We couldn’t resist the opportunity to vent about the visit of the ‘Beast from the East’ to Mabel’s Farmhouse. Having survived a winter without heating and hot water – stoically shivering in front of our tiny coal fire while telling friends and neighbours that this type of experience is ‘character building’ – the brutal beast arrived. The unprecedentedly cold start to March took us a bit by surprise and we were totally unprepared for the challenges it would bring.
The term airtightness, beloved of Passivhaus designers whose houses boast such high thermal performance and low heat loss that central heating is rarely turned on, is given a slightly new spin by Mabel’s current condition. Standing in the lounge, which is triple aspect and punctuated by single-glazed Crittall windows that have warped so much that you can see daylight around the frames, the air feels positively Baltic.
With the air blasting at you from three sides and the coal fire serving only to heat the two foot of space directly in front (and most of its heat being sent up the chimney anyway), it’s hard not to feel a bit, well, chilly!
A low point was waking up and finding a snow drift inside the front door — the gap underneath the door is so big, and the house so cold, that the snow had worked its way in and had not melted, creating a large drift in the hallway. From our bedroom window, as we watched the cows from the dairy huddling together to keep warm, we contemplated (more than once) nipping out and joining them!
Of course, we put up with this short-term discomfort because in the long term we know the situation will improve. There are some easy fixes, too. We have found a lovely velvet curtain to hang in front of the front door to take off the chill, a surprisingly cost-effective and simple solution that will increase the level of comfort immeasurably.
Another saving grace is our electric blanket, a fantastic birthday present from the family, that has a great boost function — just what you need to take the edge off a winter’s night. We have also just commissioned a couple of pairs of shutters to address the chilly master bedroom.
It’s amazing how shutters, such a simple and timeless item, can keep the beast at bay by adding a layer of insulation to the windows and stopping the draughts. Then there is that old favourite — tea! Tea has got us through those dark, chilly days and frankly things would have seemed a lot bleaker without it… not to mention the odd glass of red wine!