Are Timber Houses Colder than Brick?

Hi everyone, we are considering buying a timber house (Sydney - built in the 60s), but as we never lived in one, a few things crossed our minds. Appreciate the responses.
- Are timber houses colder inside than brick?
- In case yes, what can we do to improve insulation?
- How can I know if the house walls and ceiling have enough isolation?


  • +3

    Colder during hot or cold weather?

    • Cold in winter, but taking advantage that you mentioned that I assumed that it would cool down quicker during summer?

    • +10

      One can't underestimate the quality of this question, for it questions the question initially questioned, and, as a wise English band once sang - sometimes the questions are the answers you might need.

  • +2

    How old is the house? Where is the house?

    You could try the touch test - the interior ceilings, walls and floors should feel warm and dry. When plasterboard or timber paneling inside a home feels damp or cold, there is not enough insulation. Alternatively, when touching an exterior wall, it should feel cold because insulation is keeping the warm air inside a home.

    • It was built in the 60s but was renovated (not sure when), based in the south of Sydney.
      Thanks for the tip, that's a good one to try! Although when we visited it for the first time they had the heater on.

      • +17

        A sixties house is very unlikely to have proper wall insulation.

        • +9

          Barely any Australian houses have proper insulation. They're almost always built like shit. Spent a fair time in cold climates and have always found houses in Melbourne to be colder. Nothing is sealed well, poor choices for insulation, etc. Some slap on double glazed windows thinking it's the solution, but it's useless when external doors don't seal tightly and when shitty insulation has been used. Hot as hell in summer, cold in winter. The exact opposite of what you get living in places that reach -20°C in winter and hit 30°C in summer. We don't even place windows on the right sides of the house to take advantage of wind, no awnings on windows that face the sun, shorter verandahs than ever, the list goes on. I wish they'd enforce some decent building codes around insulation and passive heating/cooling.

          • @no not me: TLDR; 2020 houses are unsophisticated piece of rubbish and the bubble about to burst soon.

            • @frewer: The housing bust has been predicted to burst 'soon' for 20 years - the cold (pun intended) truth is too much consumer debt is tied to housing so the government will never let it burst. Even a conservative government would sooner implement UBI before letting house prices crash.

              • @Kill Joy: Let's hope you are correct, however there is nothing surprise me any more in 2020.

      • +1

        when we visited it for the first time they had the heater on

        Was it a very cold day? If not, having the heater on could be a sign that it's not/not well insulated. i.e. they needed/wanted the heater on to make sure the house was warm.

        • it was around 18C that day, they also had all doors open so people could walk around for the inspection. It didn't seem that cold inside, but hard to tell with those 15min inspections…

  • +3

    Yes you will find they change temperature much more then a brick place would, there is some variables that will have a big impact such as ceiling height and ventilation.

    in terms of insulation are you planing on doing any renovations? as its easy to put in ceiling insulation on the top floor but much harder in the walls unless you are redoing them.

    You can look into the walls behind switch plates.

    • Yes, we are planning some renovation but not in the whole house. We would replace floors and redo one of the bathrooms.

      Is it possible to improve walls insulation without ripping it off?

      • +1

        Without taking the internal linings out its going to be a bit hard to insulate the walls.

        When you say you are doing the floors I assume just mean new carpets or sanding. If you have timber floors you can insulate under, but you need to take out the floorboard or sheets, so not that easy.

        • new carpets in the bedrooms but replacing the living room floorboards with tiles.

      • +1
        • +5

          There are insulation companies that can retrofit wall insulation by injecting into the walls, and it's not that expensive. It would likely cost under $5,000 to do the walls and would make a massive difference to the comfort levels in the house.

          • @drewbytes: thank you so much for sharing this!

            • +1

              @chrisdop: I know people that had the injected insulation and they said it was money well spent.

        • +3

          I've heard this is an issue if you need new wiring or if old wiring fails in the walls because this insulation injected into the walls will harden like concrete?

        • How long will they break down ? Are they toxic to inhale in ?

      • +6

        "Is it possible to improve walls insulation without ripping it off?"

        YES, by punching relatively small holes in the outside or inside walls and feeding in granulated insulation material with a hose. That would be done prior to external cladding or interior painting.

        I once had this done on a fibro home some time ago, by punching holes in the external walls.

        Alternatively, if you plan on cladding the house, a layer of insulating material can be placed under the external cladding.

        These two approaches worked very well on the same fibro house so that, on hot days, the internal temperature remained much cooler on hot days, and rose very slowly during the day, so that, at the end of the day, inside was still relatively cool.

        Of course this worked in combination with roof insulation.

