Friday, October 28, 2005

Life's a Gas

October has either been very mild, or my new gas boiler is fitted with a mega-efficient burner.

Either way my gas consumption has plummeted compared with the same period last year.

From my records:

October 2004 - gas consumption 71.0 kWh per day

October 2005 - gas consumption 34.4 kWh per day

This is a saving of 64 pence per day in gas, to be added to the 23 pence electricity savings. It must be programmed in my Scottish blood - small savings like these soon add up over the 180 day heating period.

In August, as part of the kitchen improvements, we had a new Worcester-Bosch condensing boiler fitted. The old gas back boiler, a Vulcan Verona made in about 1970, is now well on its way to a Chinese blast furnace.

The old boiler was using 6kWh of gas a day just to run the pilot light. This heat was just going straight up the flue and not contributing a jot to keeping the inside of my house warm. Totalled up over a year, this represents 2190kWh or about 10% of my total gas usage. About 36 quid -doing nothing.

In addition to the new boiler, we also installed the solar water heating panel, which meant that we could go for days at a time in the summer without having to use the gas boiler at all.

The underfloor heating in the bathroomand kitchen has made all the difference to these rooms. Previously they were cold, draughty and uninviting. Underfloor heating pipes costing just 225 quid and plumbed into the central heating make the bathroom a pleasure. I even like to walk around barefoot now - just to feel the warm tiles.

Monday, October 17, 2005

The Scrap Man Cometh!

It's funny when things just happen by coincidence, and couldn't have been better organised by human intervention.

This weekend I tidied out my 1950s shed and had a general clearup of the garden. I turfed out 3 old central heating boilers and a load of other scrap metal into the skip, but was starting to have pangs of guilt because I knew that they would probably just be landfilled. I was just about to fish them out of the skip and take them in the back of the car down to the council operated recycling centre, when there was a knock at the door.

"I see you have some metal items in your skip - I was wondering if I could take them away for you?"

It was thus that I met Ernie, the local scrap enthusiast, a well spoken chap in his early thirties.

"Certainly", I said, "and I have a few more items around the back."

So Ernie and I got talking and I discovered that metal scrap has now reached 65 pounds per tonne for iron and steel, and it is being packed up and shipped to China by the boatload, where it is being recycled into new steel stock.

A few years ago, when they shut down the UK blast furnaces and steel mills, there was no longer a market for scrap steel and so it became very difficult to dispose of old cars. Frequently, you would see vehicles abandonned by the roadside, because no-one wanted to have to pay 50 quid to have the scrap yard take it from them.

Times, they are a changing, and with the insatiable market for scrap in China, and a few enterprising, globally aware scrap dealers, all that old junk is actually worth real cash.

This then begs the question of what about all the other stuff that needlessly ends up in landfill. Building work and home improvements generates a considerable amout of scrap timber, and every new kitchen installed produces a mountain of cardboard packaging.

There is probably enough scrap timber produced in Surrey to fuel all of its schools and hospitals, suitably chipped or pelletised, the wood could be burned in industrial heating boilers, and help to offset the use of oil and natural gas for heating these essential buildings.

That's why I am installing a new wood-fired stove with back boiler in my home, whilst my new shed/workshop will be effectively heated by the orange stove seen lurking in corner of the old-shed - above. It's an Austrian Windhager multifuel boiler that I picked up about 10 years ago. It's not suitable for the house because of its size and shape, but it is very efficient and can be stoked up so that it runs all night if needed.

Sunday, October 16, 2005

Shed Power?

Monty Python's Arthur "Two Sheds" Jackson. - only had one garden shed, ironically - I now have 3, and small greenhouse.

I am, however thinking of getting another shed as soon as I have cleared out all the rubbish from the oldest shed into the skip currently sitting on my drive.

My newest shed, is destined to become my sanctuary and office/workshop and measures about 16 x 10 feet. For most of the summer it was full of new kitchen units waiting to be installed into the new kitchen. This has now been done and at last I have got my shed back into some semblence of order that I can actually sit at my desk out there and get a wireless internet connection back to the router indoors.

This weekend I finally got the power laid on to the shed, where previously it had been a rather non-satisfactory extension cable. I spent yesterday afternoon wiring up the fluorescent lights and putting a few sockets in.

By dusk yesterday, I was in a position to have full lights and power, so I enjoyed a celebratory beer, in the comfort of my own shed.

The shed also acts as an outer sanctuary, with wireless and phone, sofa and all the mod-cons such as beer-cooler and bottle opener. Some have even suggested that I could live out there, should diplomatic relationships deteriorate indoors!

Sheds are a good way of getting additional storage space on the cheap. You pay between 10 and 14 pounds per square foot, depending if you want a concrete base and insulation to allow year-round use.

