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Having worked in the building industry for most of my life I do like to keep up with modern developments. As energy costs rise I think it is important to develop more efficient systems and some time ago I started looking at the options that might be available when the time came to replace my old oil fired heating system. I live in an area with no gas supply and I had an oil boiler situated on an outside wall but over the years the costs of heating oil have risen very steeply so I really wanted to use something else if possible. LPG was an option but like oil prices the costs of LPG have risen so I discounted that which really only left me with a choice between solid fuel (wood or coal) or electricity.
I am aware that there have been major advances in heating design in recent years and I got chatting to a design engineer I know about the options. He spoke very positively about heat pumps and how they were being used more often these days in domestic dwellings. I had heard of ground source heat pumps before but wasn't aware of the developments in Air Source Heat Pumps until he started telling me all about them and the advantages of them.
I resolved to find out more and did a considerable amount of research on the internet about how they work and the comparative costs against other fuel types and began to believe that they represented a realistic alternative for me. Basically an air source heat pump is like a large air conditioning unit in reverse. It draws in air and extracts the heat from it which it uses to provide heat for the home. It appears that because the refrigerant used within the units has a very low boiling point that Air Source Heat Pumps can work effectively in temperatures down to -15 degrees C so a British Winter shouldn't present an obstacle. Air source heat pumps are also much more efficient than other types of heating as for each kilowatt of energy used you get 3 to 4 kilowatts of heat whereas for most other types of heating you just get 1 kilowatt back!
Not long after I had done the research I met an ex colleague in the supermarket and she asked me if I knew anything about Air Source Heat Pumps as she and her husband were looking for a new heating system to replace their storage heaters. I was able to relate what I knew and she told me that her Local Authority were installing Air Source heat Pumps in their Council Houses in her village. Subsequently she got a price from the same contractor the Council were using and had her heating renewed.
Needless to say I was interested to find out how things worked out so last Winter, when we had a temperature locally of -11 degrees C overnight I called round to see the results. Her home was lovely and warm - much warmer than mine - and she and her husband were delighted. I saw her again in the Spring and she reported that the running costs were considerably lower that her storage heaters had been and the comfort levels were very satisfactory. I was hooked and decided to get some quotes to replace my system.
Finding a Contractor
Although Air Source Heat Pumps are relatively new in this country they have been around for some time and in any event the technology is very similar to air conditioning and other refrigeration technology so it is well established. There are several manufacturers making the units and quite a lot of contractors who can install it.
I was aware that the government are considering launching a Renewable Heat Incentive to encourage people to install this type of technology so I was conscious that I needed to make sure any contractor I appointed was properly approved so that I could benefit from any payment. I started looking for MCS approved suppliers in my local area and discovered that there were quite a few around so I rang a number of them and asked for a quotation.
I got several different quotations all in the range of £8,000 to £10,000 for system to replace my old oil boiler and then I sat down and tried to decide which one to use.
Why Finn Geotherm?
Although cost was a consideration, given that most of the quotations were in a similar price range, I was also keen to ensure that I was working with a team I liked and could trust as this is a long term investment for me. Finn Geotherm is a company based in Norfolk and run by David Alston and Guy Ransom and although Norfolk based they do cover a far wider area. Guy was the person who came round to do the survey and give me the quotation and he was very knowledgeable about the system. At one point I had thought of having a wood burner with a back boiler put in my lounge to supplement the heat pump and whilst many of the other contractors thought that was an excellent idea and were happy to quote for that at the same time he pointed out that was unnecessary. He would have quoted if I had insisted but he felt that the heat pump would heat my house perfectly well without it. I asked him if it would be possible to fit one at a later date if I decided I wanted to and he confirmed that it would be as there were spare connectors available on the thermal store to accommodate one. In truth having got the system installed I agree with him, I still have an LPG wall mounted gas fire in my lounge in case I need it but I haven't switched it on once this Winter.
Guy was also more than happy to put me in touch with other customers who had installed air source heat pumps so that I could hear from them how they felt about their systems. I took him up on that offer and got glowing references for both the system and the quality of their workmanship and after sales service.
Finn Geotherm install Lampoassa heat pumps, these are manufactured in Finland and are very effective units with a low noise level - I have written a separate review on Lampoassa Air Source heat pumps on Ciao. Having decided that Finn Geotherm were the company whose approach I liked the most I decided to place my order with them.
Undertaking the installation
Once I placed the order and paid my deposit Finn Geotherm ordered the Lampoassa units, these came within a few weeks and I paid my second instalment and agreed an installation date with them. On the due date the fitters arrived and commenced work on the installation. They were very competent heating engineers and despite a couple of hitches in the process they completed the work in the predicted four days. There was some minor remedial work which they needed to complete the following week but that was no hardship to me as the system was commissioned and working at the end of the four days.
They worked well especially when you think I have three cats and a dog in the house and they were very tolerant when I needed to move the animals around to facilitate the work! Of course I did keep them supplied with copious hot drinks during the week which helped to keep things moving along.
Once the work was completed I got a call from Finn Geotherm arranging for David Alston to come along to completely commission the system to my satisfaction and explain fully how it worked. He was extremely knowledgeable about the Lampoassa system, we talked about how the system could work best for me and he also gave me the instruction books for my reference.
He recommended that I leave the system on all the time as it works best keeping the house at a constant temperature rather than switching it off overnight and during the day. I have thermostatic radiator valves on every radiator and I use those to adjust the temperature in each room so that I can keep the bedrooms cooler that the living rooms if I wish. Now that the system has been in and working for some months I can confirm that it does appear to be very efficient and I do love the fact that the house is warm all the time. Because I have solar hot water panels on my roof they configured the system so that the solar panels preheat the water in the thermal store maximising the benefits of the solar panels with my system. I was concerned in May when it was installed the the heating seemed to be kicking in when I didn't want it to so he changed the setting for the outside temperature so that the heating would not come until the outside dropped below 13 degrees C which resolved the problem.
After sales service
I was very happy with the system throughout the Summer months, I had plenty of hot water whenever I needed it and the heating wasn't coming on unnecessarily. However as the days started to get cooler and we had a few gloomy days I wanted the house cosy and the heating didn't seem to be coming on so I gave Finn Geotherm a call.
David was extremely helpful on the phone, the problem was that the outside temperature wasn't dropping below 13 degrees when I was feeling cold indoors so what I needed to do was adjust the system. He talked me through how to change the control panel and offered to send out an engineer to do it for me if need be. It wasn't an issue as the panel was fairly straightforward to change and within a few hours the house was warm and cosy.
The system has now been in operation for over six months and the house is lovely and warm. I am monitoring the costs and it is still early days to form an opinion but it is certainly working out cheaper that my old oil boiler did and the house is far warmer and more comfortable so I have no regrets about changing the system.
Would I recommend them?
Yes I would, they are very professional, businesslike and approachable. They have responded quickly and helpfully to any queries I have had taking the time to make sure I understand. I am really pleased that I gave the contract to them and have no hesitation in recommending them as an installer.