Monthly Archives: February 2014
Anyone who has owned a log stove will be aware of the problems of the stove glass sooting up. Some stoves seem worse than others, but it is something that all stoves do over a period of time.
There appears to be two main causes:
- Poor fuel: This usually means logs/wood that is still damp. The drier the wood the better. Logs should really be air dried for up to a year. This will get their water content down to 20-25%. If you want to be extra sure, you can use kiln dried logs. These are frequently down to about 10-15%;
- Not enough air: This leads to poor combustion and smoke. This will eventually blacken the glass.
The solution seems to be:
- Use the correct wood fuel;
- Ensure that the fire has enough air. There are usually two vents – one allowing air in from the bottom and one allowing air from the top. Logs burn best with air from on top. Start the fire with all the vents open. Once the fire has started going, shut the bottom air off. For example with our Firebelly stove, we leave the top vent open 3/4 of a turn. This never changes. We open up the bottom vent fully when starting the fire, we let the fire burn through (this warms the chimney/flue and establishes a good draft), then we add more wood and half close the bottom vent. Once the fire is fully established, we close the bottom vent completely. The top vent is always left in the same position;
- Make sure the fire is burning hot enough. We have a Stovax flue thermometer that shows the optimum temperature for the flue. This ensures that the exhaust products from the fire reach the right temperature to be burnt off. They cost about £10 and are a good investment.
All of the above works really well with our Firebelly FB1. We seem to be able to burn just about anything on it (we never put treated or painted wood on the fire) and it never soots up. The Spartherm unit (Arte 3RL) is a different story. Despite only putting kiln dried wood onto the fire, it always seems to soot up. The Spartherm glass goes black all over. While some sooting up is inevitable, this seems to happen within 1-2 hours. There is only one control on the front. This controls the air flow from underneath. There seems to be little control of the flow from above. There is also no opportunity to view the temperature, so it is difficult to tell whether it is hot enough.
We wrote to the manufacturer. Their response was to send us the manual that we already had (the same one that was supplied with the unit).
We have found the easiest way to clean it is using Stovax clear glass cleaner, but it soots up so quickly, we really avoid using it too much. It is shame since it is a nice looking unit. But we have better things to do that clean the glass everyday. The Firebelly unit is a completely different story. We have used it continually and have only had to resort to cleaning it once a month. And that is often just to take the odd black soot mark off the glass. It takes all of 5 minutes.
Although it will be a couple of weeks before it is finished, the kitchen has started to be installed today.
By the end of this week, we should have all of the base units fitted as well as the first fix electrics and plumbing. The fitters will then make up the templates for the granite worktops.
We have a gap of about a week, then the worktops and appliances are fitted. It is starting to feel like a real house now!
Or rather why we aren’t controlling the ground source heat pump!
A ground source heat pump extracts heat out of the ground to heat the house. It works most effectively once the house has reached it’s target temperature. At this point, the heat pump just trickles heat into the building to ensure that it stays at the set temperature. In fact, it will often use additional energy from an immersion heater to get the house to it’s set temperature.
It can take a long time for the fabric of the house to warm up – in our case, it took a couple of weeks from a standing start. However, I still suspect that the fabric of the house is warming up and drying out. Let’s not forget that only a few months ago this building was open to the elements.
With this in mind, the NIBE engineer has told me to set the heat pump going and not to change it according to a schedule, or even when we go away on holidays. If we were away for a few days, there would be little point in turning the heating off – it would take 3-4 days to cool down and then 3-4 days to warm up. And we would probably use more energy in the process than we would if we just left it on all the time. Let’s not forget with no one here, the windows and doors stay shut and the house is well insulated. So heat loss would be a minimum.
It does, however, make sense to turn the hot water off. It only takes around an hour to generate a full tank of hot water and that is from a standing start. If the tank was full of hot water when it was turned off, it might only take 30 minutes to warm up depending on how long it had been turned off for. I need to investigate how we can achieve this. More updates later.
In terms of the other controls, we may control the secondary hot water pump (this pumps the hot water around the property to ensure that you get hot water out of the tap within a couple of seconds) and the valves for the towel rail circuits (there are two – one of the old part of the property and one for the new). It will be very straightforward to control these using the Loxone kit. We can set up schedules, over ride buttons as well as being able to access the controls remotely.
But other than that, there is little to control on the heat pump. We have installed the latest software on the heat pump and this is automatically control the flow rates of the pumps to the underfloor heating and ground loops. There are thermostats in all of the rooms that control the zone heating. It would be straightforward to replace these with temperature sensors and actuators controlled by the Loxone kit, but it would have little benefit over what is already installed (re-badged Heat Miser units from NuHeat).
We have most of the Loxone kit now in place. Our original intention was to purely use the Loxone kit to control the lighting. Since we were re-wiring the property from scratch, this was a great opportunity to do things differently. All of the lights switches are wired back to a central computer that then controls the lights. Unlike most houses in the UK, there is no direct connection between the light switch and the light – this is achieved by programming the computer. So changing what light switches do is just a case of reprogramming – no rewiring required.
We currently have around 47 lighting circuits (excluding LED strips) controlled via 27 switches (plus iPads, iPhone and laptops). Each lighting circuit may have more than one light, but all the lights are controlled together. This seems like a large number of lights, but there are 6 circuits alone in the hall (dimmable downlights, LED staircase lights, LED parapet wall lights, dimmable feature light that hangs between the porch and the hall, a set of LEDs along the foot of the stairs, and finally, a lighting circuit in a floor box that controls a lamp on the hall table). There are 4 circuits in the lounge and another 5 in the kitchen. If that sounds complicated, it gets a lot easier as one switch can be programmed to control more than one lighting circuit – you could have one switch that turns on all 6 circuits in the hall on at the same time.
