Building Resilience

Those of you who have been reading my blog for a while will know that a few years ago I started planning to prepare for my old age. Yes, I am in my 70’s but I don’t feel old yet (well not most days!). I am planning for my 90’s and later and anticipating maybe less robust good health. But I have no wish to move to somewhere ‘sensible’, a bungalow in a village with a bus service. I like it here, I have brilliant neighbours but to stay here for the duration means planning for problems.

Amongst those problems were the things over which I have no control like pandemics and climate change. And lately two things have shown up a hole in that resilience.

The first is that here in the UK elctricity prices have soared. They are predicted to rise again in April when the Government allows companies to charge more. That will mean the price has doubled in a very short time. The problem is that although there has been a huge increase in renewable generation the National Grid still needs to have gas powered stations on stand-by for the times when demand surges – the early evening when everyone gets in from work, breakfast time when showers, kettles and toasters all go on, even the ad break in a popular Soap Opera when lots of people make a cuppa. And Gas is sold on the global market with a current shortage of supply. Several electricity supply companies have gone bust recently because the price rises to them caught them out. Their customers had to be transferred to other providers which has given headaches to both the customers (they lost a good price deal and went onto a higher tarrif) and the companies that had to accept them. The upshot is that as I have an Air Surce Heat Pump to heat my home my bills have increased dramatically even though it is a pretty efficient system. I can pay them but it means cutting back elsewhere and losing some of the fun things. Petrol prices have risen less dramatically but filling my car takes more money than it did a few months ago. And transport costs going up means food and other things go up too. What is a girl to do?

My Heat Pump works well – but at a cost!

In the long term everything will even out, gas prices will stabilise, but I cannot imagine that energy in any form will be much cheaper. Except wood which grows happily without any cost to me and which I can, and do, cut without recourse to fossil fuels.

I have a small woodstove as back up to the Heat Pump but it is not very powerful and certainly cannot heat the whole house. Time for a rethink.

The second sign of trouble has been that we have had two major storms this week and a third is forecast for tonight. The Met Office gives storms names only if they pose a threat and we have had Dudley and Eunice so far this week and Franklin has just been named and is expected tonight. Warnings are issued to help us prepare – yellow means a low risk but that damage cannot be ruled out, orange that damage is likely and red that it is pretty much inevitable. Eunice warranted a RED warning which is very rare. On Thursday I had an email from my home insurer reminding me how to make a claim, giving me my policy number to make it easier to identify myself, and telling me they had arranged for extra staff in their call center; and another from Western Power Distribution who manage the power lines telling me they had cancelled all routine work, had all their engineers on stand-by with helicopters to move them if flight was possible and they too had extra call center staff to deal with queries. They were clearly putting their contingency plans for a major incident into operation! In the event my house was perfectly safe and my garden suffered very little damage – one dying Ash tree fell but hit nothing important and one door blew off one greenhouse. This morning there were two fairly short power cuts and as I have been writing this I have had a message that there are problems with the water supply in my area. Other people fared much worse.

Apologies for the poor quality photo – it was blowing a hooley and the rain was horizontal!

Whether you believe in climate change (I do) or not it is clear that extreme weather events are becoming more common. Which means power cuts will become more common. Understandably when there is widespread disruption to the electricity network the first jobs tackled are those which get most people reconnected. In this remote rural place we are at the end of the queue. I have a couple of advantages – Because I am old and disabled I am perceived as vulnerable (I can hear you laughing – I do too!) but they can deal with that by passing my details to Social Services or the Red Cross to check on me and provide help if I need it. My big scret weapon is cows. My neighbour at the dairy farm up the hill milks over 200 cows twice a day and no way can that be done by hand. So if the power goes off it is an emergency and, to be fair, Western Power always get them reconnected quickly even if it means bringing in a generator or other temporary equipment. And that usually means I get power too. But at present in a power cut I have no heating and no means of cooking.

