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Step 12 = heating – space and water

Category: Steps along the way June 24th, 2011 by mbc

What are your input systems?

Oh the headaches this one has caused me…

The first thing to determine is which is your over-riding goal – keeping costs down or be ‘green’? With mains gas still the cheapest option (at least in the short term) a modern gas boiler is probably still the best choice if you’re on the mains and cost is a priority (and arguably it’s not so bad on the green-front as other electricity hungry solutions – but I’ll not be having that argument with anyone thanks very much!). With no mains gas we get into the standard set of barn conversion options – oil boilers, heat pumps (ground and air source), combined heat and power (CHP), bio-mass (& 2) and conventional wood burning.

Oil is expensive and looks set to get more so, heat pumps consume electricity (again expensive and looks set to get more so, add PV to generate your own and push up those capital costs even further), CHP may still be too young as a technology (although it may be interesting when used in combination with mains gas in something like the Baxi Ecogen micro-CHP unit) and bio-mass / wood burning are only really suitable if you can ‘grow-your-own’ or at least have a ready supply of firewood and a love of chopping logs (unless you fancy burning pellets and tying yourself to the vagaries of that budding marketplace). I said it was a tricky subject…

Steps along the way...

When I started MyBarnConversion I meant to share some quick and easy yet hopefully valuable tips in a 'Steps along the way' series of short posts.

That series fell by the wayside, but now I've brought it back. Use the link above for a full list of my tips.

I reserve a separate paragraph for solar thermal hot-water as I feel it deserves to stand-alone. Unless you’re really, really pushed for budget, I see solar thermal hot-water panels as an essential feature of any contemporary build, regardless of which other choice(s) you make when building your space and water heating solution.

Those are your options, take your pick…

Don’t forget you should minimise your demand for heating, so maximising your levels of insulation and the solar heat gain from good passive solar design is just as important as your space and water heating solution.

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Combined Heat and Power

Category: Systems of interest September 30th, 2010 by mbc

Combined Heat and Power (CHP) systems generate electrical power and heat simultaneously.

There are three main technologies utilised to provide CHP systems – External combustion, Internal combustion and Fuel Cells.

External combustion
Central to the generation of electricity is the Stirling engine. A Stirling engine operates by being heated externally and so is described as an external combustion engine (ECE).

Fuel Cells
A fuel cell is an electrochemical cell that converts an input fuel into a number of outputs – an electrical current, heat and waste water or carbon dioxide. The primary function of a fuel cell is usually generating electricity but they run hot and so provide heat as a ‘bonus’. A wide range of fuels, both fossil based (gas, coal, oil) and renewable (biomass) can be utilised.

Internal combustion
Commonly used in automotive applications the fuel burning internal combustion engine (ICE) that we are all familiar with is applicable to CHP applications although the noise, emissions and need for servicing make the other options more generally suitable.

The Green Angle
Greenpeace claim that:

 ‘On average, our large, centralised power stations throw away two thirds of the energy they generate.’

(greenpeace.org.uk/~/combined-heat-and-power-chp).

In contrast the overall efficiency of CHP systems can be in excess of 80% at the point of generation.

With CHP power & heat generation is moved closer to the consumer. Being close to the consumer has two main benefits:

  1. With its dual function – heat and electrical power – the CHP facility avoids the inefficiency of it’s single purpose cousins such as the traditional coal electric power station. In such traditional power plants, generated heat is often treated as a waste product and merely vented or otherwise disposed of.
  2. Power does not need to be transferred over distance to remote consumers and so losses during transmission and distribution of electricity through the national and local distribution networks are avoided.

The Combined Heat and Power Association website has more detail on the advantages of CHP over traditional power plants.

Sizes
Large CHP installations are sized to provide for the needs of large consumers of heat and power such as industrial sites or large hospitals. Mini installations can be sufficient for the needs of a group of dwellings. Micro CHP is applicable to the individual householder.

Cooling
CHP techology can be further evolved to incorporate cooling. Through cooling generated heat using absorption chillers a CHP plant can add the ability to provide cooling and become a Combined Cooling, Heat and Power (CCHP) plant.

