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Posts relating to our work with Far Infrared (FIR) heating solutions.

Smart FIR project

Smart FIR: A Loxone controlled Far Infrared heating project

ACC HAUS have teamed up with leading UK Far Infrared heating panel provider Herschel Infrared to publish an example, fully costed plan to retro fit a one-bedroom apartment with fully automated / remote controllable FIR solution.

Introducing…. our apartment to be ‘smarted’

Our sample apartment is based on a real plan for a real project we worked on last year, and one we think is a great representation of a typical one-bed flat. We’re going to use this apartment as our template and gradually add functionality to it so you can see exactly what’s required to successfully complete this project. Of course, every property is different but we can use this plan as a working base and build it up / adjust it from here to find the perfect solution for your requirements.

Much of the pricing on this blog, is based on publicly available list pricing and is correct at the time of writing. Please get in touch for the very latest pricing, and be aware that we are continually running special offers and promotions.

First plan

A while ago we wrote a comprehensive and informative blog post about the trials and tribulations of converting a 1920s property from mains gas to FIR. If you have a little spare time and you would like an insight of a real-life FIR upgrade project – warts and all, we would strongly recommend you head over to this post for a quick read first. But if you’re a little pushed for time, lets kick off with a quick list of the pros and cons of far infra-red heating:

Far Infrared Heating – Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Excellent ‘quality’ of heat
  • Not convective therefore good for allergy suffers (less dust/pollen in air circulation)
  • Solid state, and therefore extremely low maintenance
  • Relatively quick and easy to install compared to ‘wet’ heating
  • Easier to move after initial install compared to gas central heating
  • Fitted to ceiling – does not take up wall space
  • Highly efficient (no heat ‘lost’ through pipes, pumps, or heating of air)
  • Ability to enable per room thermostatic control, managed centrally
  • Possible to power completely with zero emission renewable (solar / wind etc)
  • Highly responsive (short warm-up time)

Cons

  • More expensive to power / KWh than gas if using mains
  • Homes generally set at a cooler temperature which some may not like
  • Large amount of ‘scepticism’ in market for consumers not familiar with technology
  • More planning / calculations of heat loss / building characteristics required before purchase
  • No advantage for EPC assessment (classified as electric heaters for rdSAP vs full SAP)
  • For multiple panel systems, separate rings and therefore electrician required
  • Many questionable vendors on the market with dubious quality standards & no track record
  • Although easier to install than wet systems, if you are mounting panels on walls or ceilings there may still need quite a bit of re-decorating to do

For the right panels, select a quality vendor

We could write a whole blog on the purchasing and planning of FIR (well actually we sort of did) but the main take away is that if you are considering FIR heating, you MUST find a good FIR panel vendor. A good vendor will guide you through the process of sizing your panels, placing them, the purchase costs and hopefully estimate running costs. For reason covered on our FIR conversion blog, we have teamed up with Herschel Infrared in the UK so we would recommend getting in touch with them.

To make this project realistic, we supplied our project requirements to Herschel Infrared just like a typical customer would and this is the plan they came back with:Flat with panels

Running costs

To calculate the running costs, Herschel made some general assumptions of building fabric:

Cavity brick, 50mm roof insulation, two outside walls, 4m2 basic double glazed windows, timber frame ceiling and un-insulated concrete floor.

Total combined load: 2.38 KW

Program averages: On average of 5 hours a day for spring / autumn, moving to 8 hours per day in mid winter (plus baring in mind each room will have it’s own schedule – bedroom will not be on at all during day time)

Estimated running costs over a 238 day heating season: £375 

Likely annual maintenance costs: zero

Is a smart home controlled FIR solution the right choice for you?

We now know what sort of FIR panels we need, where we are going to put them, and how much (or little!) this solution is going to cost to run.. but hang on there just one minute. Before we continue and build our ‘Smart FIR’ solution it’s probably a sensible idea for us to be a little objective here and look at the pros and cons of going with a ‘Smart FIR’ solution vs the standard wireless controller systems which FIR panel vendors like Herschel typically supply:

If you would would like:

  • Real time control & monitoring of FIR solution via internet connected devices
  • Fully automated controls and intelligent ability perform advanced co-ordinate operation with weather forecasting data
  • Ability  to limit your FIR usage to a fixed usage / budget, or to notify you at certain usage levels / conditions
  • The solution to provide a fully extendable ‘smart home’ platform for other functionalities
  • And finally, you are OK to pay a little more for this additional functionality….

We would say, go down the Smart FIR route.

If on the other hand you just want:

  • A comparatively low-tech system which operates with ‘closed’ physical thermostats on the wall that give you the room temperature on a display.
  • Manual ‘boost’ buttons to switch on individual panels for short periods
  • You are not interested in remote control / monitoring or any automation outside that of operating the FIR panels
  • You do not want to have to control the system via phone / PC / tablet
  • Have no interest in other smart home functionality
  • You are on an extremely tight budget

Then we think the ‘traditional’ thermostat route is the better option for you.

