Minsteracres Retreat Centre: Listed building biomass installation

Minsteracres House dates back to 1758, when George Silvertop, a wealthy coal baron, created one of the finest country houses in the North East of England.  Repeatedly extended in subsequent years, the extensive Minsteracres site is a listed building, and now home to a residential retreat centre with a small permanent community and 80 guest beds.

Heating a large building with such a long and complex history of extensions is never easy, and when relying on fossil fuels, has certainly not been cheap.  Analysis of oil bills at the site showed that while oil consumption had been steadily dropping, costs had been rising thanks to the upward spiral of oil prices.  The crunch eventually came in 2012, when the oil bill reached £29,000, despite the centre using 25,000 fewer litres of oil than in 2006, when the bill was closer to £25,000.

Using less oil meant costs were kept to a minimum each year, but also that residents and visitors felt increasingly cold in the poorly insulated Grade II listed building.  The fabric of the building, fixtures and fittings were also beginning to suffer from the lack of heat, with damp and moisture causing problems in some areas.

Minsteracres retreat centre
Minsteracres Retreat Centre listed buildling

Following their initial approach to the market, the Minsteracres team were faced with a bewildering array of proposals.  However, the re:heat approach stood out from the pack, and we were recommended as the organisation most likely to deliver the right solution for the site.

Minsteracres woodchip boiler
Integrating the biomass system into the listed building at Minsteracres

Taking a strong steer from a well-informed client, re:heat designed a system that would deliver on their desire to see locally-sourced woodchip used for fuel.  Our response was to re-use the cathedral-like boiler room, which was originally home to a pair of manually fed coal boilers.  This presented a particular challenge to the project team, but with support from the architect, we were able to come up with a solution that satisfied the conservation planners at the council that the approach was sensitive to the needs of a listed building, and we also delivered the project on time and on budget.

Avoiding the need for new buildings or long runs of expensive underground heating mains means the capital costs have been kept low, the planning process was smooth, and the stunning surrounds of the Minsteracres Retreat Centre have been preserved.

Accumulator tanks at MinsteracresThe project was not without its challenges, but the building remains virtually unaltered from its original external appearance, and now has a building-integrated renewable heating system.

The BBC have used Minsteracres as a case study for biomass heating, and you can find out more by clicking here: www.bbc.co.uk.