Friday, December 19, 2008

Heating System Questions


Lots of Questions - One Answer

A readers letter, unedited and uncorrected, just as I received it, Cathy wrote:

came across your blog , am building a house and would like to know which pellet boiler system your bloggers recommend. price , usage, etc and also on solar panels. In my ideal world i would love to have a combined system but it all depending on cost (and grants)

i just went onto sei site re grants to find i fall into none of the catorgories,i am a new build,(cant apply for greener homes grant) and well the pilot home energy (dont know what thats about ... they analysing stuff) , warmer homes (not applicable), and low carbon homes (well thats putting money out i.e betting on a horse, you dont know what you gonna get till work is done) this i cant afford.

do i really need to put in oil, live in my house for a year just to rip it all out and to apply for a grant next year to be environmentally friendly.


My reply:

Hi Cathy - You really need a specialist consultant or a fair bit of research to answer your complex questions. Most bloggers are average people, just like yourself, who write letters (blogs) about things that interest them. Bloggers are not part of any sort of club or organisation, they don't get paid for the research work they do, They share that information, as is, with the world at large through their diaries - otherwise called Blogs.

You yourself could do the research needed for your system by searching on the Internet, reading up, and by ringing around - just as good as I can. I encourage you and other people who have done the bit of research, to publish their results through Blogs etc. I would be glad to hear about your research anytime and publish it in my blog for the benefit of others.

Tony McGinley

Personal Note:

I get an increasing number of letters, like the one above, asking me for very specific advice and even asking me to do research on systems etc.

I therefore feel the need to make it clear from time to time, that I am NOT a consultant, I am NOT a journalist. I do NOT get paid for my time, phone calls, travel, expenditure in doing research. I do NOT undertake any consultancy projects. I do NOT have any privileged information or special access to sources.

I would really love to occasionally hear from people who have done some research or project and who feel they have useful information to share with others.


Thursday, December 18, 2008

Benekov Blues Addendum


Benekov Blues - Follow-up

I had a follow-up letter to the post on Benekov problems. It would appear that the Benekov Ling50 in question was not sold through any authorised dealer, and that it made its way in the back door from eastern Europe. That would be OK for a private individual BUT in the case of a dealer it presents many future problems for customers in the shape of parts and service.

The "kosher" distributor - Prime Energy Solutions, may have a solution for this person. Here is the letter I received from Pat Gaffney of Prime Energy Solutions with a possible offer of help.

Hi Tony,

Just to let you know the Ling 50 is not sold in Ireland and have never installed a 50 k/W boiler in a domestic house so whoever posted this comment bought this boiler through an unauthorised dealer or is located in the UK.

I would appreciate if you would correct this or remove the unattributed comment. If the customer is in need of assistance we may be able to help him if we have the serial number of the machine or know where he purchased this machine. We offer a full back up service to all our machines and are the only authorised Benekov dealers in Ireland.


Pat Gaffney,

Prime Energy Solutions
Unit 10/11,
The Nestor Complex,
Monksland Industrial Estate,
Co Roscommon.
Tel: +353 (0)90 649 0642


Gerkros Boilers


Gerkros Boilers Gone!

I was saddened to hear of the final collapse of Gerkros Boilers and the loss of 70+ jobs. I wonder if it was their expansion into woodpellet boilers that took them down? The news is that the company had cashflow problems after after their efforts at international expansion, having recently signed a deal in the US. I suspect that the pellet boiler was also soaking up money.

I personally never liked the design of the Gerkros pellet boiler, it was a bit of a monster for starters, Much too large and heavy for many installations. It also had only very limited modulation and lacked any active burn-back protection, at least in the earlier models.

The company did however offer one very good facility, it provided a commissioning visit by an engineer as part of the price of the boiler. This one fact mitigated against the rip-off chancers and offered some comfort to consumers. They also sold the boilers through regular heating suppliers and hardware outlets. This meant that the price gougers could not do their worst.

Gerkros Boilers had been in business for over 30 years and had its manufacturing base in Cashel.


