The day we bought Staunton Harold Hall in April 2003, we turned off all the heating. Lady Ryder had installed electric night store heaters, two hundred of them, and they were costing a quarter of a million pounds each year to run.
New ways of heating this large house have developed piecemeal, as needs and finances permit. The west wing, converted to offices, has an efficient oil fired central heating system serviced by two large boilers in the attic. Other areas, where our two families live, have radiators serviced by two more boilers. Then there are six wood burning stoves which heat various parts of the house as required. Finally some of the state rooms, used only in summer, have a couple of oil-filled radiators in them to keep the chill off through the winter. Fortunately this is a warm house.
Over the years we have looked at renewable heating systems. Solar panels on the roof were baulked by too many chimneys. Lake source heating looked a viable option, but it really needs to be underfloor and we cannot take the floors up on the Grade I listed house.
Wood chip seems to be an obvious choice. We have the woods, which need thinning, and a forestry team and a sawmill. It would make us self sufficient, and several big houses we know have gone down this route. Here again we hit problems. Thickly insulated pipes would need to travel up the side of the house to the boilers scattered around the attics. More difficult is finding a place to site the boiler and chip store. This house is ‘on show’ all the way round. The store for wood chip needs good access for a tractor and trailer to deliver the raw materials. If these obstacles are overcome we still have the capital cost. Meanwhile the government subsidy for ‘renewables’ has gone down, and so has the price of oil. Being a forester myself, this is something for which my heart says yes, but for now my head says no.