When we moved to our house, it was very much with a green lifestyle in mind. It had a good deal going for it, such as enough land to grow most of our own food, and a rainwater harvesting system. It also had two-foot-thick walls and thus excellent insulation, but the heating was a real weak point. There was an old Franco-Belge range that had been DIY converted to run on oil. It was so thirsty that we could barely afford to turn it on, and we shivered through the first couple of winters with lukewarm showers and cold radiators.
A biomass boiler would have been ideal, but it was beyond our budget. The range could be put back to running on wood, but we didn’t want to rely only on that. Our temporary house had been heated only with a wood-burning stove, and getting up to a cold house on a winter’s morning or coming home to the cold after being out all day was not fun. We are not fans of the hair-shirt approach to green living, and I still shiver at the memory of ice on the inside of my childhood bedroom window in the morning!
In the end, we did convert the range back, re-using what you have always being a good green option. This was a labour of love, as it had been thoroughly butchered. A couple of parts had to be remade by the manufacturer in France, apparently when the wind was in the right direction and the planets correctly aligned, judging by the length of time it took. It now heats the hot water, as well as the ground floor and a radiator on each of the other two floors, and so far has run entirely on wood produced from our own hedge-laying and coppiced trees. I am still working out how to be able to use it for cooking, but it is theoretically feasible.
The range is backed up with a modern, efficient oil boiler. It is a simple system. The central heating comes on for an hour in the morning and on a timer late afternoon – if the house is already warm from the range, it doesn’t fire up at all or does so for only a short time. If we’ve been out, though, and the fire has not been lit, the central heating comes on fully so we come home to a warm house.
The hot water cylinder has a third coil ready for solar thermal, which will heat the water in the summer months, meaning that the hot water switch on the boiler should be permanently off. At the time the budget didn’t run to the solar thermal, but it is now booked to be done for the spring. This should cut our oil bill further, to less than 500 litres per year, and if oil ever became prohibitively expensive, we could manage entirely without it.
It’s not the kind of high-tech system that Kevin McCloud would be interested in for Grand Designs, but it is simple, user-friendly and was not too expensive. It reduces our consumption of heating oil by about two-thirds, reducing our carbon footprint accordingly, while giving a lovely warm house and ample hot water, which is very welcome now in the depths of winter!