Exotic Heating Systems

Exotic Heating Systems

Heating systems are a wee bit stagnant in the UK, there are plenty of wonderful solutions out there but most of us in good old Blighty have to suffer with dismal forty year old solutions that are a bit behind the times.

I have bought a home in the middle of the Pennines, the house enjoys a wonderful climate and according to the Met office it is the 5th snowiest place in the UK and the number 1 snowiest place in England. I even have a local ski resort and I’m teetering at around 900 feet above sea level.

Met Office’s 10 Snowiest Places in the UK

The chart is great reading:

  1. Cairngorms – home of the Big Grey Man of Ben Macdhui and mountaineers
  2. Shetland Islands – home of teeny horses and sideways winds
  3. Fair Isles – home of warm sweaters
  4. Orkney Islands – North East tip of Scotland, brrrrrr
  5. Copley, County Durham – home of erm me…
  6. Etc.

I can’t do with this ancient way of heating houses I need something modern.

What I needed is some way of heating my place and some way of keeping it warm once it gets warm.

Heating represents a problem up here as primarily there’s no gas supply and even if there were then that’s still not a singular solution to all things heating related. The original Worcester Bosch oil fired system works well, but it’s not great, it does have a few down points not least that oil is expensive and oil does have a tendency to go walkies… I now at great expense have secured my oil supply in a locked alarmed room, but it’s not ideal and still expensive.

I needed a new way of looking at heating, something modern and cheap to run and something that could take advantage of the oil but something green or greenish too, something that could use renewables.

The heating system I needed would need to accommodate multiple heating sources but to do this I wasn’t interested in employing the usual complex and expensive switching systems with their clunky dated technology, I needed something that would sit at the heart of the system and work seamlessly with all the sources of heat I had at my disposal.

My specification:

  • Something that can integrate multiple heat sources:
    • Multi-fuel stove
    • Existing oil-fired Worcester Bosch boiler
    • Biomass boiler
    • Multi-fuel boiler
    • Wet Solar
    • Immersion Heater (fallback)
    • Ground source
  • and supply heat to multiple heating systems:
    • Radiators
    • Under-floor heating
  • A system that can store heat for use later
  • A system that can be remotely controlled from my phone or computer
  • A modern solution
  • A system that can be programmed without having to use a dinky little plastic box, a system where one can utilise a proper scheduler on a computer or tablet.
  • Something that allows me to fit the radiators and add and take away radiators on a whim without the need for copper piping and a soldering iron. Something that was convenient.
  • A quiet system
  • A system that was efficient and green.

Anyway after much research and scratching of my head I came up with what I consider to be a rather excellent solution.

The Heart

The thermal store/heat bank/buffer tank/accumulator

What’s a thermal store I hear you say, well a thermal store is just what it says it is on the tin, the thermal store stores heat and it provides a way that heat produced through unreliable sources can be used at a later date. I need a system as I mentioned that would cater to a plethora of heat sources but as I’m in and out and I don’t have the time to light a fire every morning I need something that I can just switch on that doesn’t necessitate the convenience but the expense of oil.

My HTG Thermal Store (Thermal Bank) pouding along at 90 degrees

My HTG Thermal Store (Thermal Bank) pouding along at 90 degrees

The thermal store (sometimes called a bank) is a big cylinder that holds a large amount of water, typically 300 litres and upwards, there are some enormous ones on the market but these usually cater to the needs of farms or estates. This water reservoir stores the heat to be released later, they are incredibly insulated and being such a large volume they lose very little heat over protracted periods.

What’s clever about a store is that you plug in all your heat sources available in your house and the store simply stores the heat supplied in its vast bank of water to be used as your convenience later, it’s a bit like a big heat battery. I have a multi-fuel burner, an oil condensing boiler and the potential for thermal solar cells (note here that thermal solar is nothing to do with photo-votaic solar cells that churn out volts, the thermal solar cells churn out hot water), these can all be plumbed into my store, I’ve already bought the connection for the solar system and my oil and multi-fuel stoves are both already plumbed in.

The beauty of this is that in winter is I can use my multi-fuel stove to heat the water rather than use the oil and when I want access to this hot water it is available at any time I want. If the heat in the store should go below a predetermined temperature then the oil boiler will cut in and heat it up and should the oil run out there’s even an electric immersion heater in the store that can cut in – this could have proved useful when my oil mysteriously went missing last summer.

Apart from the storing of heat the other very attractive quality is that the radiators/underfloor can be supplied from any source you’ve plugged into the store. Normally when one wants to mix multiple heat sources it calls for intensive plumbing solutions such as H2 Control Systems, which seem to be pretty good but are limited to only a two sources of heat (don’t quote me on this though, there may have been advances made) and they just don’t seem convenient or in a position to use the heat sources to their most efficient ability, they just look clunky.

With the thermal store one can also employ thermal solar solutions in summer to heat water, again the oil providing a convenient backup and a further backup being an in-built immersion heater just in case the oil and the sun runs out. Get enough thermal cells and it will heat a full store up to melting point on a hot day, this means that you won’t pay a penny for heating over the summer.

Another useful string to the store’s bow is what heating output devices you can plug into it. You can plug your full radiator system into it, you can plug your underfloor heating into it, your domestic hot water works by running your mains water supply through an external plate heat exchanger (this is done deliberately as if this heat exchanger lime silts up – this is the one that would – then it is simple to disassemble and clean, make sure that your store has an external plate heat exchanger for domestic hot water) a great advantage to this is that your hot water is at mains pressure and not a trickle that relies on the gravity from your hot water tank.