(Note – it is still possible to get wall-based controls / readouts with the Smart FIR solution, but this would add cost, and additional wiring too )

So a good use case for a Smart FIR solution would be a home, a second home, or perhaps someone caring for an elderly relative where the carer wants to keep an eye on the heating remotely plus wants all the benefits of a very low maintenance FIR solution.

Alternatively, a good use case for traditional FIR controlled solution might be a landlord wanting a low maintenance solution for budget rental accommodation. In this case there could be a high turnover of tenants all of which may want to access the heating system to adjust. Providing a fixed, wall mounted tablet would solve this, but costs money – but might need servicing, updating and could also get broken.

If you think the Smart FIR solution is right for you – let’s get started!

Where to start? At GO – of course!

Miniserver Go

Loxone MiniServer Go: £341.22 Inc. VAT

At the heart of every smart home solution, is a smart home server, and here at ACC HAUS we have for a long time been avid fans of Loxone solution for ‘real smart’ homes.

To try to break down exactly what a Loxone smart home server is (without boring you too much) we are basically talking about a highly programmable ‘solid state’ device which enables you to feed in ‘input’ data, whether that be a temperature from a sensor, or a button push, and then using this input data (with pretty much limitless programmability) apply some logic to then perform any number of outputs, again whether that be turn something on, move something, or even create another input to do something completely different. Everything that is programmed into the system, whether it is a movement sensor,  a doorbell, or Far Infrared panel for that matter, can seamlessly inter-operate together. So, you can build some highly integrated solutions, and the limit really is your (or our!) own programming capability and imagination!

Loxone make two models of smart home server. One is called simply ‘MiniServer’ and the other is ‘MiniServer Go’. The ‘MiniServer’ product, because it has many built in physical connectors for both inputs and outputs – is generally preferred for completely new projects or major renovations where there is a lot of re-wiring going on. For the ‘retro fit’ there is generally no desire to run a lot of new cabling and perform the all the decorating work to make good. Therefore, for these sorts of projects you would aim to go wireless and use a MiniServer Go.

It is still possible, with additional modules to extend the MiniServer Go exactly as the MiniServer, and they both run exactly the same software.

When talking about the MiniServer Go, a common concern we get from homeowners and trades people alike, is worries about wireless performance. This is taken from negative experiences with WiFi wireless networking (we’ve all had them) – however the sort of wireless technology used in Loxone systems is completely different and is far more robust, secure, and extendable that the wireless networking you get on phones and pcs. It’s running a living space and having lived with it myself for the last three years, I would go as far saying it’s completely bulletproof, because it has to be.

Yes, you do still need to consider range, wall thickness etc, but unlike your typical wifi it is extremely simple to extend coverage of a Loxone wireless network. Last year we supplied a completely wireless solution to a circa 1890s four story house in France. Huge solid walls, but with correctly sited equipment, this 100% wireless solution has been 100% reliable from the basement wine cellar to the wireless weather station placed right on the top of the roof. There’s a write up on that project here.

Placement

For smaller properties, there will likely be no issue with distance / wireless coverage, so your main factor is going to be getting your MiniServer Go connected to your home network and a power supply. The obvious place to site the MiniServer Go therefore is next to your home router – it doesn’t take up much space.

Our second plan of the apartment now shows the position of the MiniServer Go, close to the Internet router, on the other side of the TV:

With miniserver Go

Configuration

The basic initial configuration of the Loxone MiniServer Go is not difficult but, if purchased though ACC HAUS – we pre-configure everything before we send out. All that is needed to be done is to simply plug it in. To get external access, there is a small amount of work needed on your home router (port forwarding) – we can help with this via a remote session.

Remember though, if you change Internet providers, or if your internet provider changes your router – we will need to repeat this work for you to get remote access.

No internet? No problem!

One of the best things about the Loxone system, unlike pretty much every other smart home system out there now, is that with Loxone, you do not need any Internet connection at all for the entire system to function. Yes, you need it for remote access or external notifications (email / phone calls etc) – but if your Internet was to go down, the system would continue to function completely as normal.

Additionally, because the solution is not ‘cloud dependant’ you will also be pleased to know that none of your smart home data (programs, usage – anything) is sent outside of the server to any external party or their ‘partners’, and so you can rest assured not to be getting coincidentally suspicious emails from people selling air conditioners if the temperature in your lounge goes up in the summer!

Loxone Smart Socket Air (UK plug type G): £65.15 Inc. VAT each

Smart Socket Air

Behold, the mighty Loxone Smart Socket Air, the first device we are going to add to our Smart FIR setup, and what a marvellous invention it is! The Loxone Smart Socket Air can be ordered with sockets for many different countries, in this case we are in the UK so we have the good old three pin plug.

