Hurrah for central heating!

When our house was built in the 1970s it was provided with central heating, comprising radiators in most rooms and an open fire in the living room surrounded by steel pipes to heat the water. As is the way with these things, most of the heat escaped up the chimney and much of the smoke into the room, while the occupants derived as much warmth from cutting and carrying logs as from burning them. It was time for some modernisation.

We’ve recently rearranged the interior of the house, exchanging the bedroom and kitchen to put all the daytime space on one floor and the night on the other, which left a bedroom without a radiator, and something had to be done about the primary heat source. Although we have enough mature olive trees to keep us in firewood for a couple of decades, log fires are labour-intensive and they don’t light themselves automatically in the morning. So we decided on a dual approach; a wood-pellet boiler for the kitchen and a high-efficiency log-burning cassette stove to go in the old fireplace.

When we visited the specialist shop Gandolfo over in Imperia we discovered just the thing for the boiler; a dual-fuel monster with a pellet burner atop a log stove. These are apparently something of a rarity as our local shop claimed such a thing didn’t exist. But here was the perfect solution; a boiler that could light itself on a timer and that would burn our free firewood if we were around to feed it.

You might guess that such a thing isn’t small, and you’d be right. It only just went through the doors and was immediately christened “la Bestia” (the Beast). Here it is being manhandled in and with the pellet boiler running.

131116-1Yet in spite of its size, once surrounded by kitchen furniture it’s not as overpowering as we’d expected and feared. Yes, it’s a big black 285kg monster but it’s there to do a job. We now call the kitchen the ‘Engine room and galley’ and have devised similarly silly nautical names for the rest of the rooms in the house.

131116-2The cassette stove in the living room was also not something I’d like to have installed myself, what with a flexible aluminium tube to be run up inside the chimney stack. This took a great deal of heaving and swearing before it finally popped out at the top. I’m just posing here; the work was all done by the splendid guys from Gandolfo.

131116-3Then finally the stove itself was fitted into the hole and connected up. Stoves like this have a fan to blow the hot air out into the room, and this one does a pretty good job.

131116-4All we need now is firewood. The olive trees are still laden with this year’s crop so they’re not yet available as fuel, and in any case the wood needs a summer season to dry out after cutting. That leaves a good number of dead cherry trees that I’ve been felling and cutting. They say that wood heats you at least six times:

  1. When you cut it down.
  2. When you cut it into logs for burning.
  3. When you carry the logs to the log store.
  4. When you carry them from the log store to the house.
  5. When you burn them.
  6. When you clear out the ash.

When we saw an electric chainsaw in Lidl for €60 I thought it would be just a toy, but it munches happily and quickly through anything up to its own bar length. In fact it cuts as well as the petrol one, that cost twice as much, also from Lidl. Both are made by the German company Einhell under the name Florabest and use chains and bars from US manufacturer Oregon.

131166-5The pile below represents just two trees, felled with the petrol saw and then cut up with the electric one. I’m not yet experienced enough to judge how long it will last; the weather is obviously the major factor. I’m expecting to run out this winter unless we use the Beast running pellets as the primary source of heat. Next year we can ready a good supply of olive, which burns slower than the birch and cherry I’ve cut so far.

131116-6When the bigger logs at the bottom of the pile are ready to split I’ll go and buy myself a nice new woodsman’s axe and learn the words of Monty Python’s I’m a Lumberjack, to sing out loudly while working.

It looks like after an exceptionally warm start to November the weather is about to get colder, so all this work came just in time for a snug winter. It’ll make a great change after two dismal winters in Coventry.

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