2021 Update

Thermal bridging: A guide to the issues and solutions

Joe Bailey

Thermal bridging is a problem that can surface out of the blue. Many homeowners don't even know what it is and how it can affect their property.

Thermal bridging issuesThermal bridging issues

It’s hard enough looking after a home in the first place without having to factor in some of the problems that come with wear and tear over the years.

Thermal bridging is a problem that can surface seemingly out of the blue. In fact, many homeowners don't even know what it is and how it can affect their property. However, it is one of the most significant sources of heat loss in a building, and it can have serious consequences on your enjoyment of the property - and also how much it is worth. So knowing about it and what to do about the problem are crucial.

Whether you want to make your home more energy efficient or just a warmer place in the winter, you need to be clear on what thermal bridging is and what you need to do about it.

What is thermal bridging? (a simple explanation)

Thermal bridging is not a simple topic. Put simply, thermal bridging is what happens when you have a conductive material between the interior and exterior walls of your property. It transfers heat from the inside of your home (where it keeps you warm), to the outside of your home (which is a waste). Alternatively, it can occur because of a gap in insulation. It's a heat transfer of sorts.

Once you’re past a basic definition, you then have to look at the numerous different categories involved in thermal bridging. It is deep and complex.

This bridging can result in loss of heat. Many new buildings have construction processes and building regulations that remove the problem, but the majority of properties in the UK can be prone to thermal bridging in some part of the building.

The problems that can result from thermal bridging include:

  • A greater energy drain for heating - This sounds pretty obvious, but if thermal bridging is indeed present in a property, the energy bill will be significantly affected by it
  • A higher energy drain for cooling down - The opposite to heating problems is also an issue
  • Building regulations are part of UK law - With thermal bridging being an issue, you could find that your property doesn’t comply with regulations
  • Colder areas in the house. - Parts of the building that are affected will simply feel colder
  • Condensation on surfaces in the property - This can lead to wood-based materials decaying, for example wet rot and dry rot and mould growth. You could also find that metal surfaces and elements could corrode. And if condensation occurs within a surface, insulation will again be affected considerably

How to deal with thermal bridging

If you find that some parts of the walls in your property are colder than others, there is every chance thermal bridging is present. And if you stand next to a window in the property and find it’s noticeably colder there than in other parts, it’s possible that you have a thermal bridging problem.

If you are trying to sell a property and it has problems with thermal bridging, then there is every chance that the problems will affect the house value. However, it’s important to remain reasonably objective about this. For thermal bridging to be a problem, two factors need to be in place, and if both of them are significant, the house value will likely be a problem. 

Issue #1 - The heat itself

If there are multiple parts of the property that are affected by thermal bridging, a surveyor will most likely pick up on this, and the buyer is going to be aware of this and will ask for it to be addressed, or that the house price is reduced. This is absolutely fair enough, because it affects the amount of heat in the home.

Issue #2 - Energy Efficiency

If heat is continuously escaping from the property, the property is compromised when it comes to energy efficiency. Some buyers will not be impressed with a house that is inefficient due to poor heat transfer.

Energy Performance Certificate example
Example of an Energy Performance Certificate.

The Energy Performance Certificate is something that every home now has. The certificate has bands, just like council tax. This certificate gives house buyers an indication of how efficient a building is, and therefore what fuel bills are going to be like. In addition to that, it also allows home buyers to know whether or not the building is going to be kinder to the environment.

The Department of Energy and Climate Change published a report that covered over 300,000 UK property sales between the years 1995 and 2011. The report showed that houses that were more energy efficient sold for higher prices. The increase in prices was considerable.

For example, the report found that a home in the North East of England could see an increase of £25,000 if it moved its energy efficiency rating from G to E.

So, what to do?

The problem is that if you have thermal bridging issues in a property you're trying to sell, you could be looking at a lower price when you sell. There is something you can do about this though, but it does require you to bring in professional people who are able to both diagnose the problem accurately (as in where it actually presents), as well as provide professional and effective thermal bridging solutions.

The solutions could mean something as drastic as changing some of the material at the source of the problem. Or it could be as simple as adding more insulation, such as in a cavity wall. But if you consider that thermal bridging is bad enough to reduce the price of a property, it may well be worth thinking about a comprehensive survey and treatment.

If you find that you simply cannot afford the kind of work you need to get rid of the thermal bridging issue, it’s always a good idea to consider a lower price. However, this does not mean that you have to accept the first low price for your property that is presented to you.

Selling a house with thermal bridging issues

Ultimately, issues to do with thermal bridging aren't major when it comes to a house sale. Yes, an inefficient home is less valuable, but it rarely means that no one will want to buy it.

But if thermal bridging issues or one of just many problems you're facing, they can mount up. If you decide you'd rather just get the sale done and move on - rather than holding out for the best price - a service like ours may ba good option. Because we're familiar with all types of property issues, we're happy and able to buy any house - even those with lots of issues. It may not be the full price you were looking for, but it will certainly be enough to get the sale done and get you moved on to the next chapter. People who have to sell their house fast often go down this route, so it’s well worth considering.

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