Central heating & hot water advice please

05/01/2010 - 10:45

I have been reading the 'solar hot water again' posts & am interested in any views on the following heating/ hot water system & whether it would work. We have a stone farm house approx 130sqm on  2 floors, in reasonable condition but with only an old woodburner & wood/electric water heater-equally old. The time has now come to think about a better system as we are hoping to move over full time soon & at the moment by the time the place has heated up it's time for us to leave & it would be nice to be able to live in more than 2 rooms during the winter months. We are thinking of installing a new woodburner in the living room on the first floor with some kind of back boiler connected to an Excel heatbank with a woodbuning cooking range in the kitchen on the ground floor also with hot water to connect to the excel. We need to run apprx 6 radiators & 2 towel rails from the heating & hot water for approx 4 people ( or 2 most of the time) We were also thinking of connecting solar panels to the system for hot water during the summer months when we won't be using the woodburner. We are 500m up a mountain & our water supply is from a well but the pressure is ok although I don't know what it is! The excel needs to be downstairs so I'm hoping someone might be able to tell us if all this would be feasible. There were some very knowledgeable replies to the earlier solar post so I am really hoping for some help here. Also should we be bringing the equipment from the UK or attempting to purchase this ourselves in Italy. On a completely different subject I would also be very interested to hear from AngieL & whether she could let me know the name of the architect her mother used for the renovation of her townhouse if possible as we will be needing one soon. I read the conflicting opinions in Pendys first post regarding architects & geometras with interest as in our (small) practice in the UK we all both design & deal with the technical side. Just not too good at designing heating systems!! Look forward to any information from anyone who might like to offer help



Valerie,  You mentioned that you are thinking of installing an Xcel heat bank. I'm the agent for Xcel heat banks in Italy so maybe I can help. The answer to your 'how to get one' question is that if you discuss it with me I will do a specification and quote for you to order on. There are a few of these around your patch and you'd be welcome to come and see a working example. You mentioned having both a stufa and a cooker connected to the heat bank and while this is not technically difficult I doubt if it is worth the extra expense... usually one or the other is sufficient. The cheapest solution is to have a gravity circuit from the heat source to the heat bank which might go on a little stand to give it some height. Whatever water pressure you have now will remain virtually unchanged as it just passes through a heat exchanger on the way to your shower. You sound as though you've read the 'Heating Guide' already but if you'd like me to send it to you just PM me.

Just looking through the posts re heating etc.  I wondered if you could help?  We have just bought a small house that has an old 'Heath Robinson' (or more accurately Bosch) wood / electric heater that heats the hot water.  The heater itself is placed virtually in the shower in the bathroom!!   Although it works, the proximity of the electricity and the shower is quite scary and it looks pretty grotty!  We would like to relocate a new electric water heater to the kitchen downstairs to heat both the shower and domestic hot water etc.  (Although at the moment we don't intend to put central heating in maybe it's something we should think about at this stage???) Any advice on what and where to buy a unit that would do the job?  We are near Bagni di Lucca / Barga area in Northern Tuscany.  My husband and some builder / electrician friends are making a visit in September to have a look at things but it would be good to have an idea of what's what before hand as thier time will be limited. Any ideas or advice welcome Jan

In reply to by Badger

Many thanks Badger.  This looks interesting.  I think we could just replace the old one with this and keep it situated in the bathroom - would that be the norm for Italy?  If it's not too much trouble would you be able to find out the price?  Would it be relatively straight forward sourcing it Italy? Really grateful for the help Jan

Hi Jan. The last prices I had on this unit, as of a year ago for the 100 ltr was E1000 + iva and delivery. The most expensive was the 300 ltr @3300 + iva and delivery. It just depends on how much hot water you need!!! These can be sited in a cantina if required, which alleviates the need of cutting a venting hole through the wall. PM me with your email if you want if you want a more detailed quote, which I can probably get within the coming week.

In reply to by Badger

Thanks for that Badger.  At least that gives us an idea.  I will give all the details to hubby (he thought it would be more expensive than that, so plesantly surprised!)  Keeping the unit in the bathroom would be easy to do presumably as the plumbing would alter very little. (As long as it is safe?)  If we moved it down to the cantina we would have to put pipework up through the house I would imagine. In Italy do they ever use the sort of electric boilers that heat the water as you use it? (a sort of combi boiler I suppose)  We've got one of these here in the UK that just heats water for a shower and kitchen use.  Jan

In reply to by JanJ

When I first came to Italy I couldn't understand why there weren't any electric showers. later I realised that most use approaching 3 kw power which is often equivalent to the total energy available. If you go over the level allocated you pay a huge excess or or sometimes the whole system trips and you are with power until you go to the fuse box and reset it after switching off some appliances.The best bet in my opinion is a condensing combi boiler

... I see this tired old thread has come to life.... oldandbold when you say that a combi boiler would be the best I would suggest you go over even more of the many past discussions on the heating topic. I think it is generally accepted now that, to a limited power level, wood is the cheapest source of energy available here and only by a narrow margin a heat pump is the next on the list (if not first due to sheer convenience). The list is long but you'll find that gas is at the very bottom of the list.

