Monday 8 March 2010

Cooler living!

This is my first post in this blog, so I think I’ll start being quite personal, and write about my struggles with my personal energy use, and for starters, how we heat our home. That has changed dramatically this year, since we started taking it seriously.

The picture shows my new wood stove, in my dining room, which has become quite a big part of my life. I’m really pleased with it, and fuss over it a lot trying to get the best, most efficient fires. The importance of the wood stoves is that we can cut down drastically on using our central heating. That’s where it gets interesting, and I’ll come back to that.

We also have an older wood stove in our living room, and the two of them are taking over a lot of our heating. The new one looks roughly like older stoves, but is actually very much better. It has that great glass window that shows the fire so well. If it is clean, it can look like there is no glass there at all. That is because, as with most modern wood stoves, it has an extra air flow over the glass to keep it clean. That is fine when the fire is large, but as it burns low, overnight, the glass does get a little sooted up. I am so pleased with it that I clean it most mornings. It takes a fairly quick wipe with a damp cloth with some of the wood ash on it.

Also, look at those great flames. I love looking at them! That is because it has another extra air flow at the top that ignites the smoke. The result is that it is extremely efficient (claims about 80%) and practically smokeless.

On the other hand, it is not like our gas central heating, that takes care of itself. Chopping wood, making kindling, bringing the wood indoors and piling it up are a lot of work, every few days. Actually, I really enjoy the chopping even though it is very strenuous. It is great exercise, and I don’t get much of that in my life otherwise, so I am pleased to do it. But I do worry about whether I will still be able to do it in another 10 years time.

There is also a lot of fussing with the fire, adding wood at just the right time, adjusting the air flow, perhaps blowing on it with a bellows to get it to re-light when I have added more wood.

OK, so now what about the central heating? We are learning how much less we can use it. There was some Transition email correspondence about people who have only had their heating on for one hour a month, and similar, but we just can’t do that. Or I suppose I should say, don’t want to. (Can I plead old age?) We have thermostatic valves on all the radiators which are set very low, so they only provide background heating. The rooms without the wood stoves get down to 13 - 16 degrees.

My wife and I are home for large parts of most days. We have taken to using the wood stoves to keep the living room and dining room quite warm. I tend to be in the dining room, and my wife in the living room. She keeps that really hot by my standards. When it is very cold, I work in the dining room now, instead of upstairs in my study, which for me is a major change. I try not to push my wife too hard on keeping the house cool, as I know her preferences are different to mine.

I have taken to wearing a lot more clothes when it is cold. I bought a lovely old tweed jacket at a charity shop and also a wooly shirt. I’ve actually come to prefer living in a much cooler house.

And it just seems right aesthetically. The idea of living in a large house that is heated enough so I can wear just a shirt in winter seems profligate and extravagent. Not the way I like to think of myself.

What difference has this made to our fuel bills? Our December gas bill was about 25% lower than the average of the last 4 years, but that was before it got really cold. We hardly had the central heating on at all then. My next bill is the big one, but isn’t due for another couple of weeks, after my stint on this blog. I am hoping it will also be low, but then it has been a very cold winter, so the comparison isn’t really that fair. We shall see.

Finally, I must say how important being part of Transition has been to all this. I was spurred to really work on my heating by being part of the TN2 groups, so I felt that I was part of a community that supported a changed way of living. Without that, I doubt that I would have managed to do nearly as much (or convince my wife to go along with it!)

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