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Top Tips on How to Power Your Self-Build Home

When it comes to powering a self-build or renovated home, there's more options than ever before.

And with the environmental impact and self-sufficiency of projects standing as crucial concerns, self-builders are spoilt for choice when deciding how best to keep the lights on and their home heated.

In this guide, we'll take a look at some of the most popular methods of heating a new build, as well as some innovative methods that could be game-changers for self-builders in the coming years.

The Basics

As with a run-of-the-mill property, it's necessary to get the basic utilities running to your self-build home, unless you're going for a radically self-sufficient approach.

Since gas, electricity and water supplies moved over to the private sector in the 1980s, it's necessary to first find out who to talk to about making the necessary arrangements. This can be a bit complex, given that distribution services are parcelled out among regional companies, while other firms might be responsible for selling utility itself to the end-user and metering the usage.

How involved you'll get with this is completely dependent on how hands-on you'll be in terms of project management. If you're passing on responsibility to a project manager, they'll take on the lion's share of the work, but if you're handling things yourself, you'll need to sort out these connections yourself.

To do this, you'll need to fill out the necessary application forms with your local providers, which will be used as the basis for a work plan and quotation. Fortunately, these days, the majority of providers will let you do this via the internet.

Once you've got a quote and plan from your provider, you'll have to take care of the necessary fees before work can proceed. However, it pays to get a foot in the door early as it's not uncommon to see lead times upwards of a month before you'll be hooked up.

Cost and time can also be exacerbated if there's any complications – such as if your connection will intersect a busy road. In cases like these, you might face a wait of several months while the provider undertakes the appropriate notice for such works.

Some projects will require temporary power and/or water supplies from the get-go, to take care of mixing, power tools, et cetera. If you're utilising a contractor, they should be able to hire in the necessary equipment – or you can source your own supply.

Solar Power

While it's still highly challenging to source all a home's power by alternative means, one of the most popular methods of supplementing power and heating is solar photovoltaic (pv).

These panels are laced with silicon semiconductors, which enables the photons from light to be absorbed and electrons within the particles to be disrupted – creating a charge. Power generated in this way can be immediately used to run appliances or heating, fed back into the electricity grid or stored in batteries for later use. There's also a variety of shapes, sizes and formats – which means self-builders have a bewildering array of choices when it comes to customising their set-up for their needs.

This flexibility means there's a range of options for self-builders in terms of how they put their solar panels to use. These include:

Feedback: Electricity suppliers pay homeowners for feeding energy back into the grid during peak times. Unless you've decided to go off-grid altogether – you can take advantage of this via your solar panels.

Heating: Solar panels can be used to heat water in a variety of ways, but one of the most common methods involves fitting pipes within the panel structure – directly heating water that's pumped through and storing it in an insulated container.

This method isn't perfect, however, and the temperature may need to be bolstered by a supplementary source, like gas or electricity. Since Britain isn't the warmest of countries, this back-up will need to be utilised often, especially during the winter.

Direct usage: While you can use solar panels to power appliances in your home – it pays to bear in mind that when the weather isn't favourable, you'll need to import your energy from the national grid.

You'll also have to consider how much you're able to generate under ideal conditions (having a southerly-facing array that's free from shade and the sun is shining) and how this compares to your energy use.
For instance, at noon on an ideal day, a 2kWp array will produce a maximum of 2kW. However, this will be quickly sapped by appliances like:

  • An energy-efficient light bulb (15W)
  • Microwave (750W)
  • Fridge (100W)
  • Washing machine (2.5kW)

Of course, not all these appliances will be running at full pelt all the time. For instance, a fridge can turn itself off and on as needs be and you're unlikely to run a microwave for hours at time.

But many households don't have the luxury of staggering usage and will utilise the majority of appliances of an evening. For example, getting home and turning on the lights while having a laptop plugged in and the telly on.

Storage: While great strides have been made in storage technology over the years, there's still drawbacks. You can pump the free electricity generated during the day into rechargeable batteries, then utilise the stored electricity when you need it. However, these require a fairly sizeable up-front cost and will need to be replaced at least once a decade.

But there's exciting things on the horizon for storage technology – with the company Tesla outlining plans to release commercially viable 7 or 10 kilowatt-hour batteries in the near future.

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Wind

While the sun isn't always that reliable in the UK, in parts of the country, the wind is something you can rely on. If you're in an area with a decent average wind speed, you can procure a turbine that's big enough to power at least a few appliances.

However, the size, noise and aesthetic impact ramps up in correlation with the amount of power generated. For instance, a 400-watt wind turbine alone will need a rotor of about four feet.
But once again, technology rapidly developing in this arena. Dutch renewable energy start-up The Archimedes is working on a small-scale, nearly silent turbine that can generate up to 1,500 kWh of energy each year, even at wind speeds as low as 11 miles an hour.

Hydroelectricity

One little-used source of off-grid energy that might suit some rural self-build projects is hydroelectricity. This involves generating electricity from a running water source, like a stream or a river.

They can be highly cost-effective when compared to solar or wind, but obviously have major constraints in the locations in which they can be deployed. Hydroelectricity also doesn't face issues with drop-outs, since water sources tend to operate 24/7.

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