The Old Post Office, Stenton, Dunbar, East Lothian EH42 1TE
Many rural villages are rapidly becoming unsustainable with mostly old housing, as energy and transport costs rise. If you are on a modest income increasingly you cannot live in such places. I have lived in the village of Stenton in rural East Lothian for quite some time with my family, now consisting of myself, my husband and our two remaining teenagers, plus a dog. Our 3 bedroom cottage is over 100 years old with traditional thick stone walls and therefore is hard to heat and light. The village has no gas supply so until recently we were dependant on oil, and like everyone we are acutely aware of soaring energy prices and a rising sense of gloom about our future here. It presented a challenge therefore as to how to lower our costs and, importantly, our carbon footprint.
Adding insulation would have been the obvious first step but this was limited in scope in our house. We realised it was time to do something for ourselves and with help and advice from the BeGreen project in Dunbar and the Energy Saving Trust. I set about researching and utilising the various grants and incentives available to help people ‘go green’. Underpinning everything we have subsequently done was a strong moral obligation we felt to be pro- active in helping to save our planet for the next generation. In the event, I believe we have made investments that will save money for us in the future as we approach life with pretty much only state pensions to rely on. In addition, the house is now much more comfortable in this changing climate.
Investigating the possibilities it was obvious that heating was the key issue here. In the summertime, without central heating on (and this one in particular) most days the centre of the house was always a bit cave-like with a background chill. We had a fairly old oil fired combi boiler central heating system plus a wood burning stove in the sitting room. With the renewable heat incentive supposedly in the offing, I investigated replacing our heating with biomass or some kind of heat exchange system. Because we live in Scotland with a plentiful supply of wood and with the climate we have, I eventually decided that a wood-pellet stove central heating system, with the stove situated in the living room/kitchen area was what we needed.
As planned, the stove provides background heat to the centre of the house even when it is just heating the hot water. It takes the chill off the house at all times. The Windhager FireWIN stove we now have provides all the hot water for the household and runs the ten radiator central heating system for the house and my studio work space which is attached. It is fully automatic and thermostatically controlled as any system is and as it fires up the room is filled with the glow of live flames to provide a heart to the house. You can even dry your wellies on the top. We opted for a manual fuelling system which involves just emptying one 15 kg bag a day into the stove because was cheaper and more direct than an automatic auger fed system, and really very little trouble. More and more pellet suppliers are setting up locally so I felt supply of pellets was assured.
Previously, on oil alone we were spending about £1,100 per year for heating with electricity bills on top of that. These days when the central heating is on a couple of times a day and the hot water is keeping pace with teenage showers we use about one bag of pellets a day at a cost of about £2 per bag. With just hot water heating this goes down to less than a bag every two days. We use Scottish wood pellets sourced locally and have a ton delivered about once a quarter. So far I estimate this will amount to about £800 a year.
I really think that a biomass stove heating system is the answer for these drafty old houses. and with photovoltaic panels installed on our roof, thick curtains and a wood burning stove, I reckon we are just about carbon neutral. We have reduced our costs dramatically and the house feels warm and cosy at all times. Grants such as the Renewable Heat Premium Payment from the government and also a Community Windpower grant via BeGreen have made all the difference to our tight budget and made the project possible. Avoiding banks altogether, and after a payback period of about 8 – 10 years, we will be making a good return on our investment and helping fight climate change – creating a warm glow all round! I think its essential that there are projects like BeGreen in every community to help and advise on making decisions that could have such long term benefits to us all.