Thinking Ahead

Penny Kemp - Thinking Ahead
  • words Penny Kemp

Penny Kemp makes green preparations for the months to come...

I have been looking at some of the long range weather forecasts for this winter and I must admit they don't look very encouraging if you listen to the amateur weather predictions. Howling winds and prolonged snow well into March 2013 says the Woodserve blog. Tricia, the astrological weather forecaster, predicts that this winter will be cold and dry and many others contradict the Met Office Scientist, who stated that we should experience a series of milder winters. Whatever the truth of the weather to come, it makes sense to prepare your home for the winter. For those of you that use chimneys, getting them swept is a priority. Failing to sweep chimneys is one of the most common causes of chimney fires. I know from experience how damaging a chimney fire can be and mine was caused by a blockage from a bird's nest, which restricted the air flow and caused a fire.

Summer is also the best time to buy in wood for the winter months. Seasoned wood always burns best and storing it under dry conditions is essential. If you are handy with a saw, or know someone who is, buy large offcuts from a wood yard and prepare them yourself for your stoves and open fires. Buying ready prepared kiln dried logs is incredibly expensive. A two cubic metre bag of seasoned logs will set you back around £300 but looking around and buying in the summer should see discounts. Sadly, the boiler scrappage scheme has ended and many householders have improved their heating systems thanks to the scheme. Over 100,000 boilers were installed under the scheme and now the money has run out. Grants are available for new heating systems if you are on certain benefits and some companies are offering promotional discounts on new boiler installations. It really does make sense to shop around and if your boiler is over fifteen years old, it is probably time to think about a new one. Today's boilers are extremely efficient and likely to save you hundreds of pounds. For grant information go to Direct.gov

Making sure you have smoke and carbon monoxide detectors is essential. They can be bought cheaply from DIY stores. If you have open fires, you may want to consider buying a fire extinguisher. They cost, on average, around £17 and these simple actions save lives. New technology is always around the corner and the latest is being able to store summer energy. For some time, industry has used excess energy generated to power other sources. Some councils have ensured that waste energy is used to heat swimming pools and residential homes. As more and more heat pumps and exchangers are being installed, more effort is being made to look at how to store excess energy produced in summer and conversely how to save the cold of winter to run air conditioning etc. In Sweden a new energy store does this by a series of boreholes placed in a concentric formation, managed by an advanced control system. It is called Borehole Thermal Energy Storage and to date the only reason that this system is not more widely used is because of cheap and fluctuating energy prices. The expected heavy increase in fossil fuel prices may see this technology spread and also help to store excess energy produced by photovoltaic panels.

Checking the exterior of your house is good winter preparation. Cleaning the gutters and checking weather-stripping around doors and windows, and replacing if necessary, is essential maintenance. Installing more water butts at the same time will give you extra garden water for the rest of the summer. Inspecting your roof for broken tiles and defective flashing and considering installing snow guards and leaf protectors is a sensible way to protect your property. Now is the time to check where the main stopcock is and check that it is working. A burst pipe is no fun and not knowing where the water is turned on and off will hamper all your efforts to remedy the situation. Make sure pipes are lagged where necessary. Preparing an emergency kit is a very good idea. If predictions are correct and we have a cold, snowy winter then the chances of power cuts increase. Knowing where candles, matches and torches are and having spare batteries around will be a godsend in a power cut. Even better, buy a wind-up torch and the need for batteries diminishes.

Penny Kemp is a local writer and broadcaster and has the Sustainable Energy Partnership and was instrumental in helping to steer through the new Climate Change and Sustainable Energy Bill.