So I have decided to invest in a bigger wood burner in my sitting room. Which means having the old liner in the chimney removed and a new one put in. Apparantly the old one will be coming to the end of its life and it is better to have all the disruption in one go. It has taken me weeks to decide on the best stove and firm and it will be May before it can be installed. I was dismayed that most of the firms I contacted just told me to choose a fire and then they would fit it for a fixed fee. Their advice on how big the new stove should be seemed to be plucked out of thin air. It was Mr Snail who pointed out that for most people these stoves are nice accessories for the sitting room, lit on Christmas Day and maybe other high days and holidays, nice to have in a power cut but very much an adjunct to the central heating. How it looks is then the crucial factor in the choice. Only one firm understood that I wanted to use one as my main heat source. And I wanted to be able to boil a kettle or simmer a stew on it on a regular basis. My Heat Pump will still be there and will be maintained. In very cold weather the fire may not provide enough heat to keep the chill off the bedroom or kitchen and I may want to supplement it with the radiators. Or if I am too ill to cut wood or keep the fire going I need another heat source. But for the most part I will heat my home on free wood and do some cooking with it too. That should reduce my elctricity bills to a more manageable level and restore my capacity to have money for fun.

A permaculture principle is ‘Every function should be supported by more than one element and every element should serve more than one function’. That is a definition of resilience. I am getting there.

24 thoughts on “Building Resilience

  1. Trev Jones February 20, 2022 / 2:27 pm

    Wood’s the way to go, especially if it costs you nothing. It’s worth investing in a good, new stove. They are far more efficient nowadays. Just be careful that it’s not too powerful for the room as it will overheat it the room so much that you’ll be uncomfortable.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Going Batty in Wales February 21, 2022 / 10:55 am

      I am having one which is not much bigger in output than the present one but much more efficient and designed to set up a convection current so the heat moves away from the fire ans is shared by all the room.

      Liked by 3 people

  2. nanacathy2 February 20, 2022 / 2:51 pm

    I wonder do they still make Rayburns with back boilers? I ask because we had one in my childhood home which provided hot water, heat and had an oven. I do hope you survive the next storm. We had wood burning stoves in our last two homes, not got one at the moment. Its a worry.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Going Batty in Wales February 21, 2022 / 10:58 am

      We used to have a range very like a Rayburn but as John’s health deteriorated we had to burn coal which was hard work, expensive and made a lot of mess. He decided to replace it with the Heat Pump and the chimney was taken out. To replace it would mean the expense of a new range and chimney, more plumbing and re-jigging the kitchen so I decided to go for the simpler option!

      Liked by 2 people

  3. claire93 February 20, 2022 / 2:52 pm

    so sensible to be looking at the long term and the inevitably of everything going up in price, to get a new wood stove in place this year. We live in the country with wood readily available and will probably be using that as our source of heat more often in the coming years. We’re also thinking about solar panels, since we live in France and solar energy would be a feasible option for a large part of each year.
    Hope Storm Franklin misses you!
    I heard from my sister today (SE England). Her son, also SE England has been without power since Friday.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Going Batty in Wales February 21, 2022 / 11:00 am

      Thank you Claire. It was blowey but I am fine and there have been no more power cuts here. I have solar panels and beause we put them in very early on the Feed in Tarrif is pretty generous. I have no idea what the system is in France but you will certainly get more sun than I do!

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Luffy February 20, 2022 / 3:18 pm

    Well done you for planning ahead. As others have commented, modern Woodburners are very efficient so I expect you’ll notice a huge difference. We used to have one (we will again in the new house) and supplemented the wood fuel with artificial logs and blocks made of wood pulp which served well in emergencies if we couldn’t source of chop wood. Expensive, but worth keeping a couple of boxes in. Insulation is key to retaining the heat that you generate, so I’m sure you do this already, but if you don’t, think about buying second hand curtains to double line your existing ones, using door curtains to stop draughts, and checking your loft insulation.
    One of the reasons we’re building a pantry is to allow me to store long term supplies so that we could last for weeks in the event of a disaster. Prepping for the worst is always a good idea 👍

    Liked by 3 people

    • Going Batty in Wales February 21, 2022 / 11:03 am

      Thank you Luffy – Excellent advice. I have done a lot to insulate the house but its age and design mean that my options are limited. I envy you building from scratch and being able to design in heat retention. Like you I keep good stocks of supplies ‘just in case’ – there is a primitive satisfaction from looking at a well stocked larder!

