Thursday 17 March 2011

Staying warm...

When I first decided to reclaim my Sundays I was more focussed on the challenges it would throw up than the benefits. It was early January and we were going through that really cold spell, so I knew that keeping warm would be my priority.

I have to admit that if I hadn't been fortunate enough to own a wood burning stove I probably wouldn't have contemplated trying to go off-grid in the middle of winter. I know I could have worn extra layers; coat, hat, scarf; mittens; etc... but I suspect I might have given up quite quickly if I'd set myself that level of commitment. However, one of my friends (Mike) who's joined me on the 'Off-grid Sundays' path has no alternative way to heat his flat, so he goes for a huge long walk in the morning to warm himself up, then spends his late afternoons/evenings reading on the sofa (by candle light) wrapped in a blanket and using only the candles for heating; pretty impressive!

One of the many things I wanted to achieve by going off-grid one day a week was to learn to rely less on the background gas central heating and more on my wood burner. I have a very small, open plan house, so it's quite easy for the heat from the stove to reach most of the rooms. This means if I want to be really warm I need to sit close to the burner, but the rest of the house still reaches a perfectly acceptable ambient temperature.

I've got into a bit of a routine on Sundays now. Whatever time I wake up, I go straight downstairs to light the wood burner. I've always set it the night before, so it only needs a match. I stick a saucepan on top with exactly the right amount of water for a cup of tea, huddle by the fire whilst I wait for it to catch sufficiently, then close it down a bit and go back to bed with a cup of tea and my thoughts. I leave a kettle full of water on top to heat up ready for a wash.

By the time I've finished my tea and had a wash, it's beautifully warm downstairs and there's enough natural light to read by. So, I spend the next hour or so curled up on a bean bag, by the stove, reading a book.

By mid morning I'm toasty warm, wonderfully relaxed and ready for a walk. Whatever the weather is like I always get out and walk on the Malvern Hills for a couple of hours. I have absolutely no idea what time of day it is because my mobile phone is switched off and I don't have a watch... but it doesn't matter anyway!  When I start to feel hungry I head back home (with an arm full of fallen branches to store for next year's kindling) and warm up whatever soup is left over from the day before. Then, depending on the weather, I spend the rest of the daylight hours either reading by the burner or pottering in my garden.

When it gets dark (4.30pm on my first few Sundays!) I light candles and my neighbour, Louise, usually comes over for a cup of tea. She always notices how different the house feels to usual. There's definitely something different in the whole energy; it's more peaceful and 'natural'... as if time itself has slowed down. It's difficult to describe, but it's almost tangible. You'd need to try it out for yourself to understand what I mean. I put it down to not using any electricity and, especially, to not having mobile phone or wi-fi computer waves bouncing around all over the place.

Anyway, by the time I've eaten an evening meal I'm pretty much ready for bed. I heat water for a hot water bottle and head up to bed with a wind up radio. I listen to the radio till I drift off to sleep. I'm beautifully warm... completely relaxed... and ready to face whatever the new week brings...


  1. As someone who struggles to keep warm even with Central heating I was really interested to read your entry. A log burner is very high on our priority list for this year, we have Oil fired Heating because there is no gas in the area so we really want to rely less on the boiler and supplement with a log burner. From what you have written I think it will work!

    I am fascinated by the concept of Off Grid Sundays. It really sounds like you are able to slow down to the pace of life rather than striving to acheive something every minute of the day as we all seem to do now. I think I would like to try it, but not till I get that Wood burner!

  2. You can't beat the kind of heat you get from a wood burner Miss feels so different from central heating.

    If you're getting one installed from scratch (and depending on your budget of course) it might be worth you considering a back boiler and/or some kind of heat recover system too. My home is small and has very few doors so the heat moves around easily... but if I could afford it I'd probably go for a heat recovery system of some kind.

    I Sometimes wonder if I should just make a little hole in the ceiling so the heat that rises would heat up the bedroom above!

  3. Can't wait to get our woodburner. We would have been sorting it out as we speak but have had to get a drain diverted and need to see how much that's going to cost us first. Think we can still get one, it might just have to be a slightly cheaper one than we originally planned.
    We're going to jon in with Off Grid sunday's soon too!

  4. I may not be in a position to get a woodburner (we live in accommodation tied to my husband's employment) but no electric light sounds great and I am keen to try it.
    Would also struggle to switch off mobile phones with older relatives and student children who may need to get in touch...(What did our Grandmother's do??)
    Candles would be a great start tho..

  5. Love our wood-burner, can't get water to boil on it though! I suppose less water is the answer, but it might take a while to make 4 cups of tea...

  6. So lovely to read your comments!

    Anna...can't wait to hear how you get on when you start off-grid sundays

    Penny.....I leave my land line switched on for emergencies and check for messages when I come back from walks.

    Wildwitcheswales.... I'm going to time how long it takes for water to boil next time my burner is lit (too warm today!). I do know that it's quicker in a large based saucepan than one with a tiny bottom surface though. When I've made tea for more than just myself I've used a couple of saucepans. Also, you could boil water before you need it and keep in a thermos for when you want to use it. People who only use wood burners to heat all their water tend to have kettles close to boil all day long to overcome this problem.

    B x

  7. I've just been talking to another Mum at school about it all too! Maybe we can get all of Malvern off-grid (goes back to dream world - I like it there :-))

  8. That's a great idea Anna! I'd be happy to come and talk with parents or children if they were interested.....I'm sure the Malvern Gazette would be interested in helping to promote it x

  9. Ooh cool! I usually go to the "Friends of Northleigh" meetings at my daughter's school. Think the next one is in April so I'll bring it up then. They're an eco school so hopefully will go for the idea. Would probably get more people interested in the summer term too.

  10. I'm lucky in that I don't feel the cold as much as most people, so my flat is usually without heat. I tend to insulate me if I do start to get cold (jumpers, fleeces, etc) and only put the heating on if there's a danger of frosts cracking my pipework (I'd rather not flood downstairs!).

    I don't use much lighting either - often sitting with at most one CFL on with the computer on (which is also the TV thanks to a USB Freeview decoder, so one appliance does double duty!). However I'm afraid a power down Sunday is not something I think I can do - I need to travel on the train on Sundays home from seeing my OH, and I've still got to keep an eye on computer systems. Hey, I'm a techie!

    I'm glad its working out for you though Brigit.

  11. Anna..... i did a bee assembly at Northleigh school last year so would love to come back and talk about off-grid Sundays. would be difficult for you to reduce your power use further - or to get a better work/life balance. You live one of the most low impact & balanced lives of anyone I know!