Last year at this time we were still unpacking with boxes everywhere and generally in chaos. Then three weeks later the hardest winter for a hundred years hit. To say we were unprepared is an understatement. This year I’m as ready as I can be if it’s another hard winter, so it will probably be a mild one.
We’ve got central heating, which is great but it wasn’t designed to cope with the minus 15 degrees we had last year. Most central heating in the UK is designed to cope with -1 or -5 at best. Furthermore, our heating is powered by LPG (Liquid Petroleum Gas) delivered to a tank at the side of the house and LPG costs about double that of piped natural gas.
So at one point last winter we were on tenterhooks wondering if Calor would be able to deliver before tank ran out. Each morning we’d be checking the meter on the tank and breathing a sigh of relief that the heating was still on. This year we’re starting with a full tank.
Our other source of heating is a multi-fuel stove which can burn coal, wood or a combination of them. Last year we were buying in bags and when the snow arrived there were no logs to be had and even the coal was looking dicey. We had to leave the car in a lay-by on the main road and carry everything 80 yards up the track through the snow. At least it warmed me up!
This year we’ve a 250Kg coal bunker full and a log store stocked up. Coal and logs aren’t cheap to buy, either. Our total energy bill for the first year here topped £2,000 which is scary to say the least. Even though we work from home, which means we spend more than people who are out of the house five days a week, it’s well over double what we spent in Crewe.
Now there’s not much we can realistically or cost-effectively do to improve the energy efficiency of our old stone building. No cavity walls to fill with insulation, for example. We’re double glazed and draft proofed, plus heavy curtains and radiator shelves to stop heat going up and behind the curtains.
The loft however only had 100mm of blown insulation and the recommended amount nowadays is 270mm, nearly a foot. So I’ve topped that up with rock-wool insulation. In fact I’ve gone further than the recommended amount, up to 500mm in places with 400mm over most of the loft.
Now doubling your insulation doesn’t double your savings. Roughly each doubling saves half so that first 100mm does the most, the second 100mm half of that and so on. Still, we pay double for our gas so even a small increase in efficiency can pay back.
Since we moved in, our gas price has gone up twice which wasn’t unexpected and I’m sure the supplier would say it was justified by increases in wholesale prices. What’s almost more worrying is that our coal and log prices haven’t fallen from last year’s winter peak. Normally you’re better off buying solid fuel in summer but not this year.
So Thursday found me up in the loft finishing laying out the last rockwool rolls. It’s a dead easy job in the middle of the loft but most of the time is spent crawling under the eaves. It’s horrid itchy stuff to handle as well.
You can buy fibre glass insulation wrapped in plastic which is easier to handle or use insulation made from wool which doesn’t irritate but they cost a lot more. So it’s a trade off between money and discomfort. After I’d finished I was pretty tired but felt a lot better after showering the bits off.
My hope is that we can reduce our energy bill for the second year. Never mind the green agenda, which is important, I can’t afford to keep warm at these rates.
A serious option to look at for reducing your bills is a small wind turbine. North Wales is the ideal place to put one, and the Welsh Government are much more friendly than others when it comes to green initiatives. Another option is solar power and ground heat pumps. All three options are quite pricey when it comes to initial outlay but when you think that the ground temperature below around 5 metres never goes below about 10 degrees, all you’ll have to use your gas for is to top it up. And you know as well as I do that even on the sunniets day in North Wales, there’s at least some breeze!
@Duncan: We’re looking at all those but big capital investment and we just don’t have it after doing the essential repairs. Bit concerned about wind turbines after seeing the chap on Grand Designs who spent £40,000 on a turbine that just didn’t work.
Solar is more reliable and predictable but the government is on about reducing the Feed In Tariffs now 🙁
Ground sourced heat pumps look attractive – we’re getting a quote on one. I’ve seen them in Scandinavia so if they can work there…
You can definitely find cheaper wind turbines than £40,000! According to the website below, a roof mounted turbine generating 1kW will set you back around £2000. I’m not sure when that site was last updated though so it may be worth double checking. I’ve been looking into it myself on a small sclae to power a greenhouse heater and reckon it’ll come in at a couple of hundred quid, which I should claw back eventually by not buying paraffin or sending electric in!
Fitting a wind turbine onto a house is not the best idea – turbulence will reduce the efficiency. Wind power is best where you can have clear room around the blades and the bigger the better. Those small machines that B&Q etc were flogging a few years back were a joke. It was calculated they wouldn’t even generate enough electricity to cover the carbon in their manufacture.
A couple of hundred pounds for interest and fun if you’re of an engineering bent is fine but a serious installation is going to be multi-thousand.