3rd March: A Monster

This sermon was going to be about the cunning calculations of Lady Maths. But there’s been so much happening this week, the Lady Maths can wait. Far more exciting stuff has been going on that involves big, noisy machinery.

Oh yes, Transformers, Robots in Disguise...

Oh yes, Transformers, Robots in Disguise…

For the past few weeks, we’ve had the most monumentally large bit of kit sitting outside the ‘van. It’s difficult to describe in words, but looks like the kind of machine that’d appear in a Transformers movie – as the really bad guy. Rich and I have crawled all over it and tried, in vain, to work out which direction it actually moves in.

Basically, it’s a trenching device. As I mentioned somewhere on the blog before, we’ve decided to use a ground source heat pump on The Meaden Project for all our hot water and heating needs, and the trenching machine has been hanging out for a few weeks waiting for the ground to dry out so we can lay the heat loops for the ground source.

A couple of people have asked about our decision to use ground source rather than a more conventional heating method – there are plenty of pre-conceptions about renewables and, to be honest, we had them too before doing a bit more research. Namely that they’re hugely expensive to install, costly to maintain and don’t work particularly well either.

Uncle Barry and BoffinBoy Alex talking shop over the rainwater harvester hole

Uncle Barry and BoffinBoy Alex talking shop over the rainwater harvester hole

There’s quite a lot of information about renewables on the old googliser but not a lot of it makes sense. They explain about co-efficients, RHIs, FITs and other such nonsense, but it’s very rare to find something that tells you A. How (in simpleton terms) it actually works, B. How much it’ll cost to install and, most importantly, C. How much it’ll cost to run. I reckon it’s a ‘Blinded by science’ kind of technology that you’ll look into and walk away from, or look into and think ‘Sod it, what have we got to lose.’

We got to the walk away point a couple of times and then, helpfully, the Daily Bigot would run another ‘Escalating Fuel Costs, the World’s Going to Implode’ headline. And everything in the Daily Mail is true. We’re a long way away from any sort of gas main down at the Fenbilly and the thought of buying oil every other month doesn’t fill us with much joy. In our first house (oil-fueled) we always knew there was a cold snap coming, because we ran out of oil. Our last house, being a Grade II listed, draughty money pit was on mains gas but still cost an absolute fortune to heat so keeping the long-term, monthly living costs down has become a bit of a crusade. In all honestly, the priority wasn’t saving the planet, but saving the money…

So, from my extensive research, here are all the answers you need.

A. How does it work? Simples. I drew a picture to help.

Simple, Press this and all your queries will be answered!

Simple, Press this and all your queries will be answered!

So, there’s a natty little gizmo in the utility room about the size of a fridge (well, it’s not there yet, this is just an illustration). It has a pair of pipes coming out of it, one the out, one the in. The out is very cold and goes to a manifold, where it splits up into two, again one in, one out, forming a loop. The pipes are filled with antifreeze and probably something else that passed me by. The out loop goes into the field, over a metre down (below the frost level), travels about 225 metres and sucks heat out of the ground (which is a constant 10-12 degrees). It comes back in to the manifold (warm), then to the piping that runs into the natty little fridge sized Vaillant gizmo. The Vaillant gizmo sucks the heat out of the pipe and uses electricity to boost the temperature. Remember, it’s coming in at somewhere between 5 and 10 degrees, rather than, say 2 degrees, so takes less electricity to get up to temperature. There’s another loop that does the same. Obviously, if you had an enormous house, you would need more loops.

From there, the heat is sent into a buffer tank and then directed through the house as required. With underfloor heating, there’s less need for higher temperatures than with a radiator system because it doesn’t need to reach such high, localised temperatures. Water temperature is boosted by immersion.

The house has six ‘zones’ to manage the underfloor heating temperature and, by all accounts, we set each zone to the required number and just leave it. The Vaillant system automatically senses the outside temperature changes and adjusts itself in each zone accordingly. It’s also monitored remotely, so any problems will be apparent to a Vaillant engineer before we even know about it. No pressing the boiler reset button and hoping you can get another winter out of it. How cool is that? I was impressed, anyway.

B. How much does it cost?

It’d be easy to gloss over this bit but I’ll have to come clean because honesty is a rare commodity these days and I’ve been definitely honest up until now. When we originally looked into the ground source heat system, I found a great company who do this on a day to day basis (that’s Nu-Heat, and I don’t mind giving them a plug). Look through all the self build mags and Nu-Heat (and, A. N. Other) are the most prominent from both an advertising and marketing point of view. Their customer service seems (and, from experience, is) excellent.

An important part of the project was to keep things simple, largely in line with the simpleton managing it. To that end, it meant that I wanted to keep all things ‘wet’ – heating, plumbing, rain water harvesting, etc within one company. That way, if we had any problems further down the line, there wouldn’t be any buck-passing and, therefore, more expense. As it turns out, the Nu-Heat price for heat pump, underfloor heating throughout and rainwater harvester, along with fitting from their approved installer, plumbing, installation of sanitary-ware, sewerage connections (not sewage treatment, that’s extra) etc was looking at about £30K. Ouch. We were about to sign on the dotted line until in walked Jeremy.