The Smart Socket Air gives you the following sensors which we can hook into using Loxones free smart home configuration software ‘Loxone Config’

  • Online Status
  • Temperature Sensor
  • Power used
  • Energy used

Then we have the outputs we can control:

  • LED actuator (small light on plug)
  • 13 Amp Relay (so we can turn on / off power to the socket

For this project, we are going to be using Power Used, LED and the Relay. For three rooms, we are going to opt to use dedicated Loxone Temperature & Humidity Sensor Air sensors, rather than rely on the temperature sensor built in to the Loxone Smart Socket Air – the reason for this is that we get more flexibility with regards to the thermostats placement. By using a wireless sensor, you can place it at the perfect height (usually light switch height), and if it’s not quite right, it’s easy to move. The Smart Sockets need mains power, so there is no easy way to move these later, plus you are likely not to want to see a smart socket air exposed anywhere.

For the hall, we are going to be OK to use a Smart Socket Air temperature sensor here.

Placement

You are probably not going to want to see your Smart Sockets, they are not exactly pretty to look at, plus they ‘click’ a bit as the relays switch on and off – as most relays do.Therefore, we would recommend, to get your electrician to create a dedicated ring/circuit for your FIR panels, and then create multi socket bay out of the way somewhere. The FIR panel power lines all run back to this point, connect to Smart Socket Air plugs, which are fed from the consumer unit. For this single bed apartment project, we have a total of four Smart Socket Airs:

  • Lounge (2 x panels on the one plug)
  • Hall
  • Bathroom
  • Bedroom

There’s no doubt about it, the work required to put your FIR panel cabling up to the ceilings of each room (and generally placed centrally too) and run the lines back to your Smart Plugs – is by far the trickiest part of this project. If you are lucky enough to have loft space or a suspended ceiling where you are converting, then of course it’s much easier, but if not, you are either going to have to live with conduit, chasing into walls / ceilings, route behind coving, or even considering lowering the entire ceiling with battens / plasterboard. The thought of doing this might make you grimace but if we consider what we would need to do for a wet radiator system (or underfloor heating even) that would be considerable more work.

If your apartment is already electric heated, but using expensive and unmanageable storage heaters, then you will already have electric points for these heaters going to each room, likely also on their own ring. In this case, you would still need to get your power line to the ceiling, but at least there would be much work saved in getting the power lines back to your consumer unit / Smart Socket Airs.

We have now added the Loxone Smart Socket airs to our ‘Smart Plug Bay’ in the hallway of our apartment, which is fed by a dedicated power line to the consumer unit:

Flat with Smart Socket Air

Loxone Temperature & Humidity Sensor Air: £77.56 Inc. VAT each

Temperature and humidity sensor

We have four open spaces to heat, in the old days we would just have one thermostat for the entire property, but because we want maximum control and efficiency (and why not!) we will opt to put our thermostats in each space we are heating.

The Loxone Temperature Sensor Air is powered by two every day and easy to source  ‘AAA’ type batteries and will last for at least two years before changing. Another great feature of the Loxone wireless system is the built in battery management, which can alert you when devices batteries are running down and need replacing – ether on the app, by email, or even by phone call (requires Loxone Caller service).

Temperature readings from this sensor will get fed directly into the MiniServer Go and once in here, our program will then enable us to determine whether our FIR panels should be switched on or off.

In addition to temperature, this sensor also has two internal ‘digital input’s which can be used to connect Loxones very inexpensive digital door / window catch sensor. We will use these in our project to tell the Miniserver Go that if there is a window open in a room, we can then switch off the heating (no point heating a room when the windows open).  Being a fully integrated smart home system, we can also use this door/window catch sensor as a dual purpose – to function as an intruder log and alarm. Although this project does not include the specification for an audible alarm, the MiniServer Go can still send us a popup notification alarm to our phone or email you if a window is opened when we have set the house alarm. At any time, you will be able to check the ‘access log’ – something especially handy to view front door usage to check (or be notified) if someone has left / arrived at home.

The wired digital window/door contact is cheap, but the downside is that as it’s wired and connected to your temperature sensor, this does somewhat limit your ability to move the temperature sensor later. For ultimate flexibility, with the same result, you could always consider a Loxone wireless door/window sensor instead.

We think the best solution in our case, is to use wireless temperature sensors for lounge, bathroom and bedroom, and run wired window contacts from these. For the hall we are going to use a temperature sensor on a Smart Socket in the plug bay, and then a wireless door contact for the front  door. This works out slightly cheaper than using 4 x wireless temperature sensors, plus with very frequent use of the front door, the battery on the wireless temperature sensor / wired door contact would run down faster.

This is a great illustration of how flexible a Loxone based smart home solution is – giving us cumulative smart home benefits other than simply just heating management, whilst allowing us ultimate flexibility to use the best placed device sensor to reduce costs.

Placement

Thermostat placement for FIR systems needs a little thought in order to get a representative ‘feels like’ temperature. Putting your temperature sensor too close to your panel will give you a higher temperature reading and cause the panel to switch off prematurely. Conversely, placing the sensor too far away from the panel, will result in a lower reading and therefore you panel will be running longer than it needs too. This will likely need a little experimenting with, but as these are wireless sensors, moving them around to find your heating ‘sweet spot’ is easy.