Micro CHP ~ Now?
The first widely available micro CHP unit in the UK is the Baxi Ecogen micro-CHP unit. This is basically a replacement for a traditional gas boiler that contains a sterling engine and so is able to generate electricity as well as heat water. It can generate 3.5kW to 6kW of heat that can be boosted to 10kW or 24kW if necessary – thus allowing a relatively standard heating range of between 3.5 and 24kW. The Ecogen is capable of producing up to 1 kWh of electricity. It can be grid connected, with excess electricity sold back to the grid operator. In the UK these micro CHP units can be included in the Government’s Feed-in Tariff Scheme providing owners with an additional payment on top of the standard price for any power they sell back to the grid. See my recent article on Feed-in Tariffs for more details.

Worcester (a part of the Bosch group) have the Greenstar CDi DualGen in development. It has a similar footprint and specification to the Baxi Ecogen unit. It utilises a stirling engine that can generate up to 7kW of heat (that can be boosted higher) and 1kWh of electricity. The Greenstar unit is due for full release in 2012 following a europe wide field trial.

Summary
So, is now (September 2010) the time to consider CHP as a viable technology?

I think the answer to the question depends on your specific project. Let’s start with this advice from the Worcester-Bosch website:

‘Micro CHP is most suited to older buildings that are poorly insulated for example, with sash windows and no cavity wall insulation.’

worcester-bosch.co.uk/homeowner/products/micro-chp~

That quotation causes a couple of issues. Firstly, for the sake of sustainability and common sense the fabric of the building itself should be addressed. Insulation installed and leaky windows renovated or replaced. Then secondly, once the building has been sorted out, what are the heating & energy requirements – is a CHP system appropriate and can it be made to pay? That’s a pretty straight-forward analysis based on:

    Costs:

  • The cost of installing the CHP system.
  • It’s cost of running in terms of how much fuel it will consume.
  • Cost of servicing.
    Benefits:

  • How much it will save you financially in comparison to other forms of heating.
  • How much will be generated electricity save from your electricity bill.
  • Feed-in tariffs confuse things somewhat, suffice to say that the electricity generated will be have a value to you beyond the current 13 pence or so that you’ll pay per kWh on a standard tariff.

Also, bear in mind that the systems I’ve been discussing here are gas powered (the Ecogen has an LPG version), so you’ll need a mains connection or the ability to juggle LPG bottles.

To me this seems an immature technology, one perhaps for early adopters who aren’t too sensitive to the raw economics of these systems in comparison to the heating only alternatives such as modern condensing gas boilers, heat pumps and wood-burners. These systems also seem more suitable for replacing old gas boilers than for installing in ‘green-field’ sites such conversions or new builds with no mains gas.

Further References

http://www.envocare.co.uk/combined_heat_and_power.htm

http://www.worcester-bosch.co.uk/homeowner/products/micro-chp?gclid=CKunl4Owk6MCFQT92AodS1z5qA

http://www.baxi.co.uk/ecogen

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Bowsaw

Category: Books August 26th, 2010 by mbc

I get laughed at when I insist on using a bowsaw from time-to-time instead of a chainsaw. I’m glad to read that I’m not the only one who appreciates the rhythm and relative silence of this method of cutting wood.

From Woodland

I worked with a small triangular bowsaw. It is surprising how much you can do with one in a day. Bowsaws have the supreme advantage of being quiet and allowing you to work at your own human pace. The manic dictatorship of the chainsaw seems to deafen you to all reason or judgement. A chainsaw is ideal for mechanical jobs like cutting up logs, but deprives you of the greatest pleasure of working in the woods: the opportunity to listen to the natural sounds around you.

From Waterlog: A Swimmer’s Journey Through Britain~ Roger Deakin

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Future Fuel

Category: Barn Conversion Journal February 5th, 2010 by mbc

As I’ve mentioned earlier I have plans to start work this year on managing the small amount (I’d guess at around half and acre) of woodland that I have. As all our heating depends on either the sun (solar thermal water panels) or our stove (multi-fuel burner with boiler) the need for a dependable source of fuel is a constant one especially in the grey winter months (in fact it becomes a bit of an obsession). At this stage, management of fuel consists of four threads:

1. Buying in / bringing in fuel.
I’ve been buying in various types of fuel – mainly modern eco-log type products made of reconstituted chippings, saw dust and the like. I’ve found some of these very effective, but would rather not have to go to the trouble of sourcing them or the cost of buying them. I’ve also been lucky enough to have a source of ready felled timber from a relative that just needs cutting, bringing onto site and spliting. The need to transport the wood brings a certain overhead, but such a free resource can’t be sniffed at.

