Monday, January 02, 2023

No, we don't have a wood burner


I'm so glad we didn't decide to fit a wood burner when we bought our current house. Instead we took the chimney out and eventually had a new, high efficiency boiler fitted. 12 years on, if we were renovating it now, we would probably be looking at a heat pump, but that's a discussion for another day.

I ought to say that there was a time I would have gone down the wood burner road. Seeking to move away from fossil fuels, wood burning seemed more sustainable and less impactful on the environment. But then comes the bad news. Even wood burners that meet the most recent criteria for emissions are actually very bad for the environment. 

One study shows that wood burning stoves that meet the regulations still emit 750 times more small particulate matter (PM2.5) than a heavy good vehicle, and that domestic wood burners are the single biggest source of PM2.5 air pollution in the UK, producing three times more pollution than road traffic. And the problem isn't just what goes up the chimney. These microscopic particles (PM2.5 refers to particles that are 2.5 microns in size) pass directly into the blood stream once they enter the lungs and every time you open the door of your stove, they are released into the room. 

Along with the particulates two dangerous chemicals are also released. Benzene and formaldehyde are both known carcinogens and are by products of burning wood. 

So they might look nice and cosy, they might be nice and warm and they be reducing the amount you have to spend on gas or oil, but they are not the long term solution to home heating and reducing our use of fossil fuels. 

Monday, November 07, 2022

Building a Portable Outdoor Kitchen

 These have a wide variety of names in America, but essentially they're boxes designed for use as an outdoor kitchen. So I'll call mine POK_1, because it's the first iteration of my version.

Having seen a couple of videos I sat down and drew out my basic concept. I decided on 800mm as the overall  height, split equally between the base and the box. I thought this would give a reasonable working height. I'm 6'3", so I usually make things too high for other people. Hopefully not this time.

The end product was a little different to the drawing, but the overall dimensions didn't change at 400mm tall and deep and 600mm wide. 

All the wood, apart from a piece of 3.5mm ply was sitting around the workshop. The cabinet was made from 12mm ply and the drawers from some 9mm and 5mm ply I had lying around.

The top was glued and pinned to the sides as a butt joint, the sides were set in a rebate in the bottom panels with more glue and pins. I just thought it look a bit neater this way.

The doors were made as simple boxes, butt jointed, glued and pinned again, with a thin ply skin on the outside. My nail gun jammed and sprayed pins into the ply in random amounts, making quite the mess before I fixed it properly. As this was just a prototype I wasn't overly concerned. The biggest problem was the bow in the 12mm ply. I had to change the design to have a vertical divider to spread the top. For some reason I didn't notice the bow until after I'd glued the basic box together. Had I seen it, I'd have turned the top over and used the divider to pull it together rather than push it apart. 

Here I've assembled the box having cut grooves for the drawer runners using the table saw.

There are two fold out flaps to provide extra working space. Once the doors were made, I could move onto the base. This was made from 18mm ply using pocket hole joinery. It's designed to slip over the main box to make it more compact to carry and also to lock the doors shut.

It has a frame on which the main cabinet sits set about 6mm from the top.

It slides neatly into place and is very stable when used as the stand. I made a couple of simple drawers with finger pulls and a shelf to fi t into the right hand side. I also added a shelf to one door with a couple of retainers so anything stored there doesn't just fall out when you open the doors. The doors also act as supports for the top flaps.

Overall I'm quite pleased with the design, but it needs to be put to the test. After I'd finished it I decided to make a small table that would sit inside the top of the frame for carrying and then could be used as a small coffee table when out to keep things off the ground.

Monday, May 16, 2022

If I could start a movement

 In previous post I talked about writing about an idea, an idea to start a movement. I suggested a very simple aim: To leave the world in a better state than we found it. 

This is an environmental challenge but it is also a socio-economic one too. It's about a sustainable and equitable world. More and more wealth is being concentrated in a decreasing proportion of the population.  A little bit of research shows that in 2018 there were over 2,000 billionaires worldwide. That was an increase of 40% in a 5 year period. But that's not the only significant figure. The wealthy saw their wealth grow at a staggering rate. Elon Musk, for example, added over $120 billion to his fortune in 2021 alone.

Clearly our economic systems are skewed and it might be time we asked whether billionaires ought to exist at all in an equitable economic landscape. But money and wealth are not the only problem. The burden of government policy also has a role to play as do some parts of the media. Much of our (UK) recent government policies have disproportionally impacted the poorer parts of our communities. One simple example is that if you're not earning enough to pay income tax, then either raising the threshold for paying tax or lowering the rate of tax (particularly at the high end) doesn't benefit you at all. Whereas rating the levels of VAT or duty does. 

