Last week we transitioned from camping in a construction site to living in a house. It took an insanely long time and cost double what I thought was a generous budget, but for all practical purposes, the house itself is finally done. The reason is simple. The heat went on.
I will recap for those who tuned in late. About three years ago I fell hard for a house that looked like the houses I used to draw in preschool. I was reeling from the death of my adored husband. The only things that were clear was that I had to get out of the old house and I had to find a place where I could be safe. What could be safer than a child’s dream house?
The thing is, since preschool I had studied architecture and historic preservation. I knew that too many people lived in houses like this but really only occupied the kitchen and bedroom, simply because they couldn’t afford to heat the rest. I knew I was in crazy widow mode but wanted, if at all possible, to shift that to crazy like a fox. I spent a lot of time with Google and YouTube, researching options, and came up with an aquathermal heat exchange system: expensive to install but dirt cheap to run. Thus the abundance of process piping. At the time it seemed so simple.
So a hole 70 meters deep was drilled to reach the ground water in my back garden. That first picture shows the enclosure where it pops up. Then they removed a huge tank, still half full of old, cruddy fuel oil, from the basement and in its place installed the pipes you see in the final photo but did not turn on the lights. Believe me, the lights are crucial.
Every radiator was removed to be cleaned. The ground floor finish floor was ripped up — the few remaining planks of original wooden floor had warped and buckled beyond salvage before I bought the house and the tile, which covered most of the rest, was half a century old and not nice at all. In its place we put heating cables which we covered with stone tiles. The cleaned and painted radiators were replaced upstairs.
I would like to have turned on the heat right then, but no. It turns out that most houses have monophase power but houses with setups like this need triphase power. Who knew? Probably not my electricians, who let the ball drop on that, so we lost about six months while I fought with the electricians and we finally got EDF to change the electric meter. Lucky for me that triphase power — no, I don’t actually know how that works — was available in the street or we might have lost a year.
And finally, about three years to the day after I signed the agreement to buy the house, two capable young men appeared and spent several hours calibrating the whole thing. Just like that, the house became warm.
So what do I think? The best thing is that the stone floor is warm, now. I would not want a stone or tile floor in a cold climate without the underfloor cables, though I believe there are underfloor heating mats you can buy, if you don’t want to go to all this trouble. Supposedly the heated floor will act as a vapor barrier, so I won’t have to worry about rising damp, frozen pipes and various other ills that befall stone houses.
It took a few days for the heat to penetrate the house. Now we are shutting down or shutting off radiators because the house has become too warm. It may be that the stone floor will be almost enough to heat the whole house. We turned down the thermostat. So balancing this system is a work in progress but the bottom line is that it seems to be using less power than expected. As a side benefit, the system operates the water heaters, too.
I do not yet know what the operating cost will be. I was told it had a ten-year payback period. This explains why developers stay away from such systems; it is not the kind of thing most people will pay extra for. I gambled that I would live ten more years, still be in the house that long and that power costs would increase, thus reducing my payback period.
I believe it is good for the planet, as it is a nonpolluting heat source. Ground water is piped into the heat extractor and, without ever leaving the pipes, the magic happens and the water is piped back to the source. It enables me to occupy my entire house, which I love. Plus, if the house does stay mildew-free, if it does eliminate spalling on the exterior, that’s all good and saves even more money.
So that’s heating sorted. Now I’m hoping solar panels and wind turbines become more efficient, so I can move onto power generation.