        • +2

          Why was this downvoted?

          • +1

            @serpserpserp: No idea… but “punching holes in fibro” might have done it?

        • The house already has external cladding. I was wondering if there is a way to find out if the house has insulation prior to buying it.

    • +11

      No they use straw and hay now >_<

      • +6

        Finally, the big bad wolf is back in business!

    • +4

      Not just houses. Sydney has a timber 7-storey tower built in 2015 and Atlassian want to build a 40-storey timber tower in Sydney for their HQ. Brisbane has a 9-storey timber office block built 2 years ago.

    • +4

      The use of timber as building materials as opposed to steel and concrete is predicted to be the future in order to minimise carbon emissions.

  • +9

    More importantly - if the house las large glass windows and they are not double glazed that will make the house so much colder and heat from a heater will escape so much quicker.

    • This, such a good point. Heat loss from glass.

    • this I'm sure, it is not double glazed. But it would be the same as a brick house without double glazed windows, right?

    • Even before that, simple check for drafts and sealing them up

    • +6

      I've never understood why Australian most homes in Sydney / Melbourne / Canberra / etc do not have double-glazing. If it gets cold enough in those places to run a heater (which it definitely does), then they should be built with double-glazing. But even new builds don't seem to have this. I find it infuriating, because it's so economically and environmentally wasteful - a small extra cost upfront would save a massive recurring cost in heating throughout the lifetime of the building. And in the warmer months, just open a window a little earlier & later in the year.

      • +5

        answer=sheer ignorance

      • +2

        You know why? Because the properties never considered ppl living inside but just a way for profit.

  • +4

    I live in a brick/bessa block house that gets limited sun. It is freezing. No joke, we go outside to get warm in winter.

    • Same with us. We're in a little dip in the surrounding land and abut bushland with very tall trees. So we hardly get any full sun. It's a brick house and yep, it's freezing in the winter. We've been known to go outside to get warm too.

      Flip side is, during the summer months, it's stays quite a bit cooler than everywhere else… given the choice, this is exactly how I'd like it!

  • Maybe just invest in a good ducted system.

    • you mean ducted aircon? This house has it! But we were wondering how expensive the electricity bill would be. They also have solar panels, not sure how it works and how much money we could save though.

      • If you have decent solar it should cancel it out during daytime use

        • @budwize yes, it has solar panels. we never used it before and were wondering how much they would help. thanks for the response.

          • +1

            @chrisdop: In my current house I have 2.5kw solar and it's covered 2 standard air-conditioning units
            Building new house ATM that will have ducting and 5kw solar system. I can let you know how that goes in about 6 months :)

  • +1

    There’s a good chance the inside is lined with asbestos/fibro. Be careful.

    • yep, we will get a report. the hard part it is that according to our research is expected that 70% of houses in Sydney has asbestos.

    • asbestos is harmful only in certain circumstances

      • +1

        It's harmful when you try to do anything with it. It's a massive liability if you're buying a house.

  • +2

    lots of factors will affect the temperature of said house, not just what the house is built of

    • aspect, passive solar design, cross ventilation and insulation.
    • what surrounds the house concrete and paving or grass and landscaping
    • how much shading from neighbours and trees.
    • Interesting. thanks for that!
      the house is north facing, on top of a concrete base but grass around. No tall houses or big trees around.

      • +2

        that's nice, however. you need to understand most of these elements to make a judgement on what makes your house cold or hot. you cant just say insulation will help with changes in temperature,

        • the right insulation in the right walls and ceiling
        • where are you experiencing the cold? in bedroom or living spaces what aspect does these spaces face, do these spaces have windows
        • changing seasons may affect the way you balance in mechanical aids like heaters and air conditioners

        there is a lot to consider. most people on here will offer advise based on their experiences to their own homes which may or may not be applicable to you.

        if you are buying this house you need to understand or familiarise with different elements

        no-one here is going to be able to give you a holistic answer to your question

        • yeah, we are really trying to understand how it works! The house is just right to our needs and within our budget.

  • I can't comment on a timber house but avoid a Hardie Scyon Matrix construction. Bloody freezing in winter and like a sauna in summer.

    • +2

      If it's insulated properly, there should be little difference between brick, timber or JH Scyon.

      • The walls are so thin that it can't be insulated "properly".

        • +1

          I find it hard to believe you don't have insulation batts.

          Like brick veneer JH Scyon Matrix is just a cladding, the insulation comes from the wall wrap and insulation batts between the studs.

