Friday, 26 August 2016

Slice your energy bills with heating controls

Huge savings can be made on household bills by ensuring you’re using the right heating controls within the home, writes UK boiler manufacturer Baxi’s Jon Phillips.With energy prices on the rise*, homeowners are often on the hunt for ways to reduce the cost of heating their property.
One relatively easy way of achieving this is to fit suitable heating controls to ensure that you’re not over or under heating your home, or running your boiler when you have no need for heating or hot water, such as while you’re at work.

If used correctly, and with an energy-efficient boiler such as one of the Baxi EcoBlue range, you should find that you’re never compromising between a warm home and a healthy bank balance again.

Recent figures show that while more than 95 per cent of homes have a boiler, as many as 800,000 have no controls in their property at all, eight million have no room thermostat, and 70 per cent lack the minimum levels of controls specified in the 2010 Building Regulations.**

For homes in any of those brackets, the potential savings could be huge. According to the Energy Saving Trust, simply fitting a basic room thermostat and thermostatic radiator valves, and then using them correctly, could save the average owner of a three-bedroom, semi-detached house up to £165 per year.

In addition, the same household could reduce their carbon dioxide footprint by 680kg per year by simply installing controls - enough to drive a typical family car more than 1,000 miles.

On average, controls should be replaced every 12 years due to advancements in technology, as well as to ensure accuracy. Now is a great time to be in the market as recent innovations allow you to remain in control of your home to a far greater extent than ever before.

Many homeowners are switching from the traditional thermostat to their smart counterparts, such as the Nest Learning Thermostat. This device logs how warm you like your home to be at certain times of the day by learning from your behaviour, and adjusts the temperature accordingly – you can even access it through a nifty app on your smartphone or tablet.

You can also save money by investigating in additions such as zone control, which allows you to heat different parts of your home to suit your comfort requirements, by operating them on separate heating circuits with their own thermostats.

With all the technology now available at your fingertips, the right heating controls can make a big difference to your comfort and lifestyle – and your wallet. So fit the right controls and use them correctly, and you could soon be feeling the benefits.

To search for a quality heating installer in your local area, simply visit the APHC website at

Friday, 19 August 2016

Solar thermal hot water systems

When it comes to heating water for use around the home, most properties rely on a boiler to heat water as needed, or use a hot water cylinder. Alternatively, water can be heated using electricity, for example, in an electric shower or emersion heater. One type of system you may not know as much about is solar water heating systems, which use the energy from the sun to heat hot water in a hot water cylinder.

Using solar energy from the sun to "pre heat" stored water has several benefits, helping us to use less gas, oil and electricity, saving us money and reducing the amount of carbon we produce. In the UK, a solar thermal hot water system will work all year round, although the clear, sunny days we (normally!) enjoy in summer are likely to result in more heat generated during these months and enough hot water produced to meet demand without further topping up. Where there hasn't been quite enough solar energy produced to heat water fully, especially in the autumn and winter months, a boiler or electric emersion heater can often be used to heat stored water further ready for use.

The solar thermal system

Solar thermal systems use solar panels, also called "collectors", which are mounted on the roof of a property and "collect" heat energy from the sun. These systems generally use two types of collector, each with their own advantages and disadvantages. While flat plate collectors are around 30% efficient, evacuated tube collectors are around 40-60% efficient but can be more expensive to install.

How do solar heating systems work?

The solar panels, or "collectors" in solar thermal heating systems house a network of tubes containing a mixture of glycol and water which absorbs the heat from the sun, warming the fluid up. The fluid is then sent through a coil in a hot water cylinder, warming its contents ready for you to use in a similar way as a boiler would warm up water in a cylinder. The temperature of hot water in the cylinder can be topped up from the boiler or using an electric emersion heater.

