As this was to be our “forever” home, we wanted to consider not just the initial refurbishment costs but also the longer term running (or lifetime) costs of the building. We certainly didn’t have a huge budget, so needed to plan ahead and try and spend our money wisely in ways that would offer a payback in the future.
Although Renewable Technology is improving all the time, we knew that it is still expensive and shouldn’t just be used to solve short comings in a building. For example: installing a ground source heat pump (GSHP) and underfloor heating in a cold uninsulated property is unwise, and you would be better to firstly install as much insulation as possible to reduce your heating requirements. You also wouldn’t qualify for Government Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI) payments, unless you’d taken reasonable steps to upgrade the insulation. We also realised that “Leaky” houses also lose a lot of heat through draughty windows / doors, and open fireplaces, so it is also preferable to minimise this wastage as much possible.
Fossil fuels are a finite resource that is getting more difficult to extract, so prices are only going to keep increasing. We therefore wanted to be more in control of our bills, and liked the idea of being as self-sufficient as possible. Although the house does have an electrical supply, it is not particularly reliable and we’d also like to have a backup in the event of a power cut.
There was no mains water to the property, and although there is a small Beck running through our plot it dries up in the Summer. Our neighbours Simon & Lynn very kindly provided us with water temporarily whilst we considered our options, which made the first couple of months considerably more comfortable.
We also needed some kind of sewage treatment on site, as there were no services in the Road. Treated outflow is often discharge into water courses, but as the nearby River Tees is home to protected White Clawed Crayfish, we would require approval from the Environment Agency and regular water tests if we wanted to pursue this option.
Existing heating was limited to open fires in every room, which barely took the chill off in low temperatures. Whilst coal produces more heat than logs, it is of course another fossil fuel that is getting more expensive. Sadly, we didn’t get our own woodland with the house, so we were reluctant to rely on logs as a primary source of heat. As log burning stoves are becoming more popular, this is having the effect of increasing demand and therefore driving up prices if you need to buy logs. There is no mains gas to the property, and many similar properties in the area rely on oil for heating and bottled gas for cooking.
We are still investigating photo voltaic (PV) panels for electrical generation, but may have to decide soon. The Feed In Tariffs (FITS) currently offered by the Government are coming to an end in March 2019, which will make them much less attractive financially even though the equipment is much more efficient and less expensive than it used to be. We really liked the idea of a battery backup that can be used in emergencies, but the technology is still developing and costs seem prohibitive for now. Although we live in an area that regularly experiences strong winds, we are located close to an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB), and felt we would be unlikely to gain Planning Permission for a wind turbine. So we may have to manage with a petrol generator in the short term.
Water is one resource we seem to have a plenty of in Baldersdale! We spent considerable time looking into rainwater harvesting systems, however they are more commonly employed for non-potable uses. We struggled to find a company that had designed a system for collection and treatment to drinking water standards. When we costed in the storage / filtration of the total water quantities needed, it was almost as expensive as getting a borehole drilled and a rather untested approach. Having gained two quotes for drilling down to around 60m, in the end we had to go down to 105m to find a reliable source at adequate pressure. This water is then pumped into our barn where it is stored and filtered before being pumped into the house on demand. We are still hoping to fill a wildlife pond from the rainwater collected on our roofs, but this won’t be suitable for drinking purposes without further filtration.
After extensive research, we settled on a package treatment plant to process our sewage on site. It is very simple technology without any moving parts, and only needs aeration for bacteria to breakdown waste naturally. It should only need “de-sludging” every 5 years, and the treated water is clean enough to discharge into a soakaway rather than the Beck. You just have to remember not to flush things like cotton wool buds down the loo, or use too much bleach which kill the bacteria in the tank. There are eco-friendly cleaning products available, but the brands we have tried so far don’t seem to be particularly effective. Any suggestions would be welcome!
Deciding on a hot water and heating strategy, was probably the most difficult and time consuming question due to the array of options available. We anticipated needing new ground floors, as the existing ones were either rotten timber floors or cold uninsulated concrete slabs. Having experienced underfloor heating at our last house, we felt it was a gentle heat suitable for older buildings, and was easier to incorporate into a new and insulated floor construction. Rather than using an oil fired boiler to supply the underfloor heating, we elected to utilise a GSHP system as we had the land for the trenches and needed extensive ground works in any case for drainage and package treatment plant. The GSHP will also supply our domestic hot water, although if we do also install PV panels they can use any surplus electricity to top up the hot water cylinder.
Underfloor heating is slow reacting however, so for a quicker burst of heat we planned on a couple of log burning stoves for supplementary heating and a focal point in a couple of the larger rooms. There is nothing like a real fire.
At the time of writing this blog, we are in the process of insulating the roof and walls so we can improve our Energy Performance Certificate (EPC), have the GSHP commissioned and start claiming the RHI.
Sorry about all the acronyms!