Sunday, November 25, 2018

Winter Warmth: Wool Before Wood

This is our new motto for the coming winter--wool before wood. It's always wool before any sort of heat, but unlike most of the places we've lived in Ireland, which have had electric storage heat, we will have to burn something here. We have portable electric space heaters, but the main heat source is either kerosene, which gets burned in a boiler in an out-building and then heats the water and radiators, or the open fire, which does the same, since there's a back boiler installed.

We really like electric storage heat, but we are definitely in a minority in that regard. When we went to inquire about the last place we lived, the young woman at the letting agent's office told us it was still available, but added, 'You should know that it has electric storage heat.' I said we knew that and we like storage heat. I asked her about whether that was a problem for people and she said it was--some people will not even look at or consider a place with storage heat. Several people had gone to look at the house, which is really nice, but were no longer interested when they found out it had storage heat.

One thing people don't like is that you can't just turn up the heat if you get cold. The heaters are wired to come on when the electric rates switch to off-peak and to turn off when they go back to peak, so you set the level during the day and it comes on at night. It stores the heat and then slowly lets it dissipate into the room during the day while it's off. Some have a separately wired heater on the bottom that can be manually turned off and on, but the last house we lived in didn't have those. It was also weird in that it had storage heaters even in the bedrooms, which seems inefficient. Most of the time, the bedrooms will be empty while the heat is slowly released during the day, so what's the point? In other places we lived, there were wall-mounted heaters in the bedrooms that could be put on a timer or used manually.

In any case, it's been our experience that Irish homes are well equipped with doors, so even in places where the living room and kitchen are one larger room, there's a door from that room, so it can be closed off. This means that we have avoided the other problem people have with storage heat--the expense. Electricity is expensive here. It is generated partly by wind, partly by peat and partly by imported natural gas, I think. Over and over again, people have told us how expensive storage heat is, but we have not found this to be the case. It would be expensive if we turned on all of them, but we've always used just one and kept the rest of the house/apartment unheated. Because we could close doors, we could have the one in the living room on and the heat would stay there.Cooking would also generate heat in the kitchen or kitchen/living room. We do not require or desire much heat. I have a very high tolerance for cold and a very low tolerance for warmth. We find most indoor spaces far too warm in winter and don't like the stuffiness and discomfort that results. I still chuckle when I remember Thanksgiving last year. I was finishing up the dinner in the kitchen, with the doors to both the living room and utility room closed. The kitchen was the coolest room in the house because it was in the back and downstairs, so only got a bit of sun in the mornings (on days when there was sun). It mostly stayed in the mid-high 50s in there, but on that evening, I was roasting and getting cranky. I looked at the thermometer and discovered it had zoomed right up to 65. I was happy to get out of the heat. A year and a half before that, we were out of town and staying in a place with a communal kitchen. It was March and we were the only ones there that night. We were sitting in the kitchen eating our supper, when one of the owners came in and said, 'Let me light a fire for you!' 'No, thank you! That's OK! We're fine!' we exclaimed. 'Are you sure?' he asked, frowning, 'It's no bother at all.' I felt kind of bad, because he was so nice and trying to be helpful, but we definitely did not need more heat.

Because I have Raynauds, my hands and feet do get cold, but fortunately, I have wool and I know what to do with it, so we dress in layers, and wear our woolly hats, shawls, fingerless gloves, and socks. I have lapghans and blankets. We breathe better when it's cooler and with our woolly bits, we can breathe and be warm at the same time.

Since we don't have storage heat here, we had to decide what to burn. Coal is a popular choice here--some of it from Poland and some from Colombia! I do not understand all the differences between different kinds of coal and in a year or two it will be illegal to sell anything other than smokeless coal anywhere in the country. This is already the law in Donegal, but I don't know how compliant people are or whether this is enforced. Either way, the coal use was surprising to us. We had no idea people burned that in fireplaces (open fires, as they're called here). Of course, at that point we were still unaware of the deep affection in which the open fire is held here. Open fires happen all year. The first summer we were here I smelled some weird smell and got an upset stomach. I wondered if it was peat and thought, 'No, it's July. Who would be burning peat now?' Ha! What a stupid assumption. It was peat and I eventually got used to it so it doesn't bother me, but I will still not be lighting a fire in July! This past summer was roasting for weeks on end and still the shop in the town had their display of peat briquettes and coal on the footpath (sidewalk).