Although not needed for this project as it’s for a small apartment, for larger areas it’s quite straight forward to ‘connect’ the data from multiple wireless temperature sensors together, output an average from this, and then use this average to control FIR panels across the entire space.

We have now added the three Temperature sensor airs & window / door contacts plus wireless door contact to our apartment plan:

Temp sensors added

Loxone Motion Sensor Air: £93.07 Inc VAT

The Loxone Motion Sensor Air

It may seem a little strange, in a heating project, to chuck in a motion sensor, but, they do make sense (at least one of them) to help us get an indication that there is someone at home for the heating to be on. Yes we could manually set the home to ‘away’ before we went off on our holidays, but that’s not complete automation. What if you forget? Perhaps your home router decides to give up the ghost? You’d be heating a flat perhaps for weeks when you didn’t need to. With just a single well-placed motion sensor, we can easily determine if there’s someone home and if not for a certain duration, put the heating into ‘frost protection’ mode automatically.

Like with the Window / Door contact sensor, the motion sensor air also makes for a great mini burglar alarm.

The Motion Sensor air is powered by 2 X AA batteries, and like the temperature sensor air, should last a good two years without need for replacement.

Placement

For what we need to know (is someone home) lets put this somewhere very central like the end of the hall by the bathroom / bedroom door, near the lounge. Just stick on the ceiling with no more nails tape – job done!

Here’s our updated plan with the single motion sensor added:

Plan with motion sensor

Loxone Weather Service (1 year):  £55.84 Inc. VAT

Loxone Weather Service

It’s a common request for the placement of external temperature sensors, but most of the time, for consumers that simply want to gain a basic outside air temperature, we think investing in an external weather proof sensor is probably a bit overkill. Most external sensors need to be hard wired and weather proof, to the cost of fitting and integrating this into a typical project like ours is comparatively high. If you really need to do this, then the Loxone Weather Station Air is a fantastic bit of kit. It is easy to site outside, is completely weatherproof and being wireless, it’s easy to hook up with the MiniServer Go – however it’s a little pricey at £446.69 inc VAT. So we think a better bet for a ‘local’ weather reading is to use Loxones own Weather service which will enable your MiniServer Go to what the temperature is in your local area. A bonus with the Loxone Weather Service, is that it will enable you to feed in weather forecast data too.

This ability to ‘forward look’ means that – imagine you are away skiing and your smart home, being in ‘away mode’ is not heating because it’s placed itself in frost protection mode. With the weather service, your MiniServer Go would be able to spot rapid / dramatic temperature changes in the forecast, such as ‘the beast from the east’ and be ‘ready’ for it when it hits by automatically ‘over heating’ to prepare for faster heat loss with the dramatic drop in outside temperature.

Switch on!

You bought and had your panels fitted, plugged in your Loxone kit, so now it’s time for switch on!

Rather than turning a manual thermostat on the hallway wall at home, now you can completely control your FIR panel system through your phone, tablet or PC. It’s at this point that we would talk through several heating regimes with you to match your personal preferences, but in the most cases, setting heating to ‘automatic’ and then set temperatures for different heating modes (comfort, party, frost protection, cosy) and the system will take care of everything for you.

On the matter of heating schedules – here’s an interesting point to consider. Remember that unlike traditional heating system which take a while to get up to temperature (pumping hot water to rads around the house) – heat delivery from FIR is pretty much instantaneous. If your existing radiators have to switch on at 6am in order to warm your room by 7am  – that’s a  big chunk of heating time, most of which can be avoided with a FIR system. You will feel warmth almost immediately, and so FIR would come on much sooner, so perhaps 6.45am.

A key differentiation of using Loxone to heat your house is that on the ‘automatic’ program, the system is constantly monitoring and ‘learning’ how long it’s taking to get each room up to the target temperature. So if you want your bedroom to be 20c at 7am, your Loxone miniserver may start your bedroom panel at 6.45am one day, or deeper into winter, maybe it starts up at 6.30am. So the time taken to reach room temperature is remembered and ‘on times’ are automatically adjusted, every single day and completely automatically. The key benefit of this technology of course is that your rooms will always be the precise temperature at the time required, plus you will never need to heat your rooms for a minute longer than is actually needed.

We can design heating systems with FIR for virtually any requirement. One such requirement we designed – SLAM (Sequential Loop Active Membership) enables you to only run a single panel of a number in a sequence at a time, with panel joining and leaving the sequence dynamically depending on target temperatures. With our SLAM heating mode you never use more power than a single FIR panel on a ‘string’ at any one time. This is handy for capping max power draw around larger spaces where there is a fixed limit of power budget available for heating.

Monitoring and budgeting

With the perfect heating regime in place, and full control over it, you can now relax; in fully automatic mode, you might never need to change your heating settings. The house will automatically stop heating rooms if windows are opened and will also automatically place the house into frost protection mode when you’re are away, whether you have remembered to tell it or not.