In addition, there are a further 5 circuits to control the each of the extractor fans in each of the bathrooms. This means that we can set the time that the fan runs for after the light has been switched off. The timing could even be changed depending on the time of day (e.g. maybe you don’t want the extractor to come on after midnight).
There are another 6 circuits that are then used to open and close three banks of rooflights (2 in the lounge and 1 in the kitchen). These could be linked to a rain sensor or a wind sensor. In our case, the rooflights are closed when the alarm is set.
At the moment, we have all the lighting (and extractor fans) plus the rooflights controlled via the Loxone kit.
When we set out on this renovation, I thought if we could achieve the above, we would be happy. In fact, we have achieved more than I thought. So I am more than happy.
But now we have the kit in place, we try some further experiments. These include:
- Integration with a Texecom alarm (e.g. using the PIR sensors to turn on lights, closing rooflights when the alarm is set);
- Using outdoor proximity sensors to turn out outside floodlights (or even lighting in the house if no one is home);
- Controlling access to the house using key fobs and an electronic latch release;
- Controlling some elements of the heating system. We have a ground source heat pump, so there is little point controlling the output, but we can control some of the hot water pumps (we have a secondary hot water pump for part of the building).
We have managed to get this far fairly easily. There has been a little trial and error in terms of the programming, but we have got there. It is interesting to watch how visitors react to the technology – it is one of the features of the property that seems to have people talking. It will be interesting to see what happens as we add more features.
The key to all of this is keeping it simple. Any fool can make things complicated. It is much harder to make things simple. I suspect that this is where many home automation projects go wrong – they become too hard to use (except by the person that built it!). Please don’t let me fall into that trap!
After a rather “bumpy” start, I am glad to report that the ground source heat pump is still running! It is providing all of the heating and hot water in the house since the 12th Feb. This is much to our relief.
We still have some way to go in terms of getting all the room thermostats operational – the ones in the new extension have yet to be powered up. We also have builders/decorators on site and it is difficult to keep the windows and doors closed all of the time. So it is very likely that we will see some more improvements over the coming months.
Even so, the internal temperature seems to be doing well (even without the log burners going!). However, it has yet to be fully tested in the real Yorkshire weather. Today, it is a rather barmy 10C.
There were a number of pipes installed in the kitchen floor. These were for various services such as water, drainage etc. It only occurred to us a few weeks ago that one of the holes – for the extractor fan – had disappeared when the floor was screeded.
The extractor pipe was fairly obvious and we had covered the top with black plastic (to ensure that no debris went down the hole). However, the chap putting down the screed seemed to think that this should have been cemented over!
A quick look at the plan and we found the measurements for the location of the pipe. Unfortunately, it took a couple of goes to relocate it.
How do we find it? We played Absolute 80’s down one end of the pipe and listened for it on the kitchen floor! Yes, really.
The existing water connection was in a neighbour’s field about 200m from our property. A single water meter fed all three of the original cottages. The water meter was located here because in the 1980’s when it was installed, this was as far as the water main reachedre is
The problem with this location is that it is on someone else’s property and we are responsible for the pipework from the meter to our house (even if someone else digs it up).
So we decided to have a new water connection. Cost? About £600. When I applied for the new connection, I assumed that this would include disconnecting the old connection. I was wrong. When I asked, it was going to cost around £1,000 to remove the old connection. That is more than the new connection itself! A large part of the disconnection cost is due to the traffic signals that are required on the road while the works are completed.
We told Yorkshire Water that they could leave the old connection there. We then had our plumber cap off the old pipework. This would stop anyone from accidentally turning the water supply back on.
Last week, I talked to Yorkshire Water about the old meter and it turns out that there is no charge for the old meter – it will be associated with our account, but this is no cost associated with it. Result! On this basis, I don’t know why I would have paid to have it removed. It isn’t inconveniencing me – in fact, it is on someone else’s land.
We have just installed suspended wire lighting in the kitchen. The ceiling is really too high to attach anything to the beams, so using a suspended wire system seemed like the obvious choice.
There are 2 pairs of wires – one along the line of the kitchen work surfaces, the other over the breakfast bar. There are 4 lights on each. These are 12v LED lights. Each are 4.2W. So we have about 17W of lighting on each pair of wires.
The cables are fixed to the wall using some oak mounting plaques that the joiner made. The oak was left over from building the roof, so once these pieces of oak have been treated with Osmo, they will match the rest of the oak in the kitchen.
The suspended cable system is from SLV. You will find the lamp holders here: http://www.slvlightingdirect.com/track-lighting/wire-12v-lighting-system/slv-181080-lamp-holder-adjustable-wire-12v-system-light-black.html.
There are 3 sets of rooflights in the extension (in addition to the Veluxes in the bathrooms). There is one set of rooflights in the kitchen and two sets in the lounge. Each set has 5 panes – 2 of which open. Because of the height of the ceilings, these need to be electrically controlled.
The 3 sets of rooflights cost around £6,000. They came with very cheap plastic rocker switches – a bit disappointing given the cost of the windows. We have replaced these and decided to control them using the Loxone kitchen. This means that they can be controlled via switches in the house or remotely via an iPad/iPhone/PC. This gives us the opportunity to automate the opening/closing of the rooflights – e.g. opening when a set temperature inside the property is reached or closing the rooflights when the burglar alarm is set.
Interestingly, the attention was for the Loxone kit to only control the lights, but since we have installed it we have found a number of other uses for it.