back to article Tame the gas monster with sensors, suckers and a spiffy new fan

I'm pleased to say that what with the relatively warm 2011 and our conservation efforts we had the lowest consumption of electricity and gas at home of any year yet, a bit over 1,500kWh ('units') of electricity and under 4,000kWh of gas. (A typical UK household is nearer 3,300kWh 'leccy and 18,000kWh gas.) With our solar PV …


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    1. Sarev

      > Apparently, you can use it as an AC, but that's what the windows are for in a UK summer.

      That depends where in the UK you live. If you're anywhere in Cambridgeshire, you open your windows a crack and before you know it all your monitors are written-off by thunder flies. If you have a home office and (say) five monitors, this can be rather irritating...

      1. John McCallum

        Open windows

        I know this may sound a bit naff but have you tried mesh curtains also stop people seeing in as well

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward


        Not very popular back in Blighty, but here in Maine everybody has screens on inside all of their windows to keep out the insects. Two of our seasons are mosquito and blackfly (the others being snow and mud) so I can assure you that technological evolution has assured those screens work. The fine mesh block the light either.

        To have the screen and open the windows you can't have them rotate at the centre, they have to slide or open at an edge.

        I highly encourage research and investment in good screens. I wish I had when I lived in a house next to an allotment with a wasp nest in the wall, summer would have been far more enjoyable.

    2. mike 32
      Thumb Up

      "Apparently, you can use it as an AC"

      I really hope they do work as an aircon too - it's been 35-38C daily in Cape Town for the last few days, and a good number of days overall this summer.

      With the missus determined to maintain a comfortable range between 22 and 28C when she sleeps during the day, the aircon in the bedroom is a major drain on power.

  2. Andus McCoatover

    Thanks for the article...(plus link to previous article)

    Solves a cpuple of problems I'm working on on a project I've got.

    ( ), then click on the renovation slideshow. Getting heat and IT into that's one thing I've got involved in.

    Was that Aerogel expensive for your son's room, by the way? Thought it was prohibitively so!

  3. dark1here

    Ground source heat pump

    Unfortunately salesmen tend to gloss over the downsides. A heat pump producing hot water is 300% less efficient that one producing heat at 35 degrees C. A ground source heat pump will produce a COP of 5:1, which means 1 unit of leccy produces 5 units of heat sourced from the ground coils. (Cheap rate tariff 10:1)

    To re jig the house to use a temperature of 35 degrees rather than the CH temperatures of 65-80 degrees, means new heat exchangers usually under the floor, so the cost becomes very expensive.

    If you rely on an existing radiator system, the heat pump will run at apalling COP levels and thus not save either the money or CO2.

    Unfortunately the system needs so be fitted to new builds, or where a major renovation is needed

    1. Mystic Megabyte

      The other problem is that the computer in a ground source heat pump is so complex it could probably land a probe on Mars. If it goes wrong you'll be looking at a *very* large bill to replace it, and that's if the company is still in business. Plumb in a Clearview* stove and burn scrap wood, the only smoke you'll see is when you light it, it actually converts everything to gas** and is better to watch than a TV.

      Up here in dampland people are rushing to get wind turbines. A friend has just sunk £40,000 into one and it has self destructed twice already. The chances of the supplier going bust before the guarantee runs out are quite high. Low tech. is sometimes better.

      *I don't have any connection to them but I'm hoping to buy one soon. (expensive!) Both my neighbours have them.

      **yes I know that's how all combustion works but this burns at extreme efficiency.

      1. JohnnyGStrings

        lol that's a great forum name :)

      2. Marvin the Martian

        "low tech is better"

        I remember many of them there windmills being used in the middle ages, holland, the wild west... So there's not much lower tech than that! I'd argue "less moving parts is better"; PV is pretty hitech but reliable (inverters.. less so).

      3. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        @Mystic Megabyte

        I had hoped that the Clearview was going to be a 21st Century high tech. stove. I stopped on the first page of their website when I could see nothing that would have looked modern in 1950! Were the problems of high efficiency wood burning solved that long ago? Even if they were, I'd still like something that looks modern. Any suggestions?

        Sorry if I come over as anonymous. This page says I'm logged in, but still told I can only have a V mask.

        1. Mystic Megabyte

          I can't see the one I fancied on their web-site. It was the wide model with only one door, a back boiler and just flat topped. But here's some advice if you want a "modern" look. Never buy one with curved glass, the children will throw something and it will smash and cost loads to replace (£500 in one case)

          The screenwash system on a clearview is the best that I have seen. Air comes in the base, travels up through the internal "pillars" and so is pre-heated before it hits the fuel. That's why it burns so efficiently. I have seen expensive stoves that are a joke by comparison. Also the Clearview is 100% airtight, you can have a gentle fire when there's a gale raging outside. We get a lot of gales here .