"In Italy do they ever use the sort of electric boilers that heat the water as you use it? (a sort of combi boiler I suppose)  We've got one of these here in the UK that just heats water for a shower and kitchen use. " It could be difficult as you probably only have 3kW of power available at your place, and the type of electric heater you describe probably has a higher rating

Anyone with an existing tank and looking to have electric water heating might like to know that you can upgrade a tank by fitting a remote immersion heater. It looks like a long canister and is plumbed in on a simple gravity circuit. Old immersion heaters in tanks can be so welded in that you can rip the tank open trying to service or replace them so it can be easier to leave them be and fit a remote. As Alan H points out you need a lot of power for instant heating so a 3kW immersion will need a store of some sort. I have taken advantage of my PV panels this summer and give the immersion a quick boost every day rather than sell the power to the grid for a paltry 10c. So on average the panels pay me 10 Euros a day and I spend about 30c on the immersion. The gas boiler as usual remains switched off nearly all year round.

Actually oldand bold, we have 2 combi boilers, one for the house and one for the apartment...which are great in the warm/hot months....today is 30c plus!. However acknowledge that gas is just too expensive, hence wood-burning stove in the house, apartment not let in the colder months.Its all very well to say heat pumps and solar are the only way, but the initial outlay is beyond the means of many, and you work with what you have got. Internal shutters and other methods, much debated on this site b/f work well. Not everyone has shed loads of cash!.

How true Angie and Robert! We have a combi boiler which we use for hot water only all through the year, and very efficient too. In the winter months, we huddle into one floor and fill up the wood burning stove with all the spare wood I collect all the way through the spring, summer and autumn - free heating! We looked at solar etc, but could never recoup the cost, so we stick with the old ways.

Definately a no brainer. Just worked out the heat pump (160 ltr tank) DHW running hours for the last 12 months (13/6/2011 - 18/06/2012). Running hours DHW = 366 x 2.2kw = 805kwh. Have multiplied that by 0.25 cents per hour, so cost came out just over 200 Euro. Recharge time from 46C to 53C approx 5 mins. No unsightly panels thankfully. A GSHP can repay the investment in 4 years against lpg, with heating 24/7. With the added up to 55% tax reduction, plus the special meter rate the saving return can be even better.

On average for the hot water yes. At the moment, it is only operating 5 hrs a week. Total operating hours over the same period, were 1830. The split DHW/Heating 20/80%. So 1464hrs x 2.2kw = 3220.8 kwh is the 24/7 heating cost. If you base that @ 25 cents per Kwh, then it works out just over 805 Euro to heat the house for the year. Have still got about half of the 50 quintale of wood we bought over 6 years ago, as only have very few fires.

Valerie. We also live near Arezzo(Casentino) in old house with thick walls and small windows. We have a solar panel for hot water (today the water reads 80c) no radiators, but a large woodburner on the groundfloor, a small wood burning Stufa in kitchen on which we cook in the winter, and it has a basin of hot water for washing up, a pellet fire on the first floor, and we close the door to the summer bedrooms on the top floor in winter. This is adequate to heat our house and more economical than our modern 3 bed house was in UK. The solar panel heats enough water for a short shower in the winter and we have an electric immersion heater which we sometimes put on during the night when the electricty is cheaper When we arrived there were electric radiators, but of course the electric supply was inadequate, and expensive so we don't use them. 

Hi Rosietat haven't looked at this for a while, amazing, the subject goes on & on! We have pretty much decided to go with our existing water heater for the bathroom even though it is old & replace it when needed. We have a small water heater downstairs which we will pipe into the kitchen where we will install a new woodburner with a back boiler facility but not connect it to anything at the moment & continue to use the old existing woodburner to heat the first floor- leaving the bedroom doors open to heat them. Having just put in a new staircase so that we can access the whole house internally that is going to have to be the extent of the works this year! It will be interesting to see how this works out as we have found that keeping the woodburner going in really cold weather warms the house very well although we have yet to spend a whole winter there. This coming one could be the first. Thanks for the advice Valerie    

Hi, I bought a woodburner for my house - the recommended size, I wish I had bought bigger now, it only stays alight 2 hours and then you are cold again. That said I love it, it was cheap, and provides a hob and oven. Warmth at night, this is not a problem now, as I provide the beds with an all night electric blanket (from John Lewis), such a brilliant idea. Gone are the days when I only had the gas fire and warm clothes, now when I go in winter I am always snug - and they are only about 70w. Electric radiators are a waste of time as they dont kick out enough heat. I bought a woodburner as I couldnt reconcile with the cost of a pellet burner - which can do both an oven and hot water.