Posts Tagged ‘Heating’

Just what a tired Vicarage needs on a Monday morning. Early morning workmen arriving before we’ve properly begun the day. But we are very pleased. Because it’s window men. And they have come with several enormous double glazed units to finish off the double glazing that has taken three contracts and about four years to actually arrive.

So it’s a bit nippy in the Vicarage today as great gaping holes are being created as windows are removed. But by this weekend it will be a lot warmer. We are very thankful.

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The Vicar's study has been 10°C today. Brrr.

Before Christmas, we had a nasty shock from our power supplier, e.on. They wanted to raise our monthly direct debit for gas and electricity by nearly 85%. Although our usage has gone up a bit in the cold weather, we were still in credit with them.

The Vicar had some long discussions with their customer services department, both on the phone and by email, but to no avail. They’ve estimated our usage for the next few months based on the records from when we didn’t live here and the decorators were in, heating the house 24/7.

Although we think they’ve made a bad call, we have to go along with it. It will cause a bit of cash flow trouble in the next couple of months, but once we’ve proved that they’ve made a mistake, it should even out.

The upside of all this irritation is that we went online and switched our tariff, saving another 8% on the charges. The other upside is that the Vicar contacted the diocese about sorting out some loft insulation and they put us onto the excellent Warm Zone team.

Warm Zone is an EU funded initiative operating in selected areas, including ours. They provide advice and can also help out with insulation and other kit if you fall into the fuel poverty bracket, which we do now, since a Vicar’s salary is not what you’d usually have if you lived in a house this size.

So this morning we had a visit from Seema, from Sandwell Warm Zone. She came armed with goodies, including a fancy plug to turn off printers when the computer is switched off, a timer switch, an eco kettle and some low energy light bulbs. Most importantly, she brought an energy sensor, which she’s lent us for the next few weeks. It monitors electricity usage so you can see the power used by each appliance in the house as it’s switched on. I’m a little scared about what it’s going to reveal, but it will be useful.

And we’re on the list for loft insulation and possibly cavity wall insulation in the modern extension part of the house. There’s a bit of a waiting list, so we’re not sure when that will happen. As we’re not in the lowest income bracket, we’re going to have to pay for their services. But only £49. We’re hoping that will make a big difference, especially to Happy, the Vicar’s Apprentice, whose room is in the uninsulated attic. It’s so cold up there at the moment that we’ve taken pity on him and brought him down to sleep in the spare bedroom a floor below.

So if you’re in Aberdeen, Birmingham, Devon, Gateshead, Hull, Kirklees, London, Newcastle, North Staffordshire, North Tyneside, Northumberland, Nottingham, Sandwell, South Tyneside or Swindon, give them a call. It won’t do any harm and you could find yourself cheaply warmer.

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More Shed

The Vicar pointed me to a better picture of his glorious shed, this time taken from the garage door end.

The Vicar is very proud of his handiwork

The Vicar is very proud of his handiwork

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Now I know that normal men like to retreat to their shed for a bit of peace and quiet out of the house. The Vicar, however, has filled his shed so that retreating to it to sit down or smoke a pipe or something manly like that would be totally impossible. Actually it’s strictly the garage, but it is the largest outbuilding we have. And our car wouldn’t fit in it. Or it would but we couldn’t open a door to get out of the vehicle. The garage is Austin Seven size I’d say.

The good news is that instead the shed is filled with logs for our beloved wood burning stoves. As you can see, I’ve had plenty of opportunities to watch the Vicar chopping wood outside my kitchen window. Not in the last couple of weeks, though – it’s been a bit busy here. Thankfully I think we probably have enough wood to last a few more days.

It's hard to see the scale, but you can just see the top of the garage door at the back

It's hard to see the scale, but you can just see the top of the garage door at the back

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You’ve probably gathered from previous posts that I think the best way to keep warm in a Victorian vicarage is to install wood burning stoves. These were definitely the top investment that we made on moving into our arctic home. When we visited soon after the Vicar was appointed to the job, we realised just how cold the house was. We could see damp creeping up the fireplace walls, and parishioners talked about shivering their socks off when they visited.

The Vicar’s mum and my parents had both had stoves installed in the past few years, and we enjoyed their warmth very much. The eco-friendly nature also appealed. As did the prospect of possibly heating ourselves for free by scavenging the wood.

We don't want to shiver in the Vicarage

We don

God willing, we would like to stay here for a good few years, so we’ve spent a lump of savings on buying and installing two Neria Bohemia 60 stoves. The selection of the stoves was not that difficult. When we went to the shop, this was the only one of the right size that they had two of! We also like their rather modern looking design and so far they have been wonderful – practical and attractive.