As winter approached, we briefly considered filling the tank out back with kerosene, but there are minimum orders and we weren't sure we would be able to use that much, given how we use heat. We were also trying to avoid fossil fuel use, which eliminated coal as an option as well. We could buy bags of logs and packs of sawdust briquettes, but we'd have to haul them around in our shopping cart and be always going to get more. The briquettes are not sold locally, but in Donegal Town at Aldi and aren't easily carried on the bus. Bags of logs may or may not be available in the local shop at any given time. We hoped to find someone who could deliver wood in bulk, but not so much that storage would be a problem. Bill clicked around and found a guy, inquired about the delivery charge, and then when all seemed acceptable, asked about setting up a delivery time and date. After several days with no reply, he looked some more and found a different guy who charged €10 less for the same amount of wood and €25 less for delivery, so Bill set things up with him. He came last night, dumped a load and Bill gave him €130.
We chatted with him and he might have even gotten a new customer in our neighbours who use their cottage as a holiday home (and who we met for the first time last night). He seemed quite nice. He told us that the wood is all hardwood and mostly ash. This means nothing to me, because I am quite an ignoramus when it comes to burning stuff and what works best and all of that. Looking at the wood in the truck, we were surprised at how much was there--it was hard for us to visualize the amount from the picture in the ad.

It was dark when he delivered last night, so we left it there and planned to stack it this morning. When we got outside, most of the work was already done because one of our fabulous neighbours had already started dumping wheelbarrow loads in the doorway of a shed he'd cleaned out earlier in the week and started stacking the wood in there, all of which is very much appreciated. Bill took over the stacking in the shed, our kind neighbour kept hauling the wood from the pile to where it would be stacked, and I filled some boxes and brought them inside to toss into the small understairs cupboard we have.
It held far more than I thought it would, even though I just tossed it in there. No doubt I could have gotten more in if I'd stacked it neatly, but my old creaky, damaged knees would not be happy about having to kneel on the floor, so I just tossed it in and it's fine.

So there's that sorted. As it was being moved and stacked, it seemed like even more wood than it had looked like last night. We have no idea how much wood we will use on any day or how long it will last. It will depend on how cold and long the winter is and when we have to start lighting fires. If the weather forecasts are right, it's going to get even milder by mid-week than it is now and continue for a week or so like that and if that happens, it'll be December before we light our first fire of the season. It usually happens that we start using heat around Thanksgiving, but not so this year. Anyway, it'll be a learning experience and now we know that this guy is reasonable and reliable, so if we need more wood, we know who to call. We will miss having storage heat, but we are glad we can avoid burning fossil fuels and that we have a supply of fuel here and already paid for. Because we don't need much heat, we're hopeful that this will last through the season, perhaps supplemented with the sawdust briquettes, if we can get those again. One way or another, we'll eventually find out, but as always, we'll reach for the wool before going for the wood!

Hope you're cosy and warm enough or cool enough today in your part of the world!


NanaDiana said...

That is certainly interesting about the way electric/heat is used and tolerated. When my daughter spent a month there several years ago she was surprised about the doors between each room (we are so used to open plan living here) and that each door was open/shut upon entering leaving each room. I will say that growing up in an Irish community we lived with the Irish door system, too, and never thought a thing about it.

I hope the wood you got is well-seasoned and has been dried out for at least a year or two-otherwise "green' wood does not burn well. Ash burns a bit slower and give off a good steady heat--as do hardwoods but you need a bit of punk/kindling wood to really get a fire going nicely.

Have a wonderful Sunday, Shari. Stay cool! lol xo Diana

Lynne said...

Interesting piece about heat . . .
I find a wood heat most comfortable.
I, like you, prefer cooler than warmer.
Sleeping in a cold room is the best.
I wear my wool socks, my wool sweaters from Ireland.
(Just the socks for sleeping.)
Yesterday my husband held up his foot, wool socks.
I converted him! Yay . . .

Brenda said...

Love your blog-lessons from Ireland-so interesting!!
I can't stand wood burners-hard to breathe and so hot-however my husband's loved them!!! I have electric in my apartment and love it!! Good luck-you might like it better than I!!
Keep writing!!