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Sustainable ways to keep the home cool/warm all year-round

Central heating is something many of us associate with homes in the northern hemisphere. Is it becoming more popular in SA?

Yes – year on year it is becoming more popular and we are finding that clients are becoming more educated about the process. As electricity costs climb and prices of homes increase, it makes more sense to maintain optimum thermal comfort levels your home, rather than having the whole family huddling around a gas heater with poor use of their space. In South Africa, the effective requirement for central heating is about 2-3 months of continuous use, but we find that our clients use it intermittently for about 6-7 months of the year. The main benefit we hear from our clients is that they finally have full utilization of their homes in winter, rather than hiding in one room of the house which is heated and sleeping under massive duvet covers at night.

How does it work, in a nutshell?

We have a few options you can choose from:

Option 1 is our simplest and cheapest option. This is a water based (hydronic) fireplace that heats water in its cavity around the base of the fire and then circulates it through either hydronic underfloor heating or Italian aluminium radiators. We also offer a combination of the two. If you make a fire – you get heat, but when the fire dies – the heating stops. With a bit of experience, one can learn to keep the fire going throughout the night and restart in the morning.

Option 2 is our integrated central heating solution. This combines heat from the fireplace, a heat pump and solar water heating panels into a buffer tank. Water from this tank is then circulated throughout the house again via underfloor heating pipes or through aluminium radiators. This system provides much more flexibility and is controlled via an electronic control system that can provide instant heat on demand. As an added bonus – the tank has a special heat exchange coil, which provides the domestic hot water for the household. Optional pool heating is also possible.

Is it safe?

Absolutely! There is nothing unsafe about it. The fireplaces are equipped with both temperature and pressure relief valves, which will cool the fireplace in the case of malfunction, misuse or power failure. In addition to this, the system is a closed system, so in the unlikely event of a leak, only a limited amount of water will spill.

Rising electricity costs and green consciousness make a lot of people hesitant about home-wide heating and cooling systems.
How energy-efficient is central heating?

This is the main reason why we are in business. Using a high-efficiency closed-combustion wood fireplace to heat your home is about 25% of the cost that one would spend if using electricity. Using the heat pump in our integrated central heating uses about 35% of the equivalent cost of normal electrical resistance heating. And of course, the energy from the solar water heating panels is absolutely free. The solar water heaters are not subject to the new tax that has been implemented for electrical solar panels, so that’s a big plus. Overall – all of these systems are very “green” – even the fireplaces are extremely efficient, and the emissions produced are extremely low. Most of this is driven by legislation in Europe, which governs closed-combustion fireplaces and therefore in recent years, these devices have become extremely efficient with minimal CO2 emissions.

Is it feasible to install a central heating system into an older home? Or would you only recommend it for new builds?

This is definitely possible for an older home. In fact, retrofits, as we call them, form 60% of our business. The only limitation here is that aluminium radiators become much more feasible and easier to install than underfloor heating. UFH adds about 90mm thickness to the floor and is thus difficult to achieve without prior planning. These radiators work very well for heating and in fact, warm up quicker (~30min) than hydronic underfloor heating which takes ~ 2 hours to heat up.

What costs would one be looking at to install central heating in a mid-sized family home?

Hydrofire is unique because we offer accessible rates and extremely high-quality products and services.

• For option 1, for a medium-sized single-family home, you are looking at 80k-110k all in. If the customer wants additional geyser heating from the fireplace, then that is an extra 10k.

• For option 2, you are looking at 270-400K. This is the integrated system with 3 sources of energy, electronic control and domestic hot water. We also install a ring-main which allows for instantaneous hot water at any tap. The instant hot water at the taps also is a fresh water saving bonus. Having instant hot water in your shower means not even waiting 1 minute for the water to get hot before you get in.