Yesterday we had both of them fired up – the one in the red room, our tidy public room, because the Vicar had a bereaved lady who came over to plan her father’s funeral, and the green family room one cos that’s how we keep the family warm. The Vicar lays the fires at lunchtime so they are ready to go whenever we need them.

So far we’ve only had to pay for matches. We’ve been using packing paper from our move and shreddings from the study at the base of the fire, chopped up pallets and twigs from the garden and churchyard for kindling and then heavier logs once the heart of the fire is going. The logs have been sourced from all over: local people we know who have been chopping trees down (sometimes with the Vicar’s help), building sites (with permission of course) and the Vicar’s golf course. The Vicar tells me that this justifies the cost of his club membership.

A hidden benefit of using wood as a fuel is the view I get from my kitchen window when the Vicar is chopping the logs. Very hunter gatherer. Getting them installed was a bit of a palaver. I’ll blog on that another time, but for now I’ll show you what they look like in my two downstairs rooms (unlit, cos I took the photos this morning) and you can enjoy the toastiness.

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Ive not yet worn my hat indoors...

I've not yet worn my hat indoors...

Cold vicarages seem to be a hot topic for discussion. Since I posted last week I’ve also remembered a couple of other techniques that we use to keep the frostbite at bay.

  • Our electric blanket. Not yet on the bed but absolutely essential for later in the season. With cold feet I cannot get to sleep at all. The poor man’s alternative is the good old hot water bottle. My mother has bought a large selection to be set aside for visitors. The children like them too, especially when they have covers in the shape of racoons.
  • My teasmade. I have a hot cup of tea every morning (Roiboos, without milk, so much less hassle than having to fetch semi skimmed). This is also a great encouragement to prayer and bible reading. What else to do whilst tea-drinking first thing? It’s sometimes a battle to switch off the Today programme, though.

Quite a few commentators have mentioned the ‘sell the vicarage and buy something warm and modern’ option. This is appealing in many ways but also has its downsides. The expectation is that a warm modern vicarage is a pleasure to live and work in and doesn’t cost a bomb to heat or to maintain. However, not all modern vicarages are chosen well – it seems that some are poorly located away from the church or community, and houses that are not specifically designed as vicarages can lack rooms of the right size or configuration.

In our diocese cold vicarages have been identified as a source of clergy stress and there are plans afoot for double glazing. In the meantime, please continue to share your warmth tips.

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Living in a vicarage is an enormous privilege. Ours is a seven-bedroomed three storey detached Victorian house with a large garden, outbuildings and a cellar. It’s wonderful to have so much space to live in and to share with parishioners as we offer hospitality.

Big houses can be freeeeezing

Big houses can be freeeeezing

Vicars tend to have big houses so that they can have meetings and offer hospitality (well, I guess that’s the reasoning). I think there are even some minimum size stipulations for living rooms to ensure that you can fit the entire PCC in. So we have a big house. And a stipend of about £20k. The size of the budget is not at all proportionate to the size of the house and the associated heating bills. In fact, if we hadn’t made careful provision, I’m sure we’d fall into the government’s ‘fuel poverty’ bracket (more than 10% of income spent on heating).

We have a boiler that’s 20 years old, single glazed sash windows and 10 foot ceilings. Beautiful but freezing. The diocese is poor and doesn’t have the budget to ensure modern levels of comfort in every house.

So what techniques do clergy families use to keep warm in their huge and unheatable homes?

  • Clothing layers and slippers. As I type this up I am wearing my fleece gilet. Essential clothing for a vicar’s wife. At our last church, the vicar’s wife had a down-filled one which she wore nearly all year round.
  • Limited room use. We stick to the kitchen and one family room most of the time.
  • Baking. And porridge in the mornings. It really helps if you have the cooker on.

Before we moved here, we also decided to use some savings, our harvest from working as engineers in the Far East before we had children. We decided that we’d spend it on being warm in the vicarage. So we’ve installed two wood-burning stoves in the main reception rooms and underfloor heating in the bathrooms. We reckoned that this way we could be warm in the mornings and evenings without having to pay for the boiler to heat the whole house.

This seems to be working very well so far. We’ve managed to remain very comfortable without the heating until now and are hoping we can last until half term this way. The vicar is getting very skilful with the wood-burning stoves, but I’ll save all that for another post.

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We had loads of visitors this weekend. It was great fun, though slightly bonkers. As ever, my Dad wrote some verse to commemorate the occasion. This one is about our first gas bill…

Our new Vicar’s first gas bill,

Would really take some beating.

So rather than face the bankruptcy court,

He turned off the central heating.

They shiver now at the Vicarage,

And wrap up really well.

Whenever (in winter) I visit

I long for the fires of Hell.

The poetic licence forbade mentioning our very toasty and mesmorising wood burning stoves, which stave off the longing for Hell… We hope.

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