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.


  Leave a reply


  1. Like you and Danny, we have no gas in our village. Just oil fired central heating, an open fire in the sitting room and that’s it.

    Now the children have left home, i try not to have theheating on all day if I’m at home.I have two knitted blankets (bless you Mum) which can be found wrapped around my shoulders and knees when I’m trying to be good.

    The price of oil is extortionate, but gigling at the visdion of you in the shower in the garden…adn someone popping into buy some marmalade ,jam, flowers etc and getting a free peepshow too!

  2. Fiona,
    The only problem I’ve seen with the instant hot water heater that we just installed is that it takes more time to get hot water to the faucet. A certain amount of water needs to run for the heater to recognize the demand, so I worry about wasting water! This is probably more than offset by the saving in power to heat a whole tank of water, but it still bothers me. Can’t win them all, I guess!

  3. Since moving to the fens, the joys of keeping warm has become a full time job. Being a ‘towny’ I was horrified at the thought of open fires and the dust and mess etc ( its ok at christmas and on cards etc), and wondered why everyone gave me a strange look when I kept pressing the over ride button on the oil fired boiler hot water and central heating timer switch, rather than go the performance of gathering coal and wood and attempting 5 times to get a fire going.Not to mention I couldn’t for the life of me work out why anyone would bother with the mess and the worry to heat just one room in the house … just put the rads on! Now I know why! Since moving in last summer we have put nearly 800 quids worth of oil in the blooming thing! The fact that its outside in a cupboard and pumping the hot water under the ground 10 ft probably doesn’t help, in fact we probably have the cosiest wheely bin area in the country ( under patio heating might catch on for lottery winners)! Also on inspection we found that the wrong valve had been fitted inside and it refuses to send any hot water to the radiators until the water tank is hot ( which is a total waste as we only have electric showers and I don’t use hot water, got a dishwasher and washing machine that both work off cold feeds) so we sit shivering for an hour burning our precious oil waiting for a tank of hot water that won’t get used!
    Roll on the spring when its all getting ripped out moved into the house with a new kitchen and central heating overhaul, until then I’m spitting feathers checking oil prices online everyday like a rabid stockbroker as like you, once the weather drops below freezing I can’t stop the blooming thing!!!! And the dial on the tank is getting close to the 1/4 full again….. 🙁

  4. We bought a couple of halogen heaters(£15 each) and use these rather than CH where possible. They are not expensive to buy, not expensive to buy spare bulbs for (£5 for 3 bulbs which seem to last a couple of years) and cheap to run. I’m sitting beside one now with just one bar on and the cost is about 7p per hour for electricity. It is over £1 per hour for gas CH and 75p per hour for the gas fire in the living room. If the halogen heater is on full with all 3 bars than it is 20p per hour.

  5. Gail Hutcheson

    Hi Fiona

    Very interesting subject today. No one else seems to have commented but why do you have HUMAN GRAVES in your garden!!!!! Cheered me up no end to think that you made some extra pin money doing a spot of grave digging of an evening.

  6. We invested a chunk of money in solar panels and have just had a year of income from them which has covered the cost of all our electricity, gas and water. The only changes we have made is that we now runt things like the washing machine and dish washer when the sun is up and we are generating our own electricity.

  7. Anne Wilson

    Several years ago we had constant hot water for free. We got a 1000L plastic cube, often used for water storage, in this we placed hen manure half way up, with a 50mt roll of black plastic pipe, one end connected to our cold water supply, the other end to our hot supply, we then filled the cube, covering the pipe with more hen manure, this needs to be well watered,then covered the cube with black polythene, one week later constant hot water. One fill of hen manure lasts about four months, you then have great manure for the garden. Just refill the cube when needed. Any poultry farm would probably be please to give you the manure. We were lucky as we were running an organic poultry farm.

  8. Cathy at PotterJotter

    Have never done hot water on demand … even when we have guests staying. Also never put the central heating on til after 5pm – the kids think we’re mad!
    Probably are!

    On peak electric is by far the most expensive way of heating anything!! With the possible exception of Butane Gas or an open fire. Wood in a wood stove is not a bad choice for off Gas Mains.
    But electric no!
    Best to insulate, draught strip and insulate again.

  10. Sarah Garth

    Hi Fiona,
    We use a battery powered shower (works on mains too with an adapter) when in the caravan, boil up a few kettles and add cold water into a 25L water container, far more cost effective than turning the water heater on! In summer we use solar shower bags to heat the water.

    May be useful to you,
    best wishes,

Leave a Reply to Tanya @ Lovely Greens Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

HTML tags are not allowed.

2,263,266 Spambots Blocked by Simple Comments

Copyright © 2006-2012 Cottage Smallholder      Our Privacy Policy      Advertise on Cottage Smallholder