From wood-burners and heat pumps to biomass boilers, Lucy Baker-Kind explores ways of heating your home efficiently
After flinging open the doors and letting the heat out during the summer, it’s now time to think about battening down the hatches and keeping the heat in. In winter months, we have to heat our homes efficiently and, in today’s market, there are various options to keep our toes toasty.
The method that’s stood the test of time for centuries, and is as popular as ever, is the wood-burning stove. Andrew Wotton, director of West Country Stoves in Aveton Gifford, explains there are various options, in terms of aesthetics and function, to suit all requirements: “We have a HETAS-qualified team, who have a great depth of experience and knowledge, and are available to guide clients through the process, from initial advice when choosing a stove, to site visits, installation and annual servicing,” he explains.
One of the first decisions is what to burn, with wood, peat, coal or turf briquettes available. Wood-burning stoves are designed to run solely on wood, producing a largely carbon-neutral energy – the CO2 released into the atmosphere is approximately the same as that absorbed by the tree during growth.
Some stoves have the option of a boiler, which heats radiators around the home, but, for the majority of householders, the stove provides heat for the room in which it’s installed.
Stoves can be freestanding or inset, ensuring they are suitable for both traditional and new homes. “With the modern chimney flue systems, we can fit stoves into rooms without existing chimneys, making a freestanding stove a very versatile choice,” says Andrew. Maintenance-wise, clearing the ash is all that’s required on a regular basis, with annual services a sensible choice.
A newer method of home heating is to install a heat pump, either ground- or air-source, which uses energy from the surrounding environment to produce heat and hot water. Stephen Wykes-Dart, director of SWDART Ltd in Newton Abbot, explains that ground-source pumps work by absorbing heat stored in the ground and open-water sources such as rivers and ponds into a fluid (‘brine’, a mixture of water and anti-freeze) inside a closed loop of pipe, and passing it through a compressor to raise its temperature; this then travels through the home’s heating and hot water circuits. Air-source heat pumps employ a similar principle, using refrigerant instead of brine, and using blown air to warm. These would be installed where ground space is unavailable or in a mild climate.
“As a rule, air-source pumps are not as powerful as ground-source, but are cheaper to fit,” says Stephen. “The actual heat pumps cost roughly the same – the difference is the additional ground works required for a ground-source circuit.”
Heat pumps need no fuel and only use electricity, with minimal visual impact: “With the primary energy collectors buried, or a small, discreet fan unit at the rear of the property, none of the primary components are visible.”
The biggest factor is the initial installation cost, which includes replacing existing heating systems and pipework, yet it can be subsidised by the government’s Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) scheme.
During exceptionally cold weather, Stephen suggests a supplementary source of heating, as the heat pumps are designed to provide comfortable internal heating down to an outside temperate of -3 degrees, but will struggle to maintain that temperature if the mercury drops below that.
“A well-installed unit will only require an annual check for efficiency and to check the settings are still OK for the property, with a four to six-year interval between replacing the central heating inhibitors,” claims Stephen.
Biomass boilers are another newer method that have grown in popularity, as more householders search for greener technologies. Andrew Abbott, from KWB Biomass Boilers UK and Optimum Heating in Barnstaple, explains that biomass is organic material, derived from living or recently living organisms, that is used as fuel to create energy. Biomass boilers burn this fuel (in the form of logs, wood pellets or chips) to generate heating and hot water for residential properties, some of which are off-grid with no available mains gas. Installation is available within the RHI scheme. “Biomass is an economically friendly, renewable energy source widely used across the UK as an alternative to fossil fuel,” says Andrew.
Andrew adds that approximately 2m x 3m of space is needed for a quality domestic installation to accommodate the boiler, pellet store and buffer tank, either internal or external. “Maintenance is minimal – some boilers are even self-cleaning. An annual service is required, along with emptying up to three times a year, depending on size,” he concludes.
"In winter months, we have to heat our homes efficiently and, in today’s market, there are various options to keep our toes toasty"
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