All fired up about green energy

PUBLISHED: 01:30 31 July 2012 | UPDATED: 21:41 20 February 2013

All fired up about green energy

All fired up about green energy

David & Karen Wyllie's historic Suffolk farmhouse is officially an unsustainable gas-guzzler. As the warmer weather kicks in, it's time to kick out against the oil-fired heating system

David and Karen Wyllies historic Suffolk farmhouse is officially an unsustainable gas-guzzler. As the warmer weather kicks in, its time to kick out against the oil-fired heating system to ensure that Green Farm goes with a different flow this winter

Six months into the two year future-proofing eco-plan and Green Farm is looking, well, greener by the minute. The small wind turbine turns in the summer breezes; the sunlight makes the inverter whirr merrily inside the solar PV shed; the green beans on the veg plot are looking decidedly French and the courgettes fast aspiring to marrow-dom. Whats more, the greenhouse is proving a real hot house, colouring up with flame-red tomatoes.

Pity Green Farmhouse isnt a hot house too. Like so many rural properties, the place has lots of history: a charming inglenook fireplace, an aging oil-fired central heating system and that time-honoured tradition zero insulation. Of a winters day, you can curl up all toasty in front of the fire (well, in one or two rooms at least), then freeze off your proverbials en route to the bathroom in spite of passing numerous radiators. The massive fossil fuel bill which lands on the mat isnt heart warming either, but as Chartered environmental engineer, David Wyllie, explains, he is determined to make that history too.

Oil-fired and fed up

"When it comes to creating a carbon footprint our heating system has simply got its galoshes on. It wades its way through 500 costly litres of oil a year, feeding the outside world with heat which has only had the briefest encounter with the inside of the house and its residents. Later this year, the roof will be coming off to get the sheeps wool and special insulation in, but paring back on the dependence of fossil fuels and cutting fuel bills as a result has to be a massive priority. Weve already started with our vehicles, with the little run-around thriving on home-made biodiesel and our newly sourced four-by-four equally happy with neat waste cooking oil as its amber nectar. Now its time to focus on the house and get serious about avoiding another major oil delivery this autumn.

Tanking up for the future

Its big (250 litres to be precise). Its green (literally). And ok, beauty is in the eye of the beholder. But the delivery of Green Farms enormous new hot water tank-cum-thermal store did herald a new era and cause considerable excitement. Prepped with the where-with-all for future solar thermal and biomass boiler feeds, its immediate partner is Titan, a stonking, new (satisfyingly reconditioned), wood burning boiler stove supported by a necessary immersion. Much to everyones delight, the boiler provides hot water a-plenty and a heating pump circulates the surplus to the radiators. A special widget has even been sourced to ensure that the immersion only kicks in when the back boiler fails to provide adequate heat.

A bit of a balancing act

The new heating theory for Green Farm admittedly requires some trial and error. Cuddling into the inglenook, Titan, the wraparound wood burning boiler stove, will bring a new warmer dimension to the kids TV and chill out room. Wrapped in a water jacket, the body of the stove is not heated directly by the fire, thus allowing delivery of the highest heat (max. 14 kW) to the water, but still a respectable amount of heat (max 8 kW) to the room.

Meanwhile the dining room gets a pre-loved woodburner of its own too, whilst following much deliberation by Karen in the local showroom, our teenager-free sitting room goes posh with an unusual, lighter-looking and freestanding stove cased in sandstone.

With the woodburners glowing nicely, the idea is that the heat percolates up through the floors. Fitted with thermostats, the radiators are regulated, allowing the top floor rads to take priority. With any luck, this should mean that we can delay turning on the main heating, or reduce any reliance upon it to just a little background warmth in the early mornings. Add to this an insulated roof as a starter at least and, with a bit of tinkering here and there, hey presto we should have one homogeneously toasty house throughout!"

Fuel for the fire

With the equivalent of seven trailer loads of wood for the able-if-not-always-willing teenagers to log up at their leisure, Green Farm has plenty of renewable fuel for its woodburners for this winter. When the time comes to source more, wood briquettes seem an attractive option. Made from compacted wood waste, their very low moisture content means greater heat output and a saving of about 40% over seasoned logs. Theyre clean and easy to store too just wont keep the kids so fit!

Keep the home fires burning

Woodburner quick facts

Todays wood burners are typically about 80% efficient

They are about 60% more efficient than an open grate fire

Stoves re-circulate combustible gases, increasing the heat benefit and reducing carbon emissions

Clean, user-friendly no need to re-lay every morning

Gradual ash layer acts as a base to help fuel burn

Its enclosed design means it can be left safely around the clock

Plenty of style and fuel choices

Ash can be added to the compost bin and is great for the garden too!

Why not read more from David Wyllie, our Green Man, online at or share your tips and experiences by emailing:

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