  4. Gomez Adams

    Warm air does not leak out. Cold air leaks in.

    1. Tom 35

      Warm air does not leak out. Cold air leaks in

      Then after a while your house explodes?

    2. Lars Silver badge


      So what happens to the warm air then. I am an expert on this, as long ago I was not allowed to smoke, in the first place, and absolutely not in my room.

      But smoking near to an open window especially when it was could outside meant that the worm and smoky air went out when the cold air came in. The cold air comes in low and the worm goes out high.

      Kids learn fast.

  5. westlondoner

    Pictures or it didn't happen.

  6. Derk
    Thumb Up

    Alternative fan

    Instead of the Vent Axia fan, try using an Envirovent "RetroVent" Good ventilation and nearly 90% heat recovery.

    1. Lunatik

      Yes, but at a price that makes the Vent-Axia look cheap.

      No wonder we're blindly flailing about trying to reduce CO2 emissions when genuinely useful devices in the UK like these are sold at such prices. Opportunistic much?

      If the Govt. wanted to do anything to support lower CO2 they would divert funds from the solar PV scheme to making these mandatory in new builds and subsidising them for retrofitting.

  7. Russ Taylor

    Previous articles

    I'm struggling to find the previous articles, can anyone assist please?

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Previous articles

      Look at related stories under the end of the article.

  8. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Trickle vents

    Sounds like you've buggered the airflow in the house matey. 80% RH in winter is going to cause you problems medium/long-term (3-5 years+). Having to use a dehumidifier is a pretty sure sign of problems to come.

    I suggest the simplest resolution would be trickle vents on some of your double glazing frames, rather than whole house air recovery systems which are designed for houses which don't have more holes than a Swiss cheese - ie most UK houses built in the last 40 years.

    Try a couple of trickle vents on frames front and back of the house. See how that goes.

    tl;dr you've blocked the airflow in a UK ticky-tacky house, this normally leads to condensation, allow more COLD air in. Your house of course so YMMV and its entirely your choice ;)

    1. Lunatik

      Comments on the previous reports suggested much the same.

      The phone's ringing, no answer....

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Yep its the "enthusiastic amateur" syndrome.....

        I'm sure we've all been there but this guy seems to have gone to extremes. Pretty sure this is going to end in tears a couple of years down the line.

        As an aside in the current cold weather I've found that the best way to run our (shit) Baxi (don't touch with enormous bargepole) combi boiler is to turn the CH temp down to 55C and bump the thermostat up to something stupid which will never be reached with the low output temp (26C in my case).

        The result is that the boiler pumps water around CH constantly but burns very little gas. Having the CH temp at 55C rather than 82C means the rads run at a much lower temperature so its background heating. There is constant demand from the thermostat, constant water flow and hence the TRVs on the rads actually do what they're supposed to.

        I realise this low return temperature negates the benefit of a condensing boiler for CH but in my case (and maybe a lot of other people too) it makes sense. You still get the efficiency for DHW anyway as its a closed loop within the boiler. It costs 4 units of gas/day for a 4 bed house and you have a temperature which is 21C +/- 2C constantly.

        The alternative (82C CH output) means that the rads get very hot, thermostat turns off (it has to be set sensibly with full boiler output temp), turning the boiler pump off (after a couple of minutes of no demand) . This means rooms that are hot, stay hot and rooms that are cold stay cold as there's no continuous CH water being pumped.

        TRVs were designed for constant heating situations - eg Scandinavian (and bits of the USA) metropolitan areas where you don't have control over the heat source . They weren't designed for intermittent UK heating and they make zero sense for a combi condensing boiler where the CH return temperature is fairly critical to achieving efficiency figures.

        Works for me, worth a try I feel but YMMV.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Thumb Up


          Castle Howard found that after they installed their heatpump that running the CH constantly at the lower temps made the building feel more livable because the stone walls actually warmed through and acted like storage heaters.

          Net effect of that was less humidity, less damage to the many artworks that the Howard family possess, and... less heating bills. :-)

          Of course, the fact that they had invested £160K up front first and now see the rewards trickling in is inconsequential.

        2. Zog The Undeniable

          Actually, you're doing it right

          55 deg C will make your condensing boiler work BETTER. 82 deg C (part-condensing mode) stops the heat exchanger extracting as much heat as possible from the flue gases but is the way they're all usually installed because otherwise you need mahoosive radiators and it's virtually impossible to heat a hot water cylinder (not an issue with a combi, but it is for us).

