Winter warning - time to prepare.

09/09/2012 - 07:42

The Beeb site has an article on exceptional glacial melting going on right now making the 2012 records show that something really different is under way. Some scientists believe wetter summers and colder winters could accompany this and judging from last year perhaps we should all take note and make sure we are as safe and comfortable as possible this winter. For my part I have been paying particular attention to future and existing wood based heating systems to make sure that in the event of a power cut there will be a base line of heating and cooking facilities. In particular systems with electric circulation pumps are vulnerable to power cuts and I now have a standard addition to circuits to make everything work. Apart from that I've started a list of things that might be life savers in the event of a prolonged snow in with possible power cuts.Please add if you see any gaps.Stock up on tinned food, pasta and bottled waterextra pet foodStack a stash of wood near or in the house - 3 weeks worthBuy a battery charger for the car and plan how it will be connected.Get diesel additive before it runs outtop up gas tank pellets etcbuy a snow shovelorder a load of DVDs and booksbuild up wine stocks.candles, torchestilley lamp - Coleman petrol lamp is fantastic.get good footwear - bootstop up mobile phone



Well............I hear that some people are saying that Dec 12th is doomsday ! so I wouldn't get too much stock in just yet! The may only be testing though if you think about it........... 12 12 12 !! S

Actually Spros it is 21st Dec not 12th (I know 'cos that's my Birthday so have been telling folks that I was now born on 20th to max out on my last Birthday before it all goes T's up). Something to do with an ancient Mayan calender that could only manage 5000 years, so they said 'Sod It the World will end then'....tying it all up nicely. Show me a Beeb weather forecaster that actually knows what he's doing and I'll show you a Lottery Winner .....

If you've read Fingerprints of the Gods (which I absolutely loved), then you'll know it's the 23rd December we should be more worried about ;) Good post Sagraiasolar - here's hoping 'colder' winters = more blue sunny days = more PV income ;)

There are a multitude of potential catastrophes predicted for December 21st,  2012. I will be in San Francisco... perhaps an earthquake? They have been announcing a "big one" for many years now. Personally, I am not worried. Regarding the cold winter, certainly it is a possibility. I would add warm socks and protective footwear and some good gloves.     

Angie and Robert are certainly right about listening to your neighbours. I regularly check the official weather forecast websites, but many of the locals have spent a lifetime living here and they're generally pretty good at predicting very local changes and threats. I think they're not too great at predicting exceptional events like the long, very cold period we had last February, but that's where the official meteorolgists are good. I also generally agree with all the other supplies listed, although I'm not sure about the diesel additive. I thought that fuel companies changed their formulations in the winter these days? I've certainly not had any problems running our diesel car in the five winters I've spent here. Also, I don't recall seeing a petrol-fueled Coleman lamp in literally decades. Not since I lived in the States, actually. Are they sold in Italy? All three of our central heating sources - GPL boiler, pellet stuffa and cordwood stove - require mains electricity in order to function properly. Even the woodstove can't be used without electricty since the water jacket soon starts to boil if central heating water isn't circulating. While ENEL does an amazing job keeping the lights on during the worst winter weather, we are quite vulnerable since our house is rural and at the end of the line, as it were. If the wires supplying just our house were to go down in a storm, I'm sure fixing them would be low on ENEL's list of priorities since so few people are affected. For several years, we had a cheap, no-brand, Chinese-made petrol generator. It worked fairly well over a few fairly lengthy blackouts, but filling it up every couple hours was a nusiance and its voltage regulation was not good, so lights flickered and I was a bit worried about using it to power electronic equipment. As the bad weather of last February approached, I decided to make sure it was working. After an extremely annoying hour fighting with it, I decided that there was something fundamentally wrong -- either with the machine, of with my technique. In any case, I didn't want to have to face a similar hassle under pressure in a blizzard, so we went off and bought a new electric-start, GPL-powered generator which could be connected to our bombola. Fortunately, our power stayed on all through the three weeks that we had very deep snow and very cold temperatures here, but it was nice knowing that we could, since the gas tank was nearly full, have supplied all our electrical needs for several weeks if we had needed to. That definitely would not have been cheap, but it would certainly have been preferable to hypothermia. So, what I would add to your list is a generator and fuel and, if you already have one, a regular check to make sure it's still working. Our machine is an expensive monster and definitely not sutiable for someone living in, say, a city flat, but there are small, quiet machines which could be put on a balcony and are sufficient for powering a central heating boiler, mobile phone charger, a light or two and perhaps a television or laptop. If you visit a market, you'll often see these little machines purring away behind the stalls or vans. You can, if you want to do things properly, get in an electrician to wire up switches and circuits which connect the generator to the household electrics. My approach is a lot more rough and ready (and potentially dangerous, if you're not careful). We have a cord with male plugs on both ends which can reach from the generator's socket to one of the house's power sockets. When the power goes off, I flick off the circuit breaker for the outlets (not the lights), start up the generator and then connect the cord from the generator to the household socket, thus supplying power to everything on that circuit. Since the light circuit is still connected to the ENEL line, they will come on when power is restored. When that happens, the generator is switched off, the jumper cord removed and the circuit breaker put back to normal position. When I was young, blackouts were a bit exciting, but at my present age and in our current situation, they're an adventure I can do without. Al

