Running Hot and Cold

We have just had to replace our 17-year-old washing machine. I won’t go into the details of its demise, but it has gone to be recycled – a service that we decided to pay for to ensure that it actually happened. So, we have had to buy a new one…


hot and cold

After some research, we chose to buy an Ebac, the only company whose washing machines are made in the UK. The choice was relatively straightforward as they seemed to have the best ethical rating that we could find and we are trying very hard to buy British whenever we can. However, the big choice was between ‘single fill’ and ‘dual fill’. (“Oh,” I hear you saying “what an exciting life you do lead, dear Snail.”) For those of you not au fait with washing machines, the difference is whether all the water comes into the machine cold (single fill) or whether you connect to both your hot and cold supplies so that not all the water heating is done in the machine (dual fill). For us, it initially seemed like a no-brainer: our water is heated overnight using cheap electricity (known as Economy 7), so let’s use the cheap hot water to do our washing. Yes?


And then we started reading up on the subject and it appeared that it may not be worth it. Modern washing machines, you see, use relatively little water and tend to wash at relatively low temperatures. So, most of the limited amount of water that is required by the machine from the hot source is supplied by the water already sitting in the pipe (i.e. cool). So the argument goes that you mostly fill the machine with cooled water whilst replacing it with hot water in your pipes, which then cools down and wastes energy. Hmmm.


the new machine

However, we needed to think about our own domestic situation. Because we live in a bungalow, and because of the way that our plumbing is arranged, our hot water tank is actually less than 1m away from our washing machine… ok, there’s a bit more pipe than that because it goes down and then up, but there’s no more than 2.5m of pipe, including the connector pipes. So, the water runs hot very quickly through to the washing machine. And, therefore, our final decision was to buy a dual fill machine. So far, it seems to have been the right choice- the machine is taking in a significant proportion of hot water, based on the temperature of the pipe, and this means that the machine itself should be using less energy than with single fill. Combining this, when possible, with only washing on days when it’s sunny and the solar panels are working, should be the best option both financially and environmentally.


It’s all too easy to read advice on the web and make what appears to be an informed decision. However, a bit of thinking is also good too… the internet cannot replace common sense!

Not again…

Dear Spirit of Showers

I really do not understand what I have done wrong.

Every time I have had a shower since the plumber came and installed the new unit, I have thanked you and felt deep gratitude for the hot water at the flick of a switch. I have been careful with my water use and I gave you a tribute: I donated money to Water Aid so that other people, less fortunate than me, could access clean water.

Was it because I had a bath yesterday? Do you feel that I have been unfaithful to you? Honestly, I just wanted to soak in some warm water for a while and relax my muscles. I feel that refusing to let me wash my hair afterwards under the shower was a bit petty.

I know that the shower itself is not broken and that it is the electrical switch in the ceiling that has failed this time, so perhaps it’s the spirit of electricity who is punishing me, but I can’t help being suspicious since it’s the only electrical problem I am experiencing and it is, once again, the shower that is affected.

I consider it particularly mean that you made this happen an hour and a half after the departure of Mr Snail – who could have fixed it (he’s good with electricity, even if he does struggle with carpentry). I also think that making the cord snap as I gave it a sharp tug, so that I got whacked across the back of my hand was just adding injury to insult.

I am afraid that you give me no choice but to abandon you and go and have a shower elsewhere… thank goodness for friends.

Yours in exasperation

The Snail of Happiness

For decorative purposes only

For decorative purposes only

What source?

Where does your electricity come from? I don’t mean, what’s the name of the company that supplies it, I mean, how is it generated – coal, oil, gas, wind, solar, tidal…? And does your supplier tell you?

A few years back, we switched suppliers – we had originally signed up for a ‘green tariff’ from one of the big six suppliers in the UK, but decided to switch in order to support one of the smaller companies whose focus is on green electricity and who are investing in renewables. Interestingly, this change has helped us financially. Because our supplier, Ecotricity, produces most of its energy from renewable sources, we are buffered from the vagueries of oil prices, and our bills are not rising, whilst customers of the big electricity generators are seeing significant increases.

In addition, our supplier is proud of their achievements, whilst acknowledging that they are not perfect. They are investing in renewables directly and the impact on their supplies, in comparison to the UK overall, can be seen in this table:

Fuel mix

Fuel mix

Perhaps my favourite part of their website is the page that tells me how the UK is doing in terms of carbon dioxide emissions and fuel mix right now:

Current UK energy generation and carbon emissions

Current UK energy generation and carbon emissions (click on the picture to go to the live web page)

The traffic lights on the left tell you whether it’s a good time to use electricity in terms of carbon emissions and the table on the right shows the current contributions of the different fuel sources. I’m not sure whether there are similar tools available for other countries (anyone know?). Our situation is slightly more complex than only using big appliances when the traffic lights go green because on sunny days our solar panels generate lots of electricity and it is best to use this directly when possible, but when it’s dull or dark, this tool is going to be really useful.

Plugging the leaks

I haven’t written about it for ages, but one of the ways that we try to be a little bit more sustainable is by boiling the majority of our water in a Kelly Kettle. In case you don’t know what one is, I’ll let the manufacturers explain:

the Kelly Kettle is essentially a double-walled chimney with the water contained within the chimney wall.  Once the camp kettle is filled with water, simply start a very small fire in the base, set the kettle on the base and drop additional fuel down the chimney (natural environmentally friendly fuels such as twigs, leaves, grass, paper, dry-animal dung, etc.!).  The large internal surface area of the chimney heats the water extremely fast so, very little fuel is required.  The fire is all safely contained within the fire-base and the chimney of the kettle itself so, a) strong wind and rain does not interfere with the fire and b) the kettle is safe to use in many areas where open fires are not suitable

A roaring success for boiling water!

