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Musing about green retrofit heat/water and bathrooms etc Help me solve various problems?

(10 Posts)
WilfSell Sun 03-Jul-16 16:03:06

First bit of important information: we have NO big/extra money. We will hopefully realise a (small in this context) amount from a forthcoming property sale. We'd love to do a full on renovation of our old drafty house but we're stuck with quite a lot of limitations, not least lack of savings and three big hungry expensive children.

So we might have 30k or so maximum in a few months.

We have a 5 bedroom 1950s house with old crittall style metal framed windows (might as well throw the fivers out those open windows even when they're closed etc). We have LOTS of windows so cannot afford to double glaze. We solve that problem with a DIY hack of removable clear acrylic panels and magnetic tap. Works a treat though isn't gorgeous.

We think the walls are cavity walls but no real idea if they're already insulated. How do we find out easily?

We have solid concrete floors on ground floor, on various levels.

The heating system is a newish (4-5 years, can't remember exactly) gas condensing boiler and immersion tank (which also has electric input) fitted onto the ORIGINAL and ancient sealed system heating. It's basically a single unvalved massive cast iron pipe running around the whole of the house with some cast iron radiators. Some of these cast iron pipes run under/in the concrete floor. There is no thermostatic control per radiator: it is either on or off in every room, but there is an overall thermostatic control.Though we love the radiators, they are all in terrible places and can't be moved without refitting whole system. Where the big pipes are not buried in the floor, they run round bits of every room, making placing furniture very difficult - eg it can't be up against a wall because the giant pipes are in the way.

No plumber in the world - or at least round here - will agree to meddle with it to fix or change anything. They are terrified and only offer to rip it all out and start again.

We think we are at that point.

We also want to knock down a wall (between kitchen and dining room which has one of said radiators on it.

And we are considering doing up our very small family bathroom (the only one) moving and replacing our water tank (which is in the bathroom airing cupboard for an unvented one maybe so we have enough water flow to put in an extra shower in a converted cloakroom downstairs. We would need to put unvented cylinder either in loft (strengthening joists?) or in ground floor utility room next to boiler (would we then need pump for upstairs?)

We might also need to reorganise a bit of space around cloakroom/utility room in an ideal world to fit everything in.

I know we won't be able to afford most of this all in one go, but we're thinking if we can do the heating system and cylinder first, we might be able to do some of the other bits after we've saved up more money later.

And I'd really like to be able to (later, if the govt ever revives its green energy loan scheme) be able to plan for adding in some renewable options. I'm particularly interested in solar elec and thermal, and biomass boiler options. We have the space and a southfacing roof, though lots of big trees around.

So, that was a very long intro to my actual questions.

Would you agree that given we can't do a major renovation all in one go, best to focus on heating system, cylinder first?

Does anyone know - given all the digging out that is likely to be involved - what best option for new heating system would be? eg given concrete floors is it going to be horrific to try to install normal radiators without having copper pipes everywhere? What about an underfloor system on ground floor - would that be loads more expensive?

And any clever people with an idea of how much these things cost? I'm in Midlands so not London/SE prices! Any advice/suggestions/thought gratefully received. Thanks

ChishandFips33 Sun 03-Jul-16 18:37:02

You totally have my sympathy OP! Our 1800's house (stone built, pretty open plan!) used to be so draughty in the winter we slept in hats!

We tackled the windows and doors first figuring there was no point having heating on for it just to escape - this has made an unbelievable difference (thought we've not been through a winter yet) and I so wished we'd done it as soon as we moved in to feel the winter benefit

We were lucky though that the heating worked, albeit uneconomically!

We then changed the radiators and installed a Woodburner

Have you had quotes for your windows? Do you have a lot?

ChishandFips33 Sun 03-Jul-16 18:39:19

P.s re the underfloor - we did that in a house we were renovating. Used Wundafloor insulated panels but wet pour would have been a lot cheaper.