It is such a flexible system and will be on full test on this site once it is fitted. I’m hoping my heating will go down to a fraction of what it’s been funding oil to heat my house and the houses of other less honest people.

Remember too that you’re not just limited to the sources I’m going to be using, you can also input pellet burning systems, ground heat recovery systems, get creative and run a pipe through a pile of manure, see what heat you can squeeze out of this.

There are plenty of good sites out there too offering lots of advice on buying a store, the first thing to seek out is a ready reckoner to figure out the litreage of the tank you’ll need. This calculator should take into consideration the size and heat lossiness of your house.

My advice though:

Hunt around, there are plenty of thermal stores out there and don’t think that expensive necessarily means best.

Make sure that the one you get is made of stainless steel and not just mild steel.

Make sure it has an external heat exchanger for your domestic hot water.

Get the size right, don’t be tempted to go toooo big.

I like the fact that the header tank for mine is made of metal and not plastic.

Get good heat sources that match the size of your tank, my multi-fuel stove is a little short on KW to heat the tank fully but that wasn’t my intention, my stove was meant to supplement the oil. Once I’m flush with money then I’ll be investing in a biomass source or a dedicated stove.

Check to see how well support supports. I got to know Matt at HTG and no question was too much trouble, some other companies could barely respond with a quotation let alone do support. It’s a shame that HTG went under but I’m satisfied that the store I bought is excellent and the HTG website is still there up in lights and a useful resource for anyone planning on fitting a thermal store.


Do your research, hunt around and find out what other peoples experiences were, it makes sense when you’re paying thousands of pounds

The thermal solar will have to go on hold for the moment, I really don’t have the money to do it at the moment and it will be brilliant though once I do get it in.

The veins/arteries

Radiator Manifold

A radiator manifold is like an underfloor heating manifold without the mixer valve. Basically traditional radiators operate on a circuit – like old Ethernet networking, one circuit one after another… such a geek – whereas with a manifold one has a star topology, each radiator is fitted with its own circuit.

My upstairs radiator manifold being charged

My upstairs radiator manifold being charged

It means for a lot more piping but if you use plastic pipe then that’s no great problem. It means also that each radiator can be very easily isolated, it means that balancing can be done centrally with inbuilt dinky flow-meters, it means that all radiators heat at the same time, it means that with some tech’ you too can have hyper-cool room thermostats linked to actuators at the manifold to make for perfect control (I’m not going to that extreme, although I do have a two zone Nest system, but it’s there if I want to).

It’s very much like modern star based Ethernet. Most plumbers hate the idea, perhaps because once the manifold is installed it can easily be tackled by a DIY’er, maybe it’s more to do with them not liking new tech, plumbers seem to be mostly change adverse, whereas IT people embrace new tech’ … ring based Ethernet is never used nowadays.

Laddomat/Heat Charger

I found that heat wasn’t getting efficiently from my stove to my store, the run was longish and on testing a pump to get the water circulating, well it did a lot of things right but it did a lot of things wrong too. It circulated hot water, sometimes too fast and it circulated cold water too, not good, it cooled down the store and in heating up the store it cooled down the fire too with cool water returned from the heating store.

Laddomat installed and working

Laddomat installed and working

The solution I found was to employ a Laddomat, the Laddomat is triggered by a thermostat attached to the flue of the fire, once the fire starts then the Laddomat starts pumping, the fire goes out and the Laddomat stops pumping. The significant difference though is that the Laddomat circulates hot water from the stove back to the stove until the water gets to a sufficient heat for it to be sent to the store. The cold water from the store is mixed with this hot water returned to the stove, never is cold water sent directly to the stove. What is also good too is that it is fed slowly into the store, and the heat layer basically expands slowly down through the tank without mixing it all up, as a dedicated pump is inclined to.

I think that the Laddomat is an essential part of the a thermal store system, it took me ages to discover that they existed and I wasted good money on gravity fed and systems using simple pumps before I discovered the beauty of the Laddomat.

The brains

Nest Learning Thermostat

Nest thermostats are fantastic, a fabulously engineered piece of gorgeous kit that looks wonderful on the wall, they’re like a milled bit of steel on a floating bezel, they just ooze quality.

The Nest thermostat controller on some dodgy wallpaper

The Nest thermostat controller on some dodgy wallpaper

There are many alternatives out there but I like Nest, they’re certainly not the cheapest option and are probably one of the more expensive options – if not the most expensive but they’re just lustrous bits of fabbo loveliness.

The Nest receivers in the thermal store cupboard

The Nest receivers in the thermal store cupboard

With a Nest thermostat one can control one’s system remotely, if you zone your system you can control each zone and if you’re rich enough you can control individual rooms. No more mucking around with tiny displays you can set schedules on a computer or tablet or phone screen, it’s highly customisable and you can basically set it to do whatever you wish in an intuitive interface. There’s even a smart mode – the learning bit – that figures out when you’re around – using motion detection – and it can then figure out when you’ll need heat based on previous settings and fuzzy logic.

As I mentioned earlier I have two Nest thermostats, zoned upstairs and down, however the manifold system I have lends itself to a room zoned approach, so should I get a windfall or should I feel a new credit card application coming on I might invest in some more. Link these extra Nest thermostats to the manifold using actuators on the relevant circuits and Robert is one’s proverbial Uncle.


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