Steam heat!

p1180056Close one eye and squint and – in Bath’s York Street this morning – you could have been standing in New York’s Times Square! I am not referring to the neon advertising hoardings surrounding that historic quarter of Manhattan but the steam venting that is so much a part of the Big Apple scene.

Steam venting – New York style.
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Plenty of visible thermal steam venting into the cold air over Bath this morning.

Not quite on that level here in Bath but – with a raised manhole cover – we could witness the visible vapours rising from the waters of our fabulous thermal springs on their way – through the country’s oldest working drain – to discharge in the River Avon.

As part of the Abbey’s £19.3m Footprint project, engineers plan to install heat exchangers in the Great Roman Drain which will capture the energy in the hot water and transform it into renewable energy. This will provide energy for an underfloor heating system that will be used to heat the Abbey.

Bath Newseum was on hand to witness another inspection this morning.


Every day, a quarter of a million gallons of hot water flow through the Roman Baths from the thermal spring located at the heart of the site. A large quantity of this hot water eventually ends up in the nearby River Avon via the Great Roman Drain. When harnessed and converted, it could potentially produce 1.5 megawatts of continuous energy to support a 200kW ground source heat pump system.

IsoEnergy, a renewable energy company, has been contracted to work on the Abbey’s Footprint project and will be exploring the Great Roman Drain in order to take accurate measurements of the drain and plan how the heat exchangers will be installed at a future date in February.

York Street is where the underground action was taking place today!

Alix Gilmer, Footprint Project Director from Bath Abbey, said: “The Abbey’s Victorian heating system is sadly outdated, inefficient and expensive to maintain. This combined with the work we’re doing as part of our Footprint project to repair the Abbey’s collapsing floor makes this the ideal time for us to install a new underfloor heating system and is a truly exciting way of using Bath’s most famous resource to create sustainable energy.”

Colourful hoardings around part of Bath Abbey illustrate the work going on inside over the next couple of years.

Edward Levien, Commercial Director of isoenergy, goes on to say: “The drain survey marks the first practical step in installing what is one of the world’s first hot spring heating systems. Our engineers will be taking measurements and planning how the heat exchangers will be installed in the Great Roman Drain beneath York Street so work can be carried out with minimal disruption to the drain and the road above.”

The roman drain

The Abbey’s Footprint project is a £19.3 million programme of work to provide new spaces for learning, music and interpretation, better visitor facilities, undertake essential conservation work, as well as opportunities for volunteer and community involvement.  Work is taking place in the Abbey itself to repair the collapsing floor and install the underfloor heating system, and in the underground vaults and Kingston Buildings to provide new facilities and spaces.  It will secure the Abbey’s physical future and improve its hospitality, worship and service to the city.