          • +1

            @JimB: I don't know if the house has insulation batts or doesn't have them.
            I meant that the walls are so thin that if it does have batts they are also thin.
            All I know is that the house is freezing in winter and extremely hot in summer compared to previous houses I have owned (in the same area) which were solid or brick veneer construction.
            Also, there is a massive difference in noise levels inside the house. In my current house, water flowing in the downpipes from the gutters is very loud. I never heard it at all in solid and brick veneer houses.

            • @Gazza52: I can see it may be noisier because it doesn't have the mass to block noise but all studs for external walls are 90mm.

              And 90mm batts are fitted between studs.

              Can't be less than 90mm because they are holding up the roof.

  • +1

    Yes. Take it from current personal experience
    I was previously in a 2 bedroom brick home & now in a 3 bedroom weatherboard home. Both have central gas heating & ceiling batt insulation. Both have gas hot water, but the previous one was with solar power backup.
    Set the heating at 22dg and the previous house would be done in 30 - 60 minutes max. This place takes 4 - 6 hours, but in reality can never reach the set maximum
    I am now paying over $5,000 MORE per year in gas costs, at this weatherboard house. Big, big mistake. Will definitely move on when lease ends

    • +1

      Do you walk around the house naked in winter or something haha

    • Have you tried draught sealing your home? Looked at insulating your walls? Seriously, with bills like that, get a professional home energy assessment done. For a grand or two invested you could probably take a very substantial bite out of that energy bill.

      • +1

        They're renting, there's literally no incentive for anyone to increase the energy efficiency of rentals unfortunately.

    • Yikes .. that's a lotta gas

  • +1

    Timber house would heat up quicker on a hot day and get cold quicker on a cold day. No thermal mass. Brick Houses once warm will stay warm for a few days due to the thermal mass, Cooler in summer as it takes many days to heat up. Modern houses have much better insulation and require less energy to stay warm or cool.

  • +2

    warm wonderful wood
    brick is good if it is double brick, not single

  • +4

    Brick has more thermal mass compared to timber house. Good because it is slower for heat to 'pass through' the wall, whether you are thinking about heating from the inside, or during summer when it's hot on the outside.

    There may be some situations where bricks aren't that great though - a good example is a week of over 40's or a stretch of 45 degree days (in South Australia usually once each summer) - during these days, the bricks would have absorbed so much heat, that it cannot release the heat at night, and the house would be radiating heat indoors through the evenings, and as the consecutive days continue, it will probably be impossible to cool the house properly.

  • +1

    I believe wood is a better insulator than brick for the same thickness, but that's not really the issue here.
    What is INSIDE the walls will make much more difference.

    • can you give me an example please?

      • If you want to read about it, look for information about Scandinavian house design.
        They build entirely out of wood, it's -25C outside, and they don't require much heating.
        This was the first article I found for you:
        I've recently watched a Youtube video showing the whole wall construction, with it's many layers.

  • Is the government still offering insulation rebates?

    • oh really this may be a thing? I'll have a look! Thanks.

  • The yourhome site provides a great amount of information and lists of books for further reading.

  • Have to say yes because my house was half brick and half timber wood extension made, I've been living in master room at the wooden extensional part definitely feeling colder in winter than the brick part rooms.

  • +1

    I have lived in timber and fibro houses my whole life.

    Moved into a brick house 5 years ago and have been shocked at how much warmer it is in winter and how much cooler it is in summer. We have screens on all windows and doors so everything is open in Summer.

    But thats just one mans opinion.

  • If it is insulated properly brick should win. If it's not insulated then brick will be an ice box that stays hot and stays cold, especially the cold.

  • +1

    From Canada where most houses are timber constructions. I can say moving to Australia I was shocked at how poorly insulated houses are and how poorly brick buildings hold their heat. In my experience, well insulated timber beats brick any day of the week.

    To give an example: there would be times where the heat would go out in the night in winter and you would wake up to a chilly house. After about 8 hours of no heating with -40 degree external temperatures, the house temperature would have dropped from 21 degrees to 15 degrees. Of course all windows are double or triple glazed as well. Completely different ballgame if the timber isn't insulated though. No idea how that will fare.

  • My first house was weatherboard.

    It was on a slightly sloping block so the front was 30cm off ground the rear was 1.5m.

    I found that the cold came up through the floor quite badly.

    It also had pressed metal ceilings and a tin roof so it didn't hold in the heat. And heaps escaped through the old fashioned timber frame windows.

    I think roof and underfloor insulation would have been a great improvement. We were broke so didn't do any of that but boy we burnt through a lot of scrounged timber in the wood stove.

