The year is AD 73, and Roman legion commander Lucius Flavius Silva is on the brink of breaking the legendary siege of Masada. Having spent three months building an impressive siege ramp, Lucius orders his siege tower & giant battering ram to be trundled in to attack position. Route one tactics: pull tower and ram up ramp to main fortress gate, smash the gate to smithereens, seize the fortress, claim famous victory.
However, as the battering ram finally gets to work, the fortresses defending Zealot commander, Eleazar ben Ya’ir has a bit of a eureka moment. He tells his men to stop trying to harden the fast disintegrating fortress gate, but (presumably to the bafflement of his crew), to set about ‘softening’ it. After all the fort’s cushions, mattresses and bean bags are commandeered and stuffed around the gate, the wood cracking crunch of the Roman battering ram is reduced to a squishy thud.
Now that’s one clever Zealot.
Alas, the Romans eventually found a way in, and being Romans, celebrations were no doubt short lived when they discovered what had happened to all the forts soft furnishings.
The story of the Masada siege is one that has always resonated with me. Sometimes the solution to a tricky problem can be found with the application of what seems at first thought to be ‘reverse logic’.
Which brings me nicely on to my decision to purchase Herschel’s 2600 Summit FIR heater! With this powerful heater I dramatically increased FIR power output in a large open plan space, whilst at the same time, managed to lower my heating costs. Was that a typo? Surely, it’s a case of more power, more cost, right? Well you might think so, but then, this Summit 2600 purchase was very much a case of ‘Masada logic’.
Let me explain….
(Open plan) space… FIRs final frontier?
When I renovated our 1920’s home a couple of years ago, I chose go Far Infra-Red (FIR). I would be doing my bit for the environment, freeing myself from the curse of leaky radiators along with all their spaghetti pipework, and as I state in the blog about the project, I would experience the better quality of heat that FIR panels give out.
A few years after the upgrade and overall, the project has been a success. Yes, it does use a fair bit of juice to run in deep winter, but we have a 4KW PV system up on the roof which takes up the slack on cold / sunny days (thankfully we got our FIT application in before they took the feed-in down!). Using Smart Home technology from Loxone, I have been able to ‘automate out’ some of the cost wrinkles, and keep a close eye on things with real time per panel power metering.
There was one space where I would admit the project did not go as well as hoped. The biggest one:
(above) the open plan space in question, kitchen, dining room and lounge space make up approximately 50 square meters. Blue areas indicate cold / hard to heat areas, such as the north facing outside kitchen wall, half of which is solid brick, the other half cavity without insulation)
Like with many modern renovation projects, we wanted to take our kitchen, dining room and living room, knock a load of walls down, and combine all of these rooms into one 50 square meter open plan space. The space also included (also common these days) a large section of bi-fold doors.
There are several factors that combined to make this space, the most difficult, and expensive to heat in the house (prospective FIR purchasers take note!)
1) The north wall of this space is from the original building and constructed of solid brick, which basically works like a giant choc ice when it gets cold.
2) Bi-fold Doors, though modern and with good U value still leak heat far more than if they were modern wall, obviously.
3) We under-specified the FIR panel component, because we placed a large 9KW double aspect fire in the middle of the space. The stove does indeed heat the entire space with ease, however it did result in us becoming ‘stove slaves’ in deep winter. Trust me, there is a marked different in saying ‘Hmmm, maybe it would be nice if I put the stove on?’ than saying ‘Brrrr, who’s turn is it to put the stove on?’. This was particularly the case first thing in the morning. Firelighters, fuzzy heads and flammable dressing gowns do not make for a great combination!
4) Due to beams / RSJs & lighting required for the refurb., it was not possible / easy to get panels on the ceiling to all parts of the open plan space. Increasing the number of panels would also increase costs (not just in cost of panels but also the cost of fitting / wiring them up)
5) Being open plan, after storage, there was no spare wall space for anything, let alone wall mounted FIR heaters!
The result of these factors, was that when it got seriously cold, even after running the Kitchen / Diners 2 X 600W glass panel heaters all night long, FIR was failing miserably at holding the room temperature. The space was losing heat faster than the FIR was providing it, so we were in a net heat loss situation, and literally paying the price for it.
First approach would be to upgrading the existing panels to perhaps 800Ws each. I calculated this would still not be enough, so it would just result in me paying even more to not heat the space properly.
The majority of my time and effort went in to exploring various options to reduce the heat loss of the space, and therefore use less energy to keep it warm. This is probably the most obvious approach (and I might say the ‘consultants choice’ which should ring alarm bells) to resolving the problem. This route is by no means an easy task considering the fabric of the building. External insulation and shutters are eye-wateringly expensive.
