When Alison and Matthew Grey decided to buy a Victorian pumping house in Newgate Street village, near Cheshunt, Hertfordshire, they agreed to allow Channel 4 to follow the project’s progress for the TV series Restoration Man.
The programme, which aired at the beginning of January, followed the Greys throughout 2013 as they struggled to keep costs down; they wanted to create a modern family home without compromising any of the building’s design integrity.
‘Our biggest challenge was deciding how to replace the windows, which are a major feature of the building’, explains Alison Grey. ‘George Clark, the presenter, called us restoration heroes because we spent almost half our allocated budget on steel window frames which were much more sympathetic to the original design than the UPVC ones we inherited.’
A large chunk of the programme focused on the couple’s angst over the cost of metal versus plastic or wooden window frames. Unfortunately, that meant that the show didn’t cover Alison and Matthew’s commitment to installing renewable technology in as much detail as they’d have liked.
‘We filmed quite a bit on why we had chosen to install an Ecodan heat pump for our heating, photovoltaic panels to help generate electricity and a Lossnay heat recovery ventilation unit, but most of this ended up on the cutting room floor’, says Alison.
In fact, the couple spent almost as much time on their research into renewable heating as they spent researching the windows. ‘We knew that heating a building of this size would be extremely costly without some form of sustainable energy’, Alison explains.
The Greys sought the advice of Tony Owen of AOS Solar, installers of renewable technology across Hertfordshire, Essex and North London. Thanks to its certification under the Microgeneration Certification Scheme (MCS), AOS Solar’s customers are also eligible for any available government-funded grants, such as the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI).
‘When we spoke to our installer about heating and looked at the options on the market, there was a clear winner’, said Alison. ‘Ecodan was streets ahead of other heat pumps in terms of performance, flexibility and support from the manufacturer.’
Built around 1888 on Darnicle Hill, the pumping house drew water from an aquifer via a 250ft bore hole that served Cheshunt and the surrounding area. It was decommissioned in 1970 and passed through various owners before the Greys bought it for £750,000 in 2012.
The late Victorian industrial building still has many of its original features. The stock brick walls have rubbed red brick window and door arches, terracotta dressings and decorative console brackets supporting the cast iron gutters.
During the initial stages of development the family lived in the old boiler room, which had been converted by the previous owner. Phase one saw the complete renovation and refurbishment of the building’s pump room as the Greys stripped everything back to the bare brickwork.
‘Our first step was to take everything back to basics and see what we could retain and incorporate to give the building the credit it deserved’, says Alison, who project managed most of the renovation while on maternity leave following the birth of the couple’s second child.
The original glazed brickwork and sandstone detailing around the windows were renovated by experts, and became a feature in the new clean and modern design of the family home. This is one of the simple things that, for Restoration Man presenter George Clark, showed Alison and Matthew were ticking all the right boxes to get a sympathetic but modern restoration.
The Greys designed the main body of their home on two levels with a split across the tall, arched windows to provide light on both floors. Upstairs, the roof beams were cleaned and renovated to provide a beautiful feature and downstairs, the couple rescued two huge sandstone blocks which had been used to anchor the steam pump engines. These were cut up to provide floor tiles for the new downstairs bathroom, which helped retain some of the history of the building.
After spending almost £80,000 on a new roof and new sewage facilities to make the property habitable, the Greys added 14 photovoltaic panels, two solar thermal panels and a 5kW Ecodan unit for their hot water. The couple had originally planned to spend £60,000 for the basic build of phase one, but in reality they spent £30,000 on the fittings, £30,000 on the windows and around £80,000 on the basic build, meaning the Greys had to re-mortgage halfway through the project.
George Clark called them true restoration heroes because of their refusal to compromise on design and quality. He presented them with original prints of the inside of the pump house when they held a party to celebrate the completion of phase one with family, friends, suppliers and the Channel 4 crew.
The new home has a 14kW Ecodan for its underfloor heating and a 5kW unit for the hot water supply. Alison Grey is confident that the heat pump system will pay for itself within a couple of years. ‘The heat pump and underfloor heating system combined did cost more than a traditional carbon-based system would have cost to fit, but the running costs will be less than half of an oil or LPG system and we are also eligible under the Government’s Renewable Heat Incentive’, she explained.
RHI payments are guaranteed for the next seven years and could provide the Grey family with hundreds of pounds every three months. On top of that, they will help to reduce the payback period for the heat pump.
‘The first thing that comes to mind with the Ecodan air source heat pump’, Alison told PQ, ‘is that I never feel any guilt over heating such a large house! Due to the efficiency of the air source heat pumps and solar system coupled with the government Feed-in Tariff, we are now energy bill neutral. The alternative in such a large building — it’s two large double-height rooms of 12x6m each — would be an entirely unsustainable monthly energy bill.’
‘There’s more than enough capacity in the equipment to sustain us through sub-zero temperatures’, Alison added. ‘Coupled with the underfloor heating, managing a warm house is not something we need to think about. We just set the thermostats to 20 degrees and the system ensures the house is kept to temperature.’ In their previous home the Greys had used a gas combi boiler. ‘It was easy enough to use and not too expensive’, Alison says, ‘but it worked on a timer rather than a thermostat so it wasn’t all that efficient or effective — if it was cold outside it wasn’t quite warm enough inside and if warm outside it was too warm inside.’
The Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive — a world-first scheme to support our shift towards renewable energy — provides seven years of government payments for the heat generated by low-carbon systems. The tariffs range from 7.3p/kWh for air source heat pumps to 19.2p/kWh for solar thermal.
Mitsubishi Electric has developed a heat pump calculator, the Ecodan Selection Tool, which allows anyone with an interest in heat pumps to get an insight into how this technology could benefit any building, whether it’s a single domestic dwelling or a large commercial project. To see how much your property could benefit from a heat pump through the Renewable Heat Incentive, visit heating.mitsubishielectric.co.uk/ecodanselectiontool.
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