A hard working tool. And the trenching device... ;)

A hard working tool. And the trenching device… 😉

Jeremy, as I think I’ve mentioned before, is a Richard Meaden fanboy. He likes his cars and, handily, house stuff. He’s also the PR guy for Vaillant and has been an avid blog reader since Day 1. He got in touch and said could him and a Vaillant guy come and talk to us about the project. Frankly, at that point, I’d never heard of Vaillant but hey ho, we’re all ears here. And he brought biscuits.

Jeremy came for a vist to the ‘van with Paul from Vaillant and explained a little about the German, still family owned company. They loved what we were doing and invited us to the Centre of Excellence (well, it would be, they’re German) in Belper, to explain in a bit more detail about what Vaillant are all about. I have to be honest, I was very, very impressed and it doesn’t happen often. People bang on about saving the planet, green energy, blah blah blah but honestly, it’s about how much stuff costs, the quality and therefore longevity of a product and whether you have faith in it working. The CofE is a seriously streamline building with every kind of renewable energy delight imaginable.

The journey was shite, the lunch was mediocre but the people were utterly, utterly brilliant. I particularly enjoyed the visit to the ‘engine room’ where another boffin boy gave us a detailed analysis of how stuff worked.  I could have stayed listening to him for days. Richard glazed over and I swear was falling asleep at one point 😉

So, back in the ‘van, I did a little more research. Phew, ask a plumber and they’ll tell you that Vaillant are a great, quality product. After doing some more research, I genuinely don’t think I heard a bad word. Cor, I am going on a bit…

So, the point. A great brand with focussed customer service – as customers, we’re probably offering something a little bit special to hang the brand off (that’ll be 65,000 blog viewers now and a tv show to boot)but ultimately, we have a limited budget and I know what kind of money we could have the whole lot done for. I suppose Vaillant are the Porsche or the market. But what about the price?

The Vaillant movie, coming to a screen near you...

The Vaillant movie, coming to a screen near you…

Unlike those crazy people you see on Grand Designs ‘Yes, Venetia and I have gone six hundred thousand over budget but it’s cheaper than having another child’, Richard and I have a budget and we were already over that before we started (again, wait for Lady Maths). I like to think we did a deal. We’ll help with some PR stuff, you help keep the cost down.

When Vaillant put us in touch with their local installer (remember Boffinboy Alex, from Orangehouse, we all love him here) and I pressed him on prices, he asked me to keep it under my hat. Er, like yeah, course I will. Orangehouse could see the value, Vaillant were offering muchness and we secured it all for just under twenty five grand. That, laydees and gentlemen, is a result.

C. Which brings us to the final conundrum, how much is it going to cost to run?

And this is the very best bit of all. The Government, in all its wisdom, are offering incentives to home builders like Rich and I to install ‘green energy’products. They’ll give us £1250 back on the installation of the GSHP, provided we get it in before the end of March (booked for the 18th then). Nice. They’ll also give us a certain number of pence for the energy we produce and use ourselves. It’s not like solar, where you sell back into the system, but for every kW of energy we produce and use, we’ll see a return. Although a final figure is yet to be released, we’re looking at a real-time running cost for heating and hot water of about £500 per annum. That’s worse-case scenario. On the latest government figures, we’ll be looking at a tax free cheque of about £700 per year. Guaranteed for seven years (I think, it keeps changing). So that, in my book, is another quids in.

I tell you what, now I’m writing it all down, this house building/renovation malarkey is making a lot of sense. Bare in mind that our stamp duty was, er, just over two grand as opposed to spending up to £25K (or the heating, plumbing and rainwater solution) and, blimey, I may have thoughts on doing it all again.*

Quite straight, this one

Quite straight, this one

Back to where I started though and Uncle Barry got the Transformer like machine working. Vaillant brought their own film crew, in order to do a very real promotional video and WOWSERS, it’s like totally fucking brilliant. Aside from the fact that getting grass to grow on the paddock has been the most vexing part of the build, and Uncle Barry gave it a bit of a chewing, the Trenching Machine was utterly stupendous. On an average to good day, a trenching crew will lay about 100m of ground loops per day. Uncle Barry got the whole five hundred metres done in just over a morning. Man, he rocks. Alex from Orangehouse was cock-a-hoop. Jeremy from Vaillant was in awe. I just needed a shower. You’ll have to wait for Vaillant to release the video because, sadly, the tv people didn’t think covering the ground source loop installation was important, they’d rather see us choosing curtains. Fools. They’ll regret that decision when they see it!

Uncle Barry. Not really an Uncle.

Uncle Barry. Not really an Uncle.

So there you have it, in rather a large nutshell, our heating system. WAKE UP. I find it very interesting. There’ll be more on how it runs later…


PS Things are flying here so Lady Maths will have to wait again. Far more important is the paint spray experiment, our new kitchen and a lot of boozing in between. The ‘van is party central, I don’t know how we’ll part with it!

*But not for a year or so.


3 responses to “3rd March: A Monster

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