Warm at last!
The temperatures have dropped considerably over the past few days, and I have to admit it’s one of the times that I’m utterly grateful to live in the countryside.
I’ve just come back from a walk around the white world of our garden and it was amazingly beautiful. A thick white hoar frost on everything, swirls of ice on the pond and the car windows, every leaf rimed in frost, and since we’ve had no rain and little wind, the ground is covered with a wonderful array of purple, red, orange and yellow leaves in beautiful lanceolate, palmate and cordate shapes. Shafts of sunlight cutting through the trees, catching the mist of the frost as it slowly dissolves, our neighbour’s ploughed fields like iced chocolate cake, rose hips and crab apples crimson in the sun. God, it’s beautiful.
My sunny mood this morning, however, is also helped by the fact that for the first winter ever, we actually have a warm house. I don’t want to jump the gun here, as we could have really dire weather to come and it could all go to hell, but could it be that we’ve finally cracked the cold problem?
Every year that we’ve owned this freezing old pile, we’ve done something to make it warmer: roof insulation, a new door, sidewall insulation, pointing, a better woodburner, double glazing, argon-filled double-glazing. But it’s a slow process as we have little disposable income and everything in an old house like this is bespoke – every window costs a thousand euros.
We’ve taken more measures over the summer, starting with a new wood supplier, whose wood is better quality and gives out much more heat, and a good supply of densified wood, which outputs a huge amount of heat very quickly.
Then, in a major change, we closed off the top floor. Despite being insulated, this old attic has always been glacially cold, due to its cathedral ceilings, and it cost a fortune to heat in winter – we could never afford to get it much above 8 degrees and for the past six years, I’ve slept in fleece pyjamas and a hat each winter.
Closing off this space, which is strangely not much in cubic metreage terms when looked at as a percentage of the house, seems to have made a disproportionate difference to the warmth downstairs. We must indeed, all of these years, have been losing heat not just to the upstairs rooms but actually through the roof (perhaps the fouines and starlings have eaten all the insulation…).
We also moved into the new winter bedroom last week, right above the fireplace (our neighbours are about to do the same today – having created a beautiful huge bedroom in their house, they find it too cold to actually use in winter, so they head back to their old bedroom above the woodburner). Our new room is maintaining a steady temperature of 15 degrees with no heating in it at all, merely benefiting from the leached heating that comes through the floor and the chimneybreast. Even the floor is slightly warm to the touch, like gentle underfloor heating. I wish we’d thought of this years ago too – we dismissed the idea of this room as a bedroom because it’s so dark, but in winter, that doesn’t matter as you get up in the dark anyway. When the mornings get light again, we’ll move back upstairs to benefit from the east window and the view across the orchard, but for now I am also enjoying the quiet of being enclosed by 2ft thick stone walls and arrow-slit windows.
We also invested in a new paraffin heater for the kitchen, which is proving way better than the old butane heater – cheaper to run and much lighter weight to refuel, so no more lugging massive gas bottles around (it should go without saying, btw, that we are not on mains water, sewage or gas in this part of the world, so wood, oil, butane and paraffin are your principal options, other than elecricity, which isn’t affordable). These electically driven Zibro heaters are expensive – nearly 300 euros – but they have a thermostat and can be put on a timer and we find that the new one can raise the temperature of the kitchen by 1 degree per minute. We’ve set it to 14 degrees, which I think is warm enough for a kitchen, but it’s keeping the room at about 16, as I don’t think it’s really designed to go this low! It is a new experience to walk into the kitchen and not get hit in the face by a wall of cold, so this is very pleasant indeed.
Last night, for the first time, we closed our living room curtains – the ones that shut off one half of the room, reducing the 60sqm to around 27sqm. These too, I replaced this year, taking down the old velvet ones and hanging some gorgeous second-hand chintz ones that are stuffed with bump – much thicker and more efficient, like curtains in a stately home. The woodburner end of the living room quickly became uncomfortably hot and we had to turn the fire down, which wasn’t something I’d anticipated – I bought them because they were yellow and I wanted to cheer the place up, but it’s taught me a lesson about quite how efficient really good curtains can be.