Q. We are planning a major remodel of our two-bedroom, 15-year-old apartment, including extending into the attic to make it a three-bedroom duplex. Currently, we have electric storage heaters in the hall and living room, and instant electric heaters in the bedrooms, neither of which are satisfactory, either in terms of cost or comfort. Are there better heating options available? Is underfloor heating a possibility? The complex does not have gas.
A. Re-modelling a property offers an ideal opportunity to improve older and inefficient heating systems and nowadays there is no shortage of options to choose from.
Electrical storage heating was typically used in apartments to take advantage of night-saver electricity rates and in situations where gas was not available. Replacing your electrical storage heating with modern, more efficient equivalents is one option. However, it is not one that I would be quick to recommend. Storage heating, although offering benefits in terms of the use of cheaper electrical rates, typically provides heat even when it is not needed. The control of temperature is less precise and there is considerable inefficiency in terms of the speed of reaction to a demand for heat. There are alternatives which should be considered.
Due to the absence of gas in your apartment, you are limited to the provision of an electrically operated system. Options for space heating have moved on dramatically in the recent past and you now have the option of moving to an electrically operated water-based system. An ‘air to water’ system could be incorporated, which will allow you to use underfloor heating as you desire. There are some restrictions, however, when dealing with existing buildings.
Heat-exchange technology is used to extract heat from the air. The system works much like your refrigerator but heats, rather than cools air through compression. The air transfers heat to the water, which then circulates through the heating system, either by way of underfloor pipes or wall-mounted units. The system will need an external condenser and this should be placed on an external balcony, rather than on a visible facade within your apartment complex.
There is also an option of using electrical underfloor heating, which does not incorporate water. This may be more appropriate if you are not open to having wall-mounted units. The problem with underfloor heating on the upper floor of an apartment building is that a lot of heat will be lost through the floor. It may not be possible to introduce significant levels of insulation into the existing concrete structure. The situation at attic level is likely to be different. It may be possible to incorporate a number of solutions in your case.
All properties are different and they must be looked at holistically. You should seek the advice of a chartered building surveyor with specialism in the specification of modern heating systems.
Your surveyor will also assist you in obtaining consent from the owner’s management company with regard to conversion of the attic, potential for placing roof-lights / windows on the roof surface and can also advise with regard to any particular improvements in terms of fire precautions, which may be required once the attic is converted. Depending on the orientation of your property, it may also be possible to provide solar panels to complement the new heating system, however, again, consent would be required for the placement of solar panels, external condensers and the like from the management company. A key aspect of your remodelling should be a review and upgrade of insulation levels.
You should also explore the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland’s website www.seai.ie to see what grants are available.
Noel Larkin is a chartered building surveyor and a member of the Society of Chartered Surveyors Ireland, scsi.ie