Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Greenhouse Gas

Our new boiler is installed. We hope in the long term it will provide substantial savings on energy usage and bills. But in the short term we are instantly rewarded by hot water that is actually hot. In fact it’s so hot it’s scalding. I am in bath-time heaven.

But the heating side of it turns out to be a damp squib. As Carbonlite selected the wall panel that controls the system, we have a tiny digital box mounted on the wall in the hall instead of our usual Starship Enterprise boiler console. At first glance it looks easy to use. But of course it’s a nightmare. No knobs to push, no buttons to flick. Just a series of numbers.

He explains the first figure is the outdoor temperature, which, he points out, is currently 17 degrees. I tell him I don’t care what the temperature is outside. So he moves on to the all important figure of indoor temperature. “It’s 18 degrees in here, which is just about right for the evening,” he says. ”But that’s only one degree hotter than outside,” I complain. “Turn it up!” He refuses, reminding me it’s not cold outside, or indeed inside. I tell him I’ll do it myself. But how, when the whole panel resembles a great big buttonless digital watch? He shows me what to do to reset water and heating, but computerised gadgets aren’t my strong point and it’s all a bit of a blur. He goes out to work and I settle down with a hot water bottle and the manual. Two hours later and I’m no further on. I throw the book on the floor and go to bed.

It’s my birthday. Carbonlite is away and my mother comes to celebrate it with me. She turns up with six bottles of Radox. I line the bottles up in the bathroom so I can scald myself with a different flavour of boiling water every night. It’s lunchtime but unusually the house feels hot. I check the temperature gauge on the digital box. It reads 23 degrees. Inside! The heating shouldn’t be on in the daytime so I look closer and find the panel displays the word, ’fault.’ I shrug. Too bad if it breaks when Carbonlite is away. I have no idea how to turn the heating down or off. What a great birthday present.

As the day goes on the house feels hotter and hotter. My mother is sweating and asks to open a window. But Carbonlite hasn’t quite finished the restoration job on the sashes, and has warned if anyone touches the woodwork, the glass will fall out. “It’s like a greenhouse,” my mother says as we sweat our way through dinner. I fumble around with the manual for a while and stare hopelessly at the digital figures, before giving up.

At breakfast time my mother comes down, her eyes heavy. “I didn’t sleep at all last night in this sauna. How much is all this heating going to cost?“ I know exactly how much the electricity is costing, because Carbonlite has reinstalled the carbon calculator next to the kettle. But as for the greenhouse gas? No idea. Probably all the money we’ve saved this year by installing the new boiler. So much for low energy bills.

I stand at the box in the hall. It still reads 23 degrees while outside remains constant at 17. I never thought I’d long to press the ’off’ switch on the central heating, but I do.

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