Many people assume that home cooling is more important than heating in the Algarve. Whilst air conditioning is often a necessity for many Algarve homes in summer, in fact the contrary can also be argued, i.e. a home will always need heating in winter, no matter how well-insulated it is. Indeed, with some innovatory modern homes, cooling is not always essential. The 'Coolhouse' at Alma Verde near Lagos is an example of clever construction where cooling is provided by a passive ground system and heating by an efficient gas boiler.
The following are typical heating systems nowadays available which, in most cases, also offer cooling - a dual-functionality that is increasingly the way ahead.
Today's Grade-A efficient air-con systems use 'inverter' technology to achieve energy savings of up to 40% compared to models of just a few years ago. Heating with air-con is instant, effective, and systems are generally easy to install with minimal disruption. Air-con is also among the least expensive against other heating & cooling systems in terms of purchase cost and installation.
There are several types of air-con system. Traditional wall-mounted units are the simplest, but floor-standing units offer the advantage of delivering warm air at a lower level, thereby heating the room more uniformly. For complete discretion, ducted systems are also available which utilise flexible ductwork within ceiling voids to deliver warm/cool air to grilles in the ceiling.
A similar principle to air conditioning but instead of using refrigerant from an outdoor condensing unit for heating and cooling, they utilise hot water for heating (from a boiler or heat pump) and chilled water for cooling (from a chiller). As with air-con, they are available as wall, floor or ceiling-mounted units; or can be ducted systems hidden in ceiling voids. Fan coil systems are normally found in large houses or commercial buildings
For many people, water-based systems (such as radiator, underfloor heating or fan-coils) bring the most comfortable ambience to a home. There are various options available for the source of heating:
· Solar Systems can be used to provide passive heating for sanitary hot water, underfloor heating and pool heating. The limitations of solar systems are that they only heat and don't cool; and obviously they rely on the sun, so need a back-up system (heat pump or boiler). Solar might be considered a viable addition to an existing radiator or underfloor system, offering a free alternative/back-up to its usual heat supply. The Algarve climate offers excellent conditions for solar solutions.
· Heat pumps are used to provide hot water for heating during winter and chilled water for cooling during summer. Heat pumps can either be air-to-water or ground-source type systems. In the Algarve, air-to-water systems are normally used. These operate in principle much like an air-con system, using an external unit which takes the outdoor ambient air and 'upgrades' its temperature, then transfers this heat to water circulated underfloor or to radiators. These systems are so energy-efficient that they operate at a significantly lower running cost than a standard boiler.
· Traditional Boilers – modern-day gas or oil condensing boilers are now available that provide very efficient heating. However, with the cost of oil and gas in the Algarve, they are not as economical as heat pumps
· Biomass Boilers – these are boilers that consume carbon-neutral fuel (pellets) as opposed to fossil fuels (oil and gas). The fuel is cheaper than gas and oil but the initial capital cost of the boiler is higher
Mainly used in the Algarve for underfloor systems. Although cheaper to install than water-based underfloor heating, it is much more expensive to run.
Whichever way you choose, or is the most suitable way, to heat your home, energy-efficiency is nowadays the guiding principle and the way forward.