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Author Topic: My experiences of a "Renewable Energy Home" 10 years on ........  (Read 1579 times)
jonsamcor
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« on: April 16, 2019, 06:05:14 PM »

Hi to all
I found this forum probably all too late ..but thought it might be useful to put down my experiences 10 years on...
I have to qualify it a bit in that I am from Northern Ireland and its a small market so there are just a handful of suppliers/knowledgeable people which has been the cause of many of my issues.

Just over 10 years ago I completed a new build family home and wanted to use renewable energy where I could. Its a rural location at the time the only or main heating/water option was Domestic heating Oil so I looked around a bit and came across a few grant incentives for renewable energy and jumped in...

The house only has underfloor heating (no radiators) heat water supplied by GSHP heating also with a wood burner
Initially 2 French Geotwin units ...disaster sky high electricity bills no hot water .scrapped then
2 Dimplex units (about to be scrapped)  better but not without significant problems,  fine while in warranty rubbish afterwards I have found Dimplex awful and I think at the time the units may have been built in Northern Ireland not certain
Initial cost to me 7k recent servicing costs c.2k
The 2 Dimplex units are about to be replaced cost c.9k ...


Hot water from 2 Thermomax vacuum tubes also... I assume they are still working I cant check ...but the control panel / interface such as it is useless. They were relatively cheap though at 2k so I am not going to yap too much. I also think they were originally made in Northern Ireland as an aside.


Proven 6KW Wind Turbine with SMA Windy Boy Inverter.... Cost to me 12k servicing to date 3k

This has probably saved me I will need someone on a different thread to take me through the figures re generation etc


I have little to no technical / industry knowledge I have been stumbling along rearing a family trying my best main problem is lack of knowledge skill in the sector in my vicinity

When everything was working ok it is a cheap house to run about 120 pm for all heating/water and electricity but I am still very much a "net user"


However this is destroyed by the initial outlay and the servicing .. the "20 year lifespan" quotes I got 10 years ago were a nonsense total fallacy


Would I do it again? sadly with hindsight I am not sure .. I wanted at the time to do my best to be sustainable and still try to keep going but just not sure.

On a more positive note its 10 years on and there is a bit more information and support out there thanks to the web...

Rant over

Jonny

     
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Rural Co. Down, Proven 6kw Turbine, GSHP, Thermomax Tubes....and Total lack of technical or useful knowledge
pantsmachine
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« Reply #1 on: April 16, 2019, 11:56:34 PM »

Chin up Jonny, do you feel better getting all that off your chest? Welcome aboard!
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HUGE insulation depth.
5.12 kw PV system with Solar edge.
4.8 kw Pylon tech battery storage.
All Low energy bulbs.
Solar I boost charging 210 ltr OSO system tank.
Balanced & zoned CH wet system & Hive 2
Wood fired thermosiphon cedar hot tub.
Masanobu Fukuoka inspired veg garden & fruit trees
jonsamcor
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« Reply #2 on: April 17, 2019, 06:43:31 AM »

 hysteria
Yes .... thanks feel better with the answers I have got on here already though ....
👍👍
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Rural Co. Down, Proven 6kw Turbine, GSHP, Thermomax Tubes....and Total lack of technical or useful knowledge
kristen
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« Reply #3 on: April 17, 2019, 06:53:50 AM »

However this is destroyed by the initial outlay and the servicing ..

The initial outlay was an issue for me too, but I had some luck ... the old boiler was cracked and needed replacing, so I was going to have to address that, and I wanted to put in Solar Thermal so needed Accumulator (so put that bit of the budget "in the other pocket" Smiley ). And then my second bit of luck, price of oil soared which fixed my payback time.

Solar Thermal has needed servicing for air ingress. Some people have had that problem too, others (including my father in law, installed by same people, at same time), not at all

If I was doing it again I would do PV + Heat Pump rather than Solar Thermal - benefit of being able to operate Heat Pump off grid if desired (e.g. swimming pool start/end of season, whereas if only Solar Thermal then likely to need additional heat source)

After oil rise my fuel bill (biomass boiler, fuel = logs) has become about 1/6th of Oil, and following further improvements to insulation etc. (and building a Passive House extension for Wife and I to hibernate in during winter) we've further reduced winter fuel usage by 50% ...

