Insulation for Masonry Buildings

Insulating your solid walls could cut your heating costs considerably, and make your home more comfortable.
If your home was built before the 1960s, its external walls are probably solid walls rather than cavity walls.

Solid walls have no gap, so they can’t be filled with cavity wall insulation.
Cavity walls are made of two layers with a small gap or ‘cavity’ between them.
Solid walls can be insulated though – either from the inside or the outside. This will cost more than insulating a standard cavity wall, but the savings on your heating bills will be bigger too.

Work out your wall type

If you have solid walls, then they’re almost certainly not insulated - but the first thing you need to find out is what sort of walls you have.
If you can see the brickwork on the outside of the house, look at the pattern of the bricks as this can show how the wall has been built.

If your home has solid walls, the bricks will have an alternating pattern, with some bricks laid across the wall so you can see the smaller ends from the outside.
If the brickwork has been covered, you can also tell by measuring the width of the wall. Examine a window or door on one of your external walls.

If a brick wall is more than 260mm thick then it is probably a cavity wall.
A narrower wall is probably a solid wall. Stone walls may be thicker still but are usually solid.

If you live in a house that has a non-traditional construction such as a steel or timber-framed building, you will need a specialist installer with experience in insulating your building type to advise you on your options.

You might be able to reduce these costs by carrying out the work at the same time as other home improvements or by not tackling the whole house at once.

Internal insulation can be fitted when you’re planning to redecorate or to fit a new kitchen or bathroom. You can also spread the cost by tackling one room at a time.

External insulation will also cost less if you fit it when you're having other work done to the outside. If you're having a new roof, or painting the windows, or even having solar PV panels fitted, then you will probably have scaffolding up already, which can save a bit on the costs. If your walls need re-pointing or other repair work, it’s worth getting a quote for a complete refurbishment including insulation – it will probably work out cheaper than doing the two things separately.

Internal vs external insulation

Internal insulation
Internal wall insulation is done by fitting rigid insulation boards to the wall, or by building a stud wall filled in with insulation material such as mineral wool fibre.

Generally cheaper to install than external wall insulation.
It will slightly reduce the floor area of any rooms in which it is applied (the thickness of the insulation is around 100mm).
It it quite disruptive, but can be done room by room.
It requires skirting boards, door frames and external fittings to be removed and reattached.
It can make it hard to fix heavy items to inside walls – although special fixings are available.
You'll need to fix any problems with penetrating or rising damp beforehand.

External insulation
External wall insulation involves fixing a layer of insulation material to the wall, then covering it with a special type of render (plasterwork) or cladding. The finish can be smooth, textured, painted, tiled, panelled, pebble-dashed, or finished with brick slips.

It can be applied without disruption to the household does not reduce the floor area of your home
It will renew the appearance of outer walls.
It will improve weatherproofing and sound resistance.
It fills cracks and gaps in the brickwork, which will reduce draughts.
Increases the lifespan of your walls by protecting the brickwork.
Reduces condensation on internal walls and can help prevent damp (but will not solve rising or penetration damp).
It is best installed at the same time as external refurbishment work to reduce the cost.
It may need planning permission - check with your local council.
It requires good access to the outer walls.
It is not recommended if the outer walls are structurally unsound and cannot be repaired.

Moisture movement and ventilation
In traditionally built properties with solid walls, water vapour can usually move quite freely through the building. This is partly because of the high levels of ventilation and draughts, but also because water vapour can travel through the bricks and stones that the walls are made of. When you insulate an older building, you will change the way that water vapour behaves in several ways:

Adding wall insulation will usually cut down on draughts through the walls and round the windows

The insulation may create a barrier to vapour movement, depending on what materials are used
Adding insulation to the inside of a wall will make the wall colder. This means that any water vapour entering the wall from inside will get a lot colder, and may condense inside the wall
Whenever you fit solid wall insulation to a building you need to take account of water vapour to make sure that you don’t create new damp problems in the future. This may involve using “breathable” insulation materials that will allow the vapour to carry on permeating the walls, or it could involve creating a continuous vapour barrier to make sure no vapour can get into the walls from the inside.

You will need an experienced specialist installer to develop a moisture control strategy that is specific to your building.

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