From Barn Conversion 2010

2. Planting new trees.
A two fold exercise, in planting I’ll remove established trees to open up areas of the woodland canopy. Firstly, this provides wood from the cleared trees for burning probably next year. Currently this is mostly ash and so should be burnable green (i.e. immediately) – I’ll try that out, but I’m not sure that is the most efficient use of the wood. Secondly, the replanting provides a future source of wood. Cutting down trees leads us to…

3. Coppice existing trees.
Where I’m removing existing ash trees, I leave the roots and stump in the ground and a don’t plant close by, thus hopefully leaving the opportunity for the coppiced tree to grow back and provide wood over and over again.

4. Establishing a bio-mass fuel source.
By this I mean planting a fast growing combustible resource – in my case willow. I’m currently in the process of ordering some willow trees from a local supplier so more on this shortly.

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Logs 2

Category: Barn Conversion Journal January 5th, 2010 by mbc

With my current preoccupation with firewood and the current bout of ice, snow and freezing temperatures making me long for warm weather a favourite quote of mine comes to mind:

…a mosaic of cut log ends that wall the whole of the south-facing end. The summer sun will dry out the end grain, drawing out the sap until the wood is pure energy for the fire.

Roger Deakin’s Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees

I’ve just ordered 120 silver birch and hazel trees from the Woodland trust, far from the best trees for firewood but two of my favourites. I’ll plant as many as possible in amongst the mainly ash trees that currently dominate my small wood. The rest I’ll find a home for.

Whilst perhaps not the cheapest source of trees I thought I’d support the Woodland Trust and buy this batch of trees from them. At least I’ll be contributing regardless of the fate of the trees that I plant.

I’m also looking into planting some fast growing willow in one corner of our field to provide additional fuel and a wind break for the vegetable patch I’m planning … more on this another time.

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Progress

Autumn 2013

Right that’s the summer over with, now I can get on with some real work without the distractions of other things (like holidays and playing with children, all that enjoyable stuff that gets in the way of progress)… With few major jobs (painting, boxing in – nasty stuff!) left inside, mainly fiddly things that need […]

I’m having a moan on twitter… https://twitter.com/barnconversion/status/368427314868396032

A lovely Flemish barn conversion

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I really like this Kickstarter project >> The Farm of the Future: Earthship-Inspired Greenhouse This project is “Prototyping the First 100% Off-The-Grid, Affordable, Low-Maintenance Greenhouse using Earthship Principles and Aquaponics“. If any of those words meaning anything to you you’ll be interested in the project if not, pass it by… It’s already funded so I […]

Barns

Barns Gallery on Remodelista

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Barns – the Long House

Situated on the North Norfolk coast, this is a building to admire…

Barns – the Balancing Barn

A stunning piece of architecture, although not entirely to my taste…

New fast-track planning permission for the development of barns proposed

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De-assembled, re-assembled, re-cycled barns

“A bit like a private sector, modernising, repurposing St Fagan’s…”

Design

What is a shadow gap?

A shadow gap – a mysterious dark place between two plains…

Your barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

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Building Regulations, Approved Documents Part D – Toxic substances

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Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part C Site preparation and resistance to contaminants and moisture

Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part B Fire safety

An overview of Building Regulations, Approved Documents – Part B Fire safety

Architecture

Your barn conversion – "what you really wanted for yourself"

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The Stirling prize 2012 winner – the Sainsbury Laboratory

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The Stirling prize 2012

I think that this years Stirling prize has some exciting projects on the shortlist…

Our engineers … our architects – Le Corbusier

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Design in Storage

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News

Green Deal slow beginnings?

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The property roller coaster – planning reform to be rethought

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Energy policy, smoke screens, fracking, confusion and big bucks

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Flanking manoeuvres and good design…

It seems that the government are undertaking flanking manoeuvres on the green belt…

Green Deal Launch

The Green deal launched in the UK on Monday of this week. Fanfares? fireworks? a deluge of marketing? … read more …

Plaid Cymru’s Green New Deal promise

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Permitted development extension limits to be doubled

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Lloyd Khan, making shelter simple.

I wanted to share an interview with Lloyd Khan that I recently found…

Just what is ‘sustainable development’?

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Sir Patrick Abercrombie – “It is a matter for serious thought…”

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