It’s been lovely outside this autumn but make no mistake: the cold is coming. We all know the weather this season can change for good overnight, so it’s a smart idea to start prepping for winter before it arrives at your door.
For homeowners who’ve said no to carpets in favour of floorboards, winter presents an even chillier experience. Exposed floorboards provide a wonderful, earthy aesthetic, but they’re hardly perfect for retaining heat. Worse yet, if you have gaps between your floorboards you have to put up with a constant draft coming into and around your home.
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Thankfully, you can insulate your floorboards. If you’ve laid carpeting around your home, you should consider putting insulation in anyway. This will make your property more energy efficient and could save you £60 to £75 pounds a year in heating costs, according to the Energy Saving Trust.
The good news is that you only have to insulate the ground floor. Exposed floorboards upstairs, rare but increasingly popular, don’t need extra padding because heat will travel upwards from the ground floor, naturally heating whatever’s above it. Remember that ground floor floorboards, which suffer from damp, do need air otherwise they rot. Never block under-floor airbricks in your outside walls: it’ll only create stagnation.
Floor insulation – what lies underneath
Many older homes, such as Victorian and Edwardian, have suspended timber floors, meaning that the planks of wood that are your floorboards have been laid perpendicular to other upright planks. There is usually a space of 15cm between top floorboard and the underfloor.
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In these gaps, you should lay mineral wool insulation supported by netting to stop it from spreading and poking up between your boards. Don’t pack it too tight because, as mentioned earlier, circulation of air is still important. Before the creation of proper insulation, many attempts to insulate these gaps involved scrunched up newspapers, so you may find you have to remove handfuls of disintegrating paper before you can place down your mineral wool. Fibreglass is another popular choice of material.
Other forms of insulation, such as foamed plastic, shouldn’t be used because they don’t absorb moisture and do increase condensation. They are also very difficult to insert under floorboards. A true traditionalist could opt for natural fibres such as sheep’s wool and hemp. All forms of insulation have benefits and drawbacks, so speak to a professional when making your decision.
Lifting floorboards can be a daunting task, especially if you value their look. A chipped or scratched board defies the point of having it on show. If you don’t feel confident, get a tradesman in to lift them up, fit the insulation and replace them afterwards.
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If you have carpets, insulating your floors is still an important task. The cold air in the gap between the floorboard and underfloor can penetrate wool and other fibres, leaving your feet feeling cold. The next time you’re due a change of carpet, plan ahead to insulate.
To be on the safe side and have all of your concerns covered, why don’t you post your questions on our Ask an Expert section. Registered floor fitters and thermal insulation specialists will give you expert advice.
Squeeze it in
Once you’ve insulated the area under your boards, it’s time to consider sealing the gaps between them.
The space between boards is a major source of heat loss, even with proper insulation. Gaps not only allow warm air to escape but they let cold air come in from airbricks. Thankfully, draught-proofing is an incredibly easy, efficient and cheap way of warming your home and it could save you £10 to £50 a year.
Floorboards naturally contract and expand with heat, meaning that any sealant you use should accommodate movement. Most liquid sealants form a tough-gel like substance once in place. Unfortunately, they do break down over time, so be prepared to squeeze in more every few years.
The best liquid sealants are silicon based. Apply methodically between boards, wiping down any excess with a damp cloth before it has time to solidify. Don’t leave any gaps, however temping this may be around tricky bits.
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If there is a considerable space between your floorboard and skirting board, you should seal it too. Use a very fine nozzle to squeeze in a layer of sealant underneath the skirting board so that it’s out of sight yet just as effective.
Roll it out
Unfortunately, most gap sealants dramatically change the look of floorboards. The dark lines between individual boards, which work to pronounce the wood and its many contoured lines, are lost, and in their place, the lighter colour of sealant makes your floorboards appear as though they run into one another. While it does literally seal the gap, it also makes everything seem a little a fake.
Increasingly, floorboard enthusiasts are turning to another form of sealant that looks like a roll of cardboard tape. It is folded in half and pressed down into the spaces between boards, thereby stopping the upward flow of air while also being sufficiently subtle to retain that dark gap look.
These gap sealants have a dedicated fan base among homeowners: it may sound silly, but you’d be hard pressed to find someone who used them and wasn’t impressed.
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Once your floorboards are all closed up, you’ll have a more comfortable base temperature in your home. Less cool air will circulate, meaning you’ll also feel less cold and be more inclined to turn down the heating. But energy saving is a task that never stops, so start laying down beautifully woven rugs over your boards. They naturally complement the wood and provide yet more insulation.
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