Getting wood. There I have said it. On Pig Row we are getting wood. Go on, laugh. Now, let's put that puerile joke aside and talk about fuel poverty. In 2009, four million households in the UK were deemed to be in fuel poverty.
I, my wife and Little D were part of that statistic as we struggled through our first winter on Pig Row in 2010. I'd like to write that this statistic has now collapsed and that many of us will be warm this winter but the fact is that this year more than five and a half million households will fall into this category as they spend more than 10% of their income on just keeping warm. We all take warm water for granted and many of us expect to wake up to warm houses when the world outside is frozen but this is not the case for all of us. The sad fact as more and more people face redundancy, job cuts and wage cuts. We are facing a new wave of those who can afford to stay warm and those who can no longer afford to be on the grid.
The movement to get off grid started in the late sixties in the hippie movement, as a few turned to the Earthship ethos. Sadly in the UK, planning rules and the wet weather would turn these wonderful houses into mud in weeks. You can follow the ups and downs of one guy who did build one of these houses in the USA here. There have been people in the UK who have turned to straw bale housing as the perfect solution. Though these are cheap compared to modern housing builds they do tend to be rustic in design. It doesn't help that many of us can't afford to build from scratch. Land prices are at an all time high and planning for such houses can be turned down. A recent plan that was rejected near Pig Row was for a house sunk into the hillside, using Earthship ideas about car tyres to construct a skin around the property. This skin would be buried and unseen. The design was breathtaking, radical and immediately refused by planning as it was not in keeping with the area. There is a problem in our area, the influx of second home buyers driving out those who need to live here. These properties are often empty or rented as holiday homes. Though this brings in jobs and tourism, it does not keep us warm in winter.
There needs to be an overhaul in the ways we secure our heat in winter from collectives that coppice and manage woods. Something that is desperately needed and was reported on in the news this week. Coppiced wood can be stored and used in heating systems that run entire communities. We need to as a nation understand where our heating comes from, the flick of a switch may one day be beyond many of us. Fuel poverty is nothing new, it is just growing and growing and growing. We need sustainable heat.
On Pig Row we believe that wood, part of biomass movement, is part of this future. Alone we could not afford to take on a wood. Most woodlands cost upwards of £39,000 and we'd love to meet several families who want to take on the management of a wood, and work within a community to manage a quality wood rather than quantity. The funny thing is that many people, and we thought this too, think wood is wood, that all wood burns. It does. But some wood burns better. Oak. Ash. Beech. These are just a few that bring heat to Pig Row. To give you an example, I have burnt ash this evening, this ash is from a managed wood and the tree that was coppiced will grow back (unlike gas or coal) over the next ten years. I have burnt three to five logs over six hours in our stove, the room is twenty six degrees and the residual heat drifts into the rest of the house (we are looking at ways to vent this into our bedrooms, anyone who knows how to do this, do get in contact). Outside the wind blows and it is barely above three degrees in the open. The total cost for the heat this evening would be no more than one pound. Now, if this had been a gas fire running for six hours it would have only been around 80% efficient, my stove is 92% efficient (it is part of the new breed of wood stoves with secondary burn system built in. Hardly anything goes up the flue). That means the gas could have cost me 12% more than the wood. That's just rough maths but with the ever changing tariffs its hard to pin down the cost, at its lowest a gas fire would cost me around £1.20 for the same period and £2.87 at the highest tariff. That is not taking into account the 20% loss in efficiency. Making the final cost higher. It does not take into account that gas is running out, coal is expensive and nuclear power is not viable. I'm not getting into that argument now.
Our heating system is wood fired from an oven in the kitchen, it provides our cooking, hit water and heating on the upper floors and we have a stove in the lounge. We burn wood in a smokeless zone as both products are Defra approved this means no one knocks on our door and slaps us with a £20,000 fine per product burning (that would be £40,000 pounds for our stove and oven). We are part of the biomass movement, something this and the last government have shown interest in (there are rumblings for payments to those who just burn wood, these will be announced in 2012).
We may not have an Earthship but we are taking that first important step that we all can take for being responsible for where our fuel comes from. We know where our wood comes from, we get ours from Certainly Wood. All their firewood is sourced from sustainable British woodland. They sell only hardwood. For us on Pig Row, it is not just a flick of the switch and slowly, all of us who fall into fuel poverty will turn to this old way of staying warm and then maybe, just maybe we will stop destroying our environment and demand that it is protected, planted and managed to keep us all warm in winters to come.
Here is our complete story over the last twelve months (we shouldn't have had to have blogged so much about this when the mistake was so simple to rectify):
How I Became A Green Bore: Lighting the Way (November 2012)
How I Became A Green Bore (October 2012)
The End is Nigh (March 2012)
The End is Nigh, Again (March 2012)
Snowed Under (February 2012)
Problems with the Broseley Continued (February 2012)
The Snows are Here (January 2012)
Broseley Pressure Rising (December 2011)
Broseley Thermo Suprema Pressure Problems (December 2011)
Broseley Help Us (December 2011)
Problems With Our Broseley Thermo Suprema (December 2011)
Solid Fuel - Does it Work? (November 2011)
Solid Fuel and Biomass (November 2011)
New Winter, New Heating System (October 2011)
Living with the enemy (September 2011)
Please note that this post is our own personal opinion.