But there is more to a FIR smart heating system than controlling it – you will most likely want to check on how it’s performing too.

With our Loxone FIR solution, for each room you can see a graphical output of live and historic temperatures, and the amount of power used by that rooms FIR panel. With a little extra Loxone programming we can combine the energy use of multiple FIR panels together, giving you not only per room graphs of energy use, but also whole house too.

Loxone: The smartest foundation for your home

With the project done, adding further functionality to it, additional sensors, or perhaps lighting, home audio, intercoms – all of which integrate, are things you may want to consider in the future. All the work in the initial MiniServer Go setup is done so adding to your existing system is going to involve much less work.

Project Costs

We wanted to focus this project completely on FIR, in order to simplify the process, technology and costings of the solution. If your requirement is simply to upgrade heating, and not a major refurbishment, then the mostly wireless approach on this project will be the cleanest, quickest and overall cheapest (at this scale) means to complete it. If there is scope to perform some wiring, and perhaps add in other smart aspects such as lighting or audio, our equipment selection could be adjusted to further reduce hardware costs.

For example, if lighting was required, temperature sensors would be included in the light switches. A ‘One Wire’ module plus wired temperature sensors would be cheaper than 3 x wireless temperature sensors. A relay module could control up to 16 FIR panels, and would be cheaper than purchasing 7 Smart Socket Airs. Obviously wired devices need wires, and complete re-wires are messy and expensive in their own right.

Every house / requirement is different so naturally we would always ask you to get in touch so we can find the optimal solution, at the most economical price for your needs.

Looking at this wireless project specifically, pricing (correct at date of posting) comes out as follows. (All pricing is inclusive of VAT.)

 

Herschel FIR panels 

  • 1 X Select – White Framed Infrared Panel Heater – 350 Watts: £239
  • 1 X Select – White Framed Infrared Panel Heater – 700 Watts: £359
  • 2 X Select – White Framed Infrared Panel Heater – 540 Watts: £646
  • 1 X Select XL – White Frameless Infrared Panel Heater – 250 Watts: £299

Total for FIR Heating Panels: £1,543

Loxone Equipment

  • 1 X Loxone Mini Server Go: £341.22
  • 4 X Loxone Smart Plug Air: £65.15 X 4 = £260.6
  • 3 X Loxone Temperature Sensor Air: £77.56 X 3 = £232.68
  • 2 X Loxone Door / Window Contact: £11.17 X 2 = £22.34
  • 1 X Loxone Door & Window Contact Air: £58.94
  • 1 X Loxone Motion Sensor Air: £93.07
  • 1 X Loxone Weather Service 1yr : £55.84

Total for Loxone Equipment: £1,064.69

Total for hardware and software subscriptions: £2,607.69

Labour Costs (estimated)

  • Electrical wiring and installing of FIR panels to ceiling: £150 per panel = £750
  • Additional works (plug bay, consumer unit work and certificate) = £250

Total project cost: £3,607.69 inc VAT

Get started for less with three Smart FIR special offers!

10pc off Herschel

 

10% off all Herschel FIR panels

Clicking on THIS LINK will enable you to access special discounted pricing over at Herschel Infrareds web  shop – 10% off your order (discount will be applied when items added to cart).

 

Free Loxone Minserver Go

 

FREE Loxone MiniServer Go with larger Herschel FIR orders

For larger FIR orders via Herschel (over £3,000 value after your 10% Herschel discount) we will provide you with a Loxone MiniServer Go – completely FREE! Be sure to click on the special discount link in order to qualify for this special offer (discount will be applied when items added to cart on Herschel website).

 

10% off Loxone Equipment

We are also currently offering a 10% discount on all Loxone equipment – please contact us for a fully itemised, discounted quotation.

 

 

 

 

Far Infrared Heating. It’s heating, Jim, but not as we know it! (but you may need more power, Scotty)

ACC HAUS founder, Jeff Rhys-Jones, shares his ‘experiences’ in the conversion of his 1920s home from gas to Far Infrared heating…

(**October 2018 Update**: we have added a Herschel Summit 2600 to our FIR ‘armoury’ in order to better fight the heat loss ‘battle’ in our main open plan living space! Full write up here)

It’s been a year since I completed the renovation work on our 1920s era home, part of which was a rather bold move to ditch the traditional gas central heating, and instead switch to a completely different type of heating, Far Infrared (FIR). It’s certainly been an interesting (in both a good and bad way!) project and so I thought I would share our experiences on this blog to help any other ‘conFIRts’.

Quite a few of the challenges experienced probably require their own blog but I thought I would kick things off with a err – ‘brief’ – summary of the pros and cons for those interested.

What is Far Infrared (FIR) heating?

