The Cottage Smallholder

stumbling self sufficiency in a small space

Cutting our fuel bills

chimney plate in wallSomehow the first chilly nights of Autumn feel colder than the hard frosts of January. By midnight I’m freezing and in need of a plump hot water bottle and all three Min Pins to heat up the far side of the bed.

Yesterday, I woke hoping for rain. This would mean a much needed day off and the chance to repair the wood burning stove in the kitchen. It has lounged in the kitchen for four years unused. Our central heating is efficient. But now the cost of the two winter oil tank fill ups (£1,200) has made us think again.

Four years of happy Jackdaw domestic bliss had filled the chimney with twigs and discarded nests.
“I’m happy to help but it might take some time to find my chimney clearing gauntlets.”
Danny drifted across the kitchen and poked aimlessly amongst the carrier bags beside the cold stove.

Within seconds I had located them and he was unscrewing the plate on the wall that gives us easy access to the chimney.  This reveals a small cave in the 400 year old chimney breast, about three feet wide, two feet deep and two feet high. The chimney stack terminates at the top of this cavity and the flue from the stove below emerges from the cavity floor.

We faced a thicket of twigs that would have made The Wicker Man smile. We took turns to drag the debris out from the chimney using a child’s garden rake, the claw tool from the vegetable patch and our versatile drain rods. Each time we cleared a layer, the next few feet of the vertical column was cajoled down and fell with a gruff rumble. After four endless hours of these dusty thuds we finally saw daylight on our hands. As Danny swept the remains into the fifth bulging refuse sack, I located the chimney sweep’s brush in the barn. Twenty minutes later our trusty Dyson was vacuuming the darker recesses around the metal shelf above the stove.

The master plan for this winter is to keep the wood burning stove just ticking over during the day to warm the ground floor of the cottage. At the moment it’s going to be lit when I get home from work – so we can play with it and get the damping down just right.

Needing some cleaner air, I set off immediately to John Grundy’s horse sanctuary in the Tuddenham woods. We have unseasoned logs in the garden but we needed some good seasoned wood for the wood burning stove. I turned into the drive softened by pine needles just as the early evening sun was filtering through the trees. The place was silent as I packed the car with bags of wood and kindling.

On my return, the repairs were a doddle. Fire cement needs heat to set so I struck a jubilant match. Then I examined the beast very carefully, tweaking and resetting the damping down devices.

Initially the dogs were curious, watching me oil the hinges and fill small gaps between the wood burner’s flue and the stove. Eventually they settled in baskets beside the wood burner, stretching out to savour the radiant heat. For the first time in weeks I’m not wearing my outdoor jacket as I type this post.

The stove has burned just four smallish logs in nine hours. It’s not one of those new super efficient stoves that have a small appetite and will heat a house on a handful of fuel. But this stove is far more fuel efficient than the open fireplace in the sitting room.  The chimney breast is warm and the bedroom no longer has a chill.

We’re planning to minimise our use of oil this winter. We can supplement the horse sanctuary supplies with windfall wood. We also know a local builder who is happy to dump his offcuts in our driveway. The hot water has to be heated by the oil fired boiler as we have no gas in the village.

With a bit of canny ducking and diving we can be warm this winter for less cost. We are lucky, we live in the country where we can gather alternatives or negotiate swaps. But what will happen to those in the cities on a fixed income, with no wood burning stoves or fireplaces?

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  1. denise williams

    hi we used to have a wood burner and our local skip hire company would bring us a skip full of wood old worktops etc they only charged us for their diesil they were just glad to get rid of it

  2. Try a open system, you can conbine a multi fuel stove and boiler with your other heating source

  3. Rosemary

    Woodburners are a godsend and we would not be without ours,we have been lighting it every afternoon this week as the change from last week’s warm weather has been a shock.The open fire in the sittingroom won’t be used yet, as if doors are left open quite a lot of heat flows in there.The oil fired heating is just coming on for an hour from 6.30am to keep people from freezing when they come out of the shower.Don’t feel sorry for those without fires or woodburners as they have choosen to live in houses without them, and many people are too lazy to do the work involved in sawing and chopping wood and carrying it indoors and cleaning up the dust and ash.Many of our friends give us wood that they could burn,but they say”we can’t bother with all that”

  4. Annette

    Just ordered our wood burning stove which is arriving next week, can’t wait! We have a very efficient combi boiler but look forward to the warmth from a real flame and hope to save a few pennies as well. I work for a company where I have a plentiful supply of pallats I told my boss today that it will be a way of supplementing my wage. I have also been on the lookout for fallen tree branches whilst out with my dogs.

    I must just say how I love this site especially the recipes. I have now got my daughter hooked, She logs on whilst at work.

  5. Brrr the cold is setting in and only a couple of weeks until the clocks go back. I have an ageing boiler that sits where an aga used to live in a recess in the kitchen. Im pondering what would be the most frugal form of heating when the boiler finally splutters its last gasp. We have just had an oil order of 500 litres the cost was £276.

    I think I found this site googling for a hedgerow jelly,it turned out really well and set perfectly. Thankyou all so much for your great inspiration.

  6. Jillian Edwards

    I have just discovered your site. Brilliant – will bookmark it. I live in a small terraced house and have had a wood burning stove for four years. How did I ever live without one. With a surplus of cooking apples from a local farmer I plan to dry apple rings over night on racks as I did very successfully last year. Grandchildren love them and take them to school as snacks.

  7. We had a very expensive oil Rayburn installed about 4 years ago and the plumber told me that keeping our old woodburner backboiler in the system would not be a good idea – twit – I could strangle him now. At least we can still use the wood burner to supply room heat – and sawing and chopping up wood keeps you fit – bonus!!!

  8. Fiona Nevile

    Hi nà

    Good tip about the drying. I’m sure that I canfashion something to do the same. Ours is not an oven, unfortunately so we can’t bake bread in it but the bread can rise on the warm top! Thanks for dropping by.

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