          I tried switching our Potterton's* flow temperature to 63 deg C - the other option available by moving a jumper on the circuit board - but the house never got warm and the hot water tank was only good for legionnaires' disease.

          *Promax 15HE - hugely efficient even at 82 deg C and hugely unreliable too - most of it has been replaced in the last 9 years, under the BG service cover, thank goodness.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward


            ... seems to be the combi boilers of choice* for the simple reason that they are easy to repair. Unlike some others I could mention they use standard parts as much as possible. Oh and they don't try to pretend that the boiler schematics are some sort of national secret. They also come with a 5 year warranty, unlike ours which came with a 1 year warranty and was faulty on installation (dodgy circuit board, not surprised as it looked like a 5 year old soldered it, as does the replacement).

            *amongst non-cowboy plumbers I now know, too late for this boiler

    2. -tim

      80% RH is dangerous as the mold buildup where you can't see it is already out of hand. Anyplace there is condensation, there will be lots of mold nearby.

  9. Charlie Clark Silver badge
    Thumb Up


    Shouldn't you be worried about being lynched by Andrew or Lewis? Nice to see El Reg covering the other side of the energy debate.

    FWIW I couldn't really make sense of the charts - missing axis and legends had a lot to do with that. And I suspect I'm not the only one who cares less about the CO2 saved as the financial comparison. I'm all for renewables and energy efficiency but would prefer to see more progress on reforestation and stopping deforestation.

  10. bill 36

    let your house breathe

    best, cheapest and healthiest way to heat your house is to install a pellet or woodchip oven, turn the heating down to minimum and kit the family out with ski suits that you can buy cheaply at any charity shop on the high street.

    Job done and very reliable.

  11. Suricou Raven

    Sensor network?

    Something like, say, ?

    Real-time sensor network, and the sheevaplug would do nicely for logging. Uses a trickle of power, and the sensors are all run on a three-wire bus. The graphing is realtime too, generates a new one on every view.

    I'd be happy to supply code for you - I'm sure you could rig it all up yourself, but it'd save you a couple of hours.

    Silly border picture optional. It's an in-joke.

    The bathroom temp is so low on that graph... I'm going to go and check if someone didn't close the window properly.

  12. Suricou Raven

    Disregard previous comment.

    Oh, never mind - I see you are using exactly the same technology as my own logger. You just refered to it as 'iButton' while I call it 1-wire, so I didn't realise we were talking about the same thing. I thought the iButtons were standalone loggers with onboard memory that needed periodic copying off.

  13. SirDigalot

    are those average KWh ratings per month? 3months? year?

    geez i live in a 500sqft apartment in florida, use the a/c once or twice a month for a few hours and we still have nearly 600KWh a month, (for 2 people 1 home all the time) in our old chicago apartment we averaged about 2500KWh a month (for 5 people 3 of which were home 24/7) (it was a bit more then average but not much for the houshold size) and we had gas in chicago on top of that! (florida basically everything is electric)

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Annual figures

      However 3300kWh is at the low end of the "average figures" and is provided by the electricity companies who have an obligation to encourage efficiency. Ergo lower figures suit them and mean govt can claim some credit for doing what they usually do, bugger all.

      The figures I see from more independent sources are 4800-5500kWh per household per year.

      Do note that "household" is currently (was last time I looked) defined as 2.85 people/dwelling where the house is empty for 8 hours/day.

      Also in the UK you'll find most cooking and heating is done with gas - pretty much everyone in mainland towns got gas put in when the North Sea resources came online in the 1970s/80s.

      The only places where people use electricity for heating is when they're off the gas grid or near one of the coal-fired electricity plants. You get cheap overnight electricity in the coal areas simply because its impossible to vary the output of those plants on a quick enough basis (takes weeks to restart these plants). So in those areas people use storage heaters which heat up at night and the plant doesn't have hideous mismatch problems each night.

      tl;dr damn statistics again, can prove anything you want with them

  14. TonyHoyle

    Those do seem very optimistic

    I watch everything that comes on or off in the house, have switched to low energy everything - even PCs, don't watch much TV (which is a huge energy drain) and still can't get the baseline much below 500W, which according to the article puts me higher than average (376W apparently, which I doubt personally because a TV alone can be 200W, and heating pumps are about 150W - that's most of it right there even if you sit in the dark with nothing else plugged in..).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Your baseline is lower than mine but I suspect some of yours is the same as mine - simply network kit/NAS/etc which is left on 24/7.

      Here's a not so obvious example - I have a 1500W APC UPS which does power line conditioning as well as power failure. Line conditioning appears to eat about 110W 24/7/365 on a load which is now down to under 200W. It may be a sign of a bad battery but the deep discharge test still gives about 30 minutes.