The two main configurations of systems within the UK are the drainback system and the fully filled system:

  • Drainback system - This system pumps heat transfer fluid from a reservoir through the solar collector and then through a coil in the cylinder. Once the fluid stops pumping around the system, water from the solar collector drains back down into the reservoir, leaving the solar collector empty of fluid.
  • Fully filled system - This system simply gets filled with heat transfer fluid at the testing and commissioning stage, then remains fully filled for the duration of operation or routine servicing.
Costs, savings and earnings

On average, a Solar Thermal Hot Water System costs around £3000 - 5000, but this will change significantly depending on the type of property, existing system installed and your property's heating demands. Most systems will generate moderate savings of £60-120 a year, however, the total savings to be made will depend on the type of fuel used previously to heat hot water.


One of the most important factors to consider when deciding whether to install a solar thermal system is whether there is suitable space on your roof for a solar collector. Collectors should ideally be positioned on a roof that faces east to west and gets a lot of sun all day. An alternative to mounting a solar collector on the roof is to fit them to a frame and have them fixed to a south-facing wall.

It's also necessary to think about whether your existing plumbing system is compatible with a solar thermal hot water system, and whether there's room in your home for an increased size cylinder. In addition, your boiler will have to be checked to see if it's compatible with the system, for example, combination boilers do not provide hot water to a cylinder and so cannot be used.

If you decide a solar thermal heating system is right for you, find a quality installer in your local area by searching on our website at

Friday, 12 August 2016

Understanding heat pumps

Looking for an efficient way of providing heat and energy to your home? If so, it's worth considering heat pumps, which have become increasingly popular with the introduction of the RHI (Renewable Heat Incentive) - a scheme designed to financially reward those who use renewable energy to heat their buildings in England, Scotland and Wales. With tariff payments available to those using certain technologies to heat their homes, the overall aim of the RHI scheme is to help the UK achieve its aim of producing 12% of its heat from renewable sources by 2020.

Read our handy APHCOnTap guide to find out everything you need to know about heat pumps and whether they're right for you.

What are heat pumps?

To find an example of a heat pump working, look no further than your household fridge or freezer! In both appliances, the main compartment is kept cold using refrigerant gases, which extract heat energy from the food compartment before releasing it back into the atmosphere via pipework and grills at the back of the appliance. In the same way as fridges and freezers, heat pumps use refrigeration gases to extract heat energy from cool sources such as the ground, outside air or even water.

In the UK, the main types of domestic heat pumps are ground source heat pumps and air source heat pumps, although water source heat pumps are now entering the market.

Ground source heat pumps

Ground source heat pumps work by tapping into heat energy absorbed by the earth from the sun all year round. While the surface of the earth is susceptible to heat losses due to the weather, for example, rainfall, the temperature becomes more stable the deeper we dig, at around 8-10 degrees Celsius.

The heat collector element of a heat pump can be in one of the below forms, which must all be accurately sized for the heat pump being installed:

  • Horizontal collectors - These are used when there is a lot of land, with the pipe generally laid out in long straight runs.
  • Vertical collectors - These are now the preferred choice as they are more efficient, and run inside a bore hole of 75 - 100m deep.
  • Slinky collectors - These are used instead of horizontal collectors when space is limited, taking up to a third less space. The size of the loop or collector must be accurately sized, done as part of the overall design.
Air source heat pumps

This type of heat pump uses outside air to absorb heat and transfer it to the building. One big advantage over ground source heat pumps is their lower installation cost due to air source heat pumps not needing ground loops and trenches or bore holes.

There are some considerable advantages to installing air source heat pumps, which can save you a large amount of money and reduce the overall emissions produced and released into the atmosphere by a boiler. However, before planning to have one installed it's important to consider the following factors:

1. Availability of outside room/space - Ground source heat pumps using pipework laid in the ground will require a considerable amount of space to be effective. Consider whether drilling a bore hole is possible, however, you may only be able to decide this after a survey has been conducted. An air source heat pump will have to be mounted on a wall or be free standing on the ground, with sufficient clean air around it.

2. It's important to make sure your property is well insulated before fitting any renewable technology for heating your home. This will include installing cavity wall insulation and double or triple glazing windows and doors along with draft excluders.

