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Posts Tagged ‘fuel poverty’

The Vicar's study has been 10°C today. Brrr.

Before Christmas, we had a nasty shock from our power supplier, e.on. They wanted to raise our monthly direct debit for gas and electricity by nearly 85%. Although our usage has gone up a bit in the cold weather, we were still in credit with them.

The Vicar had some long discussions with their customer services department, both on the phone and by email, but to no avail. They’ve estimated our usage for the next few months based on the records from when we didn’t live here and the decorators were in, heating the house 24/7.

Although we think they’ve made a bad call, we have to go along with it. It will cause a bit of cash flow trouble in the next couple of months, but once we’ve proved that they’ve made a mistake, it should even out.

The upside of all this irritation is that we went online and switched our tariff, saving another 8% on the charges. The other upside is that the Vicar contacted the diocese about sorting out some loft insulation and they put us onto the excellent Warm Zone team.

Warm Zone is an EU funded initiative operating in selected areas, including ours. They provide advice and can also help out with insulation and other kit if you fall into the fuel poverty bracket, which we do now, since a Vicar’s salary is not what you’d usually have if you lived in a house this size.

So this morning we had a visit from Seema, from Sandwell Warm Zone. She came armed with goodies, including a fancy plug to turn off printers when the computer is switched off, a timer switch, an eco kettle and some low energy light bulbs. Most importantly, she brought an energy sensor, which she’s lent us for the next few weeks. It monitors electricity usage so you can see the power used by each appliance in the house as it’s switched on. I’m a little scared about what it’s going to reveal, but it will be useful.

And we’re on the list for loft insulation and possibly cavity wall insulation in the modern extension part of the house. There’s a bit of a waiting list, so we’re not sure when that will happen. As we’re not in the lowest income bracket, we’re going to have to pay for their services. But only £49. We’re hoping that will make a big difference, especially to Happy, the Vicar’s Apprentice, whose room is in the uninsulated attic. It’s so cold up there at the moment that we’ve taken pity on him and brought him down to sleep in the spare bedroom a floor below.

So if you’re in Aberdeen, Birmingham, Devon, Gateshead, Hull, Kirklees, London, Newcastle, North Staffordshire, North Tyneside, Northumberland, Nottingham, Sandwell, South Tyneside or Swindon, give them a call. It won’t do any harm and you could find yourself cheaply warmer.

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Living in a vicarage is an enormous privilege. Ours is a seven-bedroomed three storey detached Victorian house with a large garden, outbuildings and a cellar. It’s wonderful to have so much space to live in and to share with parishioners as we offer hospitality.

Big houses can be freeeeezing

Big houses can be freeeeezing

Vicars tend to have big houses so that they can have meetings and offer hospitality (well, I guess that’s the reasoning). I think there are even some minimum size stipulations for living rooms to ensure that you can fit the entire PCC in. So we have a big house. And a stipend of about £20k. The size of the budget is not at all proportionate to the size of the house and the associated heating bills. In fact, if we hadn’t made careful provision, I’m sure we’d fall into the government’s ‘fuel poverty’ bracket (more than 10% of income spent on heating).

We have a boiler that’s 20 years old, single glazed sash windows and 10 foot ceilings. Beautiful but freezing. The diocese is poor and doesn’t have the budget to ensure modern levels of comfort in every house.

So what techniques do clergy families use to keep warm in their huge and unheatable homes?

  • Clothing layers and slippers. As I type this up I am wearing my fleece gilet. Essential clothing for a vicar’s wife. At our last church, the vicar’s wife had a down-filled one which she wore nearly all year round.
  • Limited room use. We stick to the kitchen and one family room most of the time.
  • Baking. And porridge in the mornings. It really helps if you have the cooker on.

Before we moved here, we also decided to use some savings, our harvest from working as engineers in the Far East before we had children. We decided that we’d spend it on being warm in the vicarage. So we’ve installed two wood-burning stoves in the main reception rooms and underfloor heating in the bathrooms. We reckoned that this way we could be warm in the mornings and evenings without having to pay for the boiler to heat the whole house.

This seems to be working very well so far. We’ve managed to remain very comfortable without the heating until now and are hoping we can last until half term this way. The vicar is getting very skilful with the wood-burning stoves, but I’ll save all that for another post.

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