However it was when I discovered the Summit 2600 from Herschel, that I had my ‘Masada moment’.
I had been thinking about the problem all wrong. The solution was not to attempt to reduce energy consumption by reducing heat loss. The answer was to reduce energy consumption, by beating heat loss with a massive increase in FIR output power.
Crucially, we would unleash this extra power in a much smaller heating window, and only in specific conditions.
Plotting regime change!
If we used a ‘gas central heating’ type of heating regime, we would be switching off the house heating at 11:30pm each night and turning it on at 6am. The problem in doing this for this for our open plan space, is that at 6am, the 50 square meter space would be stone cold, it would require a huge amount of energy to bring it all the way back up to temp. We’d likely have to start the heating much earlier.
For most rooms in my house, it’s much more cost effective for us to not control heating with a schedule but allow the panels to switch on & off over the full 24-hour day whenever they are needed. If the temperature in a room drops a certain amount below target, the panel will come on and boost it back up, perhaps just by 1 or 2 C, so there is never a temperature ‘mountain to climb’. On average, when panels operate in such a mode, we find that they are only on around 1/3 to 1/4 of the time, with the room staying within its set temperature range, all the time.
For our large open plan kitchen / diner / lounge this 24-hour mode works fine in the Autumn & Spring, but the situation starts to deteriorate when the outside temperature heads south.
How cold is too cold for my FIR panel heating!?
Further into the colder winter months, the FIR panels in our large open plan space start switching on more often, and eventually as the temperature lowers further, they’re pretty much burning away all the time. Ouch.
So the first question I needed to answer was:
Can I identify the weather conditions that make the rate of heat loss from the kitchen / diner space so high that it is no longer desirable to pay for FIR panels to run?
Thanks to all the statistical data coming from our homes Loxone Miniserver, I was able to look at combination of external air temperature and previous day sunlight Lux levels and compare this with the rooms internal temperature & heating performance of the FIR ceiling panels to find the answer.
Before sun up, the sweet spot (or should I say cold spot!?) external temperature, at which the room can merrily maintain the set temperature with satisfactory (economically viable) panel use is: +3C. I think this is a surprisingly high number, and I suppose it’s a lesson to all those looking at deploying FIR heating – it’s essential to properly specify your FIR with full building fabric calculations before you purchase!
Armed with this useful information and with our newly acquired Herschel Summit 2600 I was able to design my somewhat ‘illogical’ approach to heating the space. We would use more power, but less energy. We would be warmer, but for less money.
Extra bonus: I wouldn’t have to risk setting fire to myself in the morning either.
A new plan for open plan
(above: the new Summit does not cover / heat the entire 50 square meters, but it’s not supposed to. It does a fantastic job of heating the areas of the open plan space which are used first thing in the morning)
When the outside temperature drops below 3C, we know we’re fighting a losing battle trying to hold target temperature with our FIR ceiling panels. When this occurs, we tell the house to simply give up and switch ‘em off!! The space cools rapidly.
From 6.30am onwards (with some nifty conditional activation involving the triggering of motion sensors upstairs) the house fires up the Kitchen / Diner Summit:
(above: a simple motion activated heating program for our Herschel Summit 2600)
By the time I saunter downstairs for a bowl of Greek style yogurt and dried berry granola, thanks to the Summits impressive 2.6KW output, I can now enjoy my breakfast whilst basking in front of what feels like a wall mounted Aga. My wife will then appear soon after to crack a joke about how the Summit makes her feel like she is standing in a pubs beer garden at night. The joke generally involves her shouting over an order for a pint of larger and asking me if I have a light for a cigarette, even though she doesn’t smoke.
Watts the difference?
You don’t have to be a military genius to understand the following calculations of having to heat the space continuously on sub zero night versus blasting it with a Summit in the morning….
9 hours of 1.2KW FIR panel heating (11:30pm to 8:30am) = 10.8KW
2 hours of 2.6KW Summit 2600 heating (6.30am to 8.30am) = 5.2KW
In fact, even if was ‘warm’ enough outside to run the FIR ceiling panels for just half the time (4.5 hours) it would still be cheaper (just) to use the Summit and it would most definitely ‘feel’ warmer.
What this approach is all about is that under certain temperatures, we give up trying to heat the entire space, but just the person / people in it. It works in this scenario, because the spaces ‘usage profile’ is very much limited to a small 2-hour window in the morning, which also happens to be when the room is at its coldest.
There are currently two versions of Herschel’s Summit heaters and there are some important considerations in choosing which model to go for, particularly if home automation is being considered.
