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Having just completed my masters in Chemical Engineering I had a decision to make. Should I continue to work for companies like BP and AstraZeneca, following a typical high flying corporate career, but waking up each morning feeling like I am missing a little bit of my soul? The answer for me was to find a career that provided job satisfaction in knowing that I would be directly helping people and the environment. When deciding upon a low risk business model for my new sustainability consultancy we devised a route to market that utilised a show home. This enabled us to fully understand the market from the perspective of our clients. It forced us to test each of the hundreds of products required to create an eco retrofit home, to fully understand the complexities involved. The Sustainable Energy Academy helped us to satisfy the public demand for eco educational facilities, providing the incentive and guidance to organise open days. Public interest was reflected by the attendance of over 500 people during our first year.
Now the home is complete we are benefiting from annual gas bills of £150 and annual electricity bills of £400. We have remarkably comfortable year round temperatures regally receiving comments from visitors along the lines of:
“Wow your house is so warm you must have put the heating on! I don’t believe that you haven’t put the heating on since February, its October!”
The general levels of maintenance are now unbelievably low, all the systems have 20+ year life spans, bringing down running costs and inconvenience. The design focus for the show home was on passive technologies, in fact bar a single room wood burning stove there are no renewables installed at all. The house uses standard A rated gas boiler and no heat pumps.
A big worry of potential converts to eco style living is any negative effects that ‘cutting back’ may have on their lifestyle. The over whelming result from our experience has been nothing but beneficial to our lifestyle.
The original concept behind the space we dub ‘The Solarium’ was to act as an area capable of capturing solar energy, storing it and distributing it as necessary both across space i.e. from the south to the north of the building and across time i.e. from midday to midnight. Additionally this was a critical area from an interiors perspective as it meant a joining of spaces designed today and those designed a century ago. To ensure the continuity of space was not broken by a lack of contiuity of design it required the original space to be modernised and the new space to be minimised, ensuring no severe contrast of style.
Ecospheric is a sustainability consultancy based in Manchester specialising in domestic retrofit. They provide a wide range of services to suit every homeowner at every stage of their build, including energy assessments and specification creation/modification. They can also help organise all the services and contractors you need for your build or consult with your chosen professionals.
Led by SuperHomer Kit Knowles, the company is run out of his SuperHome in the conservation area of Chorltonville and features over 100 environmental and energy efficient tecnologies. It is regularly open to the public through the Superhome network, or will take private bookings of 4 or more throughout the year.
For more information, visit www.ecospheric.com
There are two stoves in our showhome.
1. The all signing all dancing 93% efficient Xeoos Twinfire 5kW, equipped with 150kg of thermal mass (hence the larger output), and fully direct air feed compatible, costing around £3600 for the device alone.
2. The 4kW Burley Debdale is much more cost friendly device (£550) boosting 89% efficiency, still direct air feed compatible, no thermal mass unfortunately so recommend installing it in an exposed brick/stone hearth and surround.
For a half way house between these two devices (cost and functionality wise) I also recommend DanSkan stoves (only those with their air box technology however), they have some fancy control and lovely modular thermal mass.
Stoves require air (oxygen) to burn and traditionally take this from within the room. Modern devices require three air streams, Primary, for the bulk of combustion, Secondary, to control the rate of burn and Tertiary, as a screen wash to keep the glass clean. Broadly speaking a wood burning stove is a bad item to have within a property if it takes any of the three air streams from within the room due to that massive cold infiltration it causes both within the room and throughout the rest of the property(especially when alight). This is where direct air feeds (or outside air supplies) come in… Many devices are compatible, allowing a small pipe to be connected via a spigot on the back or bottom. This pipe either pops through the wall to the external leaf with a grill fitted or lead through the hearth when on a party wall and lead to the nearest air brick. Some devices are partially room sealed, so be careful to select only totally room sealed.
The stove should be 5kW or less. Above this you start to require a primary air feed, meaning a hole in your wall. Additionally over sizing devices is a really bad idea considering the first 20mins and the last 20mins of any burn are the most inefficiency. If your device is oversized then you will simply push these two phases together, adding in a deal of uncomfortable over heating to boot. Most rooms will have radiators sized between 1.5-3kW, designed at -3°C or -5°C exterior temperatures. It doesn’t make sense therefore, to put a secondary heating device in the same room with over twice the capacity.
In rural areas you require a device with smoke control exemption, else you can only burn smokeless fuels which are both expensive and awful for the environment.
Modern devices can achieve amazing performance levels, yet people still seem happy to purchase very inefficient old technologies. The sweet spot is 80%, above this you have a marked reduction in maintenance; less chimney cleaning, ash disposal and glass cleaning. Below 75% I seem to find lighting the stove to be more of an issue as the air flows within the chamber or not optimised. All in all more hassle than it is worth, efficiency matters.
A nice to have element is inclusion of thermal mass. This concept is simple, a proportion of all the heat generated is absorbed into the surrounding thermal mass rather than all kicked out into the room. This will enable you to burn for longer without having to starve the flame of oxygen to reduce its output. It will also mean that after the stove goes out it will still provide heat to the room for hours afterwards.
We used units from Estonian manufacturer Viking Windows who predominantly provide high specification units to the Nordic Market.
You can review their range below. To give a really rough idea of the cost differential between the products; the SW11 and DK88’s are similar in price at around 20% more than the Viking-12 and 10% less than the SW14.
Viking-12 (Uw = 1.2 W/m²K) – Outward opening double glazed unit
SW11 (Uw = 0.97 W/m²K) – Outward opening triple glazed unit
DK88 (Uw = 0.72-0.81 W/m²K) – Inward opening triple glazed unit
SW14 (Uw = 0.68 W/m²K) – Outward opening passive house certified unit