Guide to Heating your Home

Guide to Heating your Home

Helpdesk Expert at The National Self Build & Renovation Centre, David Hilton shares expert advice on how to heat your home efficiently 

Often homes are constructed with the heating added as an afterthought. To create a modern, energy efficient, home it is best to know what services you want to include before you break ground on the project. 

Heating has become a bit of a minefield and self-builders are often faced with many (often complex) choices. Almost all products now seem to carry some ‘eco’, ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ credential, which can be misleading. Simply buying and installing these products doesn’t guarantee an energy efficient home, and if the wrong products are chosen it will be an expensive mistake to amend.  

When approaching the heating of your home split it into three steps: Insulate, recover waste, and add heat. The two most important aspects of the efficiency of your home are insulation and airtightness. 

Once this has been done the next step is to recover and reuse heat. Mechanical Heat Recovery Ventilation (MVHR) is a popular choice for many homebuilders as it draws stale, humid air from wet rooms such as the kitchen and bathroom, and transfers the heat into the fresh incoming air without any cross contamination. This saves around 75% of the energy that otherwise would have been wasted. As the ducting can be fairly large they do need to be carefully designed and planned so that there is low resistance and that they are embedded discretely in the fabric of the building.  There are also heat recovery devices available that recover heat from the flue gasses of a boiler, or even from the heat in the wastewater from your shower.

Now for the ‘add heat’ bit. This is often referred to as primary heat and can be created from a fossil fuel boiler (either Gas, Oil or Propane gas) or from electric based systems which could be direct electric resistance heating or radiant infrared panels. Other heating sources include refrigerant based systems such air source or ground source heat pumps, air to air heat pumps (often referred to as air conditioning systems) or thermodynamic panels. Biomass systems that include wood pellets, wood chips or log boilers and burners, or a whole host of new technologies such as Cogeneration (Combined heat and Power), or hybrid combinations can also be considered.

My advice for choosing a heating system applies to every aspect of a self-build: focus on the house you’re trying to create, everything must be tailored to yourself and your family. After all, no one knows the house you want to live in better than you. 

Get yourself a notebook and create a wish list of what is important to you and your family. Start with three columns, the first being the ‘must have’ column. This would be essential parts of the home for instance the bathroom, windows, front door. The next column is ‘personal’ these are the absolute items you want in your home, such as a built in barbeque area or home-office. The final column is the ‘like to have’ items that you will include if the budget allows after the prioritised items in the first two columns.  

I’d also advise speaking to other self-builders or attend self build shows and exhibitions (such as at the NSBRC) or CPD lectures to educate yourself about the products. 

At The National Self build and Renovation Centre, in Swindon, we run a number of courses for the self builder, including the ‘Guide to Heating Your Home’ course. It is a one day course created for the self-builder to put products into perspective, bust the jargon in the heating trade, so you can talk about radiator sizes, under floor heating zone design etc.  

The course covers conventional heating systems as well as new and emerging technologies, and we use fully plumbed demo rigs, putting them into context with the fabric of the building. The course costs just £165 including all materials, lunch & refreshments.

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