The Summit 2600, the model we purchased, is a simple ‘digital’ device, in that it’s either off or on. This means you can hook it up to something like a Loxone Smart Socket Air, or a wired relay and program some home automation loveliness to control the power supply to the heater.
In my case, a Loxone program runs the heater on a schedule, which is only activated when there is motion detected upstairs. The relay is also only enabled if the temperature in the room falls 0.5 C below the target temperature of 21C. Being a digital device, and due to the internal electrics, the heater is hard set to 2600W.
The 2600R, is a slightly longer unit, and comes with remote control ability. The remote control enables the user to set the heater in full power (2600W mode) or half power (1300W) plus also a 9-hour timer. The snag with the R variant for home automation applications is that, if you are switching the power source of the 2600R with your own relay, when power is re-applied, the heater will automatically enter a ‘standby’ state. This would also be the case if the heater was on, and there was a brief power cut. Either way, if the unit loses power, when power is re-applied, you would need to manually turn the heater on again using the remote control.
Initially I thought this was a complete deal breaker and that the R variant would never be considered for home automation, but then I remembered Loxones IR Air product, which allows you to control IR remotes. Because the 2600Rs remote controls are IR based, we could therefore fully control the 2600R using Loxone. You would need to purchase Loxones IR Air to do this, plus build some extra logic in your Loxone program to check if the heater was on and then issue IR commands to restart it, but as pretty much the case with all things Loxone, it’s not if you can do something, it’s how.
Because the IR version allows you to adjust the power output, the combination of Summit 2600R and Loxone IR Air would be the most economical solution to run. For instance, if solar levels rose in the morning, you could set your Summit to step down to half power to compensate for solar gain.
Being such a powerful heater, you’re going to need to be jolly careful about choosing the right placement area. Summit can be mounted on both ceiling and wall. If mounted on the ceiling your Summit needs to be fixed no less than 110mm from the ceilings surface. The provided brackets being 110 mm in length ensure that you keep to this. If however you opt to wall mount, you will need to keep 300mm from ceiling or side walls. If you have low-ish ceilings you will need to get your measuring tape out to ensure that the Summit is no less than 1.9m from the floor to comply with regulations.
From my own personal use of Summit, if you had the 2600 or the 2600R at full power, I think the ideal position for this is stationed on a wall, which would result in heat being ‘thrown’ over a greater distance, whereas if positioned on the ceiling above a table for example, I think this might feel uncomfortably hot as FIR would be concentrated over a smaller area. But that would depend on how high your ceiling is I guess. Because of this I would probably recommend the 2600R for ceiling mount above tables or seating, so you can turn it down if things get a little too toasty.
For me, the perfect application to place a 2600 is above bi-fold doors, as I have done, because these face into your living space rather than out of it (if you put your Summit on a wall that faced a window).
As is with most good systems, this is not about simply using a Summit 2600 instead of anything else. So use it alongside FIR panels perhaps as a ‘big bazooka’. What I’m saying is that with a well programmed smart home automation solution you can use a ‘blend’ of FIR technologies to achieve the right type of heat in the right space, in the right environmental conditions at the right time.
Room FIR improvement?
There is actually not too much about the Summit that can be improved. It is after all a stylish looking black bar that chucks out a serious amount of heat. Beware that friends leaving your house will no doubt bitch about why you got Bang & Olufsen speaker system for your dining room on their drive home, so it might be best to point out what the Summit is / does to avoid any home A/V envy. Or maybe you don’t tell them?!?
I guess in an ideal world the 2600R would remember it’s power state between power off/on states.
Perhaps the non remote 2600 could have hard set heating modes (full power / half power) which would mean you could use them at half power in some situations that would never need the full 2600W – above tables with a lower ceiling perhaps.
My main gripe about Summit isn’t with the heater at all, it’s with the ‘Mechano’ style brackets used to mount it, which look like the product of a primary school metalwork class. This is not too much of an issue if you choose to wall mount (as we have) because the heater hides the brackets from view as they are directly behind the unit.
Also the brackets have five holes that enable you to tilt the bracket down at a various angles, but the next one down from ‘horizontal’ is quite steep. I would really like to be able to have finer adjustment over the panels tilt, to dip the heater with a shallower angle.
So if you want your summit ceiling mounted, you are going to see the brackets and I’m afraid, they do spoil the clean lines and stylish look of the unit.
What’s needed is a bracket that is sexier looking, more adjustable, and ideally white.
But considering Herschel has got the heater part of their Summit 2600 product right, fixing the brackets should not be a… huge.. err… mountain to climb!?