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This is not our first Superhome. We originally fitted photovoltaics to our first home in 2005 before moving to the current home in 2008. The new home was about 70% bigger than the previous home but we were determined it would actually use less gas, electricity and water. When not working on the SuperHome project I (Mark) work as a freelance IT Consultant whilst Liya is a Teacher. We have two girls. Nobody in our family think of themselves as environmentalists nor do we think we are saving the planet. We just believe the future may different from the past so we are planning ahead for our security. Just seems like commonsense.
Since 2001 I (Mark) had been concerned that our culture was addicted to oil and this would only lead to insecurity. It seemed like we should offer leadership and solutions rather than be part of the problem. For Liya and our children it all seemed like commonsense for us to wrap the house up warm and be energy independent. What we didn’t want to do was to turn the house into a wacky science-experiment. It had to look GOOD. Visitors to our home like it without noticing a single energy-saving feature. We always tell visitors that we simply “modernised” our home. The family get all the comfort they want, all the warmth, all the cosiness without consuming any fossil fuels. It is a pleasure to live in our SuperHome. That is how it should be. It is how every home should be.
1980’s built property in good cosmetic condition.
• Double glazed windows
• Cavity wall insulation
• Loft insulation: topped up to 300mm with sheep’s wool then over-boarded to provide access for later solar panel work
• All the upstairs imbedded ceiling lights (fitted by previous occupier) have been sealed in via the attic space to prevent drafts
• All doors to garage replaced with tightly sealing uPVC. Internal doors to Conservatory & Front door all sealed against drafts. Gaps to kitchen soil pipe sealed
• A rated condensing gas boiler fitted in Aug 2008 shortly after moving in. Simple heating controls updated at that time. Ten out of eleven radiators had TRVs fitted at the same time
• 20 x 1.8m solar thermal tubes fitted with twin coil Gledhill tank in April 2010
• 2.96kWp PV fitted in April 2010. 16 x 185Wp Mitsubishi fitted with Fronius inverter
• KWB 15kW wood pellet boiler feeding 500l buffer tank supplies all the hot water & heating needs of house prior to fitting Solar Thermal
• Whole house fitted with LED light-bulbs.
• A Rated Washing Machine. A Rated dishwasher (rarely used). A++ rated Fridge/Freezer
• Two water butts in garden fed by rainwater from roof. Both original lavatories replaced by Twyford Flushwise (2.6litre) water-saving units. Flow restrictors fitted to both kitchen and downstairs cloakroom taps. Similar planned for upstairs bathrooms at point of future renovation
• Wood burning stove (Dovre 250) fitted in April 2009
• Part “L” Building Regulation loft hatch door fitted with 100mm polystyrene plug
• Reflectors behind all radiators
• All water tanks and hot/cold water pipe runs insulated throughout the house including the attic
• Extra insulation to KWB Buffer tank and original DHWC
Our home is always warm in Winter and cool in Summer. We have Gas as a back up but never need it so pay nothing for Gas. We generate nearly 97% of all our own electricity but still pay just under £400 annually just for the nightly import. It is something we will be working on in future. Our wood fuel cost is pretty steep even in comparison to oil with the wood pellets costing about £1100 annually. To offset this we earn £1500 annually on the Feed In Tariff (for the photovoltaics) so the system pays for itself. However we have to be conscious that logs for the wood-burning stove in the lounge can cost an average of £200 annually. Then there is the sweeping of the chimney & flue plus boiler maintenance which can be anything from £100 to £500 annually. We are hoping that the Renewable Heat Incentive will cover these costs from 2013 but we have been waiting a long time. Eventually it should pay US to live here. What we don’t spend can go in the bank and be reserved for replacement of the renewable energy systems. Hopefully nothing should need replacing inside 25 years so we have plenty of time to save up.
The favourite feature is the one no one can see – the loft insulation. It sounds odd but it is the one feature that was done entirely as a DIY task when we first moved in. We needed to use the attic for storage so I bought wooden over-joisting that was laid at right-angles to the ceiling joists. These were fixed in place then sheep wool insulation laid between the new joists. Then another layer of joisting was laid at right angles again with another layer of sheeps wool. Then it was all boarded over. We did it all ourselves in the hot summer of 2008 between August and October. It was an enormous task requiring endless hours in the attic after work. It was extremely hot and dirty. Mark wore a disposible jump suit and dust mask for the period and it was extremely uncomfortable. But the effort was worh it when we started to use the storage space it gave us. We can now go up there whenever we need without anyone getting an itchy rash from spun mineral fibre insulation. It is a nice environment, well lit and spacious. You don’t get the same amount of pleasure from the things you pay people to do for you!
From the Spring of 2014 work started at the rear of the house to build a replacement conservatory. This entailed ripping out the small one fit in the 1980s and putting up a much larger one that covers two of the rear windows. Unlike the old conservatory this one is double-glazed with heat reflective window coatings on roof and southerly aspect. On the east and west there is no heat-reflective coating to allow it to warm in morning and evening when the sun is lower in the sky. The conservatory opens up into the house via new double doors to the kitchen. The original single-paned wooden doors to the old conservatory have been replaced by triple glazed units because this is now exposed to the elements as the new conservatory has moved along the house to a different location. Our plan is for this new conservatory to capture and release warmth into the home in the transition months when the sun in lower in the sky whilst not over-heating in summer. We will see how we get on. The work should be completed by the New Year 2015.
Updated on 28/11/2014
We have lived with biomass for six years and the day-to-day experience is identical to living with a gas-based system. It is largely hassle-free. If you can get the Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (Domestic RHI) to pay for the costs then it is a very economical too as the fuel costs are now lower or comparable to gas. We entered the venture because we knew statistically that biomass would have the biggest impact upon carbon footprint per unit of money spent.
The downsides are several folds: the industry is young in the UK and it is hard work finding a professional to look after your system. So I do the annual service myself. The boiler physically takes up a lot of space. With fuel storage & heat store this is the space of a family car. We refuel from sacks which can be a hassle. If you are physically fit this is OK. If not you can get deliveries blown into a large tank then fed to the boiler automatically. Finally such a beast might put off a buyer to your home if you wish to sell-up and move on.
So, to answer your question: would we do it again? Yes – certainly if the RHI had applied. A no brainer. If we had the space we would have got bigger storage with auto-feed so that the running would be hassle free. If there was a professional out there to care for the boiler that would be weight off our minds. The RHI would cover the costs of such after sales care and service. So if we did it again today it would be a different experience. Six years ago we were at the bleeding edge and suffered some inconvenience and cost subsequently.
Look at it a different way: what would be the alternatives? A ground source heat pump would require ripping up floors and garden. We did a lot of research and inserting a heat pump would require too much disruption to our lives. I was not happy with the fact that it used electricity. Your home would also need to be well insulated for heat pumps to be effective. We could have just stuck with gas but that would not have given us the low-carbon impact we wanted. We wanted to be off fossil fuels completely – in essence to re-localise and get ‘off-grid’ – get more resilient. Our choice reflected a certain philosophy to life. In the end it can come down to ambition which is why we made that choice six years ago before the RHI.
Sometimes it helps to be passionate about something.