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Category: Smart Building & Automation

Here are all the posts which do not fit squarely into existing categories.

Smart Home To Do List

Smart Home Networking Fact No.1

There is a myth out there that claims that the more technology your ram into your home, then the more problems you should expect to face. This is one myth that must be busted.

An increased technical burden is absolutely not an acceptable side effect of owning a Smart Home and in actual fact, a well designed Smart Home should completely mask out its inner workings from the home owner. This includes network devices too – especially so!

Besides, an IT Manager doesn’t actually WANT to spend their entire day fixing annoying problems (I should know, I’ve been one!). With my IT Manager hat on, I always look to eliminate unreliability in the design phase of a project, mainly by specifying the right combination of equipment.

When it comes to your Smart Home project, if your approach to the home networking component it is to put in place a ‘joined up’ system that will be more or less ‘problem proof’ – then now you’re thinking like an IT Manager.

So, our first simple point is that you shouldn’t need to be an IT Manager to own a Smart Home, but it helps to have a similar mindset if you are involved in the design of one.

After all, in the Smart Home business, we share a common goal with our IT Manager friends; we both work tirelessly to achieve automation utopia, to enhance building security, reliability and manageability. The systems we introduce must do all of this, without us.

Jeff says:

“Put just as much thought into the selection of your home’s networking equipment as your Smart Home equipment. More time thinking about this now, will result in you (& your family) spending far less time ‘thinking’ about the network later on. Your Smart Home equipment vendor will greatly appreciate not having to ‘think’ about your network too – trust us!”

 

ACC Haus Smart Network

Why Smarter Homes Need Smarter Networks

ACC HAUS’s Jeff Rhys-Jones introduces a series of blogs that explain why Smart Homes need smart networks too. Over the next few weeks he will cover six typical home networking challenges, reveal Enterprise IT tricks of the trade that can be applied in Smart Home environments, and finish off with a grand reveal of a specially ‘distilled’ and highly affordable Smart Home, smart networking solution.

A Brief History Of The Smart Home

Our first Smart Home, some ten years ago now, was a rather boring affair. Not only was it about as entertaining as a left open tube of mastic, but designed into the system, with limpet like clinging power, was ‘ KNX man’. On visits to perform work, he’d appear on the doorstep wearing a slight grimace, almost as if he was visually making ‘pains’ to remind me he was not there as a favour. Suitcase in one hand, credit card machine in the other. The pain was all mine.

Thus, our sterile, hermitically sealed ‘Building Management System’ (BMS) of a home merrily automated away with Germanic dependability year after year. In a house made of bricks, I can wholeheartedly say the KNX BMS performed more like a brick than the house itself.

Skip forward to the present day, and Smart Homes have well and truly moved ‘beyond the brick’. We are no longer talking about just keeping the lights on or retracting the patio awning when it gets windy. Living in today’s Smart Home we have CCTV, video intercoms, multi room audio, 4K video streaming and, in the mix with all of this, occasionally a place of work too.

A key ‘enabler’ in the evolution of, let’s call it ‘Smart Home 2.0’, is our Smart Home system partner Loxone. Loxone deserve massive credit and recognition for making the Smart Home more affordable, more functional, whilst at the same time, more ‘open’. Incredibly Loxone have pulled off this amazing feat, whilst still maintaining that essential ‘brick like’ quality of reliability.

However, there is a growing challenge that could spoil everything. Lurking right outside of your Smart Homes’ squeaky-clean control network, lies a potential ‘anti-network’ of comparative anarchy – a wildly flailing Smart Home wrecking ball. I am of course, talking about the home network.

It’s our view that poorly designed and maintained home networks present a significant risk to Smart Home reliability and more worryingly, it’s an aspect of Smart Home design that more often or not, is given very little attention. This must change.

At ACC HAUS, hailing from the corporate IT networking industry, we’ve made it our mission to ensure that your home network can deal with everything thrown at it; because a ‘broken home’ is just too awful for us to contemplate.

Click here to read about our first fact

 

Open Frame Rack

Why your second home should always be smarter than your first!

A historic building in the centre of a small town on the West coast of France is probably the last place you would expect to find the latest in Smart Home Automation technology. Last year, when the owners Andrew and Susan arrived for a well deserved holiday break, there was no warm welcome. All they got was yet another bill to fix their central heating system – so it was a case of enough is enough or ‘trop c’est trop’ as they say in France!

This second home is now smarter than the first!

How to heat a large house just a little for a lot less?

