There can be no doubt about it. The modern home is becoming the focus of considerable advances and developments in technology and innovation, all designed to maximise comfort and minimise energy consumption.
The efficient and effective distribution of heat around the home is creating some unique challenges, particularly where the adaptation of an existing system or structure is required. New builds and renovations require much forethought and planning to ensure that an appropriate heating system is installed during the building’s progression to avoid problems and inconveniences at a later date.
Many new-build and renovation projects are seeking to maximise the availability of natural lighting. Modern techniques of glass manufacture can now produce tough, durable and ultra-violet light reducing products that are ideal for creating the effect of a spacious environment and, particularly in a rural setting, allowing the full impact of the external landscape to be enjoyed.
However, floor to ceiling glass that offers such panoramic and light admitting characteristics also exposes the home to a cold, un-insulated surface, where heat loss can be substantial and condensation a major problem.
Installing patio doors or building the extension of a conservatory, an orangery or simply an annex with a large incorporation of glass, or with a limited amount of space, can all lead to similar problems.
The installation of trench heating can provide a convenient and practical solution to these problems and also provide an alternative in situations where the installation of conventional under-floor heating systems might not be feasible or appropriate.
The use of trench heating systems in offices and large open plan buildings has been widespread for many years, but the installation of a domestic modification is slowly becoming a desirable option for home-owners.
As the name suggests, trench heating is usually recessed into the floor of the property, although there are variations of the system that can be semi-recessed or floor level mounted.
The systems can be either fitted with electric heating elements or plumbed into a conventional low-pressure hot water gas or electric boiler installation.
They can also be fuelled by ground or air source heat pumps and other renewable energy sources that supplement the output either entirely or as complimentary energy addition to the boiler output. For large installations, it is possible to install fan-assisted systems.
Trench heating can be installed around the entire perimeter of a room or specifically positioned to combat problems that arise on external walls where glass is used extensively. With fully recessed systems, the groundwork of laying the narrow trench in preparation for installation is best accomplished at an early stage in the build or renovation.
Trench heating can provide the sole heating source for a room or operate as a heat boost for rooms with under-floor heating systems, which are generally slow to respond to changes in ambient temperature.
With a trench heating wet system that has been installed as the primary heating source for a room; the boiler must have sufficient capacity to run the system. Manufacturer’s recommend at least 25% more capacity than a comparable radiator system. Where under-floor heating is also installed, the system should have its own, separate circuit on the boiler system to ensure that flow and return temperatures are high enough to give an efficient heat output.
In a wet system, piped water enters into a mini-radiator laid horizontally along the base of the trench. This mini-radiator is comprised of numerous fins, which are designed to maximise the heat exchange between the cold air and the hot water circulating through the element.
Where glass or cold walls are directly above the trench heating system, air that has come into contact with the cold surface falls into the trench. Here it is heated by the mini-radiator element and rises again. This form of natural convection heating creates a gentle circulatory air flow which operates from the ground upwards, heating the room very effectively. It also creates a curtain or barrier of air between the cold surface and the rest of the room, which is maintained by the cold down-draft and the warm up-draft.
Trench heating systems are very easy to install into pre-prepared trenches. The necessary work and skills are well within the capabilities of a confident DIY enthusiast. However, the system design, the layout plans and the system components are generally compiled by the manufacturer to the customer’s individual specifications. This ensures that when installed, the system will operate in line with expectations. The output will be calculated to operate in the most efficient way by taking into account the energy requirements of the installation environment.
One of the major advantages of a trench heating system is the fact that when it is installed it is unobtrusive. It also operates silently and produces a gentle circulation pattern within a room, avoiding the turbulence and hot spots created by traditional radiators. Humidity levels within the room are also improved and the tendency for condensation to form is removed.
Another interesting feature of the circulation pattern created by trench heating is that dust and allergens, which would generally circulate on air currents within the room, are drawn into the trench by the cold air down-draft and collect. This feature is an advantage for households where members are affected by respiratory conditions and sensitivities such as asthma, although conversely, the accumulated debris will need cleaning from the trench periodically to maintain efficiency. Cleaning is a simple process as access to the trench and fins are achieved by removing or rolling back the flexible grid covering the trench.
The surface grids of a trench heating system may cause a problem for ladies wearing stiletto heels, but whether you would wish to have such pressure concentrating accessories denting your carpets and floor surfaces is a matter of personal preference.
Perhaps the biggest drawback to trench heating is the installation cost. As installation is specific to an individual property and the extent of the installation, the cost will vary, however it is doubtful whether a system could be installed for less than £200 a metre, excluding a boiler installation if this is also required.
Most systems come with a ten-year warranty. They are relatively maintenance free and the home-owner can have the piece of mind that if any failure of the system should occur, access to the area of the fault is an easy procedure, unlike under-floor heating or pipe-work for radiators concealed under floorboards.
In general, domestic installations where glass is a feature such as a barn conversion or conservatories, which can be cold in winter, are likely to benefit the most from a trench heating installation.