  • +1

    wood is a very good insulator but has almost no thermal mass so your home will heat up quicker in summer and cool down quicker at night.

    brick thermal mass is about 3 hours per thickness - but a poor insulator so an uninsulated brick wall after a day or so of cold could feel freezing - one reason old English homes of brick or stone had wool-panelled rooms inside - to prevent heat loss

    what are the internal walls - fibro ? Beware asbestos - you don't want to be paying heaps to remove that.

    I lived in a 1885 farm house of single skin red cedar - it was wonderful, but that was Brisbane winter - Sydney is colder

    oh - in Canberra I was ready to blow-in cellulose insulation to the brick veneer walls (single skin brick outside, and timber frame and panelling inside. Until someone told me the inside surface of the outside brick wall would be running with water after a day of rain, which would transfer across any insulation fill - to rot the timber frame. I sold that house and moved to Sydney.

    I would guess insulating a cavity with horizontal slat timber outside, panel inside would not suffer the same water ingress problem. Seek advice from a professional.

  • +1

    i lived in an old single bricked apartment block in Hawthorn. The first winter I was there. my friend and I froze our ass off. One night, we had a "i see dead people" moment when our breath fogged the apartment was really dark

  • We have a double brick house, built in the 1930s. It stays cool in summer for longer, but once it heats up, takes a long time to cool down.

    But it's not so good in winter. It doesn't warm up much with the sun, and we run had heating for much of the evening.

    We have adequate roof insulation, but I was wondering if insulating under the floor boards would be worthwhile? I have access to all the sub floor, they are original wooden floor boards on brick piers.

  • +1

    Any house without any insulation, regardless of its construction, will perform all quite badly. The best way to compare between houses is by estimating the 'R' value. R = Thermal Resistance.
    This is a great start point in research:

    Looking at your house in 3 of the perimeter areas will help you compare.
    You have your roof, your wall and your floor.

    Basic R values:
    Weatherboard 0.55
    Brick veneer 0.51
    Cavity brick 0.53 (Double Brick with a cavity in between)
    Solid brick (230 mm thick) 0.44 (Double Brick No Cavity in between)

    I'm not sure if you mean a timber as in a weather board clad house, or a brick veneer (timber framed) home.
    Either way your looking at a starting point of a horrible ~R .5
    With little ceiling insulation.

    What you should consider is now is how hard it is to remediate all this. Ie retrofitting insulation.
    Start with the Roof/Ceiling Spaces, is it a pitched roof that allows you drop in some new R6 insulation you could potentially look at 25-30% improvements in thermal resistance. For very little comparative cost.

    I would then look at sealing everything, doors, windows, floor to wall junctions etc.
    Secondly, you can then look at injecting insulation in the walls, following this glazing, and then under floor insulation.

    You may wish to do some of the last parts in different order depending on how much draft you have coming from under the house etc.

    • thanks for the info, this will be super helpful to us!

      • Where you will get a lot of conflicting anecdotal comments from others is in, double brick / or solid brick homes, where there is a slow thermal transfer due to higher embodied energy.

        Basically this means that, a double brick wall will hold more energy than a hollow plasterboard wall.
        When its a hot day, it will take a while for the double brick wall to heat up. So the inside of the house will cold longer. Depending on your climate zone (I'm from Melbourne) we generally have colder nights, and warm days.
        Which by the time the wall completely heats up from outside, its night, and it emits heat back out, inside it leads to a more stable temperature. (I explained that pretty poorly, but google some videos of the concept) The problem with this, is that if it was a very hot day and hot night, the brick wall will start to retain heat, and then emit heat when it finally does cool down, prolonging the heat effect.

        There are other thing to consider which are far harder to fix, solar orientation, lots of houses in the 60s/70s, living spaces were not orientated to the north, leading to poor sunlight in living spaces. (Heaps are orientated to bedrooms).
        Post an image to the realestate plan if you like or listing and we can make some more educated guesses!

  • It's quite dramatic. I live in a house thats half double brick, half brick veneer (SE Melb).
    At 8 am, the double brick can be as much as 5c warmer. That is huge. It's the difference between breathing cold air and breathing stabbing icicles. It doesn't even get into radiant heat, which is a whole 'nother issue.

  • Just adding to the noise:

    I'm in a double brick home and let me tell you, the thermal insulation means: it's perpetually cold in winter and perpetually hot in summer. I hate hot days for the latent heat that's several degrees warmer than outside at midnight.

    You can feel the cold/heat as soon as the heater/aircon stops. I'm not a big fan of aircon so I don't run it all the time. And the gas heater takes hours to heat just the top floor, but likewise dries the air out.


    Obviously, not only for Sydney but most houses in Australia are cold because of the way they are built… It's probably worse than cardboard, often with no insulation whatsoever.

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