But, yeah, more servicing than a standard Corgi Boiler Smiley I retained the services of a Heating Engineer, and I think that provided me with top-end quality data during design phase and in the choices I then made, so that was worthwhile.
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brackwell
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« Reply #4 on: April 17, 2019, 08:07:46 AM »

Kristen,
Please tell me more about your use of HP for swimming pool. I have been told that a domestic HP cannot be used for swimming pool because of design parameters ref flow rate. I am not convinced. My intention was to use HP for house for 8 months a yr and then physically move it to the swimming pool for the summer 4 months.
Ken
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dan_b
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« Reply #5 on: April 17, 2019, 09:11:40 AM »

The mantra of this forum is

Insulate, insulate, insulate.
Then insulate some more.
Then as much solarPV as you have room for.
Then work out what how to utilise as much of that solarPV as possible to displace as much other energy use as possible.

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3.06kWp SolarEdge system with a split array:
2.18kWp 10x South facing, plus 4x West facing 880W

Mk1 ImmerSUN DHW diverter
4kW PowerVault Battery

Tesla Model 3 Long Range
GarethC
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« Reply #6 on: April 17, 2019, 09:54:06 AM »

@dan_b why is that? With my economist hat on I'm quite keen on whatever minimises energy consumption at least cost, whether that's insulation or other tech.
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kristen
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« Reply #7 on: April 17, 2019, 10:32:48 AM »

Please tell me more about your use of HP for swimming pool. I have been told that a domestic HP cannot be used for swimming pool because of design parameters ref flow rate. I am not convinced. My intention was to use HP for house for 8 months a yr and then physically move it to the swimming pool for the summer 4 months.

Sorry, I don't have HP for Pool, only Solar Thermal (and I, separately, have Solar Thermal for DHW too).  All my Solar Thermal has needed "Service" approx once per 12-18 months - air getting in, or something leaking.  I think connecting wriggly-pipe to straight-pipe, with an Olive, is not a brilliant solution, but I'm no expert.

So if I was doing it again I would get an ASHP suitable for a pool (i.e. fittings suitable for chlorinated water, and whatever flow etc. was required), and run it off Leccy; sadly that might? require 3-Phase which I don't have and would cost both arms&legs to have the Monopoly install for me.  I would also expect that, during most of the swimming season, I would have spare PV to run it ... indeed, if not going to upset/stress anything?, I would turn on HP only when sufficient PV available - and, separately, override HP using Grid power when I wanted the pool hotter - a weekend following an overcast week, and also the start/end of the season.

@dan_b why is that? With my economist hat on I'm quite keen on whatever minimises energy consumption at least cost, whether that's insulation or other tech.

I have Passive House (extension part of house only).  My 2p worth is:

Lovely. comfortable, healthy.

The mantra is something like "A 3 bedroom [Passive] house needs 1kW heating when outside is -10C"

The reality is that, although you could just don another sweater, why would you? The heating effort is so little it makes more sense to have it toasty warm (21-22C in my case). Downside is that you do need a heating system (we have UFH downstairs, nothing upstairs), and the economic model for Passive House in part assumes you have spent nothing on Boiler, nor wet-system, and that saving has been spent on Passive House (e.g. insulation) instead. I now realise that it is also worth fitting reversible ASHP and UFH and cooling the floors in Summer.  I can keep my house cool, in heatwave (it heats up just as slowly as it cools down in Winter ...) by night-venting but you have to be at home to open all the windows, and leaving them open all night may be a security risk, and the bugs come in ... its just easier to cool it. And loads of PV at that time of the year ...

Passive House also known to be better for health. Neither Wife nor I have had a Winter Cold / Cough since building (5 years). Wife spends all day in an office with regular, unhealthy, cold-ridden people, in winter. Even allowing for that she hasn't had a cold ... Before Passive House we both had winter colds, every year.