So something needs to change and we may need to be willing to pay more in order to make those changes. Of course some parts of the media will always present ideas that seek to bring about such change as a danger to the very fabric of our lifestyles. But the bottom line is that if we are going to make the sort of wholesale changes that are needed to avert the climate emergency and create a more sustainable and equitable future, it has to be properly funded and the rich are going to have to pay their share. 

Having said all of that, what might this movement look like? Here are some thoughts.

What is the core idea?

To harness and leverage the skills, knowledge and influence of the “retired” generation to campaign and work to leave the planet in a better place than when we inherited it. Working together we add our collective voice to those of the younger generation to encourage, and support their efforts to bring about a more sustainable and equitable world.

The How

In no apparent order, here are some ideas:

  • Encourage personal change

We can’t change the world as individuals and yet we can’t wait for someone else to charge it for us. The change begins with us. If we make small, individual changes (fly less often, choose a hybrid or electric car, lower the thermostat etc) we can contribute to a collective movement for change.

  • Be trendsetters and let others follow
  • Challenge business and government to be bold
  • Invest ethically and environmentally
  • Learn to repair and recycle stuff (I saved us over £300 by repairing a Kenwood Chef mixer!)
  • Develop a course if you have skills to pass on. 
  • Become better informed about climate science, economics, alternative energy.
  • Change one product you purchase regularly for a sustainable alternative.
Bigger ideas?
  • Arrange web based seminars on topics like climate, finance etc. 
  • Find resources to help inform/act/change
  • Build community based action groups
  • Engage with environmentally positive business/projects. Eg wind farms, solar farms.

Can this happen? It can if we make the effort. 

Monday, May 02, 2022

Bigger things to do

 Some things are simple, fairly inexpensive things we can all do to reduce our carbon footprint. Some things fall into a more expensive category. Here are some we've done.

1. Invest in a solar array. We had solar panels fitted in 2018 or 19 (I can't quite remember). We also had a battery storage system fitted (2.4Kw). Our array can generate up to 4Kw (the maximum you can have in the UK when it's connected to the grid system). The cost of the system fully installed was around £6000. We've saved around 33% on our grid electricity usage, dropping from 3500kwh to 2500kwh. At current rates, that's about £200 a year for us. We also export some power to the grid which I think gives us around £150 a year back. Over the expected lifetime of the system it's doubtful that it will pay for itself, but that's not why we did it.

2. Invest in a wind farm. Not as crazy as it might sound. In the UK there's an organisation called Ripple Energy. They allow you to buy shares in a cooperative that builds and runs wind farms. you get savings back through your supplier. Compared to solar panels it's cheaper and of course you can take it with you when you move unlike a solar array. There's a limit to how much you can invest, but because you can take it with you, it will pay for itself eventually. 

3. Go EV. We bought an EV recently. Again it was an environmental decision rather than a financial one. Although having said that the EV we chose (Vauxhall Mokka e) was a very similar price to our Toyota CHR hybrid. The running costs are much lower (no road fund licence at the moment, no petrol), On the road in the UK it was about £32000 new. Not a cheap option. We had a home charge-point fitted and generally the car gets charged once a week or maybe 10 days.  electricity prices as they are it costs around £10-11 to charge the car at home. That gives me around 160-180 miles. Compare that to my hybrid that would use about £50-60 of fuel and it's still good value.

4. Add cavity wall insulation. We've had a quote of £1400 to insulate our 3 bed-semi. 

5. Replace the double glazing. We have DG but we could replace it with something more efficient for around £6000.

So none of these things are cheap, and some maybe more cost-effective or have a better RTO (return on investment). You have to decide what is best for you and why you are doing some things. Is it environmental or is it about reducing your bills.

Tuesday, April 26, 2022

What can "I" do?

 This is a generalised "I" because it's really about what we can do, but it can't be me prescribing a list of things for you to do that I'm not prepared to do myself. Some things are high cost like solar panels or buying an electric car, but some things can be low cost like choosing something with less plastic packaging.

So here are a few things that we are doing or considering doing to change out footprint in the world.

1. Buy fewer clothes. It's astonishing to realise the amount of clothing that is wasted each year. About 30% of unwanted clothing ends up in landfill in the UK alone. That's around £140M of useable clothing. 

