How important is central heating?

It has been cold this week – around 3°C. Unfortunately our boiler broke down – no heating and no hot water. Fortunately we have a service contract and so were able to call an engineer out. Unfortunately his temporary fix only lasted overnight. Fortunately we have a wood burning stove. Unfortunately it is not working very well because the chimney has not been swept for four years. Fortunately, with new kindling and some TLC we have managed to light it. Unfortunately it does not heat the water or the radiators.

Error 43 – no continuous flame

When we are in the house we get very used to utilities always working. You turn on a switch and the lights come on, open a tap and there is fresh clean water, click on your phone and the Internet is available. And without thinking the house is warm when it needs to be, and you can have a shower whenever you like. It is all very easy and when something does not work we get resentful, angry, confused.

It is very different on the narrowboat. There are three ways to heat the boat – the engine, a diesel stove or the Webasto boiler. The reason there are three ways is that often one or two ways are broken or inconvenient to use. The electricity is always on our mind. The solar is great in the summer but not in the dark, cloudy winters. The engine charges the batteries well but only easily when we are travelling. There is a mains hook up where we are moored in a marina, but we have to remember to top it up, or we will be cut off. And water is not always available. We have to remember to find a working canalside tap every couple of days to fill up, and once a year to disinfect the tank. As to the Internet, things are massively better than even a few years ago. We have a mobile powered WiFi router and can also tether to either of our phones which we have deliberately contracted with different networks, to maximise coverage. But it ain’t “always on”.

I wonder, is it better to have the ease and comfort of living in a house, with the consequent panic when something does fail. Or to live off grid on a boat, where it is harder work, but you understand it better. I’m not sure. I just know I don’t like being cold.

Fortunately the engineer is back today with lots of spare parts. And if that does not work, we can go back to the boat.

What is your view? Perhaps you believe that with sufficient layers of clothes, we do not need heating?

Spring cleaning in the autumn

I’m back at the narrowboat for a couple of days. Last year we left the boat over winter for nearly six months, and when we returned, it felt a little sad. Some surfaces and fabrics had gone damp and mouldy, and it took a few weeks to get it back feeling like home. This year we plan to spend more time on the boat during the cold months. And before that starts we determined that the boat needed a really good autumn spring clean. That is easier without the dogs, so Mandy is looking after them in Scotland while I clean everything, top to bottom. I have even done a bit of indoor painting and the boat is looking great. Our new boat covers have also arrived so we are prepared for the next few months.

Our smart new tonneau cover

Many people ask us how we can stay on a narrowboat when it’s is cold. They are right and wrong. It is true that the boat is single skinned with leaky windows. When we wake up on a cold winter’s morning, the inside of the boat can be nearly as cold as the outside. But it is perfectly cozy under the duvet, and the good news is that the boat has a very small volume of air, which means that once I have started the heating in a morning, it warms up very quickly. We have something called a “webasto” which is a diesel boiler and heats the water and central heating. If we want it even warmer, we have a bubble stove, which looks like a wood burning stove but also runs on diesel, and gets the boat really toasty warm.

We are looking forward to our first winter boat vacation in a couple of weeks. For the six months we were away this summer, I largely wore shorts and t shirt, so it is amazing how quickly autumn has arrived. The boat is in a marina but was getting rocked by wind and rain today, and I had the heater on. The cleaning has gone well and I am very much looking forward to the winter. My favourite mornings on the boat are when the canal and marina have frozen over and sparkle in the dawn light, but we feel safe and warm inside. Having spring cleaned in the autumn, it should be lovely. As the Dutch say “Gezellig”.

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