This house is large (in a previous century it used to be a hotel), and the ground floor has exceptionally grand, high ceilings. There is also a large cellar with a water sump to clear ground water. Down here you will find a gigantic gas boiler which, although being less than five years old and very efficient,  physically shakes the room when its switched on. Not to mention the owner’s wallet! The heating in the house was controlled by just one wired thermostat, mounted up at shoulder height, in the ‘Grande Salle’, which also happens to be the largest, coldest room in the house.

For winter frost protection, if the temperature dropped below 8ºC the boiler would switch on and raise the temperature of the Grande Salle by three degrees and then switch off. The problem was that, before it could heat up the house it had to heat itself and the whole complicated system of pipes and radiators over three floors and a cellar. Over previous winters, even in this frost protection mode, the system was very expensive to run. Typically over €1,000 a winter – all for heating an empty house!

If that wasn’t bad enough, they would usually end up having to take the best part of their first week on arrival in France dealing with all manner of ‘surprises’. Namely, expensive maintenance of what had gone wrong since their last visit. Never has the phrase ‘spending time on holiday’ been more apt!

Sample of typical bills for central heating repair

(above) Two real life examples of ‘spending’ time in France – on boiler repairs!

The best setting for your boiler over winter in a 2nd home, is OFF!

Sue and Andrew reasoned that fully automating and upgrading their existing heating and hot water system, was not the answer to the fundamental problem; the existing heating system was a very large (expensive) hammer to crack a relatively small nut.

They opted instead to completely shut down the entire wet system over the winter months and run a simpler retro fit electric heating system that could literally be ‘rolled out’ each autumn and packed away in late spring. This low cost over winter solution, therefore, only needed to warm the house just enough to prevent it from freezing and only do so in the places that were at most risk.

‘Le Brief’ – Smart Home Automation

  • Needs to be self-install-able by the home owners (simple plug in)
  • Bullet proof and extendable wireless – ‘mesh’ based so signal automatically hops to other devices to extend range
  • Temperature sensors in each room, linked to smart plugs connected to electric heaters
  • Per room and whole house remote control of heaters
  • Per room and whole house view of electricity consumption
  • Additional ability to monitor house vital signs such as smoke, leaks weather and access.

Virtually every domestic system in the house is French, and these had presented challenges in the past, simply in the language barrier in maintaining ‘discussions’ about servicing costs.

The final requirement was, therefore, that Andrew and Susan needed to find something that was manageable (and expandable) from the UK. After some online research, a Loxone solution was shortlisted, and ACC HAUS was the Loxone partner chosen to design and run the Smart Home automation project.

Automated & Remote Controlled Frost Protection Solution

Smart Socket With Heater

(above) The winter heating system was literally ‘rolled out’ and simply plugged in to the wall to activate

Right on brief, ACC HAUS provided a pre-programmed wireless Loxone system of temperature aware intelligent wireless smart plugs, which plugged into existing mains sockets. Sue and Andrew used low wattage tubular heaters with no exposed elements, along with several more powerful oil filled radiators for targeted heating of ‘at risk’ areas.

With 10 heaters installed in 8 rooms and everything running, the combined KW usage is 15KW – easy enough for the house to handle, but with a history of poor power quality, it was a concern that if the power was cut to the property in the winter (as happens is usually the case), the temperature of the entire house would drop below the frost protection threshold.

When the electricity supply eventually returned, it was quite possible that all 15KW of heating would initialise simultaneously, causing a surge, and potentially tripping the house supply. Ramifications of this scenario occurring would be catastrophic, with loss of all monitoring and heating control for an extended period.

Specifically created to address this particular situation (and a great illustration of why Loxone is a far better solution than other ‘smart’ power plug systems because it more programmable) ACC HAUS implemented their RSO (Random Smart plug On) programming ‘block’. This special program flow prevents devices connected to smart plugs from all powering up at the exact same time, even if an event such as a power cut might force such an event to occur. RSO uses logic which produces a randomly generated two-digit number and then uses this number as the power on delay time in seconds for each smart plug.

This way smart plugs / devices could be easily added to the system and you would not need to know which plug is starting first – which is what you would need to do with fixed delays. In this case the starting order is not at all important, just that we never want a situation where multiple heaters are starting up at the exact same time.

Leak Detection System

Loxone Wireless Leak detection system

(above) The small blue block situated to the bottom left of the water softening unit is Loxones wireless leak detection system.

Down in the cellar, there is a water softener which decided to spring a leak last year. Had the owners been home, the leak would have been spotted the same day and would have been easily dealt with, probably with the help of a couple of towels and a quick mop. Unfortunately, it continued for weeks, and resulted in a sizable repair bill and insurance claim. This was not the first flood either, the sump had overflowed in heavy rain several times because the pump had failed and flooded the cellars.