2. Use our heating systems differently. You'd think that some people think their heating system is designed to make their homes a tropical paradise. You could have an AI based thermostat system fitted (We have a Nest system) that learns your habits and controls you heating so that the house isn't heated when no one is there. Or you could simply turn the thermostat down when you go out and back up when you get home. And wear a jumper! 

3. Buy shower gel and shampoo in larger quantities and refill those single use bottles or have dispensers that you refill. We buy ours in 5l bottles (yes they are plastic) and decant into smaller bottles for use in the shower. I reckon we've taken between 12 and 20 single use bottles out of our footprint by doing this.

4. Don't waste money on water. A number of companies (Smol, Homethings) sell cleaning products in tablet form. You just add the water rather than paying for it and transporting it home. We haven't done this yet, but it's definitely on the list to explore.

There are just four ideas. There's plenty more we can be doing as individuals got have a positive impact on  our planet. The plastic problem won't go away overnight, but we can do something about it.  It is not an overwhelming problem without any workable solutions. We just need to make some choices.

Thursday, April 21, 2022

A Change of Direction

 This blog has always been a bit of a mixture of things. I've talked about woodwork, railway modelling, theology and probably a few things I can't even remember. I've also used it as a place to store ideas, articles and links. Writing that makes me realise that at the very least this blog reflects who I am and how my life has changed over the decades.

So I'm going to add a new stream to my thoughts. There's a project idea that's been wandering aimlessly around my mind for some time now. My background is quite diverse, but work began in R&D after completing my degree in Environmental Science and Chemistry. A lot has changed since then but what remains true, and has become more urgent, is that we are having a deeply damaging impact on the environment and time is running out to do something about it. It is that serious.

The problem is that although we know we must act, we're not sure anything we do as individuals will make a difference. I had this conversation with a friend of mine some time ago. He was very supportive of the things I was doing because I knew things needed to change and I wanted to be part of the change. But his attitude was almost to suggest that I was wasting my time because one person can't make a difference.

Well I think otherwise. One person can make a difference and, if that one person can inspire another, then two people can make twice the difference. It's a matter of simple maths. One becomes two, then four then eight and the change becomes exponential. 

So what's my change of direction? Well, I'm going to start writing about an idea I have for a movement. It sounds grand that way, but why not? Why not start a movement? The movement has a simple aim: To leave the world in a better state than we found it. This is an environmental challenge but it is also a socio-economic one too. It's about a sustainable and equitable world. 

I know that this blog has very little traction and very few people stumble across it. I'm not looking to become well-known, I just want my grandsons to inherit a better world. Perhaps you will join me on the adventure.

Sunday, December 19, 2021

Building a mud kitchen

 I have two grandsons and decided to make a mud kitchen for them as a Christmas present. I toyed with the idea of taking a couple of pallets and cutting one down to make the top and sides and the other as the back. Instead of that I decided to make it from scratch using some pallet wood and some stud timber (CLS timber 63x38mm).

I started off with a simple drawing of what I thought it might look like and with some rough dimensions. 

The basic construction used butt joint reinforced with through dowels. The back splash was a separate piece to make getting into a car easier. Although the finished piece was only 1m tall and about 770mm wide.

I took the stud timber and cut the pieces to length before running them through the table saw to square them up. The off-cuts formed the bottom shelf.

The base was assembled sides first before adding the front and back rails. An off cut of the stud timber was used to set the height of the bottom rails and then the other off-cuts were used to make the bottom shelf. These were glued and pinned in place. The spacing was a bit of trial and error using pieces of MDF/ply until I found a good enough fit.

Once this was all dry it was sanded down and painted using a garden paint.

The top and backsplash were made from pallet wood. Several pieces were glued together to form the worktop. The backsplash was pinned and glued to the frame as individual strips.

A simple shelf was added with the "deliberate" mistake of putting the supports in the wrong place! Then more sanding and an exterior varnish to protect the wood.

Next I needed to make a sink and hob. The sink was made from a mixing bowl I picked up on Amazon. I drew round it then marked a line inset from the edge before cutting it out carefully with the jigsaw. The cut-out and a couple of other pieces of pallet wood were made into the hot plates. 

There are many ways to cut circles, but one of the quickest I've found is to use the table saw. A simple jig allows you to trim away the edges. You just need to go carefully. 

The control knobs were cut using a hole saw, a screw and washer allow them to turn freely. The finishing touch was to make the curved top and get a sign made. I used Etsy for the sign.

I'm really pleased with how this turned out. I ended up making a crate as storage space. I hope the boys enjoy playing with it as much as I enjoyed making it for them.