What a difference some heat makes

We’ve finally been able to put the central heating on and I couldn’t be a happier bunny.

The day has finally arrived – our heating fuel has just been delivered.

I hadn’t considered, when we moved to the country, that one of the problems with being isolated is that you’re off all the services. We don’t have access to mains gas, and that means you have to work heating and cooking fuel out for yourself. 

The French, being practical people above all else, have deserted their old stone country houses in droves, preferring instead a tiny modern reverse Tardis – far smaller on the inside than the outside – insulated to within an inch of its life. This makes electric heating, which is all nuclear here, a feasible entity. 

Those who remain in these old houses mostly rely on wood, which works out cheaper than all other fuels, provided you’re willing to put the work in. A wood-fired ‘chaudiere’ can fire a whole housefull of radiators, though you have to keep feeding it all day, but many people, like us, only have a woodstove, which is a different beast – a space heater, rather than a central heating system. It heats a room or two admirably, and the upstairs rooms are warmed by the passing flue, but you can’t conduct heat from it to other parts of the house unless you buy an ‘insert’ system, set into a closed chimney.We have a thousand-year-old monumental fireplace, so that option’s out as well. 

We survived on our woodburner alone for our first several years in France, but when we had a windfall about seven years ago, we invested in it converting our existing central heating system from bottle gas (impossibly expensive at £35 a day, so never used) to oil. One great advantage of oil is that you buy it up front, as with wood, so you can at least regulate your consumption and not come in for nasty surprises when the bill arrives.

I’ve always liked this aspect of oil, but who knew the oil situation was going to become so dire so quickly? It’s like those days back in the 70s, when – once again – it was the country-dwellers with oil-fired heating who lost out when Opec decided to start playing silly buggers. We invested 5,000 euros in our ultra-efficient oil-fired system, and it will never pay for itself. 

However, from its high back in the summer, finally, today, the oil price has dropped to 52 cents a litre, so we are filling up. Waiting a extra week has saved us over 100 euros. And waiting two months has saved over 400, which we can now spend on extra wood, because we’ll run out of that in January, I reckon. 

What a pickle. But it was great after the plumber’s visit this morning (because of course, when we put the heating on yesterday, the damn thing wasn’t working…), to hear the sound of hot water glugging through the system and for the first time this winter, feel the edge of the cold really drop off the house. We are only heating the rooms we use, of course – kitchen, office, bedroom, bathroom and one rad (out of three) in the living room, but the difference it has made already is astounding.

Oh la. Still, we must make it last indefinitely, given the global outlook, so the current plan is to run it from 7.00 till noon, then manage without for the rest of the day. At 5.00, we light the woodburner, which keeps the living room end good and toasty for evening, and during the night, the heating will come on if the temperature in the house drops below 12 degrees. Even at this level of consumption, we’ll have spent 2,000 euros by winter’s end, plus whatever the electricity amounts to, so frugality is definitely the name of the game this year.

Keeping my fingers crossed…

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