      Liked by 2 people

  5. Laurie Graves February 20, 2022 / 9:34 pm

    What an inspiring post! We are undergoing a similar process at our home by the woods. Living on a tiny budget makes it more of a challenge, but we have made some progress with our plans. If you have a chance, I hope you will provide regular updates. And photos, too. I especially liked the ending quotation.

    Liked by 2 people

  6. paperpenandmug February 21, 2022 / 12:57 pm

    Like you and so many others we are also looking at future proofing. However getting tradesmen or an architect is proving virtually impossible. So many haveleft there that ther is a darth of trades people.

    Liked by 3 people

    • Going Batty in Wales February 21, 2022 / 3:35 pm

      Luckily I found a local firm recommended by a firend for this job and have some other tradespeople I have used on and off for years. I hope you find the ones you need.

      Liked by 2 people

  7. trumblesmum February 21, 2022 / 1:00 pm

    It’s great to ‘meet’ someone in the same boat as us….and goodness knows, we could do with a boat after three named storms in such a quick succession! We too live in Wales. We have a small smallholding and, at almost 70 and 80 plus having my 99 year old mother here, we have no intention of moving to one of those Lego style red brick bungalows that abound here abouts.
    Thank you for sharing your life and thoughts.

    Liked by 3 people

  8. trumblesmum February 21, 2022 / 1:20 pm

    Hello, I’m new here and my husband and I are in a similar situation to you. Smallholders on a very small scale, we have no desire to move to a Lego style red brick bungalow in a village. We like living in the wet wilds of Wales, as my city dwelling brother calls our home!

    We just purchased a small wood burner heater/cooking stove with a little oven as well as wide hot plate. It came from a friendly company called Salamander stoves and, though not cheap it will see us through the rest of our lives. They give full details of the area each of their stoves is suitable to heat. Even if you decide their products are not for you, looking them up to read their online brochure might help you decide on the stove size you need.Sent

    Ours is awaiting a chap from Brecon to fit. Can’t wait to try the cooking and am wondering if I should have added on the hot water boiler they make for it.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Going Batty in Wales February 21, 2022 / 3:44 pm

      Lovely to meet you Jenni. I am not surorised you ended uo commenting twice – WordPress is not exactly user friendly! I am glad you found the post interesting. It seems quite a few people are re-evaluating how they use energy. I want to be able to simmer a stew or steam a pudding on the woodstove because those things take a lot of fuel on the hob. But I do not need an oven or hot water from it. And as I have put down my deposit and got a date for installation I shall not look any further in case it confuses me! Salamander Stoves sounds rather like the firm I am usin, Beacon Stoves near Newcastle Emlyn – sensible people who sell stoves to be used noit as ornaments! I hope you get yours fitted soon and are pleased with it.

      Liked by 2 people

    • Going Batty in Wales March 10, 2022 / 10:58 am

      They are indeed and I suspect only going to get crazier. Resilience is the way to go.

      Liked by 1 person

  9. lisatheardentgardener May 6, 2022 / 10:36 pm

    I know I am commenting very late on this post. I read it when you first posted it, and bookmarked it to come back to since I resonated with it so much. I’m really glad you mentioned all that you did about making preparations for continuing on your property as you age, and about climate change and energy. I’ve been pondering much the same myself. I’m looking forward to catching up on your more recent posts to see if you spoke about this more.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. Going Batty in Wales May 8, 2022 / 6:36 pm

    I am delighted you found the post useful. I did a huge amount of thinking work identifying what might make it hard for me to stay here and then how I could overcome the problems. I still keep finding more that I need to consider and plan for but I coped well with the Covid pandemic which was the first real stress test. My new fire is to be fitted this week – an expensive addition but worth it I believe. As you probably realise I blog about all sorst of things but I will almost certainly revisit my preparations for my future well being at some point.

    Liked by 1 person

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