I read that article you sent me. All seem very sensible suggestions, but as you thought, it was very different at Knowle Cottage in winter. I had to do the very opposite of some of the things that the gentleman suggests.
For a start off the door to the stairway, was left open to allow heat to move around the house. There was no double glazing back then so all the curtains were very thick and heavy, in the worst of the weather, we would leave the upstairs curtains drawn all day to retain heat.
We had small grilles in the ceilings that allowed heat to pass between the two floors of the house. You could close them off by sliding the little knob on the outer edge of them. They helped, but not that much in the coldest winters.
Many a time there would be a thick layer of ice on the inside of the windows upstairs, but there was nothing you could do about it. We let the children get ready for bed downstairs and the beds were warmed with large smooth stones that we had set on top of the range, or in the oven if it was empty, to heat up throughout the day. It took the chill off and made the beds more comfortable for the little ones. we only had cotton sheets back then and they are not the best thing for very cold nights.
The range was more efficient than an open fire, much less fuel was needed to keep it hot. Also, being a huge lump of metal the whole thing heated up so when there was nothing in the oven we would open the door and the extra heat would flow out of it into the room. One of my cousins had an open fire and they burnt through wood far faster than we did and their home was always chilly in the winter. Many times they dragged the mattresses downstairs and concentrated on keeping that one room warm day and night rather than use the bedrooms.
All the floors downstairs at Knowle were granite and they sucked the heat right out of you. The kids would put a quilt on the floor, on top of the rugs to sit on, and they always had a couple of pairs of socks on to keep their toes cozy.
You asked what I would say to those who might be thinking of following an off-grid life in winter…well, I think keeping it simple is the best thing:
- Cover your floors and cover them well. Remember to make sure you don’t trip over them (done that more than once) Loose floor coverings are far more dangerous in an open fire home than a modern one.
- Get a metal range or a wood burner as they are more economical on fuel and the metal itself stores up heat. They are also safer and easier to cook on than an open fire. (Done that as well, very uncomfortable)
- If you only have the option of an open fire consider lining the sides of the fireplace with metal sheets which will throw out extra heat.
- Use very heavy lined fabric for curtaining and leave as many drawn as you can to retain the heat you have built up.
- Wear clothes suitable for the conditions. The times I have seen my grandchildren moaning it’s cold and then turning the heating up when they are sitting there in a short sleeved tee shirt. Dressing appropriately is the cheapest and I think most effective thing you can do to combat cold.
- Find a way of heating the beds for at least an hour before you turn in. Large smooth stones work well as do their modern equivalent, hot water bottles.
- Don’t use pure cotton sheets in the winter, they don’t hold the heat, go for brushed cotton or even fleece which is really warm.
- Make sure you have the fuel and supplies you need on hand, preferably in or very close to the house. Constantly going in and out not only chills you but cools the house down as well.
- Eat properly. Gnawing on a lettuce leaf may be the modern way but in cold weather, you need food with more substance. Soups, stews and casseroles are simple to cook on a range or open fire and provide the energy needed for an off-grid lifestyle.
I think that’s about it Tess. Most of these things are common sense, but I do think people often tend to overlook the obvious. Living off-grid is a purer way of life, a cleaner way of life, but you spend a good proportion of your time planning for things that are months away, because everything takes so much longer to do.
Much of what was everyday normal for me, and for many others my age now has to be learned because there have been so many developments. My lifestyle was in many ways identical to the lifestyle of my mother and grandmother, and their grandmothers before them, but that’s not the case now. Self-sufficiency does not come naturally to most people these days.
Listen to me carrying on, I’m getting to be a right old wind-bag aren’t I? I hope to hear from you soon Dear, love to the family.