New Wood Burning Stove

In December 2013, I replaced the existing solid fuel stove with a dedicated Charnwood C4 wood burning stove. I choose it for its clean-burn and air-wash technology designed specifically to re-ignite volatile by-products emitted by the initial burning. As wood is composed of 80% volatiles this is critical and I am amazed at how little ash is being produced which indicates to me that I am getting a very complete combustion. This series of stoves also features an integrated inlet for ducting external air to the combustion area rather than sucking it from the room and combined with the flue liner connected to it (rather than going straight into the chimney as with the old stove) I now have a closed airtight system.

2011 0802

Ready for the winter!

Oct 2012 – Return to the Algarve

October 2012. I’m not long back from 10 days in the Algarve and although it was a few weeks earlier than my 2011 trip, the variety and numbers of butterflies I saw were very similar. My new Samsung phone enabled me to get some photos of the main species such as the Spanish Brown Argus, Lang’s Short-tailed Blue (below left), Speckled Wood (European variety) and Crimson Speckled moth. A new discovery was the False Mallow Skipper (below right) which I was able to get quite close to, on my last day in Lagos, as it was sunning itself on a footpath. I discovered later surprisingly that it is quite rare in the Algarve where it seems to have a small presence separate from its more widespread relative the Mallow Skipper with which it cannot interbreed. The real joy for me however was to discover an area outside Lagos where I was able to sit and watch some beautiful Clouded Yellows flitting around. It was quite an open scrubby arid area and I couldn’t believe it one day when a Two-tailed Pasha flew past me. It was unmistakable – as big as a small bird, a powerful flyer and was so close to me that I could clearly see its striking colourings and patterns – search over!

short tailed blue 3 false mallow skipper 4


October 2011 – “In Search of the Two-tailed Pasha”

This article on my Portuguese trip last October has now been published in Butterfly Conservation Ireland’s 2011 Annual Report. One of the highlights of this trip for me was the surprise discovery of a wonderful Borboletario or butterfly house in Lisbon’s Botanic Gardens where I was surrounded by beautiful Monarch butterflies. The migration cycle of this butterfly in North America is one of the most fascinating phenomena in Nature. They overwinter in Mexico and then move northwards in Springtime in a wave that goes all the way up to Canada – a journey of almost 3000 miles! I was talking to someone last Wednesday night who lives in Toronto and he was telling me how they await with joyful anticipation the arrival of the Monarch in their garden every year. It has greatly extended its range since the middle of the 19th century, colonizing New Zealand in 1840, Australia in 1870 and Canary Islands in 1880. It was first noted as a resident in Southern Iberia in 1980 and this photograph is courtesy of Simon Wates.

Monarch 1


2011 Home Energy Renovation Update

In March 2011, I had an air tightness test conducted by Christ Spoorenberg of EcoScan. The results were a slightly disappointing 7.68 Air Changes/Hour @ 50 Pa and a Permeability of 6.17 m3/h.m2. However, as I was less than halfway through the sealing process outlined below at that time, it may not have been too bad and, in addition, the thermal imaging also carried out showed up a number of weak points where I was losing heat such as hall door, hot press, fireplace/stove and attic door. I have subsequently dealt with all of these now apart from the attic door.

floor insulation extractor fan DSC00022 Attic door

The reduction in electricity use has been achieved by means of a detailed audit of all appliances, and their usage, and systematically going about tackling each of them. Whenever I’m replacing an appliance I choose the most energy efficient option available – the most recent example of this being an amazing induction hob in my revamped kitchen. LED technology has advanced rapidly in recent years and I now have an LED option in almost every room which has more than halved my electricity usage for lighting in recent years. A dramatic reduction came in 2008 when I installed SOLARFOCUS solar panels for hot water and in the process did away with both summer electric immersion and electric power shower in one fell swoop – anyone used to a power shower might find my gravity fed shower a little tame but I find it more than adequate!

It may seem counter intuitive to be putting in electric heaters but the heat loss for the house is now so low (less than 3kW) that they are only needed to supplement the solid fuel stove I installed in 2006.  In addition, I am now generating my own electricity from my solar photovoltaic (PV) system (see my separate post on this for more detail and latest data) and, as I am exporting almost 80% of output to the grid, my net purchase of electricity is running at just over 500 units in a 12-month period at a net cost of about €200.  It seems to me very last century to pipe a fossil fuel halfway across Europe into my home to burn it in a boiler and then pump the hot water all around my house!

The Beginning – Reaching for Zero Carbon Emissions

Given my energy background, it was natural that I would set about improving the energy performance of my house when I moved in over 18 years ago. It is a detached bungalow built just before the first oil crisis of 1973 with little or no consideration for energy issues. It can be seen from the graph below that the reductions in energy use I have achieved (about 75% in the last 14 years) have come in several phases.

Following the large reduction in gas usage in 2007, and the subsequent installation of solar systems in 2008 and 2011, I have begun to focus more on my carbon footprint rather than just energy reduction. Now that my carbon emissions are barely 300 kg/year (most houses are measured in tonnes), I think it is reasonable to refer to my low carbon house and since I’ve passed the 90% renewables contribution landmark I’ve even allowed myself to start thinking of the Holy Grail of Zero Carbon! The graph below shows the contribution of the different renewables over the past 12 years.

Graph of fuel mix trend JPEG 2014

Graph of percentage renewables JPEG 2014