A roaring success for boiling water!

They are really designed for camping and outdoor pursuits, but we use ours at home every day… usually on the back doorstep. We sometimes light it in the greenhouse if it’s raining or very windy, but that’s for our comfort, the Kelly Kettle will work outdoors in really unpleasant conditions. We fuel it with waste paper, trimmings from around the garden (especially the willow hedge) and sticks that we collect whilst walking the dogs. We boil it a couple of times each day and store any excess hot water in two very good Thermos flasks for later use.

We have been doing this for four years now… I’m not sure how much electricity and money it has saved us, but if we assume that it gets boiled 600 times a year and that it saves us £0.05 each time, it has more than paid for itself and we’re well into profit.

I suppose that most Kelly Kettles only get used occasionally, so ours has had quite a hard life. Even so, we were very distressed a week or two ago to notice that it was leaking from one of its rivets. I’ve mentioned before how much I hate replacing things and much prefer to repair them (see this post if you want an example) so we started discussing what we could do. Our Kelly Kettle is stainless steel (we have very soft water here in west Wales, so aluminium was out of the question for everyday use) and neither of us had any idea about how this is best repaired. An internet search was in order… resulting in a link to the manufacturer’s own web site, telling us exactly what to do . Now there’s a company that I have respect for: a company who don’t want you to throw their product away and buy a new one, but who want to tell you how to make it last as long as possible.

All mended!

All mended!

As a result we have a fully functional Kelly Kettle once more – repaired with food-grade silicone sealant – and a very warm feeling about The Kelly Kettle Company of Newtown Cloghans, Knockmore, Ballina, County Mayo Ireland.

Do you know of other companies who behave like this? Because if you do, they too deserve some credit.

Never satisfied

The British are well-known for their obsession with the weather… and we do deserve this reputation. We have been grumbling for weeks now about how cold and miserable it has been and that we haven’t had a proper spring and we can’t transfer our plants outdoors because the risk of frost is not over Then – WHAM – suddenly we are having a heat wave and we’re all complaining that our seedlings are dying of heat stroke. In addition to this, it’s windy today, so they are all dehydrating too. As a gardener it is easy to focus on the adverse effects that the weather is having, so I though that I would try to look at the positives of this massive swing in the weather…

First, we are suddenly making up for the poor electricity generation last month… the solar panels are working at peak efficiency, especially with the wind to cool them down a little.

PHOTOSYNTHESIS! All the well established plants are really building up their resources… potatoes and rhubarb, raspberries and blueberries, redcurrants and sage, chives and willow… and we’re chucking the washing up water on them in the evening to help them along.

Lorna and Gytha… not complaining about the weather

All the washing is drying in double-quick time… and it smells so fresh when it comes in off the line.

Gytha is recuperating in the sunshine… although she hasn’t started laying again, she’s bright and perky and enjoying sunbathing.

The wood for burning is seasoning well and drying nice and quickly with the wind… Mr Snail-of-happiness was hopeful that he would be able to light the Kelly Kettle by directing the sun through my hand lens onto the kindling, to minimise the resources used when boiling the water. Sadly this didn’t work, but it was worth a try and we’ll have another go on a less windy day.

And, of course, we feel bright and cheerful on these lovely sunny days and get to drink our tea in the garden… so, let’s count our blessings not complain about the weather!

My radio

I like to listen to the radio when I’m cooking or planting seeds or generally pottering around, so a portable radio is essential. About ten years ago I asked for a wind-up one for my birthday – I thought that this would be great both because I would be saving electricity and I would be able to use it anywhere, whether there was a power supply or not. Mr Snail-of-happiness duly provided me with a model that was not only wind-up, but also solar-powered. Brilliant – if it was sunny, I wouldn’t even have to expend any energy!

And for several years it functioned well – mainly living on the sunny kitchen windowsill, which faces south-west. I used it for, perhaps, an average of an hour a day. But then the batteries stopped holding their charge and it had to be wound up on days when it wasn’t sunny, because it hadn’t stored any energy. ‘No problem’ said Mr S-o-h, ‘I will replace the batteries.’ It’s great to have someone about the place who understands electricity and electronics, so off he went to open it up and see what sort of batteries it needed. And then came the problem. This radio was not designed to have new batteries. The screws holing the case together were not standard and could not be undone using a normal screw driver. Mr S-o-h was not deterred and fiddled about until he got inside, replaced the batteries, reconstructed the radio and all was well. It sounds easy, but actually it took him ages.

And for several years it functioned well. But then the new batteries stopped holding their charge. Once again Mr S-o-h had to break into the casing, but now the non-standard screws were becoming damaged and the plastic of the case was starting to weaken (it had been sitting in the sunshine for eight years after all). We realised that eventually, if we kept opening it up, the radio would completely fall to pieces and, indeed, it was already no longer holding together well. We discussed replacing it, but this was not what we wanted. The idea of buying a replacement went right against the grain – we got it because we didn’t want to produce waste, so we certainly didn’t want to throw it away.

So, Mr S-o-h modified it so that the batteries live in an external holder where they can be replaced without opening the casing. It’s currently held together with a big cable-tie. I guess that, eventually, the plastic will disintegrate and we will have to construct a wooden box to keep the workings in. The tuner isn’t very good any more, so now we are confined to a single radio station, unless we embark on a bit of a struggle. But it’s still going.

We are now so attached to this radio that it cannot be allowed to die… I just wish that when it had been built, the makers had the ethos of sustainability, rather than deliberately making it difficult to repair and maintain. I guess that we just aren’t very good consumers from the perspective of manufacturers.

Solar, wind-up radio in its latest incarnation… still going strong

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