Far Infrared comes in many forms these days – wall & ceiling panels, underfloor heating, and even domestic hot water (DHW) and ‘wet’ central heating systems. Whatever the form, they all use the same principle of generating FIR by passing electric current through a panel containing layers of carbon graphite polyimide, copper, nickel & nano silver to around 100c at which point long wave infra read / FIR is emitted. Unlike a traditional electric room heater, FIR is only absorbed by ‘matter’ and not air, so it does not rely on convection for heat transfer. The theory goes that as you are not heating air, but matter, far less energy is required to heat the same space than traditional electric heaters.

Is FIR really far better?

I can confirm that it’s true, FIR panels *do* emit a more natural heat sensation, the analogy used by many companies who sell FIR panels, is that of the sensation of feeling the sun on your face, on a cold winter morning, is a claim I can verify – though I’m afraid you can change back out of those Speedos – you won’t get a tan!

There are quite a few listed health benefits, mainly because without heat convection, there is less house dust in circulation, so people with asthmatic conditions, or simply just don’t like the drying out / ‘Bombay duck’ feeling of traditional central heating will find living in a FIR home far more comfortable. Our old central heating system somehow used to suck the life out of me like a Dementor from Harry Potter which would lead to constant ‘window open, window shut’ arguments with the wife every night.

We no longer have a gas boiler or any radiators, so because of that – there’s no requirement for gas boiler repairs, gas checks, pumps, valves, pipes, leaks and the pain of annual radiator ‘weeing’ as the wife used to call it. Being electric and with no moving parts, a FIR solution is essentially ‘solid state’ and therefore requires pretty much no servicing and panels can simply be swapped out by a home owner if they do break. So it’s certainly a far more resilient & ‘sold state’ type of solution. So there are certainly savings made on not having to service it.

Where To Put Them?


(above) 400w FIR panel on ceiling of upstairs hall. Always try to match panel ‘shapes’ to match the space you intend to heat – so in this case, a long thin panel was a better choice than a square one.

The best place to fix FIR panels is on the ceiling, so this means a huge amount of wall space in your house can be reclaimed that was previously taken by ugly looking radiators. FIR panels are an interior decorators dream. Perhaps you don’t want to put anything on the wall at all – and you can feel really good about having a pure white space to look at. Some do!

*IMPORTANT NOTE ON CEILING MOUNTED GLASS FIR PANELS!*

The images on this website of glass FIR panels placed on ceilings are not Herschel, but by another FIR panel vendor. Herschel do not recommend ceiling mounting with glass FIR panels for any of their products. Herschel glass FIR panels should only be wall mounted.

Please visit the Herschel website for more information on their ‘Inspire’ range of glass FIR products.

Being electric, together with smart home technology, you can create some highly customised, and efficient heating regimes. Heat rooms based on individual preferences, perhaps automatically turn down if movement is not detected for a number of days. It’s true that the £/KwH is more for electricity than gas, but with a wet central heating solution, you can’t simply ‘move’ a working radiator from one room to another. With FIR you can heat three rooms in rotation, using a fixed kWH budget – so a bit like getting a heater, heating a room for a bit, physically moving it to the next, and so on, until all rooms are up to temp. Once rooms hit the desired temp, they drop out of the loop, and thus ‘shortening’ it, so that the remaining rooms get more heat, until they in turn drop out, until all rooms come out of the loop and heating is off. So it’s a loop rotation system that ‘spread’ heat around the house. We have created a powerful Loxone program to do just this – we call it SLAM or Sequential Loop Active Membership.

Read our Loxone setup guide

 

Above: A basic demo of our Loxone SLAM program. Naturally SLAM works for any devices you want to run in a dynamically changing sequence…

FIR heating is quite responsive, unlike underfloor heating which can take quite a while to get going, you can ‘boost’ a FIR room back up to comfort temperature in a very short time. Likewise, if a room was ever to get too warm with FIR, the panels can simply be turned off.

The panels are very nearly 100% efficient. With no heat loss though boiler, pipes and other heating paraphernalia such as pumps.  It takes 600 watts to run a 600w FIR panel, and all of this energy is transferred to the room – so there is virtually no loss at all aside from minimal resistance in electric copper cabling.

Finally, they can be powered by the sun. It’s going to be a while until a household can viably generate its own gas, but you can use solar to  generate your own electricity. On a sunny winters day, if you have a large sized PV system on the roof (we have a 4KW system), you’ll likely not have to pay anything for your heating at all.

FIR – The Considerations

Any technology which is powered by electricity is going to be more expensive to run on paper, than gas, simply because the cost / KwH of electricity is far higher than using gas. So the key factors to a successful FIR deployment are as follows:

Insulation, insulation and insulation!

As with any heating solution, the better insulated your house, then the better it will retain its heat, and therefore the less time it will need to be on. If your house has poor insulation then the W/meter cubed required to heat your home will be higher, and therefore so will your electricity bill. Just with anything electric, it will be considerably higher! So work our your w/ meter cubed first, that will help you estimate your worst case scenario electricity bills.

Panel type and placement

This is rather crucial. Panels should be placed as central to a room as possible, and remember that FIR cannot pass around corners, so any strange shaped rooms would be better suited to multiple smaller panels, rather than a large central one.