If you are having to dig out your concrete it could be worth doing - it's a much nicer heat and pretty much turns your floor in to one big radiator

PigletJohn Sun 03-Jul-16 23:11:19

"We think the walls are cavity walls" If it is 1950's I think so too.

Measure the thickness at a door or window opening. It will be about 9-inches (solid) or about 13-inches (cavity) or photograph the brick pattern, which will show.

If it has already had CWI then you will be able to see marks in the brickwork, about a metre apart each way, and under windowsills, where 1-inch holes were drilled in the joints, and later refilled with mortar.

I hope the loft has 250mm or so of insulation in it. The cost is low and the payback very fast.

The payback on solar electricity and other wizard schemes is longer than you think. If you get, say, 10% saving and subsidy, after ten years you have made no gain. After 15 years you will have got back your original money plus what you would have had if you'd invested it or earned interest. If you live for 20 years more and stay in the house, you will probably make a profit. If post-Brexit inflation rises, your payback will seem better.

Solar water heating does not save as much as you think and in my case, I carefully calculated and it was a non-starter.

If somebody put a new boiler on old iron pipes and radiators, I hope they fitted a system filter, and that you clean it out every couple of months. There will be a lot of rust and sediment, which is very bad for modern boilers. You have no chance of getting it clean, all you can do is try to catch most of the circulating dirt before it gets into the boiler.

Have you budgeted for a rewire?

PigletJohn Sun 03-Jul-16 23:17:12


If you have an unvented cylinder you won't need (and can't have) a pump. Please don't put it in the loft. Fill a bucket at your kitchen cold tap (and the garden tap and utility room taps, if you have them), time it to full, calculate how many litres per minute you get. You probably have a half-inch copper water supply pipe. Have a look. If it is an iron pipe I recommend replacing it as it will be getting rusty and might leak soon.

specialsubject Mon 04-Jul-16 16:23:50

I also think that your main priority is improving insulation. The only true 'green' attitude is to use less, and that's what insulation will help you do.

be careful with biomass, which is basically wood burning. The USA have embraced it big time and are happily stripping out forests. Wood burning is green-ish if you do it small scale and replant everything you chop down.

I tried starting the green deal process for a grant for a replacement boiler. It involved getting a new and pricey EPC (the two year old one wasn't sufficient), getting quotes from approved suppliers (who were all more expensive), and then hoping that I'd actually get money back after all that. Unsurprisingly I didn't bother. The simplest way for the government (any government) to incentivise energy use reduction would be to remove VAT on improvements, and add it on new builds. Not happening. The green deal, loan or grant, is dead.

As PJ says you don't add solar for money saving, but it may be worthwhile for resilience. The UK's energy supply is very fragile.

WilfSell Wed 06-Jul-16 11:33:58

Thanks for all your replies. Yes we have good loft insulation, will check the walls for drill holes.

We do have the heating flushed every once in a while to clear the crap out. To be honest I think we're close to a full replacement of heating with new copper pipes. We just can't do anything with what we've got. I take your points about solar/biomass. Will think on.

And yes, we'll probably need all the electrics doing to as they're shocking.

But as for an unvented cylinder, hmm, if not the loft don't know where I'm going to put it: can it go on a ground floor happily? I'm trying to end up with a bigger family bathroom without building an extension so existing space for tank will be used...

PigletJohn Wed 06-Jul-16 11:58:26

It can go anywhere.

It is slightly more economical to have it close the hot tap you use most often (probably the kitchen sink) because you waste a bit each time you wait for the tap to run hot, but it will be a bit quicker and more economical than a combi in that respect (and quieter).

WilfSell Wed 06-Jul-16 12:42:55

So in the utility room, next to boiler would be ok? I'm a bit dense, forgive my stupid questions: the unvented bit means pressure is constant throughout the house, right? So doesn't need a head of water to get to upstairs shower/bath?

PigletJohn Wed 06-Jul-16 12:59:16

Thats right.

It has to be accessible for annual inspection and, rarely, servicing, but you can put it in a corner if whatever is in the way can pull out.

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