Operation Household Energy Reduction: Part 3 - Farewell Exposed Beams

Our home is well constructed and functional in the main, but for some reason when building the lounge and dining room, the previous owners and builders saw fit to include an uninsulated cathedral ceiling with exposed beams. The exposed beams on the cathedral ceiling created a positively dramatic effect but dramatic doesn’t mean functional and this room was not functional from a climatic perspective. On one Melbourne forty plus degree day I measured the temperature in that room at higher than my external thermometer was reading. We had ourselves a hothouse in summer and a freezer unit in winter.

We held back from furnishing that room for the first year of our residency figuring that such temperature extremes could hardly be good for formal items of furniture. Then in 2004 we were ready to tackle this first “home thermal performance” challenge. The solution was a simple one. We were going to change the look of the room by plastering over the exposed beams and insulating in the space between the plaster and the sheeting under the tiles.

At this stage we were significantly less well versed about home thermal performance issues. So we unfortunately didn’t pay particular attention to the insulation rating of the insulation material used. However our plasterer was reputable and knew that we were undertaking this work to significantly improve internal climate. Furthermore, the temperature in this room (with the new ceiling and all other thermal performance improvements we have made) now feels equivalent to the temperatures in other rooms (with all of their improvements too). So I think despite our momentary lack of vigilance, we have achieved a satisfactory outcome.

We did discuss with the EcoMaster consultant the possible ways of identifying the insulation factor – but the invasive and costly nature of those ways (not to mention the huge cost of replacement of that insulation if we found it was not near best practice) didn’t make much sense at the moment, when we seem to be getting reasonable performance outcomes.

Once we made this large but formative step, there was no looking back. We had gained an important level of confidence to keep chipping away….

Now, let’s not forget those caveats I attach to each post in this series…

1) whilst there are technical fixes that can contribute to energy reduction, we wanted to make sure that we didn’t concentrate exclusively on them. My gadget-attracted persona is fascinated with new photo-voltaic cell technology or the latest approach to circulating filtered warm ceiling air into the house. We consider these approaches but also try to make sure that lower cost, high impact corrections are prioritised. What good is an extremely expensive solar ventilation system if the house leaks air like a sieve?

2) Related to this point, we are aware of the relative economic capacity we enjoy that allows us to make some of these changes simply.

3) So we want to avoid seeing this as a way we can “proof” our little home against the rest of the world. 90000 litres of localised water storage might be fine if it makes sense in the context of your local rainfall and reasonable water usage. It doesn’t make much sense if it is to safeguard your lifestyle while the rest of the world runs out of water.

4) And part of the reason for adding these thoughts to this blog is to add to the conversation about what is possible and keep us all thinking about ways we can contribute to this kind of work for ALL dwellings, regardless of personal economic capacity.

5) Our efforts are not necessarily particularly remarkable in the scheme of things, but its fun to tell the story, to be encouraged in what you are doing and to encourage others.....


  1. I note you are not convinced about a filtered air system. Our Californian bungalow was built in 1915. It does leak like a sieve, as you say. Being solid brick it was very hard to heat and impossible to cool. However since we installed the filtered air system the house has stayed in a much more comfortable temperature range. It hit 27C the day the system was installed in Feb last year, but has only reached 26C this year. Over winter, when the temperature outside would normally be 5C or so overnight (which would be the all day temperature inside the house without heating) the internal temperature didn't drop below 13C. When it is humid outside it provides the only space I can go to which is not humid. During summer evenings the cool circulating air makes it much easier to sleep. In winter my husband lost his house dust mite allergy symptoms. (Dust mites need moisture to breed).
    We have solar hot water and solar panels, but I think that this system has been the very best help in our attempts to live more sustainably.

  2. Thanks so much for joining the conversation. I shouldn't keep using that as my example as it does give the impression I am "not convinced." Instead what I am trying to convey is that we are weighing up the various things we can do most cost effectively for our household situation and staging those appropriately to our situation. Air systems are definitely part of my consieration for the future, if they can continue to improve comfort levels without significantly increased carbon based energy use (as they possibly can). I can see in your situation - and also with the moisture issues - they have been an ideal early step!