In reply to by Allan Mason

Allan,   Yes the UK diesel is properly treated for winter but the Italians certainly didn't do it last year. My RAV4 refused to run untill I poured hot water over the fuel filter and put hot ashes under the fuel tank. A friend with a Landrover Disco got stuck in a ski resort for days too and there were lots of other local diesel stories.  I haven't seen a Coleman petrol tilley lamp for sale in Italy - mail order from the UK would do the trick.  Our local bar keeper was looking at an old one on the bar a while ago and couldn't believe me when I said it ran on petrol... I sent away for new mantles and filled it up for him and everyone was amazed. Your comment re the stufa overheating: my regular tweak might help - you put a power free valve on the hot line at the stove and that routes hot water to a dump radiator above - hopefully your bedroom.... it's a gravity circuit so the stufa runs in a power cut... and extra tweak is to fit a timed by-pass valve/circuit across the dump valve so that the radiator can be used daily daily. If there is no room above the stove then a UPS will give some respite.... and I could now ramble on about extra big UPS and off-grid PV combinations with the battery pack half in the electric car and half in the house.... another day.

We have our gas in Bottles and plenty of wood for the plain old  woodburner, so ENEL can bring on their worst. Also plenty of batteries for torches etc, plus plenty of layering clothes; we have a natural spring fountain in the village so no shortage of water either,and an ample supply of homemade Limoncello; quite looking forward to snuggling up wiyth a good book when the Kindle charge runs out !!

Using a hot water syphon (erm... I think that's the right term...) would be an excellent idea if it wasn't the case that the only room above our cordwood stove is the roof space! We already create quite enough spectacularly huge icicles as it is.frown However, the medium term plan is to move the wood-burner to the ground floor as part of restructuring, so I'll certainly keep your idea in mind. I can see how it might be very useful if we had a lengthy power cut in cold weather; running the generator constantly is not sensible if it's only to power a central heating pump. I have looked at the UPS idea and sort of got some way towards a solution, but it has slipped back down the list of priorities. Thanks for the tips about the diesel and the Coleman lanterns. When I was a kid, you had to buy cans of special fuel for the "White Gas" lamps, but I see from the Coleman website that at least some of their modern lanterns can use lead-free petrol. I'm sure that would be a lot cheaper to run that a light with Camping Gaz cylinders. Probably go some way towards keeping the house warm, too. Al

In reply to by Allan Mason

Allan, When you get to doing the stufa on the ground floor thing just let me know and I'll send you a pdf. of the dump rad circuit by e-mail. Same goes for anyone else .. It's just an elegant little tweak that allows the stove to automatically dump excess heat  in a power cut and also gives a daily timed heating of an upstairs radiator(s) without going through the tank - heat bank - . The nice bit is that you can get the stove warming your bedroom in the late evening and all the hot water in the tank is still there for your morning showers.

Have cleaned the heat pump filters, plenty of wood if needed. Just got to get the second 47kg gas bombola. 100 odd candles and back up batteries for the torch, plus led lights. Plenty of canned and dried foodstuffs as well. Wine etc to be stocked up soon. 1000 books for the kindle and hundreds of DVDs. Never had a problem with the diesel, but you may be a lot higher than us!!

  Oooer! All this manly talk of stoves & generators gravity circuits snow shovels & four wheel drives is really turning me on. Are you all 6 foot 5 bearded lumberjack types with a big shiny woodaxe tucked into your belts really big furry boots & a loyal pack of huskies in the yard?  Is it really such a war zone out there or is there just a little weeny bit of boys playing with toys?  wink

Just been watching a great program with Kev the shed, commonly known as Kevin Mcloud, another manly hulk making his own little den from scratch. Last weeks show he managed to produce "Urban gold" from fat bergs he'd been mining under Trafalgar Square. Urban Gold in this case being fuel oil for his pressure lamp & this week glue from boiled rabbit skins. Great stuff for a tomboy.  

I see this debate looking a bit like Wood vs. Heat pump but I'd like to think that both together make the perfect system. We all like a wood fire and wood is the cheapest fuel so item 1/. A wood burning stove.  Log lugging is not the best bit so we'll keep this side down to 12kW max and more like 7kW normal running. In a power cut the wood stove can be stoked up to meet the whole load. With a greater part of the heat load taken care of we can now use a smaller heat pump. The associated bills will be so small that the slightly reduced efficiency of an AIR source heat pump makes little difference but the installation cost will be something more akin to the cost of a good pellet burner.  Both the stove and the ASHP can share a tank so I don't see that there are any extra costs involved in having both together. My heating model suggests that a large house requiring 25,000 kW.hrs would need €900 worth of wood and a 7kW heat pump to make up the balance for €700.  I seem to have joined in the hijacking of my own thread - never mind.

