Thursday 8 September 2011

Welsh Sheep in the Suffolk Cottage Loft

When Chris decided to lead this week of posts on buildings in transition, my primary reason for signing up was because there were 18 rolls of Welsh Black Mountain sheepswool loft insulation lining up in the hall upstairs and crowding out the spare room. And looking like they might be there for a while longer yet.

So I thought if I have to write about it I’ll make sure we get them up into the loft. Which is what we did yesterday afternoon.

I live with Charlotte in a rented late 19th century tied Suffolk cottage, originally a two-up-two-down with an upstairs sunroom and a conservatory added a decade ago.

There is double glazing on the windows, oil-fired central heating and a woodburning stove in the downstairs front room. Until yesterday there were a few inches of fibreglass insulation in the loft. There is no cavity wall insulation - the house is too old (1884).

Before I get to the laying of the wool (sounds almost like a ceremony, doesn’t it? The Laying of the Wool) I’d like to give some context.

I first got involved with Transition Towns in 2008, and experienced more than one Peak Oil moment. Then in 2009 several of us in Transition Norwich decided to reduce our personal carbon emissions to half the national average over the coming year. Using a selection of carbon calculators we decided on a figure of 4,500 tonnes. Each month we would meet to examine a different aspect of our energy consumption and how we could practically reduce it: household (we brought our bills to show each other), transport (car, train and plane), food, waste and ‘stuff’ (including clothes).

I’ve written before on this blog how this year of living differently radically altered my approach to energy use. First by paying attention to what I was using. And secondly doing it as part of a committed group working together.

The first thing we did in our house was decide on a drastic reduction of our oil-powered central heating use. This was September. The house gets cold in the winter and we watched the thermostat steadily drop after November down to single figures, whilst we piled on more and more layers of clothes. We used the log fire several times a week.

The winter of 2009/10 was cold and it was quite tough. That’s where being part of TN-2’s Strangers’ Circle (so named because it was made up of Transition Norwich people living outside the city) made all the difference. It kept our spirits up. There were those meetings to look forward to.

By last Winter the year was up and the group no longer meeting. Charlotte and I reduced our central heating use even more and it was easier. I think we must have toughened up as our bodies got used to colder conditions. Overheated buildings both private and public began to feel stuffy and airless to me. I also began to cut logs from local dead elms for the log fire. It would be nice to find a low carbon, low cost way of getting the thermostat into double figures, though.

Back to this year and the Welsh Black Mountain sheepswool. At July's All Under One Roof environmental day in Bungay, we picked up an application form for the council's Greener Homes DIY scheme and put in our "wish list" of some sheepswool for the loft and a second rainwater butt. Under the scheme insulation (hemp, sheep's wool or recycled plastic) and other items such as draught excluders were free of charge though you had to pick them up and install them yourself.

And this is where Eloise and the Old Post Office Van came in. Eloise picked Charlotte up in Bungay on the 18th August and they packed in the water butt and the 18 rolls of insulation and brought them here to Reydon.

It took about an hour to roll out the insulation in the (empty) loft, which went straight on top of the old fibreglass stuff. It was much easier to do than I had imagined (I'd been thinking complicated scenarios with builders). And Lesley from Sustainable Bungay had recently done hers and said it wasn't difficult.

Warning: Proper masks of the correct grade should be worn over the face (handkerchiefs will not do, Lesley told me) - we got ours from the local ironmongers, they cost about £1 each. This is not because of the sheepswool, which is perfectly safe, but because the old fibreglass insulation is not good to breathe in.

Now all we have to do is wait until winter and see if our house's woolly hat will keep us warmer (though the cat preferred the pre-loft situation).

Back of the cottage; chopping wood; insulation in the corridor and getting ready for action; Charlotte Lays the Wool; Eloise and The Red Van; cat keeps warm on the sheep's wool.

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