This was yet another call for a Smart Home automation solution. ACC Haus installed Loxone’s wireless leak detection system which now alerts the owner if a leak occurs, enabling them to detect and rectify any leak before it becomes a serious issue. To install this system, all the owner had to do was the place the wireless sensor on the floor in the cellar.

Smoke Detection System

Loxone Wireless Smoke Alarm

(above) Loxones wireless smoke detector installed on the ceiling of a hallway. Its battery should last a good four years.

Loxone’s wireless smart smoke detection system now gives the owners the extra peace of mind that all is OK. In fact, all our smart home sensors can alert the home owner by email or even a phone call. Sue and Andrew’s Second Home is in a town, but imagine what could happen to a Second Home in a remote country area if a fire remained undetected.

The house is already fitted with a comprehensive fire detection and alarm system, including backup lighting, so just a single smart device was deployed on the first floor for ‘remote observational needs’ however more detectors are planned to be added in the future. This is just one example of how Smart Home automation can keep you safe and informed at all times.

Door contact & access logger

Loxone Door Contact

(above) A wireless door contact logs all entries and exits from the house

Putting wireless contacts on windows and doors are handy for security, but in addition to triggering an alarm, the door and contact system can also produce a log of ‘use.’ For example if a cleaner is charging you for a half day clean – but the front door was opened / closed at 1pm and then again at 2pm – perhaps you should have a chat with your cleaner! It is also handy for checking that the kids did indeed close all the windows and doors before they left home!

Smart battery management for smart wireless devices

Loxone smart sockets are powered by the mains but the battery devices use either AA, 9V or CR 2032 (watch batteries) which are all easy to buy, even in supermarkets. No exotic formats here.

All wireless devices powered by batteries will last for at least 2 years and the Smoke detector will last for at least 4 years.

What’s more, it’s easy to check the status of battery levels using the internet and, even if you don’t, the system can email, or even phone you to let you know a battery will need replacing long before it runs out.

Wireless Weather Station

Loxone Wireless Weather Station

(above) The only challenge installing the weather station was climbing up on the roof! 

Now, the Weather Station was a bit of Smart Home automation fun. It meant that Susan and Andrew could wistfully check the temperature and sunlight levels while they were snowed under with work. But, practically speaking, the ability to monitor the  inside temperatures and the outside weather conditions is quite useful.  The Weather Station’s forecasting ability can spot deep, cold ‘beasts’ well before they bite and then automatically activate the new heaters to ‘pre-warm’ in advance.

In addition to outside temperature, sunlight, wind speed and rain are also monitored. The data produced from this can also be used to supply other smart devices with useful information. For instance, using a simple smart timer in an empty Second Home is conspicuous if time switched lighting comes on at the exact same time each day, even when it is not dark in early spring. This is a tell-tale sign that many burglars look out for to work out if you are actually at home. To a burglar this is as good as a poster saying, ‘I’m not going to be home for a while, come and help yourself!’.

Using the sunlight sensor on the weather station together with lamps connected to smart plugs, you can switch these lamps on and off in regular or randomised sequences, but only when it gets dark or overcast – so more intelligently emulating ‘real’ habitation behaviour.

Sue And Andrew’s Smart Home Automation Project components

1 X Wireless Loxone MiniServer Go
10 X Wireless Loxone Smart Plugs
1 X Wireless Loxone Weather Station
1 X Wireless Loxone Leak Detector
1 X Wireless Loxone Smoke Detector
1 X Wireless Loxone Door contact

Owner testimonial

Smart Home Automation Loxone MiniServer Go

“Our ACC Haus Loxone based wireless Smart Home Automation solution was low cost, very quick to implement, and has been extremely reliable.

Thanks to this new system, we are now able to manage heating, plus monitor for leaks and smoke in our second home in France over the winter months whilst we are away. Our entire solution was completely pre-configured by ACC HAUS in the UK and was simple enough for us to set up ourselves.

The solution has saved us money in its first winter season but more importantly when we visited our property in April 2018, for the first time we not only had a warm welcome, but we knew in advance everything was going to be OK – and it was!”

If constant worry or heating costs have taken the fun out of your Second Home, why not give us a call and ask us about our special solution for 2nd homes abroad called ‘Expat Smart Pack‘. In addition to the ‘over winter’ solution we have detailed on this case study, we can fully automate full intruder alarms, cameras, heating systems and energy metering. Our Smart Home Automation technology can definitely put your mind at ease.

ACC Haus makes your Second Home Smarter than your First!

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.