Wednesday, December 17, 2008

WoodPellet Boiler Problems Timely Reminder


Benekov Blues

The seemingly mindless and unthinking rush into Wood-Pellet Systems sparked off by the SEI Grant scheme has had much fallout.

I have just received a letter from yet another victim of the thoughtless way the SEI promotion was handled.


I have a BENEKOV Ling-50. It needs to be mended and I have been waiting since the beginning of October .. We are getting very cold !!! for the man to look at it .. in fact it is the man who sold it to us and installed it . He says he will come when he has time . I hope other poor fools have had better luck !!!



Wednesday, December 10, 2008 not interested in reducing coal usage

is not interested
in reducing

coal usage

In recently hassled and SEI about the idea of supporting a campaign to promote the fitting of fireplace doors. These simple and inexpensive doors would immediately reduce solid fuel usage by 50% or more, and at a very small cost in terms of money and effort.

Here is the reply I received from

Dear Tony,

Thank you for showing an interest in the Change Campaign. Your energy efficiency question related to open fires is an interesting topic.
Installing a fire front or glass doors will increase the efficiency of a fireplace. Also an adjustable throat restrictor may be a viable option. It is essential to ensure that an external air source is used to draw the oxygen supply for the fire to ensure that a high ventilation rate is not experienced and that air already warmed is not wasted.

However we would like to point out that the Change Campaign in no way advocates the use of fossil fuels. We are attempting to raise awareness about such fuels and their contribution to climate change. It is essential that Ireland’s dependence on such fossil fuel imports be changed.

That is why the Irish Government have heavily subsidised renewable space and water heating systems as they represent the greatest carbon saving with respect to investment. Information on these grants is available from Sustainable Energy Ireland at
If you have any further comments or queries please do not hesitate to contact us. Kindest Regards The Change Team

My reply:

Hi Guys,

Many thanks for your reply and for the time you have taken to address my proposition. However, I think you have missed the point somewhat.

The point of the proposed exercise is to reduce the use of fossil fuels drastically as an interim measure. The million or so (Irish) open fires this winter will burn coal etc. regardless. Would it not be a very useful effort to REDUCE that consumption by 50% or more immediately??

Two factors mitigate heavily against rapid Irish implementation of alternative and sustainable domestic heating systems. One is the very high relative cost, especially at the "Irish" prices which are well above much of the EU. Secondly, many people are reluctance to undertake the large inconvenience and household disruption involved, not to mention the risk of investing in systems like pellet boilers which are yet to prove their reliability and cost efficiency.

On the other hand, a very small inconvenience and cost would reduce the fossil load by 50% and could be easily sold to the public.

The other factor in reducing the load is to heavily promote attic insulation and CFL/LED lighting.

In summary, would it be true to say then that and the Irish Government are not interested in reducing the fossil fuel load by supporting low tech - low cost ways, as much as by pushing very expensive biomass and geothermal systems?

Tony McGinley


Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Vivace Vortex Power


Vortex to

I have written about a number of underwater generating systems in past posts. All of these systems rely on propeller or turbine technology in one form or another. Problem is that it takes a fairly fast flowing current, 5 to 6 knots or more, to turn a propeller sufficiently fast to generate electricity. Slow rivers, estuary waters, and most sea bed currents would therefore not have a fast enough current for normal turbine generation.

Vortex Power a New Approach

A completely new approach has been developed by Professor Michael Bernitsas and his international team at the University of Michigan Department of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering.

Their idea uses the power of a vortex. All currents in air or water can cause a vortex when the flow is made to deviate. A visually stunning example of this effect is the vortex caused in the wake of a jet plane. I have included a couple of photos that show the effect.

Magical image from Wikipedia shows
US Air Force plane creating vortices in flare smoke

Vortices contain powerful energy. Jet liner vortices have been know to knock small aircraft to the ground quite some time after the big plane has landed. The power of a vortex is a power to be reckoned with.

Test Rig with imaging system illuminating the vortices

It is this very vortex power that Professor Bernitsas and his team have learned to harness in a completely new way.