3. The heating system you want to use and the fuel currently available will have a bearing on the effectiveness and suitability of a heat pump. For example, heat pumps work extremely well and save more money when replacing a solid fuel boiler in a property with underfloor heating. It therefore may not actually be advantageous to install one if you already have a highly efficient mains gas boiler with a traditional wet central heating system. A qualified installer will be able to advise you after conducting a survey.

Heat pumps are a very efficient way to heat a home, however, while they could save you money on heating and hot water running costs they should not be considered a straight alternative to a boiler. Careful design and survey work should be undertaken to decide if a heat pump is the right piece of equipment to install in your home. Find a Quality Plumber in your local area on our website at

Friday, 5 August 2016

Biomass appliances and you

Biomass appliances are becoming more popular as a fuel-burning heating appliance that is both efficient and environmentally friendly, but what exactly is biomass and what are the pros and cons of using it compared to options such as gas or oil appliances?

Biomass is a solid fuel which is derived from recently living organisms such as plants or trees and can be used within our homes.

The difference between biomass and fossil fuels

The most important characteristic of biomass is that it is carbon neutral - a state which can only be achieved if the wood or fuel crop is managed on a sustainable basis. In this way, the biomass fuel is harvested as part of a constantly replenished crop with new growth absorbing CO2 from the atmosphere at the same time as it is released by the combustion of the previous harvest. This maintains a closed - carbon cycle with no net increase in atmospheric CO2 levels.

Types of biomass appliances

Originally, the majority of biomass appliances were stoves or room heaters or boilers, with domestic biomass heaters ranging greatly in specification and cost. The most commonly installed type was a small wood burning stove with a small back boiler. While there are some biomass boilers on the market, these are less common. However, with the introduction of Renewable Heat Incentive for domestic appliances, boilers replacing traditional gas or oil fired central heating boilers more and more common.

Does it pay to go biomass?

While it does cost more on average to install a biomass appliance than a fossil fuel based alternative, the difference in installation price can be made up from future cost savings in fuel.

Advantages of biomass
  • Biomass is a sustainable fuel source if managed correctly i.e. trees need to be planted to replace those used.
  • Virtually carbon neutral, although there is a carbon cost involved in cutting down the trees, transporting wood and processing it into logs/chips/pellets.
  • Biomass fuels are less susceptible to price increases than traditional fuels such as oil and gas.
  • Will produce very little smoke if maintained and run well.
  • If you replace your coal/electric heating system with biomass you can reduce carbon dioxide by about 9.5 tonnes per annum.
  • Highly efficient
Disadvantages of biomass
  • Biomass boilers are normally larger than a gas/oil boiler.
  • Some stove systems require an additional heat leak radiator to 'bleed off' excess heat when you have no demand for it.
  • Only a small number of biomass systems can be used in smokeless zones - if you live in such an area you will have to do careful research into the various manufacturers to ensure their system is suitable. You will also have to use a good quality fuel with very low levels of contaminants such as bark, grit etc.
  • Biomass fuel costs are currently similar to mains natural gas, however, gas is likely to become more expensive in the long term, making biomass more attractive.
  • Initial costs can be very high compared with traditional gas or oil installations.
  • Biomass systems require a lot of space to store the fuel e.g. hopper/wood store and fuel needs to be kept dry to burn cleanly and efficiently.
  • More labour intensive than traditional gas or oil installations as you need to keep the hopper full, plus greater cleaning and maintenance required.
  • You will need a reliable supply of fuel as all various types of biomass fuel are not always readily available. The further they have to be transported the greater the carbon footprint and the greater the cost.
Although biomass boilers do reduce the carbon footprint of domestic heating systems, they are certainly not the perfect solution for everyone. As they become more popular, fuel costs may increase and in the long term, the UK may not physically be able to produce enough timber/biomass crops to fuel them if we all installed biomass systems. To find a local professional who specialises in biomass, search on the APHC website at