At ACC HAUS we have partnered with and recommend panels from Herschel Infrared, who offer a great range of FIR panels for all budgets. The crucial factor with Herschel panels (for the UK market specifically) is that they are supplied with UK rated elements, and not EU rated. Calm down, this is nothing about Brexit (after all our Smart Home system vendor is Loxone – from Austria!) but actually about voltage, and how the panels perform. We mention this a few paragraphs down, but as Herchel supply panels with heating elements specifically designed to run at 240V, the output wattage exactly matches the specified wattage. If you were to buy a FIR panel with an EU / 230V element, your 600W panel would actually run at something like 640W. You may think more wattage = better, but actually it’s quite the opposite.

So this is why if you are in the UK and considering buying a FIR panel, you should make sure it’s Herschel.

Thermostats / temperature sensors

They more you have the more you can manage and optimise. Because FIR heats matter and not air (which is what thermostats measure) you would typical set a thermostat a few degrees lower for FIR than for traditional central heating. So 19.5c rather than 21.5c. Using smart home management systems such as the Loxone system which we use and recommend, you can even feed multiple temperature sensors into a room control system, so take readings from different parts of a room and from this calculate an average.

Smart Home Management Plans

This is certainly a topic in its own right, but basically, if you are thinking about FIR you really should also consider deploying it with full smart home integration, monitoring and reporting in order to control running costs. For our project we used the powerfully and highly functional Loxone Smart Home solution. ACC are a fully qualified / certified Loxone Silver partner – so please contact us about any Loxone requirements!

Secondary / Alternative heat source

(above) A RAIS 2:1 double sided integrated stove in use as a supplementary / alternative heat source)

To take the ‘heat’ out of deep winter bills, I would recommend building an additional high power heat source that uses and alternative energy source from electricity, a wood burning stove with passive heat circulation to other rooms in the house is a great choice – and something we installed. It means in a power cut, we don’t freeze!

Wiring & fixing points

I would caution anyone trying to retrofit FIR room by room, rather than part of a full refurb. If you have one room which is not on your central heating, then fine, but doing the whole house – that’s a big job. If you are refurbishing anyway, as we were – then this is the time to think about it. Make sure you isolate your panels to their own ‘rings’ and carefully calculate the max potential load on each ring.

Temperature Sensor Placement

This needs to be carefully thought out. If your sensors are too close to your panels, the entire room will not get up to heat, but conversely, placing them too far from the panels, you may find your panels are on more than they need to be. Thankfully Loxone make a wireless light switch with built in temperature and humidity sensor, so this gives you the ability to move it around to get the best placement.

Voltage

A FIR BIGGIE! If you are buying FIR panels, you need to check with the panel vendor that the heating elements in the panels are rated to run at your local voltage, in, in the UK, this is 240v. We were unlucky enough to ‘learn’ this important fact only after we found our now recommended FIR panel vendor of Herschel Infrared.

We made the mistake of purchasing FIR panels with elements rated for 230v, because pretty much like everything else in the house runs fine. This is totally legal, however, for ceiling panels in particular – can cause major problems, because UK voltage is 240v – all of our FIR panels were running over wattage. Yes, they will give out more heat – which you might think is good – but not so. To prevent them overheating, FIR panels have a built in overheat cut off safety feature, and up on the ceiling where it’s warmest, a panel that is supposed to run at 230v and 600w, on 240v will likely run at around 640w. Doesn’t sound like a lot, but this WILL cause the panels to run hotter, overheat, and constantly switch off (you will hear constant clicking sounds as this occurs). This is in no way dangerous, (quite the contrary it proves the safety feature works), it’s just that with all the clicking off, cooling down, and then heating up etc, this completely disrupts the generation of FIR and therefore means you won’t be getting uniform output.

This was exactly the case for us, strangely, more so in some rooms than others. FIR panels were never getting a long enough ‘burn’ because they were constantly clicking off and on. But we had purchased and fitted all our FIR panels (all 28 of them!) and there was nothing technically ‘wrong’ with them. Some lateral thinking was required!

The (rather ingenious I might add!) solution was – rather than return and replace all the panels, and likely have to re-do all the mounting points (lot of work) – was to purchase in a VO or ‘Voltage Optimiser’ which enabled us to down step the voltage in the house from 240v to 226.5v – so very nearly 230v. This was only possible because we have all the panels on their own dedicated power rings, so we simply moved the FIR rings over to the VO and the problem was solved. It’s not really what at VO is supposed to do, but it really saved our bacon!

The take away from all of this, is hopefully on reading this blog you will not fall into this same trap as us, and you will make sure your FIR panels are 240v rated elements – which if you buy from Herschel Infraredwill be the case.

EPC Rating

Another biggie. If you are doing a retro fit, then prepare for your EPC rating to drop like a stone. You will be subjected to a type of EPC check called an ‘rdSAP’ (residential SAP) type of assessment. This type of EPC check has many assumptions, and also, there is no ‘category’ for your FIR panels, so the rdSAP assessor will simply put them in as ‘Electric Panel Heaters’ which will result in an awful rating.