      So the UPS is eating more power than the freezer, fridge, Ion based media box and the Atom based home server put together.

      I could easily cut my baseline down but that would require timers on network switches etc which is not ideal.

      However simply due to lower power stuff on electronics I've cut our power usage by 15% per year since 2005. The bills are still higher though - I guess £1.1bn of taxpayer subsidy to "green" power each year (and escalating) is likely to do that.

      1. Hayden Clark Silver badge

        Need a smaller UPS

        .... and probably a newer one.

        I have an old Smart-UPS 1000, that draws about 25W under no-load conditions (110W sounds like a lot! - check your batteries. You should get more than 30 minutes supplying 200W).

        APC UPS boxes are terribly old-fashioned crates, with a vast transformer in them that both steps-up when running on battery, and provides brown-out protection when running on-line. That transformer sits there getting warm, and contributes to the power wastage. Businesses buy APC 'cos they are simple, rugged and reliable.

        If you want to save power, and still have a UPS facility, buy a modern smart off-line one. This will draw negligible power once the batteries are charged, and provide basic line filtering with simple passive filters. The small notch in the power you will get when going on to battery power shouldn't affect modern computers, as the PSU has a good few milliseconds of power storage in it anyway.

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Thanks for that

          Its probably a combo of the transformer and the batteries TBH - been a long long time since I did electrical principles but ISTR as time goes on your hysteresis loss increases, in some cases quite dramatically. Or is that the core delaminating over time and eddy current increasing? Can't remember frankly, hated motors and generators from day one so did the minimum possible to pass that section.

          Its a useful example of where people don't assume inherent power losses though.

          I need a proper rethink/rejig of home IT now really - the APC UPS is from the days when it backed up a HP DL145 G2 with 2 x dual core Opterons so its way OTT now given the "server" is now a couple of low-powered boxes. Still does 20 minutes deep discharge on a load of about 300W - IIRC its rated for about 8 minutes at full (1500W) load when batteries are new.

  15. Wyrdness

    I don't know what it is that I've eaten today that is causing the problem, but I seriously doubt that sensors, suckers or even a spiffy new fan is going to tame this gas monster.

  16. Poor Coco
    Thumb Up

    Why not solar thermal?

    It's low-tech and effective. is a company based in Newfoundland that converts used drink cans into solar thermal air heaters; one unit, 4'x7', can maintain 1,000 square feet of living space in Newfoundland (so the UK should be fine). Shipping will be a bit pricey, but talk to them, they may know someone in UK/Europe who is making a similar project (or you could make your own if you are feeling hacker-ish).

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward


      Because the UK govt (all of them) are technically illiterate. They all did PPE or Modern History degrees and barely know how to wire a plug. Hence the reason why people like the author of these amusing articles pile into a guaranteed cash-cow in subsidies - funded by the lowest earning percentile of society incidentally.

      PV solar is utter lunacy for most of the UK. Unless something changes the rotation/inclination of the earth then it will remain so.

      Solar "heat exchanger" systems for water/heat make an awful lot of sense for these latitudes as they produce reasonable energy even under 6" of snow. Thats without inverters which fail (on average, industry figures) every 8 years, batteries which will require replacement every 5 years (max), etc etc.

  17. Timo
    Thumb Up

    want to see this on raspberry pi

    I keep waiting for the right time to jump in to this 1-wire stuff, and I hope raspberry pi will be able to do some of the logging and reporting very easily and with very low power. Sheevaplug is probably not that different so I may look into that one in the near term. Keep us updated.

  18. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    How much...

    To the OP, glad you're making the most of the money I pay for subsidising you and are in a fortunate position to put all these measure in... The rest of us instead have to make do with what we have whilst being shafted for the extra to fund such "enterprise"...

    How much exactly did all this cost and when will you break even?

  19. SirDigalot

    i still think

    4500 to 5500kwh a year is optimistic, but i guess it is because they think no one should be home during the day, we too cooked with gas and had gas heat and water (thats another barrel of warm fish), i guess in the US the stuff is not as efficient, I admit i did have at least a 3-400 watt draw on my server 24/7 plus networking, plus at least 2 other 3-400w PC's on for the most part 24/7, not to mention 2 fullsize fridge-freezers (one was about 24 years old(mother in laws) and a chest freezer... at least 2 TV's at 2-300 watts a piece, nice to know i am doing my part to offset your carbon offsets. Thinking back to when we lived in the old country, we had maybe 4 60w bulbs on at night, the wireless on during the day and a small 19 inch TV on for about 4-6 hours at night, and my PC back then was lucky to push 200w and was only one for a few hours... so maybe.. Guess i have been converted to a truly fat, wasteful American, ahhh evolution at it's best ;)

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