Having just stumbled outside at 4am in the cold and sheeting rain to rummage around in the log pile, so that I can get the range re-lit and make a cup of tea, I can reflect not only on the joys of early parenthood, but on how handy modern conveniences such as electric kettles could be at a time like this. Despite this, I can’t help but enjoy the sounds and smells of the wood fire, and at least I’m not in a hurry. Using wood as our sole fuel for heating, hot water and cooking was probably the most important choice we made here, but until our own supply is ready, we are reliant on buying wood in. On balance I’d say it all works well, but you really need your own supply, and a good one at that. Of the other things we have in or on the house, here’s how they’ve fared so far:
Compost toilet – Amazingly smell free as long as you use plenty of sawdust. Wood ash actually seems to be the best deodorizer there is. Until we plumb in an external container for the pee, the one we have needs emptied every couple of days. The solids however, go 2 or 3 weeks between empties. I’ll probably add an external vent before summer, just in case. Some visitors are a bit put off, but for us, it works great.

Solar water heating – Even in Northern Ireland, this works pretty well, and although it doesn’t provide all our hot water, especially in September, it makes a big contribution. We’ll probably add another panel next year, but in combination with the back boiler on the range, the one we have works great. If I do it again, I’ll buy the panel and controller from a specialist, and get the rest of the gear from a regular plumbers merchants, which will save a fair bit. The stainless pre-insulated pipe is an expensive waste of time if you have a short run and can use copper.

Sheep’s Wool Insulation – Brilliant and we still love the smell. It isn’t cheap, but it does keep you warm. Shame we couldn’t get it more locally, but Wales was cheapest.

Lime Hemp Plaster – I loved putting it on, hated it for a bit as it decided not to dry out, and now love it again as it is finally hardening off.  It needs plenty of time, more heat  than we initially had, and lots of ventilation. The coarse mix is interestingly textured, but you really need some fine to do fiddly bits and pointing. We still have areas that are drying, even now, but that is more the fault of the building and its inherent damp patches than the plaster.

Cheap Roof Windows – Cottages like this are often dark, and roof windows are a good way to get extra light in without messing around with often ancient and very thick stone walls. The Duratech windows were half the price of Velux, and look and work perfectly well. I suppose we won’t really know for 10 years, but so far you couldn’t complain about them.

Local timber – Getting beams, lintels, floors, and worktops direct from the sawmill (not a timber merchant),was a good move. Apart from being able to pick which bits we wanted, having first hand advice on suitability was so importiant, and cutting out a variety of middle men saved a fortune. A bit more work in shifting and finishing but worth it.

Salvage and reused – Sinks, bath, taps, kitchen, floors, doors – all either recycled, from gumtree, or freecycle. We got far nicer and more unusual bits and pieces than we would have found new, and it was a fraction of the cost of getting from the big salvage yards. Two hundred quid for a radiator?? No thanks. It also means that most of the items have a story to tell..