Monthly Archives: February 2021


Greetings from my disappointingly-modernised house.

When I moved to this house right on the river[1], I knew the boiler was rather old and would want replacing. The house has nowhere suitable for solar panels, but I could make some effort and get a heat pump drawing heat from the river. That’s a whole lot more efficient than either a ground or air source heat pump: ground because the river water is constantly renewed rather than the pump chilling its own surroundings; air because water has more than four times the specific heat of air. So while not free of the need for a pump, it’s the best possible of its kind.

I spent some considerable time looking for someone who might install such a heat pump. Most prospective suppliers never even answered my enquiries. One did, and came to survey the place at the beginning of October, and agreed that the location is excellent for it. The up-front cost would be ballpark ten times higher than a new gas boiler, but the government offers a rather bizarre subsidy scheme through which I could recoup that difference over a seven-year period. Great! Combined with switching to an induction hob in the kitchen, I could become gas-free.

However, my prospective supplier told me it would have to wait for the summer, to carry out works while the river is at low summer levels. And wasn’t good at following up, despite having taken the trouble to survey the place.

Then we had the cold snap just after christmas, and my existing boiler got rapidly worse. It got erratic firing up, and wouldn’t give hot water unless the heating had been running long enough to heat the radiators. Neither did that always happen: I started to resort to various wheezes like the classic turn-it-off-and-on-again. Getting it serviced didn’t help. And after too many cold showers – at a time when the emergency alternative of going to a public baths and showering there is unavailable[2] – I concluded it’s become too urgent: I don’t want to wait until summer and the heat pump.

Reluctantly I did some online research, and was pleasantly surprised to find a number of suppliers competing to offer prices fully inclusive of boiler, installation, and associated extras – and cheaper than I’d dared hope for a reputable boiler[3]. Presumably a low margin, high volume business model. What a contrast to the difficulty sourcing a heat pump! I placed an order with one of those suppliers.

Today[4] was the day, and a very pleasant young chap has installed my new boiler and taken away the old one. I feel more confident in my shower already, and I also expect running a bath to be quick and straightforward. Furthermore, I now have a modern wireless controller sitting in the hallway, offering timer and thermostatic controls. And controls on the boiler itself to determine how hot it heats water: I may want to turn that down in the summer!

Of course the heat pump would have delivered much the same range of mod-cons, albeit based on hot water coming from a tank in the basement. And I’d’ve liked to combine installation of that with switching the downstairs rooms from radiators to underfloor heating. The latter may yet happen, but will have to be part of another project. But with a new gas boiler, the heatpump project is dead. RIP.

For what it’s worth, I mentioned the heatpump project to my installer. He told me he’d looked at going on a course to qualify to install them, but couldn’t justify the cost and time to qualify in a rare niche when he has an ample and reliable stream of very mainstream work with gas boilers. I expect that’s a common story, and the reason why the one is so much easier than t’other for me as customer to source.

[1] It’s a former industrial building, converted to houses in the 1990s. Before the days of mains power, the river was used to power it. Nowadays the lowest level of the building is underground parking: I don’t believe it’s ever flooded, but if it does, better that than inside peoples’ homes!

[2] Covid lockdown rules. Yes, we all know that, but someone reading this a few years hence might not instantly make the association.

[3] The latest model from the same stable as the boiler at my last (rented) house, which impressed me by always working flawlessly and without fuss.

[4] Monday. As I blog it’s past midnight, so the timestamp will say Tuesday.