Renewables in Country Houses and Estates

Increasingly country houses and estates are turning to ‘renewables’ to supply heating and hot water. Ever increasing fuel bills are forcing property owners, in both the domestic and commercial sector to explore alternatives. Faced with a myriad of options the next hurdle is to identify which system is the most cost effective and efficient for a particular property’s requirements.  The choice and design is crucial.

Seeking advice from a number of renewable specialists leads to conflicting opinions and navigating through the choices is not easy. Biomass experts will tell you that biomass is the way forward and heat pumps may not be suitable, heat pump installers will tell you that heat pumps will solve your problem and have a number of reasons why you should not use biomass. Not forgetting the solar panel salesman who will tell you that none of the renewable heating systems will work on your property and installing solar panels to reduce electricity bills would be the most efficient way to reduce bills.  However, what we do know is that making the right choice will guarantee savings and decrease carbon emissions. But how does the client get to that point?  The answer is to make sure that the design engineer is adequately qualified and has a portfolio of properties, which are enjoying successful, efficient installations. Mark Witzenburger, an expert in the design of renewable technologies commented, “Cutting corners to save a few pounds on the installation can be a costly error.  The design of a renewable installation is a complicated technical process and must be carried out by a professional. Most mistakes can be rectified but at additional cost, which could have been avoided.”

A renewable energy installation requires a significant financial investment and like any investor you need to do your homework and be confident it is a sound one. For some the motivation is driven by the desire to ‘go green’ but for the majority that is secondary to reducing bills and making the property viable for the next generation. Country houses were designed for low level heating, traditionally fires were lit in the rooms in the morning and kept alight all day, this warmed up the thermal mass of the building keeping the rooms at a comfortable and constant temperature. But of course today we do not live like the Grantham’s in Downton Abbey and it is not possible for country house owners to have on hand the number of staff needed to maintain fires. Luckily modern heating systems are designed to do the hard work for you. But at what cost?   Julian Sowerbutts, Managing Director of The Renewable Design Company based in Cheltenham is an expert in country houses.  He commented, “To cut costs most large house owners run the heating once in the morning and once in the evening. This results in the air being heated and the fabric of the building never getting up to temperature. By using heat pumps a constant level of heat is maintained and in a similar way to the fires the mass of the building is warmed making a constant comfortable heat possible.  In addition to making the atmosphere better for the residents it also provides a better temperature for antique furniture, paintings and rugs.”

A simplified example of the renewable technologies applicable for country houses and estates are set out below:-

Water Source heat pumps –  if there is a lake, river, loch or large pond near to a house it can provide a significant  and invaluable heat source. In many cases this can be the most efficient of all heat pump systems, least disruptive to your property as it does not require significant ground works making it  considerably cheaper to install.

Ground Source heat pumps – can be either trenching or bore holes.

Trenching is a good solution for properties with plenty of land but can be disruptive during installation. Once installed it requires minimal maintenance and is invisible.

Boreholes are suitable for properties with limited space. Drilling down 100m can be more expensive but provides a very efficient system and the bore holes can be hidden under drives, car parks and patios.

Air Source heat pumps – ideal for smaller properties with limited space but also suitable for large commercial applications. The larger systems do have a noise implication but they can be installed a short distance away from the house.

Biomass – an ideal choice if there are large woodlands that are coppiced or cleared regularly. The system requires out buildings for fuel storage, machinery for transporting and manpower for managing woodland, fuel and boiler operation.

Solar Thermal Panels – a very effective way of providing hot water all year round. The panels will not provide all of the hot water requirement. A secondary heat source will be needed. This not an expensive add-on to any system, very effective in the British climate and can also be connected to the heating to pre-heat when no hot water is required.

Solar PV panels – for the generation of electricity. This still remains a good investment with the Feed-In-Tariff. Those objecting to the sight of panels on rooftops can have them ground mounted or tucked away on an outbuilding. Particularly good for high users of electricity where all power generated will be used on site.

For further information on which technology would be most suitable for you, or a free appraisal of your property contact The Renewable Design Company at:


Tel: 01242 698410 or 07780 7056260