Heat pump technology in a traditional highland home
While many people dream of upping-sticks to the country in pursuit of a quieter pace of life, very few make their dreams a reality. But in July 2021, former heating systems engineer, Richard Folkes, and his wife did just that.
Leaving their busy lives in southern England behind, the couple purchased an almost 150-year-old stone cottage in the highlands of Perthshire, Scotland. Although the 1500 sq ft property had been somewhat modernised by its previous owners – most notably the addition of double-glazed windows and loft insulation – it was still heated by merely a stove and fireplace. After toughing it out through a wild highland winter, come the spring, Folkes drew on his over three decades of industry experience to decide how to modernise the property’s heating system.
A carbon-neutral option
“There is no mains gas in the village, so as I saw it, we had two viable options to choose between,” explains Folkes. “Like most other properties in the village, we could have installed a wet heating circuit of radiators, heated by an oil boiler. Or we could go down the renewables route.”
“I was drawn to the greener option; living in an area of such beauty, you naturally develop far more of an appreciation of what having a carbon-neutral footprint means. I then planned to install the system myself, but that didn’t necessarily mean the process was all plain sailing.”
MCS Umbrella Scheme
“The moment I began researching heat pumps in more detail, I discovered the number of hoops installers must jump through is phenomenal. In order for homeowners to benefit from Government funding, both ground- and air-source heat pumps can only be commissioned by an MCS business – certification which requires extensive training, a good deal of paperwork, and a far from insignificant financial investment for most independent tradespeople to undertake. And like many others, despite my 35 years in the heating industry, it was a certification I did not have.
“However, I’d spent much of my career working with Viessmann’s products, and when I looked into their heat pump range, I discovered their MCS umbrella scheme, which exists to tackle this very problem. As part of their work under the scheme, Viessmann specified the system, following a room-by-room heat loss calculation. Then, once I had purchased the system and installed it, Viessmann commissioned the system under its MCS Umbrella Scheme, to verify that everything was safe and working as it should be, and process the certification needed to claim funding.”
Following a detailed heat loss calculation, Folkes opted for a 16 kW Vitocal 222-A air source heat pump (ASHP), which consists of both an indoor and outdoor unit, with water-carrying connection lines running between. The original granite stone walls of the end-terrace cottage, which Folkes estimates was built somewhere circa 1880, are two feet thick in places, meaning a specialist wet diamond cutting company was needed to drill a hole through which the connecting pipework could pass. Folkes then installed the external unit of the ASHP to the rear of the property, and the internal unit in the property’s ground-floor utility room.
“The whole installation took me a few days, because not only was I working along, but I also had to fit a whole new heating circuit as well,” says Folkes. “I installed 16 radiators around the property, including the three bedrooms, living room, hallway and dining room, and bathroom.
“I also had to take care with the external unit that it doesn’t get buried in snow, because we get more than the average snowfall here than most of the UK. The last thing you want is snow in the fans, so unlike the standard three or four inches off the ground, I fitted ours on steel anchors around 18 inches up the wall.”
Peace of mind
The system is governed by weather compensation technology, which sees an external sensor located on a shaded wall outside the cottage dictate how hard the heat pump has to work in order to maintain a constant temperature within the home, despite fluctuations in temperature outside.
Folkes also opted for an additional level of control through Viessmann’s ViCare app, in a decision he describes as a ‘no brainer.’ “It wasn’t a lot more extra money to have ViCare, but it makes the world of difference.” He explains. “Simply put, it’s one more component which is connected to the heat pump unit, and ‘talks’ to the router, in a ‘conversation’ that’s all visible through an app. From an installer’s perspective, the app made setting up and adjusting the settings far easier, and in a far more user-friendly way than standard product controls, which should a layperson try to use them, can seem extremely daunting. Also, as the end-user in this case, I’ve found the app really helpful when adjusting the heating system to meet my own requirements, and I have peace of mind knowing it will automatically flag up a problem to myself and to Viessmann if an issue occurs anywhere in the system.”
Folkes, who has not fully retired and services oil boilers in the village, is happy with the system, though he acknowledges more needs to be done to make heat pumps a more favourable option to other property owners in off-grid locations.
“The heat pump works really well, and it’s great to know we’re doing our bit towards going green,” says Folkes. “In fact, the whole thing has ticked every box except one – and that’s the running cost. This is purely because the cost of the electricity is currently way too expensive. Living where we do, it’s frustrating too because in this part of Scotland we’re on the hydro network; there is a lot of electricity generation from the lochs here. We’re producing more green energy than people need, and because there’s no mains gas in the area, there are lots of us now who have electricity-only systems. But because the wholesale cost of energy is set against the cost of gas, we’re all paying way too much for it, despite it being made literally on our doorstep.
“Many people are put off renewable heating solutions because of the upfront cost, so it’s fantastic that we were able to claim for financial support. Because of our location, I was able to claim £7,500 from the Home Energy Scotland (HES) loan, which currently provides more funding than the Boiler Upgrade Scheme (BUS) voucher, available in England and Wales. Though it was not available when we applied for the HES, eligible homeowners can now also receive an uplift of £1,500 under the scheme, taking their funding total to £9,000.00. Since both schemes require MCS certification sign-off to be able to make a claim though, it’s worth homeowners looking into the options available to them.
“The funding we received definitely made a difference when looking at the budget for different options, and I’m encouraged that initiatives such as Viessmann’s MCS umbrella scheme means that more heating engineers are able to pass these savings onto their customers. Hopefully, it will make green energy a more viable option for more people.”