Saturday, 21 December 2013

Christmas spirit

Yesterday was a bizarre day! I was happily dashing around cleaning and baking and shopping for last minute things, ready to have a lovely kids Christmas Party. It all felt very festive and it was indeed a lovely party, where they all made festive crafts, played silly games and had lots of sweets and treats J
Yet it was the little incidents that happened in between that have stuck in my head. The first of those was that my bike was stolen from our back garden. Someone had got through the bolted back gate, in the middle of the day and nabbed it. As hubby says, it should have been locked up or put back in the garage, but it wasn’t, so it’s gone.
It was just one person, because the second bike had just been moved aside and left. My concern was that this was a 'Grinch', scouting garages for easy targets to raid, who would then be coming back at night to steal any Christmas presents stashed there. I let the local police know and then after the party, I transferred all our Christmas presents to alternative hiding places indoors. This is really tough in our house because every storage space is full, except for the loft, but as the access is via the kids bedroom it is not an option for pressies.
I had set a very tight budget this year for presents and had stuck to it. There really didn’t seem much point trying to reduce the ‘stuff’ we get all year, then blowing it all at Christmas. But as I brought in the presents and wrapped them I started to feel like a real Scrooge. This minimalist approach was surely going to end in disappointment on Christmas day?
Contrast this to my feelings earlier in the day. There was me, arms full of carrier bags (I knew I should have taken my shopping trolley, for those awkwardly shaped items!) busily dashing to the next shop, when I saw a young man sitting on the ground with a bit of cardboard begging. He wasn’t vocally begging or bothering anyone, in fact most people just dashed past not even seeing him, as if he was just a Christmas spectre. But I saw him and he saw me. He had this guise of a bowed head and not looking directly at you, but I got the impression he was taking in everything and seeing right through me. It was quite surreal, so I stopped, fumbled in my purse and gave him a few quid. I think I spoke to him - something stupid like “Its cold out today”, but he didn’t respond, and then I was gone, off doing my shopping.
He wasn’t gone from my thoughts though. On the scrap of cardboard in front of him he had drawn half a dozen circles. Two of them were covered in coins and on the rest he had written the amounts of the missing coins,  10 pence, 50 pence etc. I suppose they were the coins he was begging for. You can’t even get a cup of tea for 50p, let alone a hot meal or a warm bed. I really wanted to ask “You have got a place to stay right? You’re not sleeping rough for Christmas?” but what would I have done if he answered?
Christmas is a dilemma. In one day I have oscillated from the joy of making children happy, to feeling like a skinflint with a budget, to worry about our ‘frivolous’ presents being stolen, to thoughts about a lonely looking lad sat begging in the cold. Is there any balance or perspective or are we all caught up on this rollercoaster of commercialism, torn between what is right and what is expected? Tell me that I'm not the only one?
I’m not a religious person, but I can see that it is good to sometimes give thanks for our daily bread, the roof over our heads, the friends and family around us and for the time for reflection. 

Saturday, 14 December 2013

Energy saving 1

Busy, busy, busy....the last few months have flown by. Maybe it is because the days are shorter that they seem to rush by quicker, or because there is so much that I want to do. Sigh!

Back in October I wrote that I planned to reduce our energy consumption by 65%. The idea was that this would hopefully offset the increase in prices to 2020 at the current rate. (It is possible that prices will increase more than my projection to 2020, but despite all the political hot air going on right now, it seems unlikely that overall price increases will be lower.) Then a few weeks back I re-assessed how much further I would need to go to reduce our consumption to 90% of the average American consumption. After a 65% reduction we would still be double the target consumption. How are we going to achieve this?

So this is the start of a mini-series, a step-by-step look at energy reduction measures, that may continue on a sporadic basis for some time. I'm not going to just list a standard '10 tips', without telling you how to go about doing them. No, they are all going to be based around improving my very real home, and include discussion of the options available and how to do it. Feel free to ask questions or let me know any energy efficiency measures you have taken.

Insulation is always first on the list. It not only saves energy on heating, but it makes your home noticeably warmer and cosier. It can also be fairly cheap and cost-effective to install, and you can reap the benefits for the next 20 - 40 years.

The simplest measure is to install a thick layer of insulation in your loft. My hubby installed a 150mm layer of rockwool insulation between the joists of the main roof, the year we moved in. Then I layed a second layer across the rafters in 2007. It isn't a very nice job, crawling across joists dressed in gloves, boiler suit, goggles and mask, but if I can do it then it really isn't soo hard, especially now that there are so many more options for insulation rather than Rockwool which is a skin irritant. My local DIY store stocks lambs wool and insulation made from recycled plastic bottles, alongside rockwool that is sealed in a 'bag' that can just be rolled out.

It's not a perfect job though. For a start the loft hatch isn't insulated. We also have a walkway along the middle, made from chipboard laying on the rafters, so there is only one layer of insulation under the boards there. Perhaps all the junk stacked on the chipboard counts as additional insulation?

Energy saving no.1 : Insulating the loft hatch
I bought one sheet of condensed insulation board, that was big enouth to cover the loft hatch twice, for £8 from the DIY store. I cut it neatly to size with the bread knife, including cutting a notch around the opening mechanism. I would have liked to stick 2 layers of insulation on the loft hatch, but there is a ladder attached, which only allowed room for one layer. Tah dah! Estimated annual savings for insulating the loft hatch is £9 a year. (I think that figure was from the Energy Savings Trust a few years back, so it should get an even bigger saving on current energy prices)


Energy saving no.2 : Top-up loft insulation on the walkway
The next job should be to lay insulation boards on top of the walkway. There are some handy solutions in the DIY store now, that weren't available a few years ago, to make this job a lot easier. The first are insulated loft boards - chipboard with insulation attached, so you can lay the boards across the rafters and they are ready to walk on.

The next is plastic legs, that attach to the rafters. They allow you to lay an new walkway on top of them to walk on, whilst giving space for insulation below them.

Luckily the walkway in our loft is just a small area, so we could insulate it for £100 using the legs with rockwool below and re-laying most of the existing boards on top. The downside is that we will lose even more head height which is not ideal as this provides access to the boiler. I am picturing our plumber having to crawl along on his hands and knees with his toolbox, which is far from ideal. Dilemma - ease of access over energy efficiency?

For this year I have come up with a compromise. We have several rolls of off cuts of carpet and underlay stored in our garage. I'm going to roll out a couple of layers of carpet over the loft walkway. This should provide some additional insulation, though probably not as good as the proper insulation. It also has the bonus of freeing up some space in the garage and not costing a penny :-)

I will post the photos of the completed jobs next time, along with more energy savings. If you are living in the UK and receive certain benefits, you may be applicable to have you loft insulation topped-up for free by applying for ECO funding. This applies even if you live in rented accomodation or are not the homeowner. Try calling the Energy Saving Advice Service on 0300 123 1234 to see if you qualify for free loft insulation and other energy efficiency measures.