Simple often comes at a price though no?  What's the current cost of a GSHP together with the trenching? To what extent do you need to upgrade the electricity supply and how much extra does that add to the ENEL bill each quarter?  I'm wondering if it's more affordable than several years ago when I looked at it whilst in the UK?

Depends on the pump size and therefore the trench length. 9Kw output IVT HT+ circa 14k Euro, with 137 mtr trench about 2k + iva @10%. Basic power for it is 2kwh, or 3kwh if the immersion heater is used. Anyway, once you get over 3kw supply, it is only the kw supply standing charge that increases, not the unit cost. You can opt now for the BTA3 Enel tariff, just for the pump ( seperate meter), which is lower than the normal rate, so even more saving. If resident and paying tax here, then you can recoup up to 50% of the costs over 5 years from your tax payments, for a retrofit. Was actually making some calculations today, as to how many hours the pump here has operated over the  last year. From 29/08/2011 to 27/08/2012, it has run for 1817 hrs. Multiply that by 2.2kwh (it is a 11kw output unit) and you get to 4000kwh of electricity used. From 02/04/2012 to 01/10/2012 it has run for 223hrs, so 490kwh used, basically for domestic hot water. (160 ltr water tank @ 48C, timed off from 20.00 until 07.00 daily. Disinfection cycle once per month to 65C.

What size is the large house? Just looking at a few calculations, a 100 sq mtr house could use 25000 kwh of heating if insulation levels are low? A GSHP of 10kw output would cover that amount. Sorry your site is not back up, as would have used your calculator.

Badger - I know the 25,000 kW.hrs is a bit arbitrary but it seems to be the mark for a typical stone casa out here of around 280mq. Yes I quite agree a 10kW ASHP would do the job on its own and only cost around €2,200 to run. My model also suggests that the longest run time would be 15hrs so plenty of capacity in hand. The model also picks the better ASHP tariff when appropriate and in this case it does so and saves about €750. Also a mains supply of 10kW is suggested although I think I'd need your expertise to confirm that the parameters are steering correctly here.

Thanks for the reply. Yes, I agree that a house of circa 240 - 280 sq mtrs should have a heating requirement of 14-17 kw. The main problem with a ASHP, is that it does have difficulty in coping with sub zero temps, so usually kicks in the immersion heater @ 3 - 6 kw, depending on the setup. It also has to defrost the fan coils to prevent icing up. Have just looked at the GSHP running hours for this Jan - Feb, ( I record these weekly with outside air temp as well), which were quite cold. Jan was between 90 - 100 hrs per week, whilst Feb came in at circa 140 wk. The electric heater did activate as well, for short periods, (4 hours over the 2 months). With regard to the electricity supply. A 7kw unit should need circa 2Kwh @ output of 35C, slightly higher @ 50C for rads. Those figures are based on external air temps of +7C. If the 3Kw heater is needed, then a 6Kw supply should be ok. Hope this helps

So Snow chains. I would recommend a 3G/4G dongle and a suitable Netbook device, they can be quite cheap and seemingly more compatible with other technologies than iPad's - although I havent done much homework on this - see mobile phone thread of recent. You can buy this from MAplin - or this the 140W invertor means you can plug a mains plug into it, ok for low powered items - and the car starting side is more suitable for a smaller car. One of the best solutions I have found to warmer nights, if you have electricity, is an all night electric blanket - typically only 90 Watts, eg. from John Lewis/Dreamland. I can remember the nights of having to get dressed to go to bed, ie, extra layers, now, providing I have electricity, I am never cold.... This site may help,

In reply to by Penny

Hi Penny = It's a 1985 diesel coil sprung Landy  ... speedo not working but suspected circa 100,000 k  Structurally very straight and clean so given a respray it would look practically new again, however the interior is very tatty and needs a makeover. It is registered as a camione so officially a 3 seater although there are 4 more seats in the back. Recent new timing belt, battery, and a few suspension bits for the MOT.  The engine starts easily but is still a bit tired sounding.... bottom line is that this would make a great restoration project for a tinkering person.  Parts are cheap sent out from UK.   I love it dearly and it's a joy to hitch up the trailer and go fetching logs after felling a tree.

In reply to by Penny

Penny,    Sorry the Landy is not for you .. but not too sorry as I love going out to get wood and stuff with it.  I'm also selling an almost like new Italian reg. RAV4 which is much much more up market. This will come with new winter tyres and snowchains in the boot so as near to a shiney new winter-worthy car as I can get it.

Raining in Bagni di Lucca, but the river is looking great and mighty with so much water. About 14C outside. I can see smoke coming out of most chimneys. Baked a "castagnaccio" and I have prepared a lovely lentil stew. It is nice to spend time at home, relaxing.

 sagraiasolar Why would you need snow chains on a Landy? I live in the middle of a field and I rarely put mine in 4 wheel drive it was brill, (ex-military) as long as i made tracks thru the snow once a day it would have no trouble getting out. I miss it and would love another but don't have the dosh. It got thru deisel qucker than I get thru wine! Just out of interest is it lhd?