In fact, the swallows have been with us for a fair few weeks, but only recently took an interest in the wood shed once again and we now have chicks in the same nest for the second year running:
Looking slightly comical with tufts of fluff and big beaks, we have counted three in our very brief glances into the wood shed. I think they think we are a dead loss…
No food? Okay, we are not available for photographs then… The sheer number of adult swallows in the area this year, from what we can tell, is encouraging. We are seeing them every where we look over the fields in this area east of Nairn and around Nairn itself, especially along the river. perhaps not surprising as the area is very beautiful and a lovely environment for birds of all kinds. Insect life is pretty diverse and in good numbers, making it a good place for insect eating birds to survive.
Whilst on environmental stuff, we recently received our electricity account for the six months to June 17th. Oh-oh, always a nervous moment for many households given the high energy costs nowadays. The statement covered that particularly cold winter spell at the beginning of 2010 here on the Moray Firth (and the rest of Europe by all accounts) when we experienced temperatures down to minus 12 to minus 15 degrees centigrade at night and struggling to around minus 3 to plus 3 degrees during the day for what seemed like weeks at a time; followed by a chilly spring. This was always going to be a real test for our air-to-water heat source pump which relies on air temperature for heating the house. Admittedly, we do keep a check on our power usage and PV panel generation by taking meter readings every week, so the result was no surprise.
The heat source pump, our only heating and hot water source, was commissioned in March 2009, making last winter its first full cold spell and what a cold one it was too. The electricity result was even more remarkable, even allowing for increases in insulation in the house, an ongoing project and critical to making the best of energy efficient devices. According to the bill summary, we used an average of 50 units a day for the period compared to 72.5 units for the corresponding period the year before. A significant drop since the heat source pump was installed compared to the old electric central heating system and one which has dropped our costs dramatically. With further fine tuning and completion of our liquid insulation project using Nansulate, we hope to see that reduced further this coming winter. With a bit of luck, we will not see a return to the severe temperatures of last winter – even a few degrees warmer during the day compared to last winter would see a significant fall in energy usage during the winter months. If the weather and temperatures this winter passed had been the same for the winter of 2008-9 instead of being significantly colder, I wonder what the average usage per day would have been?
The pump heated the house to around 18 to 20 degrees centigrade constantly without the usual heat and decay cycles of more traditional systems. It is clear to me that the combination of the Danfos heat source pump and Nansulate insulation has reduced our power consumption dramatically bearing in mind we have made no other changes to electrical demand in the house (we are pretty careful with lights and not leaving things on stand-by). We are now applying Nansulate to internal walls where we hope this will stop heat loss through the gap between stud walls and the external stone walls of the house.
The real problem with buying energy efficient equipment is finding the initial lump of capital to pay for the kit and installation. However, someone told me they had decided to buy a heat source pump to replace an oil central heating system because a simple calculation demonstrated that with current very low interest rates, the savings in power bills is a better return on the investment than is possible by placing the money in a saving account or even a high interest bond or similar investment vehicle. It makes sense and you cannot be taxed on the savings you make on using less energy either. Factor in government incentive schemes to help pay for such installations and it might not be as expensive as it initially appears to be.