Tuesday, 28 June 2011

Preparing for winter part 1 - gimme shelter

Yup, you heard right. The nights are drawing in once again and the days are getting shorter... I should have started preparing days ago : )

Which actually, I did. In one of the weird bursts of energy that punctuate these last few weeks of pregnancy, I finally nailed the replacement draught excluder to the bottom of the front door. I only chose this particular unfinished task of many because The Boy had taken to using said draught excluder as a rather expensive and sharp edged toy sword and I thought it better that it was nailed to the door rather than embedded unproductively (and expensively) into something rather softer - say, a cat. As the tool box was out I also filled a substantial hole underneath the door knocker and replaced the internal letterbox flap. So far, so self-satisfied.

Until I took a step back. The front door, now draught sealed, still comprises two panes of single glazing - and sits under a huge window extending from the top of the door to the ceiling. Draughts are the least of my hallway's worries. A glance around the rest of the house shows just how lax we have been about heat conservation the last few years. We have replaced thick-but-ugly-and-too-big curtains with flimsy-but-pretty ones. The cat flap in the back door blows open at the slightest breeze since our bruiser of a cat decided to crash through it when it was locked and break the mechanism two years ago. There are little cracks and crevices around the window frames that really do need to be sealed. The uninsulated kitchen extension has a concrete floor that you could spray with water and skate on in winter. All of the internal doors in the house have massive gaps underneath them or around them. The old fireplaces are not as amply stuffed with newspaper as they could be.

This is not to say we have been profligate with our space heating, our bills are well below average. What it does mean is that we have allowed the heat to dissipate faster than it needed to and made ourselves more uncomfortable than is really necessary. Both OH and The Boy 'run hot' and I grew up in a freezing cold old house with no central heating, draughts everywhere and no running hot water - I have a high tolerance for discomfort in this area. Except of course, I don't actually have to tolerate the discomfort any longer, I am in a position to do something about it - we just always seemed to have other priorities. This year, a combination of reduced income, energy companies making record profits and still raising their prices; and far too much reading about peak oil and economic turbulence; have inspired me to action.

We have had some genuinely uncharacteristic cold snaps (as you can see above - and yes I know that most of you, especially you North Americans, laugh in the face of such a light dusting). Late last year the country was brought to its knees by unseasonably cold weather and snow that persisted in some parts for months. I live on the south coast and in previous years, thanks to the Gulf Stream, have been able to venture to the corner shop on a December evening in a T-shirt without feeling too much discomfort. Besides, I know from experience that when we move to Norfolk, winter weather will be less clement, so I might as well get some practice in with the insulating and conserving.

We are lucky on several fronts- we have double glazing and there is loft insulation in the main part of the house. The carpets are underlaid. We rent, so the changes we can make are fairly superficial. Now is the perfect time to begin, not least because the costs of projects like this tend to increase with the urgency of completing them. A five month head start is good enough to get something done.

So, in the next five months I need to:
  • Line or replace existing flimsy curtains, or install window quilts throughout the house. This will also help with the light pollution - and would actually be useful now in keeping the house cool during this mini heatwave we are experiencing.
  • Install curtains or quilts at the front door and window - these must be removable in the day to allow daylight into what is a dingy passageway and living space.
  • Install a magnet operated cat flap that will stay closed.
  • Make draught excluders for the front door and for the door leading from the kitchen to the living room.The kitchen, with its lack of insulation and heating, is always going to be a weak link, so cutting it off at night seems like the best option. 
  • Do a feather test and replace missing sealant around the window frames.
  • Find a hard wearing washable rug for the kitchen floor.
  • Pack the old fire places tightly with newspaper to stop draughts and convection currents - and try to make peace with the fact that the hollow chimney breasts are funneling heat straight from the walls and  out of the house anyway. Sigh. 
I think that I need to acquire a sewing machine. I think I should have started two years ago. I think that one day I will learn important lessons about not putting off till tomorrow what you could do today. One day.

Anyway, some useful resources I have stumbled upon in my quest for inspiration:
Preparing for Winter I and  Preparing for Winter II  forum threads over at Money saving Expert. Very long and chatty, but some good lists of things to do to prepare and lots of resources relevant particularly to the UK.

Draught proofing  information from The Energy Saving Trust

Make Window Quilts with these instructions from Many Tracks.

How to make a draught excluder from the Guardian of all places.

The Integral Urban House - worth borrowing from the library, this American 'Appropriate Technology' book explains in simple terms how heat moves and is lost in buildings and some ways to deal with it. Also lots of information about growing food, composting, rainwater harvesting and related self reliance topics.


  1. I read this post the other day, it was baking hot here and the last thing on my mind was winter! I think I want to enjoy a little bit more summer before I think about that. Hope you are well - not much longer to go now?

  2. All good here - due next Friday. Nervous, but I will be glad to be several kilos lighter in this heat! I know that I won't have much time to prepare, so I wanted to write it all down...and that's just the house, haven't even thought about the blanket collecting, warm clothing and winter allotment!


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