Thursday 4 December 2014

Not Draughty Enough!

A cosy fire in the Living Room
Not draughty enough? Now there's a complaint you probably don't hear many times about houses. Back when we were buying this place as a bit of a sorry wreck in need of huge amounts of renovation, it was as draughty as you'd expect from any old 1850's farmhouse, unloved for 15 years - loose windows, badly fitting doors, dodgy air-bricks, damp voids under rotting and gappy floor boards, chimneys unused for years full of jackdaw nests and so on. You could light a fire in either of the fire places (one upstairs, one down) or in the old disintegrating Rayburn range and they would burn a treat, drawing plenty of air and happily exhausting their heat and fumes up the chimneys into the clean Roscommon air.

An old pillow stuffed up the chimney.
When we arrived with our gutting and rebuilding, our concrete floors (no air bricks!), our new double glazing throughout, our dry-lining and our sweeping out the jackdaw debris, our new efficient range and rebuilt fire-places, we changed all that. We now have an almost entirely draught-free house which is dead easy to heat and keep warm, mostly. Mostly? What we quickly discovered on moving in and starting to use the house, was that it is possibly not draughty enough. It is basically a rectangular box with a chimney at either end. The upstairs fireplace (in the main bedroom) was all but boarded up with the dry-lining sheets but we left a small hole as a vent and a way to rescue birds which might fall down the chimney. The hole, about 6 inches square, has a cheap, plastic, slide-closed cover over it mainly for the look of the thing.

Twin exhausts? One fire, two smoking chimneys
If we did not use the Living Room fire for a few days in cold weather, the chimney chilled down and the air in it would tend to sink down into the room. The Range going in the Dining Room was happy to use this air as its main source of draught, so by about day 3, a veritable cascade of frosty air was coming down the Living Room chimney and spreading out across the floor so that anyone sitting in there was getting very cold feet. Not good. Our first answer to this was to light a fire in that fireplace once a week to re-heat the flue and reverse the flow. If we tried to get both ends hot at once , the two fires would pull air from anywhere, including the blanked off bedroom flue. Smoke coming up the Living Room chimney would be sucked back down the bedroom flu and out through the cheap plastic vent to fill the bedroom and landing with smoke - which was rather alarming. I think there may also be some loose masonry and leaks between the flues below pot-height, as (see picture) when you first light the fire, you get smoke from both chimneys.

Yesterday we got a little fed up with this and decided to investigate fully and do something about it. We needed to stop the downward sinking of cold air. We knew that back in the day, people would have (sometimes ornate) screens in the fire place 'hole' to block the flow. We wondered whether a lump of shaped foam wedged up there would have a similar effect. In the end we settled on an old pillow wedged up into the hole and, Bingo, no more foot-chilling draft. Today we have lit a goodly fire in the fireplace (obviously, taking out the pillow first!) to re-warm the hearth and surrounds, and tomorrow when this fire is done, we will re-wedge our pillow and see if we can keep that room warm with no fire until, coming up to Christmas, when we tend to gravitate in there and curl up with books, we will be lighting a fire daily anyway. This is mainly "for the coze" and will make it a nicer place for the Christmas guests.

Blue likes a warm car bonnet.
The first cat, of course, can happily find warmth without all this scientific air-flow malarkey. He is pictured here adopting the car bonnet on our return from shopping. The lad, though is in the dog house. The problem with having a cat who is good at ratting and mousing, is that they also end up good at catching birds and yesterday I found him playing with a female blackbird. He'd plucked most of the feathers off her back and shoulders and he was pouncing on her as soon as she tried to move from her 'splatted' chest-on-the-grass position. Generally, the victim is so damaged at that point that if you try to prise it away from him, Blue he just sinks his teeth in and it is game over. However, I grabbed him by the scruff before he could  do this and rescued the bird which looked quite perky and alert, and was very warm to the touch. I rescued it to the Tígín to rest for the night and recover - it was almost night time by then. Sadly, the little bird did not make it and presumably succumbed to internal injuries.

Anonymous bottle.
If external warmth is not your thing, then do join me in a wee dram of poitín (potcheen). I think I must have the kind of face which says to shop-keepers that a) I might like a drop of 'moonshine' and b) I can be trusted to be offered same. So on a Christmas shopping mission today (no names, no pack drill, no shops and no presents revealed!) I had another conversation which started with chat about the present (shhhh) but ended up with 'What spirit do you use on the plum pud'n?". Suspecting which way this conversation might be going, I said "Well, probably not with poitín, so maybe brandy or whiskey..." "Why would you not use poitín?" "Mainly because we don't have any". Shopkeeper then took for all the purchases but said "Sure, wait there a minute" and vanished out to the back of the shop. He reappeared with a bottle labelled "Paddy (3 times distilled) Whiskey" but containing a clear, colourless liquid, and proceeded to pour a measure into the bottle's screw-top. Very warming. To cut a long story short we bought the bottle and Liz drove home! She smelled my breath when I came out of the shop, and when she had finished giggling and saying "Why does it only happen to you?"


Anne Wilson said...

I think 18 euros is a very fair price for poteen don't you, not that we would buy it except maybe as a gift for someone. I must say we liked it far better than others we had tasted in the past.

Matt Care said...

Ha ha! Now you have me, of course! How did you know the price? Were you hiding in the shop?

Anne Wilson said...

He gives everyone a tipple Matt to see if you will buy, he's been there a long time and everyone knows where to buy their poteen, I see you can now buy it in Tesco, I think it comes in two different flavours as well which seems strange.

Matt Care said...

Must admit, I am not any kind of connoisseur for the stuff but this one seems good and proper to me. I dread to think what Tesco have made of it, in either flavour! The blackcurrant flavoured one we posted about 31st Oct came from a shop closer to home.