The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Cutting energy costs

Inca in the snow

Inca in the snow

We have been very lucky to have had such a mild winter so far. Last year I invested in two cheap convector heaters and we use these around the house to keep warm. They’re really good as they heat a room very quickly, have three settings from 750 watts to 2000 watts and have a good thermostat.

The oil based central heating and hot water system is just too expensive to use regularly these days. It has an override and comes on automatically if the temperature falls below zero degrees. We are hoping that the remaining third of a tank of oil will see us through to the summer. It was sleeting when I went out to get the logs and can hear our old boiler roaring away now. It will be warm downstairs this evening!

This winter we bought one of these Dimplex DXLWP800 Low Wattage Electric Panel Heater, 800 Watt  that takes the chill from the sitting room in the evening before the open fire gets going.

We don’t have gas in the village so we are dependent on oil and electricity. Luckily we have a large open fire in the sitting room and a small wood burner in the kitchen. So if there’s a power cut we can still keep warm.

We have been told that there is a cellar under the kitchen in the cottage. The entrance was blocked up years before I arrived, as it was constantly flooding. The kitchen floor is always cold in the winter – no need to chill the beer in the fridge and the big sacks of spuds last for months. We suspect that in very cold weather any water down there freezes as the temperature drops to an eye wateringly freezing level. My move to the Rat Room will mean further savings as we won’t need to heat the kitchen all day. It’s also much warmer upstairs since I added a lot more lagging to the roof space.

Back in the old days when I first came to the cottage I used a lot of oil. Roughly, 2700 litres a year. Oil was cheap then and the cottage was always snug and warm. Over the past year we have got away with using 600 litres. We made this hefty saving by not having hot water on demand. This means allowing 40 minutes for the water to heat up in the cylinder on the days that we have a shower, and then rushing about using the surplus hot water for cleaning and washing clothes. I was amazed by just doing this one thing could save so much oil!

This year I’m going to invest in a decent electric shower that just heats the water that’s needed. This will save even more money in the long term. I’m also considering an electric immersion heater.

And in the summer I’m going to try using this method of heating water using a hot compost heap. Our compost heap is beside the human graves and these have a six foot yew hedge on one side and a tall fence on the other. This means that it will be very easy to set up a simple modesty screen. If it works I can imagine anything more delightful than taking a shower under the trees that shade the end of the garden.

Last year I kept the garden hose extended full length in the garden. On a sunny day the water in the hose heats up quite quickly and by the afternoon there was free hot water for a quick 2-3 minute shower! Essential after a sweaty afternoon working in the garden.

I also looked into our electricity usage and costs. When I first moved here, I was working in London at the time and only here at weekends. So I chose a scheme that involved no daily standing charge. With this deal each unit of electricity used cost a lot more than the tariffs with a standing charge but if you don’t use much electricity it can be a good deal. I had forgotten all about this decision (well it was over 20 years ago!). So I’ve switched supplier and saved 28%. From now on I’m going to check out electricity supply options every year as this oversight must have cost us thousands over the years.


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  1. We built our house about 3 years ago.There is no gas in our village either, so we made the decision to install an air-source heat pump. This works a bit like air conditioning in reverse and heats hot water for underfloor heating and radiators as well as our hot water. It just uses electricity to circulate the water and is cheaper than gas. With a wood burner in the sitting room and lots of insulation everything is toasty.

  2. We have a water heater that just heats the water for the downstairs kitchen and bathroom (when the hot tap is turned on). If you turn the tap off, then back on with a low flow, so the ignition on the boiler is not triggered, you can use the residual water in the pipes – could be saved in a flask for hand/dish washing later.

  3. Tanya @ Lovely Greens

    I hear you…we’ve just had to fill up our oil tank again for about £750. Ouch! But we’re trying to cut down on usage and are pleased that our overall usage is down.

  4. Joey – I spend a lot of time over in France … and yes we do have snakes. Rest of the familiy knows theres one about when I’m seen/heard running and screaming!!!! 🙂 But then my imagination can run riot!

  5. To annbb … do you really have snakes? If you do, Lucky you! or do you just have a very good imagination?

  6. I have a couple of convector heaters as well, they’re great for taking the cold edge off a room quickly. Also good for spare bedrooms when family come to stay.
    I watched the water heating compost heap clip – brill idea BUT I’m terrified of snakes and also imagine them in my compost heap 🙁 – I tend to chuck stuff on the heap and RUN !!!

  7. Susan@Holly Grove

    We removed our oil fired Aga last year and installed an oil-fired combi boiler and new shower and radiators. The new boiler is very efficient and has reduced our oil consumption considerably, whilst the new radiators and shower provide much better warmth than the old versions.

    We have also had cavity wall insulation – via a grant (not means tested) and combined with additional insulation in the loft, the difference is fantastic.

    We only run our central heating for 2-3 hours a day (unless we have guests) and light the multifuel stove in the evenings, very cosy.

    From my experience I’d stay well away from electric immersion heaters, incredibly inefficient and expensive.

    I’m interested in comments re halogen heaters as one of these would be useful for heating the Handyman’s workshop. Very interesting post!

  8. When I was having my hot water boiler installed I asked the men to fit it with a plug and not hard wire it. I purchase a timer and have it on for two hours at cheap rate at night..and keep the thermostat on the boiler pretty low. My electricity bill for last month…thirteen pounds and half of that on night rate. Those things just eat up the power and so easy to forget when you switch it on manually.

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