The Grumpy Old Man

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Grumpy tells you how to save money on heating and do these "smart" meters have anyplace in the equation?

Fed up with living in a cold draughty house, no need, read on!

Note:this grump was originally published in May 2017, and updated in November 2018, the update looking at smart meters

Grumpy would observe from his own experience that we can actually improve our own individual environment. In fact by improving our own environment we can do a little to correct the ills we have imposed on the ecosystem in recent decades. If enough of us do so, we can actually have a huge effect on the overall system. After all, as one supermarket says, 'every little helps'!

When we came to Ireland fifteen or so years ago, the cottage we moved into was old with little in the way of maintenance work being done on it for a number of years. At the time, I was unemployed and therefore we had very little (for very little, actually read 'no' spare money left after basic living costs had been met. The cottage was cold, draughty and cost a small fortune to heat. The sole sources of heat were an open fire in the lounge and an old decrepit and smelly bottled gas heater in the kitchen. Hot water was provided by an electric immersion heater that ate electricity, but more of that later.

Over the months I purchased draft excluder as and when money would allow. The excluder works round doors and sash windows. There are two sorts readily available in good DIY shops. They are both really simple to fit (a layer of glue on one side) but very effective.

One of the types is used where the surfaces butt up against each other. As an example of this, a door will butt up against the rear of the frame when it is closed. The draft sealer that the door compresses as it closes would be used here.

In the case of a sliding fit, as in a sash window, you would use the second type. This type is a strip of thin, resilient plastic and comes pre-folded into a slightly open 'vee' shape. This 'vee' fits into the gap between the sliding sash window and the frame. It will be compressed and naturally take up the contours of the window and frame, thus closing the gap.

Perhaps I can show how useful these things are. The average door has probably got a gap of some one and a half millimetres round its edge. Most doors are about one and three quarter metres tall and three quarters of a metre wide. So, the distance round the door is about five metres. If there is a gap of one and one half millimetres over that length, it will be just like an eightyfive millimeter square hole in the door. Or, in old dimensions, a three and a half inch hole! So it is no wonder that even with the lightest of breezes outside, there will be a veritable gale blowing inside. Thus, by the time you've added this gap round the door to all the gaps round the sash windows you will see that there is effectively a large hole through which the building is losing a huge amount of very expensive heat. And, you will have large heating bills for not much warmth in the house.

I also noticed there was absolutely no insulation in the loft and that the ceilings upstairs were made of tongued and grooved boards. Over the years, these had dried out leaving a little gap between each board. As with the door, you can imagine the size of effective hole we had in the upstairs ceilings.

I decided to first insulate the loft with fibreglass blanket. This would also reduce the drafts through the 'gappy' ceilings. I could only put in a modest amount as I was operating under very strict cost constraints. Later, the landlord very kindly re-imbursed us with the cost. I must confess, I wouldn't recommend this job to my worst enemy as I have always thought it one of the most diabolical DIY jobs anybody could ever undertake. However, if doing it yourself is the only way to get it done, then I suggest that it is done piecemeal, one roll at a time. It is a hot, sticky, scratchy, sweaty and totally unpleasant job, but when eventually complete, the end result will be well worth it.

The source of heat that we were using in the lounge was an open coal fire which was smelly, dirty and didn't really do a very good job at all. I was reluctant to spend too much on the house as we were only renting. But, by some strange quirk of fate the landlord, who lived next door, had decided to have a solid fuel room heater fitted in his lounge. It could be, that he found by buying two of these together he could get a good discount. The upshot was that he offered to fit a one for us in our lounge. It was a fully enclosed little stove that sat in the fireplace. ( It is well known that these devices can produce up to four times more heat from the same amount of fuel as an open fire.) Once fitted the effect was absolutely incredible. I also found that the heater was cleaner than the open fire, but still not environmentally perfect.

We still had a very cold kitchen where most of our daily activities took place. For sometime, I had been searching the Internet for a make of secondary double glazing I had used some thirty or forty years ago when living in the UK. I eventually managed to locate the supplier of this system (it had been difficult to find because the company who had originally made it had been sold a number of times and was now known by a totally different name). I purchased and fitted a set of it in the kitchen window and invited our landlord round to see it. I must confess, I was chuffed as nuts with it as it was an incredibly neat fit and certainly did the job of cutting out the drafts. As an added bonus, it significantly reduced the noise from the road and hotel outside. This happened because the design meant that the two sheets of glass were approximately six inches (about 15 mm) apart. This is the optimum separation for sound reduction while also providing the usual heat retention benefits of double glazing. Because it covers the whole window frame it reduces the drafts to a minimum. The landlord was so impressed that he insisted on paying for it and suggested that I should do the rest of the house. Having seen the benefits in the kitchen I needed no second invitation. This was done over the next six months and the end result was great. The road outside and the noise from the residents of the hotel opposite went from being a major nuisance to very distant murmur.

Since completing this work, I have found that our solid fuel bills have fallen by half. We also have a much higher quality of life mainly from a warmer house, and a reduction in drafts and noise from outside.