Passive House is combination of Insulation and Hermetically Sealed air tightness - absolutely no cold bridging and no draughts (including the inside temperature of window glass should not be more than 4C colder than the room, otherwise cold-air-falls and the convection causes air currents in the room, and then you "feel" cold ... and turn the thermostat up)

There is also Mechanical Ventilation with Heat Recovery  - the outgoing air, from wet rooms etc, goes through a heat exchanger and warms the incoming air - so very little heat loss.  And also absolutely fantastic air quality - I don't know the exact air change volume, but its probably equivalent to a draught Victorian / Georgian house Smiley except that it is designed to get into every single nook and cranny, so there is no slightly-damp, or even a-little-bit-mouldy, corner.  That probably also contributes to health benefit - even temperature, and your immune system not having to do battle with Moulds, which would put your body at a disadvantage. Dust Mites don't survive either.

For a data point: if we go away in the depth of winter, turn everything off, the house loses about 1C per day. If we have a dozen people round for dinner in December we have to open a window ...

So my summary would be that this is only partly about economics, it is far more about design, and as @dan_b said, that is basically Insulate, Insulate, Insulate but also getting best air-tightness you can
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GarethC
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« Reply #8 on: April 17, 2019, 10:44:37 AM »

All good points, but most people don't have much disposable income. Building extensions, passivhaus or otherwise, is way beyond most. Hence my inclination for whatever gives you the best energy reduction bang per buck.
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dan_b
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« Reply #9 on: April 17, 2019, 10:47:50 AM »

in which case, SolarPV all the way. Prices have plummeted, and the kit is pretty much maintenance-free (lifespan of the Inverter is the main issue) and it just works.  Then you tinker around with shifting your consumption patterns to maximise self-generated electricity (running large white goods during the day-time peak for example), things like hot water diverters (to heat your hot water tank with the spare solar PV), and where it gets spendy, domestic batteries, or an EV.
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3.06kWp SolarEdge system with a split array:
2.18kWp 10x South facing, plus 4x West facing 880W

Mk1 ImmerSUN DHW diverter
4kW PowerVault Battery

Tesla Model 3 Long Range
kristen
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« Reply #10 on: April 17, 2019, 11:18:16 AM »

All good points, but most people don't have much disposable income. Building extensions, passivhaus or otherwise, is way beyond most. Hence my inclination for whatever gives you the best energy reduction bang per buck.

Passive House adds 7% to the building cost for new-build, to then have close to zero heating costs for the lifetime of the building. I am bitterly disappointed that Government doesn't mandate it (or a similar requirement), we are chucking up new housing stock which is all going to have to be "upgraded" later on, at huge cost, and inconvenience.

Retro-fit is far harder, but can be done room-by-room (e.g. when redecorating), but wrapping the outside of the building is usually a far better solution ... but that isn't trivial, and I agree, it isn't cheap either.

The requirement for insulation in the loft (to take just one data point) has doubled every decade for the last several ... so anyone doing it "to budget" will probably have added insulation to the loft multiple times. Perhaps each time justified against the saving on heating fuel. Maybe they did it themselves, so labour was "free" ... but even so ...

Lots of people mess around with piecemeal improvements to their home, me included. When this topic has been thrashed out on here before several people have said "I wish I had only done it the once" ... me also included!

My house (not the new bit) is basically concrete, 1960's.  Concrete raft, concrete first floor, flat concrete roof. Cavity brick wall. Originally Crittall windows. It must have looked bloody awful!

Previous owner put in some uPVC double glazing and a pitched roof (I expect the original flat roof leaked ... all the 60's ones that I know of did ...)

We filled the cavity. The airtightness is actually very good - concrete compares much better than joists and suspended floors in that regard Smiley  They put some insulation in the loft.  We are younger than the previous incumbents, so we applied less heat, and the building needed less due to the insulation we added. We had running condensation on windows in winter, and some damp. Clearly when the wind blew through the house, and oil cost nothing, those were not issues - the heating was just cranked up - but they were a consequence of what we did.  The cold bridging (now I think back on it) was also a concern ... had we not have acted we probably would have caused some damage to the fabric of the building, which would have, in time, been expensive to sort out.

