothing to architectural quality or to energy efficiency but everything to low construction costs. It is much cheaper to build roofs than walls. The consequence of having all that roof space is lots of upstairs cupboards but also several large inaccessible spaces that we call ‘The Priest Holes’ , where wind and mice are free to circulate. Energy was cheap when these houses were built so no effort was made to insulate the Priest Holes but they should be treated the same way as the loft but with the extra job of insulating the vertical wall.

Access to the Priest Holes can be gained through the backs of the cupboards that are built into the roof space – in most cases the cupboard walls are just hardboard tacked onto a wooden frame – but take care that no wires or pipes have been attached from the other side ! If you are not too large, you can then crawl into the space and put some insulation between the joists and up against the vertical walls.

The picture shows that I have put down boards as I also had to sort out some wiring problems in there. Two warnings – wear dust masks and protective clothing and make sure that you don’t trap the cat in the ceiling space. It is best to keep the cat well out of the way!

You don’t need to insulate above the ceiling where it is below the upper room as heat will pass through into the bedroom – just like in a normal house – also don’t completely fill the gap between the ceiling and the floor boards as it is important to let air circulate. Ventilation is not normally a problem in these houses as the wind can pass from one side of the house to the other through all the linked roof spaces – on windy days the cupboard doors rattle in a ghostly way.

Insulating the priest holes is a lot of work but well worth doing to reduce heating bills and to keep the bedrooms cooler on hot days. I have also increased the insulation in the main loft and in the flat dormer roof. The picture shows the additional metal flue for the small wood burner in my office, the brick chimney serves a larger wood burner in the lounge that we light at weekends. Either one of these stoves keeps the whole house warm on really cold days. We are fortunate that the house faces south and the large porch window collects a lot of solar energy.

If you do venture into your Priest Holes, please don’t get stuck and do make sure that someone knows where you (and the cat) are!

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