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High efficiency ASHP, underfloor heating and solar PV

Gary and Sheel approached Ground Sun to find a sustainable solution for the refurbishment of their 1930’s house.  They were completely open to new ideas and to using technology to create in their words ‘sustainable comfort’ – where technology allows the words sustainable and luxury to exist in the same sentence.

‘We wanted to do the right thing once; to design and build a house that considered our needs for the next 30 years. It would be as sustainable as possible, partly to keep the running costs down as we choose to work less; but we also wanted to create a space that would be extremely comfortable and engender wellbeing to help us live happily for longer. We wanted to do our part towards sustaining but also advancing a better world where our son can grow up safely.’

As a result, they have created a beautiful, comfortable, smart and sustainable home.

They spent a long time researching what was possible, they were deliberately interested in being early adopters of new approaches.

“It was surprisingly hard to persuade architects, engineers and builders to do something that exceeded standard building regulations and standard practices.  In fact, it was a 2 year battle. They sometimes thought we were a bit crazy!”

Gary and Sheel recognised that making a house sustainable wasn’t just about installing efficient hot water and heating, it required thinking about every part of the building’s fabric and every part of its consumption. That included understanding how energy was generated and consumed, and the detail of heat conduction, convection, radiation and retention.  Insulation was as important as heating, and the direction of the sun was as important as the LED lights.

Ground Sun installed the following:

  • Air Source Heat Pump.  Gary and Sheel originally wanted ground source but the garden space and access made this unfeasible.    Instead Ground Sun installed a highly efficient Ochsner GMLW 14 plus air source system for heating and hot water. This heat pump has similar efficiencies to a ground source. The condenser runs silently in the garden and the pump sits in a plant room by the utility room. A huge 800 litre water tank is heated by the pump, and acts as a “battery” for the electricity generated during the day from the PV on the roof, to heat the water for washing and underfloor heating. “We even avoided needing a tumble dryer, by having a drying area by the warm plant room.  Most clothes dry in a few hours.”
  • Underfloor heating – care was taken to use thermally efficient screed and ensure that floor finishes were bonded to the screed for better conduction. The idea was to warm the entire fabric of the house, not just the air, at a sustainably low temperature (the water runs through pipes at about 35°C) so that it’s always pleasantly warm and, as Gary puts it “so that you feel warm in your bones!” The temperature can be controlled in each room.
  • Solar panels – because they were having to replace the roof, Ground Sun recommended “in-line” panels that replace the roof tiles, use up more of the roof space and are aesthetically pleasing.

“Ground Sun’s contribution was much more than the heating.  To be honest, they were the only people who really understood our obsession with the detail to create an efficient and highly comfortable house. Brian was a great source of information and inspiration,” says Gary.

Other initiatives Gary and Sheel incorporated:

  • Insulation exceeded building regulations for refurbishment.  Internal insulation was applied, rather than hit-and-miss cavity filling.  Windows are triple glazing everywhere, except the sliding doors which have a 23mm argon filled gap.
  • Rain water – a 650 litre tank captures the rain water off the roof, for watering the garden and hosing outside. A good saving against imminent water meters, but also much better for the plants and the environment.
  • Electric car charge point – Gary and Sheel’s new electric car is due for delivery in a few weeks, but they designed-in the car charging point 2 years ago.  The car’s app allows the charging time to align with solar generation.
  • Smart home technology – it’s easy to do simple things, like timing the washing machine and dishwasher to come on when the solar is at its highest generation, but using sensors and weather triggers can improve this even further.  Most of the services can be controlled remotely, including the heating system. They also have other smart features for security, they can answer the door from anywhere in the world and let delivery companies into the garage.
  • Electric only – the design meant that gas was not needed, saving standing charges and preparing for the phasing out of gas over the coming years.
  • Low energy lighting and appliances – care was taken to use at least A++ appliances throughout and all lighting is LED.

Sustainable doesn’t mean it can’t be beautiful.

“We made a conscious effort to keep the 1930s features,” says Sheel. “From the road the house looks the same as it was – even the new windows have the original lead pattern, and the original stained glass is retained, but it is all triple glazed. We have used sustainable natural materials as much as possible. And the back of the house is designed to bring the view and the garden into the house.”

The couple saw a sign recently that resonated with them. It said: We need to redefine wealth.  It isn’t defined by your bank balance; wealth is about your wellbeing. A life well lived.

“It may have cost us more to get this right now. But we believe we have created a high level of comfort that we can now sustain for the rest of our lives.”

The house Energy Performance Certification has moved from an E to a B and whilst Gary and Sheel have yet to live in the house through a winter… the signs are looking good…

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