Sunday, 11 October 2009

Greening my domestic fuel consumption

Two weeks and nothing to say? Well in part I’ve been doing that thing most live-aboards spend time on at this time of year. Getting ready for winter. Preparing and checking your heating systems is pretty high on the list for most of us.

I claim to be fairly green and I’ve always subscribed to the ‘keep going with what you’ve got before you replace’ ideology. Well this summer I’ve had to bite the bullet and buy some new kit. My old Torgem solid fuel stove was increasingly held together by fire cement and my old gas fridge was no longer keeping cold in summer. Can’t complain, as both appliances have done the best part of twenty years good service.

For a new stove I picked the Morso 1410, for several reasons. The quality and reliability of these stoves is well attested. It was the right size physically and in terms of the heat output balance (between room heating and hot water). It has multi fuel capability. It has a back boiler which was something I wanted.

Accordingly I’ve just spent several days playing that time honoured game of, fill it up, spot the leaks, drain it down, fix leak, fill it up… Anyway since Friday night the header tank level has not dropped and no dampness has been found where not wanted. Hooray! Collars and connectors were all fire-roped and mastic-ed in place yesterday and the main flue is cut to size and been offered up, ready for final fitting and sealing.

The fact the Morso is designed principally as a wood burner was also an attraction. Despite living in central London I have a plentiful supply of wood and I’m pleased that most of the wood I burn would otherwise be going to waste. I have a friend in a local pine furniture shop and we collect their off cuts. We also have a friendly tree surgeon on tap. The strange world we live in dictates that both of these businesses would have to send (and pay for!) a lot more waste to landfill if we boaters could not take this ‘waste’ timber from them.

Apart from wanting to use less fossil fuels and find more sustainable fuel sources, the cost of coal is an issue. Smokeless fuels are now around £10 per 25 kilo bag. I spent over £30 a week on this fuel last winter despite burning a lot of wood already and will be quite happy to try to reduce this bill further this year.

When it came to the fridge replacement I spent some time researching replacement options and my decision has been to go for a high eco-rated, low power 240 volt domestic fridge. As I am on a mooring with mains power most of the time, this made sense on cost grounds. Compared to the cost of an equivalent 12 volt fridge, the difference also allows me to get an extra battery and a good inverter (this should cover me when cruising), for the same cost as going for a 12 volt equivalent. I’m estimating a huge saving in gas bills and again the current cost of the present fuel I use was a big factor. (Don’t know the comparability by carbon footprint of mains electricity versus bottled gas but especially given the low level of power I use overall, I suspect the mains electric is slightly greener in terms of carbon footprint - Anyone know the true answer to that?)

Still deciding on what size of inverter to go for. This of course is a strategic buy and I’m considering going for a larger output unit so that over time I can have the possibility of switching more of my 240 volt usage to the battery/inverter source, most likely by adding solar panels. Power management calculations about setting up my systems and reducing my usage to the point where the mains feed becomes the back up, not the default, is an ongoing project. I’m not ready or able financially, (in terms of the capital costs) to go off grid in one hit, but I want to make sure any new appliances I put new in the boat are suitable to accommodate making that switch in stages.

It’s not a dark green solution but these represent my current personal attempts to adopt a little bit more efficient and a bit more sustainable approach to my domestic fuel use.


  1. Sorry dude but if you are doing three bags a week you are doing something wrong. With wood depending on how much less than a bag with out wood a bag and a bit, maybe.

  2. Hi Maffi,

    Not sure I was doing something wrong but the point is interesting and the following may be of interest to everyone.

    Now that I have the brand new purpose designed woodburning Morso commissioned and running, the first thing I have found, even after a only a few days in use, is that it is hugely more efficient than my old stove was. I'll let you know if I get my usage down to a bag and a bit. For info I do run back boiler and radiators off the system on a 70' narrowboat.

    It's certainly the case and no great suprise that the quality and efficiency of burners has greatly improved over 20 years.