How is it done?

A vortex is created when a current passes over an object that distorts the flow. In the above examples it is the airflow over the aircraft’s wings that causes the air current to spin into a vortex.

Professor Bernitsas and his team have built a beautifully simple machine that creates a vortex by presenting a cylinder, or series of cylinders to the flow, and then utilises the lateral spin force of the created vortex to push the cylinder from side to side, or up and down as in the test rig shown.

The test rig with a single cylinder oscillating vertically

I believe that the idea was sparked from observing fish using the vortices created by other fish to increase the efficiency of their movement.

The New Machine.

The new machine can harness power from very slow moving currents hitherto considered of no value for energy generation. A Vivace device occupying one cubic meter of water in a 3 knot current can produce 51 watts of electricity. While they might be considered a bit bulky, these machines can produce very usable amounts of power. One place for sure that bulk does not present a problem is in the seabed. The machine can operate in very low speed currents. The test tank has a current of only 1.5 knots.

Impression of a single sea bed unit

Diagram showing an arrangement of multiple units

The team call their new device “Vivace”, an acronym for vortex-induced vibrations for aquatic clean energy.

How’s it perform?

Estimates suggest that array the size of a running track and the height of a two-story building would power 100,000 houses.

Electricity generated by VIVACE is estimated to cost approximately 5.5 US cents per kilowatt-hour. Wind turbine energy costs run at around 6.9 US cents per kW hour.

VIVACE cylinder moves at a relatively slow speed and would therefore have minimal impact on marine life and environment.


I contacted Professor Bernitsas to ask permission to quote and use photos. I was delighted to receive his reply:

Yes, Tony, you have permission and thank you for asking.

Here is the status of development. We have several models and we are building a prototype with the US Navy which we expect to be tested by the end of 2009.


Contact information:

Michael M. Bernitsas, PhD
Professor of Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering
Professor of Mechanical Engineering
Director, Marine Renewable Energy Laboratory
University of Michigan
Fellow ASME, Fellow SNAME

Here are links to the university and to the development company:

May I wish the VIVACE team every success in the development and implementation phases. Hope for all our sakes that this proves an effective and reliable source of energy.


Thursday, November 27, 2008

LED lamps v/s Tungsten


New Type
Multi-LED Lamp

This is the LED in question photo taken from the dealers site.

I have just this morning received a new type of 2 watt LED lamp from a Hong Kong EBay link as follows: DEALER The goods were actually sent from LinLin House (pin9999tw) in Taiwan R.O.C. I am not sure of the connection or how it works, suffice it to say delivery was fast and the lamps are good.

Firstly, in reviewing these lamps, let me say I am well impressed. These MR16 12 volt lamps use only 2 watts of power but give a VERY respectable light output. The bulb consists of 48 little LED lights crammed into the plastic cased fitting. This type of LED fitting previously was just terrible, they gave a bluish light and very poor output. The light from the older type was just plain depressing.

20 Watt Halogen light-pool on left, and 2 Watt LED on right
The 2 Watt LED gave a very good account of itself!

The quality of light from this new lamp is quite acceptable as you can see in the above photo. The lamp is nominally "warm white", but in fact, it is a very warm - warm white. The very warm white would not suit in business situations but gives a comforting warmth in domestic use.

The amount of light output is about 80% that of a 20 watt halogen lamp - a respectable performance by any standard. These lamps come in both spotlight and wide angle. They also come in 12 volt MR16 fitting and in GU10 220volt. But there is better to follow.

Here is the really good bit!

Here is the really good bit, there LED bulbs can be purchased for under €6 six Euro each, including shipping!!!! At that price they represent a bargain and will pay back, many times over, in saved electricity and long life expectancy.


Friday, November 21, 2008

Oil Price Drops 66%


The Big Drop

Who ever thought that oil would ever drop back below $50 a barrel again? Right now it is trading at $48 a barrel. Heating oil, Kerosene, which takes its lead price from Rotterdam Kero, is lagging a long way back but is now selling at a slightly more reasonable €580 per 1000 litre fill. With all this major price dropping, I am wondering what will happen to the price of wood pellets?

