Back in the old days, it was simple. Dads got sent up a rickety set of ladders into the loft, where they'd wheeze and curse while rolling out pink fibreglass loft insulation. Afterwards, they'd sit picking shards out of their fingertips, murmuring about a job well done. But the year is 2010 and no-one can escape the crushing burden of knowing that we are destroying the planet every time we boil the kettle. Children cry themselves to sleep knowing that Dad's 10cm of loft insulation falls far short of the recommended depth. Mothers tap on walls trying to fathom out whether they might be cavity or solid. Dad, meanwhile, is a blubbering wreck in the corner, having spent one hour too many on an internet forum debating the best ways to draughtproof the front door.
My investigation uncovered at least three cases where the dream of living in a warm house has driven people to desperate measures. I'm talking about the people who have put phenolic foam insulation (solid boards made by companies like Kingspan and Celotex, and often seen being blown around building sites on windy days) on their walls, ceilings and floors. Then they install an oversize wood-burning stove. It must be like living in a Thermos flask.
Common denominator? They live in old houses. Houses without cavity walls, hence no access to subsidised wall insulation. Houses with dormer windows and rooms built into the loft space, which aren't suitable for bog-standard roof insulation. Yes, you can find advice sheets from the Energy Saving Trust (EST) about how to insulate these houses, but don't expect a grant to help you do it. There are an estimated ten million homes like this in the UK. In Scotland, the 'hard to treat' label applies to an estimated 30 per cent of properties. EST's rather tender description is that in these homes "the most cost-effective energy-efficiency measures won't work." That'll teach you for buying a house with character.
I am delighted to announce that my dear husband and his trusty Japanese saw have finally completed phase one of insulating our cottage. This has involved knocking out the lathe and plaster coombed ceilings, putting insulation boards between the roof battens, securing them in place with that squirty foam stuff, putting another layer of insulation boards on top of that, then finishing it off with a layer of plasterboard to be skimmed and decorated. Voil.
It sounds easy enough when summarised, but the reality was time-consuming, messy and expensive. Luckily our house needed complete redecoration anyway, but you might not be quite as keen to rip your home apart. And retrofitting old properties is an issue that the Scottish Government will have to address if it is to meet its targets of cutting greenhouse gas emissions by 42 per cent by 2020.
Meanwhile, people are either watching their heat disappear as fast as it is generated or are going to the opposite extreme and cooking themselves in their living rooms like Christmas turkeys. I wonder if I've left it too late to buy shares in insulation manufacture?
This article was first published in Scotland on Sunday, April 11, 2010