Neil & Aileen Walker
Before Neil and Aileen Walker retrofitted their 1995-built timber frame house it had a C2 energy rating. “Not the worst but not great,” says Neil, an engineer who heads up the energy and environment section of the national business confederation, Ibec.
Their 175sqm home is a two story four bedroom detached house on quite an exposed site in Ballyboughal, north Dublin. “For a long time we had struggled to heat it effectively. The kitchen diner was never warm and various attempts over the years, such as extra insulation in the attic and wood stoves rather than open fires, had not made much of a difference,” says Neil. “Even with the central heating on and the fires lit there would be nasty draughts under the doors. We would never come home to a warm house and my wife would never eat a meal in the kitchen it was so cold!” Neil came across SuperHomes by word of mouth in the summer of 2016. Earlier that year their oil tank had failed, creating a plume of kerosene in the ground under their home. “We had to leave the house for a few months while it was remediated,” says Neil. “It was a huge insurance claim.”
One of the reasons they decided to go for the SuperHomes scheme, which is managed by Tipperary Energy Agency, was the prospect of replacing their oil boiler and never again having to deal with a kerosene leak. A requirement of the scheme is that the primary heating system must be from a renewable source of energy. The first step carried out by Tipperary Energy Agency was an initial Building Energy Rating (BER) survey including a pressure test to identify draughts. They then recommended a number of deep efficiency retrofits to bring the house to an A3 energy rating. These included installation of an air source heat pump, attic and wall insulation, a ventilation system, LED lighting and solar photovoltaic panels.
Despite Neil’s professional background he had always been reluctant to make the leap and convert to a heat pump because “every single installer gave different advice”.
“Dealing with Tipperary Energy Agency took a lot of the risk out of it for me,” he says. “They took all the hassle and worry out of it. All we had to do was pick a contractor from their shortlist.”
A 8.5kW Mitsubishi monobloc outdoor air source heat pump unit was installed at the back of the house and a new 200l hot water tank installed in the hot press. The oil leak clean up job had required digging up a lot of the ground floor so they took the opportunity to remove their downstairs radiators and install underfloor heating, which complements an air source heat pump well. “There is a manifold under the stairs as part of the control system for the underfloor heating,” says Neil. The upstairs steel radiators were replaced with aluminium radiators, again in order to complement the heat pump.
Neil was surprised that the 20-year-old windows did not need replacing. It was sufficient that silicone sealant was used to seal up some draughts around the glazing. In the attic the SuperHomes contractors installed 30cm of insulation, lagged the cold water tank, the feed and expansion tank and all attic pipework, and attached a latch to the attic door to prevent draughts. A further SuperHomes requirement is the installation of advanced ventilation. In the Walker’s home passive demand control ventilation (DCV) was installed in the four bedrooms. These small units were fitted where the original room vents had been. “The plastic covers on the wall are a slightly different size to the old ones, so the paint around them needed a small touch-up,” says Neil. Active DCVs were fitted in the kitchen and the three bathrooms. These are mounted in the ceilings and linked to a low-powered extraction fan in the attic that vents out to the roof. The old vents on these rooms were sealed up with expanding foam and painted over. The bathroom ventilation units include passive infrared sensors that detect if someone is in the room. “The system only consumes a few watts,” says Neil. All the new vents were fitted in such a way as to ensure that air can no longer escape into the 100mm space between the timber frame and the external brickwork.
The Walkers kept their wood stoves but they don’t use them much. “Old habits die hard so we’ve had a few token logs.” Initially they decided not to install solar PV panels but a special ESB trial that complimented SuperHomes prompted them to install a 1.5kW system on their south-facing roof.
The PV now runs their biocycle system and any household electrics and any excess solar electricity goes into the hot water tank. The Walkers were very happy with the appointed SuperHomes contractors. “The most time consuming bit was the underfloor heating but the works were completed on time,” says Neil.
Overall the retrofit cost in excess of €20,000 of which they paid 70 per cent.
“The payback is quite long – probably about a decade – but we have absolutely no regrets,” says Neil, adding that Aileen is “a total fan.”
“You tell the house what temperature you want upstairs and downstairs to be and that’s it, you never have to think or worry about it.” “Our electricity bill has gone up slightly but as are not buying kerosene any more we are spending less than we were.”
The retrofit has effectively added to the size of the house, because the Walkers have been able to reclaim the kitchen “which used to be an icebox”. “It’s a better investment than in the bank,” says Neil. “In the meantime we have an extra room, peace of mind that we’ll never have a kerosene leak again and a deliciously comfortable house.”
You can apply for SuperHomes 2018 here