To get around this, you need to embark on something called ‘Full SAP’ – something usually done for new builds only. However – thanks to a brainwave by Mark Hunt at MH Energy Consultants – if you change your primary heat source (as we did) plus you have full architect’s drawings, so floor plans, elevations and importantly cross sections. So this is a much more accurate figure can be calculated by a Full SAP assessor. The difference is huge. After rdSAP – for our renovated home, they came back with a rating of E, and very nearly nearly F (awful). Full SAP, the house was upgraded all the way to C. After the rating was awarded, ominously the powers that be (presumably surprised that an electric powered house could obtain a C rating) demanded a full EPC audit. That came back… with 100% accuracy – so C it was – and I have a strong suspicion that we own the only 100% FIR heated 1920s era property with a C rating in the UK – and who knows, perhaps Europe too?! With feed in tariffs (FITs) kicking in from D and better, you can see getting the Full SAP was important. Even without FITs – your EPC figure will no doubt be printed on the estate agents details about your home if you ever decided to sell, so a bad rating might make the property less attractive. New regulations coming in to force in 2018 could also prove extremely troublesome (you will not be able to let the property for rent!) if your EPC ratings are below E.

Is FIR cheaper than gas central heating?

For us, I’m pretty sure, no. At the moment, gas is seriously cheap compared to electrics, and boilers are getting more and more efficient all the time. We were one of the last households to scrape in with a FIT before the end of the year (last few days of 2015) We will be generating and earning much better yields from our 4Kw array through the summer, and we’ve estimated this will offset over the additional amount spent during the winter. There is still quite a bit of optimising to do in the house, plus some internal & external insulation that can be added to older external walls, plus we will have a much larger log store to enable us to buy wood in bigger bulk during the summer when it’s cheaper.

So next year I’m hoping we will be running a much tighter (and warmer) ship. Realistically though I think we will be paying pretty much the same.

 

 

Energy Usage & PV With FIR

Take a look at some of the following charts.

Firstly, lets look at the total FIR use for the house, which is approx 100sq meters downstairs, and the same upstairs – so we need to heat approx 200sq meters:

So – this time of year (Early April), outside temperatures are ranging from 5c at night to a high of 14 day time. The house needs from 15kWh to 33kWh to heat it.

Next lets take a look at the power generated by the PV system over the same period – which is 4KW:

You can see that clearly, the 10th and the 12th of April were quite sunny days. This time of year, due to the angle of the sun, you’re not going to get the full power out of your PV array, but 17.5kWh is not bad for April.

The next chart shows the amount of energy used by the FIR system, whilst the PV was working. It’s not simply a case of subtracting PV from FIR, because these are per day figures, and it’s possible that some PV power was generated when FIR panels were off. But in any case, it gives you a nice indication of how much FIR power was being used after the PV had been taken off:

So aside the 7th, we are around the 20kWh per day mark at this time of year. This still make some people wince, however remember that in addition to the PV energy we are using, we are at the same time getting a good generation tariff too – and this more or less than covers the cost of what’s left to pay. Finally in the main summer months when FIR is not needed at all, we will also be exporting power into the grid so we’ll get a little extra for that too.

So…. Is FIR for you?

As mentioned above like with most things in life there are benefits and considerations.

The main takeaway point is that a FIR solution is not something that should be done on a whim and should be properly planned, and done as part of a major house refurb as there is quite a bit of wiring to do. There are also quite a few ‘gotchas’ such as panel transformer voltage issues and placement so it’s definitely a project which has the potential to go horribly wrong.

It should also be done in combination with Solar generation and perhaps wind too. Yes it’s likely that in the coldest parts of the year, there is not going to be much sun to power your FIR, but in the Autumn & Spring you will find that plenty of days (like this week!) are sunny but chilly. So your heating for free during the day, good home insulation will keep much of that day time warmth in so you’ll just be needing room by room top ups throughout the night. Today is a very sunny but chilly day, and I can see from the house computer that we’re not using anything from the grid, the house is nicely warm, and there is not a leaky valve or noisy pump in use. Mission accomplished!

Final Word

Quite often in life, the cheapest isn’t always the best. Lifestyle is important. Going FIR for us was less about creating the cheapest possible heating solution, (for that we might have decided to go underfloor heating which I have a passionate hatred of) but more about creating the best quality of heat. Yes that’s right – heat has quality! I just really like the type of heat these FIR panels give out, and the simplicity and room segment control that FIR panels give you.

As the developed world tries to wean itself off fossil fuels, I do feel a little satisfaction that my home is not (directly anyway) heated by them. As mentioned above, on some days, it entirely heats itself for nothing.

The future of heating your home is electric – in my opinion, that’s a cold certainty.

The big question is how little can you get away with using, and are you able to generate and perhaps store, any of it yourself.