The next plan is to add anothe 16x 10 shed which will become the mechanical workshop and forge. It will have a screed concrete floor, suitable for taking my lathe and milling machine,and will feature a central brick builld fireplace and forge that it will share with the adjacent office shed. It will also house my waste veg oil fired Lister Diesel engine, which is currently in storage at a friend's house.

I have done a little blacksmithing in the past, and this is why I want to set up a home forge. I also want to get set up for pattern making and sand-casting, so that I can make up metal castings for experimental steam engines, and home produced wood and waste oil burning stoves.
By exploring these traditional metal working skills, I hope to become less dependent on modern (plastic) materials. A small wood fired steam engine that can power the workshop and heat the house is an ultimate goal.

Saturday, October 15, 2005


Negawatts is a term first coined by Amory Lovins of the Rocky Mountain Institute describing how the saving of small, almost trivial, amounts of power can have large knock-on effects.

A power company in the USA found that it was cheaper to distribute free low energy light bulbs to all their customers, than go to the expense of of renewing an ageing and inefficient power plant.

The plant was closed, the land sold and as a result the area was turned from a run down industrial wasteland into a new community - all for the sake of a few light bulbs.

A friend asked me this week about my solar water heating panel, and how much gas it was saving me in the summer months. I said that about 9kWh a day was saved in not keeping the boiler turned on having to heat the water. A good saving I thought.

He then asked me what my winter gas consumption had been from October through to March and I looked at my records and said about 95kWh per day average.

Well, he said, is it not easier and more acceptable for the average family to save just as much gas as you, by turning down thermostats and lagging tanks, rather that going to the extent of solar water heating? If they made just a 10% saving made during the winter months it would have the same offset effect as installing solar heating for use during the summer.

For once I had to agree, which just goes to show how if we all seek out those negawatts, a little change in the way we use our heating can go a long way to reducing the countries greenhouse emissions.

Solar Powered Saturday

It's amazing what a little sunshine will do! Blazing sunshine in mid-October is just what the doctor ordered.

This week started well with exceptional good weather on Monday and Tuesday, but rapidly deteriorated into rainy murk and gloom by Friday.

However, I woke to bright sunshine on Saturday and armed with a cup of tea I went to survey my garden and take notes for my Autumn Almanac.

Dragon flies basking on the sun-soaked wooden fence at 9am in mid-October - what is the climate coming to?

My solar water heater panel is also propped up against that sunny fence, and as I watched the dragon flies, I heard the solar powered pump start up signifying that the water in the panel had already reached 50 centigrade.

The small solar pV panel that I use to recharge the pump battery is proving to be a success, with a maximum of 3/4 of an amp being returned into the battey on a sunny October day. It keeps the battery topped up, with no need to use a mains connected battery charger.

I am also having a major tidy up of some of my garden sheds, now that I have a new workshop, the two smaller sheds are being re-assigned, with the oldest one being ceremoniously cremated on Bonfire Night! Rather than landfill the combustible materials left over from the building work, I have stockpiled them and will treat my friends and family to a blaze on November 5th.

So far this morning I have hauled out and skipped 2 old central heating boilers, a lawnmower that was a non-runner 5 years ago and piles of other junk that was just taking up space. The boilers and lawnmower will be taken down to the metal recycling skip down at the refuse site. This way they will soon be in a shipping container and on their way to sunny China. Better that than buried in a UK landfill site.

We have endured six months of building work here, and with another skip on the drive it is time to clean up the back garden of all the builder's waste.

Building work is very much in evidence down our street with 5 or 6 skips present down a road of just 100 houses. It is criminal to see what is junked around here, and the amount of timber waste being landfilled from just this street could keep several woodburning stoves fired-up.

Most folks around here are adding on to existing houses, with extensionsand loft conversions. This is a sure sign that the housing market is slipping into recession again, with people preferring to stay put rather than face the costs and potential financial insecurity of moving.

I also started to get some feedback for this blog. Thanks to THM for her words of encouragement, and her excellent blogsite.

I was particularly interested in some of the blogs linked to hers, including "manchester is my planet" (Link to appear later on the right)

Here the site encourages citizens of Greater Manchester to pledge to a 20% overall reduction in greenhouse gases by 2010. Already nearly ten of thousand people in the Manchester area have taken this pledge.

Perhaps this site might encourage some of the other major towns and cities of the UK to take a similar approach. How about a Government incentive - like reduced council tax for those who sign to the scheme?

Reducing consumption and GHGs by 20% may seem a tall order, but if you concentrate on saving (not using) electricity, then the knock on effect to natural gas and coal is almost four-fold in true energy terms.

My electricity diet is continuing into its third week with my average consumption being a little under 7 kWh per day. However just by accidently leaving the desktop PC on overnight can seriously upset the average!

Enough of sitting indoors blogging - the sun is out, the sky is blue........., and time and shed wait for no man.