In partnership with Talybont on Usk Energy, I am running a small trial here in rural Wales to explore a different way of thinking about domestic heat energy and thermal comfort. The trial switches focus from heating entire spaces to heating our bodies directly – hopefully keeping us warmer but using less energy – particularly energy generated by fossil fuels.
Central Heating has created a mindset that keeping ourselves warm requires keeping the entire air space in our homes to a constant temperature (18-20 degs or more) even though air at that temperature doesn’t actually heat us but simply stops us losing body heat. Air space heating is also very vulnerable to any draughts, high ceilings or poor insulation.
Yesterday, I installed the trial equipment in the first 4 of our 12 volunteer households. The houses range in age from the 1700’s (!) to 2003. 9 have oil or LPG Central Heating and 3 have electric radiators only. I am also now including (on an ad hoc basis) a cottage with a recently installed air source heat pump which is struggling to heat the property above 18 degs so needs some auxiliarly form of person centred heating when the resident is just sitting.
The trial equipment consists of:-
- A 500w Infrared panel – which propagates heat waves in the same way as radiation from the sun, an Aga or a log burner – it doesn’t heat the air directly but heats objects with thermal mass like people, furniture or walls. The objects absorb the heat and then radiate that back to warm the surrounding air.
- A 60w electrically heated seat cover which heats through conduction.
- A battery heated gilet which uses a 36Wh portable power battery kept in a pocket.
Originally I planned to ask the participants to turn their Central Heating down by a couple of degrees for the period of the trial but quickly realised this wasn’t a good idea as several were already feeling chilly at times. Instead they are invited to experiment with the 3 different forms of person-centred heat and see what difference that makes to how warm they feel and how it compares to their normal heating regimes. I will be pinging them from time to time to collect ‘in the moment’ perceptions on their thermal comfort as related to their current context and activity.
I am collecting pre and post trial energy consumption data and logging the kWh used by the Infrared panels. But, given the difficulty in measuring oil use (no meter) together with wildly varying outside temperatures, the trial will not provide very useful quantitative data but it will provide really useful qualitative data to guide thinking and possibly further studies.
The first 4 participants will have the equipment for a fortnight before I conduct post-trial interviews and the equipment gets transferred to the next 4 households.
You can read a fuller background on the thinking behind the trial here.