Like most people, I have become used to the comfort and convenience associated with centrally-heated homes. As long as you have the system serviced, and do the routine checks, it is generally so reliable, you hardly remember that it is there. Hot water all year-round, and heat when you need it on cold days.
This wasn’t always the case for me. As a family, we didn’t have central heating until the late 1960s. Before that, it was one coal fire in the living room, hot water bottles before bedtime, and the occasional luxury of a paraffin heater, or electric fire. When I first married in 1977, it was back to basics; one gas fire in the flat, and a single-bar heater over the bathroom door. But since the early 1980s, I have always had some form of central heating, and I am fairly certain that I would not want to return to life without it.
After moving here to Norfolk, we thought that it might be nice to have a wood-burning stove installed. It wasn’t a simple task, as we had no chimney in this modern bungalow, so had to make additional arrangements and alterations to accommodate our wish. Anyone who has read my numerous posts about the problems with this device, will know that there have been times when I thought it would never work properly, or be resistant to intrusion from the elements. I grew to hate the thing, and seriously considered having it removed.
However, since the recent work done to secure the chimney, and rearranging waterproofing and tiles on the roof, it seems to be working as it should. We have enjoyed some relaxing fires over the past couple of weeks, and they have been most welcome, since the weather turned much colder. We have still had the central heating on as well though, a sort of ‘belt and braces’ approach. Yesterday, I decided to discover if the fire could really heat the house, from its spot near the west wall of our living room. Starting early, I lit the fire before 9am, and got in enough wood to make sure it didn’t go out. Within two hours, it was giving out a really good heat, and I kept adding logs as required.
After returning from my walk with Ollie in the late afternoon, I was pleased to see that it was still glowing nicely. I added some coal to the embers, as it is slower-burning, and keeps its heat. Admittedly, it was only cheap coal, and it smoked quite a bit, so obscured the normally crystal clear glass door. This took away the main pleasure of having the fire, that of watching it through the glass, enjoying the look of it, as much as the heat. When that had burned down, I went back to logs, and by the time Julie arrived home, the warmth could be felt in all the rooms, and the living room was almost too hot. I carried on during the evening, adding logs occasionally. We both remarked that the whole house was now warm, and no extra input from the central heating was required. Even after Julie had gone to bed, the coal was still glowing; and this morning, we felt no need to switch on the heating.
So it seems that one small (5kw) fire, burning for twelve hours, using about twenty split pieces of wood, with a few (optional) scoops of coal, can still be enough to heat a modern well-insulated home. It felt like a step back in time, but in a good way. It doesn’t do the hot water of course, but you can’t have everything.