Archives for the month of: December, 2014

The pigs have successfully chewed up the square and seem to be a little hungrier. Being greedy myself, I thought we should move the pigs to churn up a bit more ground. So it’s time to move them. Consideration 1: The arc is too heavy to move (our neighbour’s small tractor could hardly move it once it was in the field). Action 1: Move the fence. I worked out the fence could enclose the area between the existing square and the mature trees, which would work nicely.


Before I moved the fence I hacked a path for it through the bracken with a slasher, which is the best name for a tool I know. I find it has advantages over a strimmer on some tasks. It’s quieter, you can think as you go, you can clear up as you go, and it’s fun, fun, fun. Slash, slash, slash.

Next I had to distract the pigs with food, while I picked up the fence and moved it. This is easy as pigs love food and are easily distracted by it.


They were quite content for the hour and fifteen that it took me to move the fence. I was quite pleased, though I was one panel short after my pacing measurements didn’t quite work; I had to do a little jiggling to move the ends closer. Now, instead of a square we have a teardrop shape, some of which has been chewed and some of which is dense bracken.


Laura watched a video about a convection heater powered by tea lights and suggested I try it in my office on chilly days.

I tried it out a couple of times and it does make my little office reasonably warm. First the inner pot with the hole blocked up. It sits on a bread tin, which contains the lit candles:


Then on goes the outer pot; note the second bread tin to keep the first off the book underneath. The first bread tin gets very hot:

P1020872The Internet has picked over this a lot, trying to decide if it’s better than having just four candles burning without the fire-hazard construction on top of them. I’ll add my thoughts: the amount of heat generated is not changed, rather the way the heat is distributed is. So four candles send the heat straight up, with a weak convection current caused by the hot air rising. The pot heater increases that convection current to help circulate the heat a lot better and also stores the heat before releasing it as radiation, which travels in straight lines outwards. Both these contribute to making me warmer than the four candles would.

In other words, it’s a simplified masonry heater:

The same source has a diagram of the pot heater:

If I had the inclination, I could come up with some more mass to store more of the heat and so on. Maybe once I’ve done my rocket stove I’ll get to that.

We had some old pillows that came along with the old duvet that I used to insulate the loft hatch. We decided to use them for draft-proofing the chimneys because we’d looked into chimney balloons already (and bought one, before promptly losing it somewhere).

First, I had to clean out the grates and fire surrounds, with help from my sweep’s devil: P1020863

I got a good look at the chimneys after clearing away the ironmongery. The chimneys are lined with a sectioned ceramic pipe, built in when the house was constructed:

P1020860I expected a rougher, square section, something a bit more chimneys of Greenknowe. A circular section, however, means a rolled up pillow goes in like a Pooh bear into a rabbit hole:

P1020862I did a couple of bedrooms, with the spare room to go. Guests in the spare room have commented on the chimney noise in some strong winds (“I thought you’d been stuffing pillows up there.”), with no hint of noise in the bedrooms I’ve done. This is promising; in the worst gales I get woken by the whistling winds in the chimney and less noise means fewer draughts.


A recent article in the Guardian summed up the steps to take to to increase the efficiency and cosiness of an old, leaky house. We’ve done quite a few things mentioned and plan a few more. It advocates a less invasive approach to start with, rather than investing in modern systems designed for modern houses. We’ve already installed a wood-fueled heating system and turned off the oil-fired range. We’re a stove or two short of the ideal of heating the whole downstairs with wood, though we do heat each room individually as recommended.

I am steadily draught-proofing floorboards, skirting boards and window alcoves to cut down cold draughts into the house. Other sources of heat loss are thermal bridges: these are uninsulated areas within a larger insulated area. The classic one is the loft hatch, so I got to work on it after inheriting an old duvet (the loft hatch is in my office).

P1020868A lovely duvet sandwich, with a loft hatch underneath somewhere. I made the top battens a little too long to start with, so the sides of the duvet wouldn’t flip up enough to fit the hatch. Once they were shorter it dropped in nicely into place. So far it seems a little better in the office, especially with a little simple heating during the day (another post to come).