Blaenllechog Farm

Blaenllechog Farm water source heat pump case study: external shot of the milking parlour

Ground Source Review: Blaenllechog Farm

The Wheeler’s chose to install Kensa’s ground source heat pumps as part of a project to refurbish their historic farmhouse home and create a holiday rental business opportunity supplemented by a guaranteed income from the Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI: this scheme has now closed – please visit this page to explore other funding).

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Ground Source Review: Blaenllechog Farm

Philip and Jennifer Wheeler chose to escape the city life in Surrey for a rural life in West Wales. They settled on Blaenllechog Farm in picturesque Pembrokeshire which was home to a 17th century farmhouse along with a number of outbuildings, including a hundred foot stone barn.

The old farmhouse, which they intended to move into, was in desperate need of modernisation, whilst the barns were in a dilapidated condition, complete with old cattle stalls. Thanks to the Class Q regulations, the Wheeler’s were able to gain planning permission to add a modern extension to the farmhouse, and to convert the barns into holiday cottages, creating a new business opportunity, Preseli Hills Cottages.

They knew they would have to replace the archaic oil heating in the farmhouse and install a brand new heating distribution system in the barns. As Blaenllechog Farm is in a rural location, it was off gas, so the choices of fuel were limited.

The Wheeler’s wanted an easy-to-maintain heating system that would guarantee an unlimited supply of heating and hot water for their guests and themselves. Their architect originally suggested biomass boilers, but they decided against it, as the work involved in chipping and storing the wood needed to heat three properties seemed arduous, especially given the logistics of the site and the fluctuation cost of the wood chip.

Philip had heard of ground source heat pumps before and was aware that there was generous subsidy support available. He approached Kensa who specified two 21kW Hybrid ground source heat pumps; one for the main farmhouse and the other serving the three holiday rental cottages. The hybrid is an ultra-efficient unit capable of producing high volumes of hot water as well as heating, perfect for the large farmhouse and ensuring that the guests in the cottages are always warm and cosy with plenty of hot water.

As the project involved heating multiple buildings, it was eligible for the Non Domestic Renewable Heat Incentive (RHI: this scheme has now closed – please visit this page to explore other funding). This means that the Wheeler’s benefit from 20 years of guaranteed payments from the Government on a % of the renewable heat generated, thus generating a regular and reliable additional income stream for them, it also neglected any worries about guests using excessive water or heating.

Blaenllechog Farm had land available for slinkies, but Kensa suggested that the Wheeler’s utilise their lake as a heat source, which was 1 acre wide and up to 3.5m deep in places. Not only would this make for a more efficient system, as water has a higher heat transfer rate than the ground, but it also meant only 100m of trenching was required.

Ten specially constructed pond mats were sunk into the lake to form a shared ground array which feeds both heat pumps. This system configuration is classed as district heating. The couple used Kensa’s MCS Umbrella service to help design the heat pump and pond mat system, as well as helping with their RHI (this scheme has now closed) application.

The refurbishment work on the cottages and main farmhouse was undertaken simultaneously. The farmhouse had solid stone walls, so the Wheeler’s replaced the entire heating distribution system to modern radiators and underfloor heating. The cottages are heated by underfloor heating also, which has a low flow temperature, so is perfect for use with ground source heat pumps.

Philip and Jennifer had never undertaken this kind of project before, but were keen to get hands on. Throughout the eight months the refurbishment took to complete, the couple worked in Cardiff, so were on hand at evenings and weekends to liaise with contractors and work on the properties. Philip even went out on the lake in a boat to submerge the pond mats himself, although he admits that he did fall in a couple of times!

Philip commented:

It has been a long held dream of ours to live on a farm and having visited Blaenllechog Farm just once, we immediately fell in love with it. Renovating it was hard work as over a third of the stone building had to be rebuilt, but was worth it as we now have three beautiful cottages. We have retained as much of the character of the farm as we can and have really enjoyed bringing it back to life.

He describes the whole process as a learning curve:

We are very pleased with the outcome of the project, including the ground source heating. I would advise anyone thinking of installing a ground source heat pump to definitely go for it, but if you can talk to people who already have a system installed, then that’s helpful.

As we were relocating, we struggled to find good local plumbers who were knowledgeable about ground source heat pumps. In the end we spoke to Kensa to get their recommendations about installers in our area who we could approach.

Key Facts

  • 17th century farmhouse and 100ft stone barn
  • 3 x holiday cottage lets created
  • 2 x 21kW Twin Compact Hybrid heat pumps
  • Lake as heat source, 10 x pond mats
  • Shared ground array, district heating system
  • Eligible for Non Domestic RHI (this scheme has now closed)