Lowering the Boom on Winter

With winter fast approaching we need to make like the squirrels and the bears to prepare.

We all want to be warm, but we also want to reduce our carbon footprint. One of the best ways of maintaining both objectives is to make sure you have really snug roof and loft insulation.

While for some of you it may not be timely to do it before the first snow you can make sure that all your pipes are well-lagged. Bubble wrap can be used; but even old blankets or rags can be put into service as an improvisation.

By law in Ireland we have to have our propane gas cylinder that we use for our cook stove outside of the house. It suddenly occurred to me that the insulating jackets that we use around our hot water cylinder could be used to wrap it up. So now our gas cylinder is going to get the Michelin Man fashion makeover for winter. This may reduce the number of icy mornings that we pick our way out to lay hot water over the cap to thaw it out before we can make breakfast.

We recently toured some Eco Homes during Green-Door Leitrim Weekend (www.inspirationalhomes.ie) where homesteaders welcomed visitors to see how they had created environmentally sustainable homes. Some were stupendous, architect-designed modern homes, while others had rehabbed traditional cottages using sustainable

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materials and modern techniques to pump up the heat and lower the fuel costs. Some even live completely off the grid.

While a straw bale extension or ‘dry toilets‘ may not be on your list of home priorities, what I took away from the weekend was how much passive heat can be used with triple glazed windows with a southerly aspect. We went away hatching ideas about our own south facing aspect and solar panels.

Most of you will probably have taken the screens down from summer and put in the glass panes. Here in the British Isles we call this double glazing, and it’s a year-round feature for modern homes. Older homes would be single-glazed, although most are now having new windows fitted to reduce fuel consumption and CO2.

Regardless of single or double glazing and the fact that we don’t ‘do’ window screens, we air the house every day, in all weathers. Since we don’t want to heat the outdoors, that means the central heating is switched off for a portion of every day, even during winter. This may be a throwback to Florence Nightingale’s injunction for fresh air needed for the good health of a household’s inhabitants.

See how long you can delay putting on your central heating. That means wearing a cardigan in the house and snuggling under a blanket while you read or watch television. Once you do decide to fire up the boiler, see if you can manage to maintain a steady 60 degrees indoor temperature.

This may sound horrifyingly cold. But let me explain my rationale.

In our temperate Irish climate, we live for the majority of the year within a temperature range of 58-63 degrees. This is sweater weather, and by keeping the same sweater on indoors and outdoors your body acclimatises. (Remember that the windows are open to let the fresh air circulate for a time every morning.) You may need to light a fire in the evening when the temperature drops down to the low 50s. The lower the temperature your body is acclimatised to, the less of a shock it receives when temperatures begin to plummet.  The longer you can maintain this regime, the lower your fuel consumption will be during the winter months.

We keep the bedrooms cool and unheated during the daytime. An hour before we retire we switch on the heat for the occupied rooms and put on an electric blanket or hot water bottles to take the chill off the sheets.  The heating can be set on a timer to go on an hour before rising. A very chilly, but eco-conscious friend has a belt and braces scheme that works for her. She uses an electric underblanket to heat the bed. When she retires she shuts off the blanket but cuddles a hot water bottle to lull herself into sleep.

It’s also time to get out the mattress toppers to make beds comfortable, warm nests for hibernation. Spare blankets can be taken out and washed or aired of their storage odour.  While 100% wool is very cosy insulation for bedtime, it can be pricey. My sister-in-law has a nose for bargains and picks them up in charity shops, our version of thrift stores. Microfleece blankets are cheaper, washable and easy to dry in our damp climate; however, since they are made from plastic they earn fewer eco points than wool. It is possible sometimes to find microfleece that has been made from recycled plastic.

In a sense, you are hardening yourself off just like you do with tender plants in the spring.  Consider yourself that tender plant that needs to be acclimatised to the winter cold. The hardier you are the easier you’ll be able to weather the months of frost and snow.

About BeeSmith

I was born in Queens, N.Y, reared in Pennsylvania, did university in Washington, D.C. Then I moved to England for nineteen years. I lived first in London and then in Leeds. After my partner's sister died of cancer in 2000, we decided to take the leap of faith and move to Ireland to be nearer his family. Despite our friends thinking we were mad and feckless, it has worked out. The angels really do look after fools! We have a cottage on an acre and a quarter three miles from where the River Shannon rises. We have a polytunnel to grow vegetables and fruit organically, a small orchard of apple trees and plans to create a sacred space on the land over the rest of our lifetimes. We share our home with two tortoiseshell cats, Zelda and her daughter Zymina, and three dogs, Murphy, Pippin and Cara.