These simple tasks needed very little in the way tools beyond a tape measure, a screwdriver and a junior hacksaw. I believe that with a little effort, the average DIY man could easily achieve the same result. Not only will he be saving money in making his own personal environment better, but he will be doing his bit for the overall world ecosystem.

If you are interested in this type of double glazing, I can put you in contact with the supplier, and no, I don't get any commission, more's the pity!

This may not seem very much, but every little does help and if we all did these simple tasks I am sure we would ultimately see an improvement in our environment.

Note:this grump was originally published in May 2017, and updated in December 2018

Grumpy accepts that, at the moment, so-called smart meters are not used in Ireland. I hardly find this surprising after the experience of Irish water fitting water meters (click here) and finding not only was it expensive but the actual fitting process caused far more problems than had been anticipated thus putting the cost up. Fortunately (one would hope) the problem of leaks post fitting would not apply to energy "smart meters".

From what Grumpy can glean, a smart meter, as well as communicating meter readings to the energy supply on a daily basis can show the user his instantaneous cost. Or to put it differently, how much he is spending at any one time on gas and/or electricity. So how are these two factors a benefit? The first may be useful to the energy supplier having a better "handle" on energy demand on an instantaneous basis throughout the day. This may be beneficial to the energy generators in their capacity planning. Having said that, there is little the end user can do in that area.

Which leaves us the capability of monitoring, on an instantaneous basis, one's energy usage. It is claimed this facility will allow you to control your usage and thus reduce the cost you have to pay. Grumpy would query that role given the cost of fitting these gizmos to every house, is currently estimated (yes still only estimated) at 20 billion. Grumpy observes that the end user is going to have to save an awful lot, if it is going to add up to anything like that sum. In fact, Grumpy believes such a scenario is actually cloud cuckoo land and the 20 billion could be far better spent on the customer managing what fuel and how he utilises his fuels.

So, how would Grumpy get more bangs per buck from this 20 billion? Well for a start, he'd reinstate the "Green Deal", funding for which has been stopped. This Green Deal was designed to assist in the insulation of property, covering many of the factors outlined above. The Green Deal in the UK provided financial assistance in insulating the property, albeit through a loan.

Grumpy believes that the 20 billion would be far better spent on reinstating the Green Deal scheme, with new management structures and procedures covering the application for, and usage of, the finance. However one major difference would be applied and that is to make the scheme a straight non-repayable grant. Let's face it, for 20 billion quid, you'd insulate an awful lot of houses, and provide an awful lot of employment for the building industry. Furthermore, this Green Deal, wherever possible should assist house owners to change from inefficient electric space heating to a more efficient " global warming " friendly fuel.

Such a combination could significantly reduce the overall fuel usage of the nation. Perhaps the UK would not need quite so many new expensive power stations or fewer of the eyesores created by pylon routes erected willy-nilly in our most attractive beauty spots. This in itself would reduce the national carbon footprint both from the electricity generation and from the carbon released during the building of the powerstation as, did you know, the manufacturer of cement and concrete generates huge quantities of greenhouse gas?

Let's face it, at the end of the day, Grumpy keeps an eye on his energy usage by a far simpler process than spending a huge sum of money on a fancy meter (which I am told doesn't work if you want to change supplier, what a bloody farce!). He does this by a couple of simple tests, simple observation and half a minute with a calculator.

The simple tests can be applied to any device consuming electricity. If it's warm, is using a bit of electricity, if it's hot it's using a lot. It may sound simple and obvious but it's true. For the technical, a quick look at your meter is all that is necessary. Meters usually have a rotating vane with a mark on it, if you see the mark frequently it is using a lot of electricity, if you see it infrequently the amount of electricity being used is small.

It is easy enough to read the meter as nowadays most of them are digital. We all get regular bills, sometimes through the post, sometimes electronically. It ain't rocket science to deduct the "latest reading" on your last bill from the current meter reading to see your current usage. For most people one just needs to look on your last bill for "usage" and you will see whether you have used more or less during the recent period. To a first approximation it is easy to get an idea of how much you have spent. To do this all you need to do is take the final bill amount, divided by the usage shown on the last bill, and then multiply that figure by your current usage, and there you have it!

So, 20 billion quid is being spent nationally for something that the user (the householder) will probably only consult at most 3 or 4 times, make his adjustments and never look at the thing again. What a waste of rations that is. Alternatively the money used for insulation of old stock housing. Thus producing not only financial savings to the householder but as a consequence of the reduced energy consumption (this must happen as heat (energy) is not being lost to the environment). It would potentially also reduce the amount of energy (electricity) generated with a consequent reduction in the amount of greenhouse gases discharged into the atmosphere. And work at doing its job twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week with no monitoring whatsoever. Sounds like an excellent use of 20 billion quid to Grumpy.

The whole thing seems to be a right ill thought out bugger's muddle, typical of today's politicians who seem to be so adept at narrowminded, ill considered totally disconnected thinking!