My wife, Fiona, and I own an old Surrey cottage that dates back to 1846. Historically draughty and heated by an oil-fired boiler, the house was in need of renovation which, after a lengthy interaction with local planners, we commenced work on in May 2019.
What made you decide to change your main source of heating?
Having a keen interest in new tech, I wanted to look at different ways of making the house ready for the next 175 years of its life. Single glazed windows and lack of insulation were an obvious target to improve the heat retention but I'd always disliked the use of oil for the heat source - smelly, inefficient, and prone to running out when you hit a cold snap, let alone the increased cost combined with the likelihood of decreased availability of oil resources. I looked at solar and then became increasingly interested in Heat Pumps, particularly an Air Source Heat Pump (ASHP).
What is an Air Source Heat Pump?
Simplistically, think how a fridge works extracting heat from the air inside to make it cold, and reverse that thinking. It extracts heat from the outside air, even down to minus 4 degrees, and then turns that into useable heat, sufficient to create domestic hot water for showers etc and also for radiators and in our case underfloor heating. What you have to get your head around though is that it operates 24 hours a day at a constant but usually lower temperature than traditional oil or gas fired boilers. Key to making it efficient and successful is to insulate the house very effectively. During the renovation we installed double glazed windows throughout, took up floors and added 100mm of insulation, added insulated plasterboard, and 200mm of loft insulation whilst undertaking the major renovation. It all makes quite an impact. Other added advantages of using an ASHP are that the Government has a scheme to incentivise the take up of alternative heat sources and gives you a grant over several years to help pay back the investment. Reports also suggest that there are significantly lower running costs once you've made that initial investment. Generally, there is no requirement for planning.
What does the equipment look like?
Think about air conditioning units - the ASHP is roughly the same sort of size; ours is a 15Kw system made by a German company called Vaillant and uses some new tech to make it even more efficient. The outside pump is actually about 1.5m tall and the fans run at 52 decibels - astonishingly quiet, less than the spoken word apparently. You do need to find a place that is right to locate the pump so it's not an eyesore. Inside the house there are a couple of other pieces of equipment but they're all wall mounted and then link into the heating pipe work. All the system was installed by Derham Ball who specialise in heating engineering systems and certainly know their stuff; in fact, the owner is also a Pure Planet customer - I introduced him and received my Amazon voucher as a result.
What are the results of the installation?
So far, brilliant. My wife 'complained' she was too hot which is a heck of a turnaround from where we used to be in years past. Obviously, it uses more electricity than we had been used to but that is offset by not forking out seasonally exorbitant prices for oil. Being a Pure Planet customer, I'm assured that I'm now a significantly more 'green' user of power and heat. I can't say I'm a green warrior, per se, but I like the fact that I'm now using a sustainable source of heat as well as power, at lower cost, and have a much warmer home as a result.
An appendix I wrote this a few weeks back and two things have happened since then. The first is a certain frisson of excitement in the Gulf has caused oil prices to increase by around 5%. I'm now longer subject to these fluctuations in price. Secondly, I had to renew my household insurance. For the first time ever I was specifically asked whether I had oil fired heating - they explained that insurance costs now take into account oil as a heating source. Interesting.
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