We insulated the window reveals (aerogel ... not cheap, but thin Smiley ) and some vanity boards - which dramatically improved the very stark "square" edges of the original.  And fixed a lot of the cold bridging. We also retro fitted MVHR to the old part of the house, because it (air quality) was so successful in the new Passive Hour bit ... retro fitting MVHR to an existing house is close to impossible - there are no existing voids suitable for "fat" pipes ... so major disruption and redecoration ... and cost.  We also massively insulated the loft (I'm not doubling it again in 10 years when Building Regs decide that is the new minimum ...)

We also changed a basically open-fireplace into a wood stove, (passive house type) with solely an external air source. That removed the one bit of leaky air-tightness,a nd avoided us (building regs again) having to have a permanently open vent into the house so we didn't poison ourselves ...

In the process we did not address the "ancient" heating.  We would have liked to put UFH in, but concrete floors, and the very real likelihood that the buried pipes are insulated with asbestos put us off.

What should we have done?  Without doubt move out for 6 months, wrap the building, move the windows out (into the new insulation layer), put UFH into the floors, and take out a loan!!  The reason we didn't do that is that we didn't have the benefit of this hindsight, but also after having the builders onsite for a couple of years building the extension and then revamping the main part of the house we just wanted them "gone".

Move out, gut it, do it once. That would be my view; this is our "forever" house and we will be here into retirement age when we want a) negligible heating bills on retirement income and b) not to be cold.
« Last Edit: April 17, 2019, 11:19:54 AM by kristen » Logged
brackwell
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« Reply #11 on: April 17, 2019, 04:31:36 PM »

Obviously the money side of this needs to add up and indeed there are many things that many people can do that do make monetary sense and will pay for themselves in one year.

Decrease drafts around doors and windows by fitting foam stick in place strips.
More lagging on hot water tank and any pipes.
Block up chimneys with a balloon or preferable remove.
LED light bulbs

And then there are those things which can be improved when the original gives up eg

Pay a bit extra for thick underlay when replacing carpets.
Better Double glazing glass when replacing blown panels

Then there are those things which pay for themselves but need capital (perhaps add to mortgage) eg

PV returns up to 10%/yr (depends where you live and having a suitable roof) and then having a diverter for heating the hot water.

And finally turn down the thermostat by 1C because its not required anymore!

Ken

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kristen
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« Reply #12 on: April 17, 2019, 04:49:13 PM »

Obviously the money side of this needs to add up ...

its a good starting point, but plenty that we all do that doesn't make good financial sense. Not sure that Double glazing pays back, does it?

I spent a lifetime putting on extra clothes indoors in winter, and didn't think anything of it ... until I no longer had to.
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brackwell
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« Reply #13 on: April 17, 2019, 08:24:12 PM »

DG does not really pay back until you have to pay out anyway for new window frames or blown glass panels when i believe it does.
I purposely did not use the term "pay back" as for some buying a lottery ticket makes monetary sense!
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kristen
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« Reply #14 on: April 18, 2019, 07:14:57 AM »

All good points, thanks.

@jonsamcor just one final point. I built my Passive House (extension) with a zero-energy objective. More recently someone here, sorry forgotten who, raised the point about being comfortable, rather than saving every last watt. After pondering that for a while I've changed my tune, and I now agree. Having cut my energy footprint so much (and, indeed, produce my own on the roof) the amount I need to be comfortable is tiny. Thus I am now going to retro fit UFH cooling ASHP for Summer. Of course if I had done that at the outset I would have saved both money and disruption ...

So the burden of my benefit-of-hindsight is to do it once  Roll Eyes and aim for a combination of reduced energy along with improved comfort (not just "better comfort" that comes from blocking up the draughts).

The other, probably obvious, thing I would raise is that improving the thermal efficiency of an existing building is likely to bring other dramas - in my case damp / moulds / stale air because of reduced airflow and lower thermostat etc. but the exaggerated impact of cold-bridging, on a thermally improved house, may also bring drama, and I expect there are other Gotchas waiting in the wings
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