Tuesday, 17 May 2011

Challenges, Solutions and Reduced Utility Bills

Five months on.....
I'm into my 5th month of spending Sundays 'off-grid' now, and as it gets easier I’ve noticed it’s having a knock on effect in how I do things for the rest of the week. I’ve always taken as much care as possible to keep my energy use to a minimum but it’s very easy to rest on your laurels. You can always reduce further if you want to; it’s just down to making new choices and changing a few old habits.

Over winter, my main challenge was keeping warm. This wasn't too difficult as I’m fortunate enough to have a wood burner. Upstairs is a bit chilly sometimes, but it’s nothing you can't sort out with a hot water bottle or two - and so much healthier than gas central heating! In fact, since I’ve become more used to using the wood burner as my primary heat source, my habits have changed and my overall gas consumption has been massively reduced; I still use gas central heating occasionally, but nowhere near as much as I used to.

My electricity usage has reduced too... so much so that when I got my recent bill from 'Good Energy', it turned out that the £7 direct debit I’ve been paying for the last year has left me in credit... I have overpaid so much that my monthly direct debit has been adjusted this year to just £1 a month!!!

Reducing my utility bills is great, but the thing I’ve enjoyed most over winter has been learning how to cook on/in the wood burner. Although mine's only a small burner there's still enough space to boil a kettle, cook soup/casseroles and bake a few potatoes. It’s involved a bit of 'trial and error' to get the potatoes just right, but it was worth persevering as they knock spots off anything baked in a conventional oven. I seem to get the best results when I wrap them in a double layer of silver foil (reuse same piece each time), pop them around the edge of the logs amongst the embers, and turn them frequently. They come out with crispy jackets and lovely fluffy insides....

Cooking and boiling water on the wood burner when it’s already lit really is a ‘no-brainer’ and I can’t believe, in retrospect, that I used to use the oven or electric kettle when I had a free source of heat just crying out to be multi-tasked. I occasionally forget and boil water in the kettle whilst the wood burner is lit, but not often.

Ooh! I should also point out, before I forget, that I struggled at first with lots of burned casseroles and soups. My saucepans were designed for use on gas or electric hobs and are far too thin-bottomed to cope with heat that can’t be turned down to ‘simmer’ at the flick of a switch. I can’t afford to invest in new heavy based pans especially for my wood burner, so have solved the problem with a ‘heat diffuser’. It cost me around £6 and stops whatever I’m cooking from getting burned. Link at bottom of blog

Warmer weather challenges
More recently the weather has been far too warm for me to need any space heating in the house and this has presented some new challenges; namely how to cook or make a cup of tea when I can't justify lighting the wood burner! I know, I could just go without tea, but I’m a firm believer in the adage 'where there's a will there's a way'....

So, given the fact that I hadn’t had a cuppa on a Sunday for over 4 weeks, you can imagine how excited I was when my son, James, gave me a 'Kelly Kettle' for my birthday. The Kelly Kettle is an amazing invention - and is exactly what I need to boil water for tea and to wash dishes (and myself) during the warmer months. Instead of trying to explain what it is or how it works in this blog, I've made a little video about it here...... 

What next? 
Having sorted out a way to boil water, the next thing I want to address is the food I eat on my off-grid days. It seems a bit silly to be making such an effort trying to wean myself off the 'system' whilst still relying on that same system (shopping) for most of what I eat.

I have a tiny garden and a shared allotment so already grow as much as space permits - then buy whatever else I need from small, organic food shops in Malvern and Ledbury.  

But I've been missing a trick.....

Back soon! 

Here's a link to the Kelly Kettle people http://www.kellykettle.com/