Dan Martindale, Commercial Sales Director at Baxi Heating, looks at how Victorian building heating specialists Mellor & Mottram overcame the hurdles of refurbishing the heating system at historic Alton Castle.

Set within Staffordshire’s Churnet valley and surrounded by beautiful woodland and idyllic villages is Alton Castle. The work of architect Augustus Pugin (who also designed the interior of the Palace of Westminster), this stunning Grade II-listed neo-Gothic building was designed for the 16th Earl of Shrewsbury and dates back to 1847.

Today, the castle is a residential youth retreat centre, owned by the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Birmingham and part of the Kenelm Youth Trust (KYT). Each year, Alton Castle welcomes over 8,000 children to take part in retreat experiences with their schools, youth groups, and charities. It also generates income for essential operational costs through wedding and accommodation hire.

Ensuring a reliable, effective heating and hot water service at Alton Castle is therefore essential to keep bills low for the Trust and comfort levels high for its guests. So, when the existing combi-boilers and unvented cylinders began to fail, KYT were quick to consult with Lichfield-based Brownhill Hayward Brown Architects. Mellor & Mottram, specialists in heating solutions for Victorian buildings, prepared a specification for the boiler replacement and began work on the project in January 2020. 

Alton Castle’s status as a listed building and a scheduled ancient monument posed several challenges to the refurbishment of the heating system. “The first obstacle on this project was access, as the plant room is situated in the basement of the building and entered via a narrow doorway,” explained Director Stuart Mottram of Mellor & Mottram.

“Flueing arrangements were also more complex due to the Castle’s listed status,” he continued. “There was additionally a requirement to avoid any disruption to the heating service throughout the changeover.”

Stuart recommended installing three Remeha Gas 220 Ace 160 floor-standing boilers as the most appropriate solution to meet the heat demand in a compact footprint. 

“Reliability and energy efficiency were key priorities on this project, which was the primary reason for recommending Remeha boilers,” he said. 

To meet the need for an uninterrupted heating provision, the team installed temporary boilers while the works were in progress. 

“An added benefit of the Gas 220 Ace boilers is their lightweight design and compact dimensions,” said Stuart. “This helped us to overcome the space and access restrictions when lifting the boilers down two flights of stairs into the cellar area and then through the narrow doorways. The boilers are also supplied with integral castors for easier manoeuvrability, which meant that we could then wheel them directly into the plant room.” 

As part of the project, new low loss headers were fitted to hydraulically separate the boiler and heating circuit, optimising boiler performance and the overall efficiency of the system. New associated pipework was also fitted, which Mellor & Mottram welded off-site to minimise any disruption.

Enabling improved control through zoning was a further consideration to maximise energy efficiency. To achieve this, temperature sensors were fitted on each floor of the castle and connected to the flow and return connections. A suitable flueing arrangement also needed to be devised for the new condensing boilers. 

“The most straightforward solution was to use the castle’s existing chimney,” said Stuart. “Working with Sigram Flues Systems, we scaffolded five storeys of the chimney, relined it with a Thermaflex liner, dropped the flue inside the lining tube, and inflated it using steam.”

With the Remeha boilers now operational, KYT is delighted with the improved heating reliability and efficiency and anticipating a significant reduction in gas usage in the months ahead.

“They love it,” added Stuart. “Not only is the heating more efficient and effective, but it’s simple to control. We’ve set up the system to provide four time settings per zone so that they can alter and adjust it themselves easily. This provides them with more flexibility to match building occupancy and demand, so that they can avoid unnecessary energy waste, and needlessly high heating bills.”

Thanks to the newly refurbished zoned heating system, which has the new energy efficient Remeha boilers at its heart, KYT can ensure that future visitors to Alton Castle receive a warm welcome without driving up energy costs and consumption.