Solid fuel prices rose sharply piggy-backing on the price of oil. Will these now follow oil downward again?

Right now it makes no economic sense to invest thousands of Euro in a wood pellet system and end up paying well above the odds for your fuel.


Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Nano-Stuff for Solar Cells


New Nano-Stuff for Solar Cells!!

Researchers at the Rensselaer Institute NY have discovered a new anti reflective coating. Eh - is that a WOW or what??

So what – I hear the chorus from the great unwashed. Well my friends, if this stuff does what it says on the tin, it can absorb up to 96% of sunlight.

Wow ain't that just dandy – you say!! So what then? Well – the problem with solar cells is that the blighters do not take in half enough of the sunlight that shines on them. They are also VERY fussy about the angle of the light. In other words, they have to exactly face the angle of the sunlight to be efficient. Now that is a bastard to arrange, as the sun has the habit of moving all over the darn sky. So real bright guys and boffins have made these gizmos that move about and keep the solar cells pointing towards the light. The trouble with that is the gizmos are VERY expensive and also quite troublesome.

Now this new nano-whats-it stuff when painted, sprayed or whatever, onto the surface of a solar cell can – we hope – if it does what it says on the tin - allow the PV solar cell to absorb most of the sunlight, and not only that, it can take in the sunlight from almost any angle!! Now that is an impressive claim.

Lets get a few cans of this stuff and paint our PV cell –shall we?

I wish the boffins well in developing this new nano-stuff and I hope it can do what they say it can do.

We will wait and see!!


Sunday, November 09, 2008

Fuel Efficiency


Fuel Efficiency

There is, IMHO, an over emphasis by SEI and other environmental agencies on achieving a reduction of the carbon footprint through the promotion of biomass, geo-thermal and other new systems.

Not that I disagree in any way with the fact that this HAS to be done. However, being realistic, most of the heating systems in use are either Oil-fired or Solid Fuel, and most people are not going to spend €7000+ any time soon, and put up with the hassle and disruption of installing completely new and somewhat unproven systems.

With oil trading currently down at $61 a barrel, the price of household central heating oil should now be trading again at 2005 prices and that means approximately €590 per 1000 litres.

So why am I talking about oil prices again do you ask? Well, my thinking was sparked off by contemplating what is the best value for money for existing heating systems in this world-wide recession we find ourselves stuck in.

I have already dealt with an idea that could save 50% or more on fuel for open fires in my posts on "Fireplace Doors".

If oil stays low in price, and if you happen to have a condensing oil boiler, you will be getting excellent value for money, perhaps the best value considering capital outlay and fuel cost.

Firebird Ballymakeera

I recently was invited to visit the Firebird boiler plant in Ballymakeera Co Cork. Firebird is a very successful boilermaker and currently makes a range of oil-fired boilers and a range of high efficiency back-boilers for open fires. The company supplies the UK, France etc. and has a major profile in the boiler market. Firebird employ 185 people and have a very full order book.

Firebird's back boiler is one of the most efficient designs on the market. I own one myself. What I like about it, apart from the high efficiency, is the ease of cleaning.

The place is a beautiful part of southern Ireland, the premises are unassuming and the staff are friendly and relaxed.

I was met by Jim O’Riordan, the Research and Development guy at Firebird, who gave me a tour of the facility. I was quite amazed and very impressed to discover such a highly sophisticated robotic manufacturing facility housed in rather unimpressive sheds.

Robotic Welding Machines

The R&D department has some new and very exciting designs in the pipeline which, until they are ready for production, they would prefer not to make public. I was shown some of these designs and I am impressed. I will honour their wishes and not comment further. Let me just say these guys are not sitting on their hands, and I have asked to have my name on the list of customers for one of the upcoming developments.

Condensing Oil Boilers

Firebird makes one of the most efficient “condensing” oil boilers on the market. These boilers have a number of unique features. The layout of the flue ways being one.

Firebird has a downward flow in their boiler. The boiler uses stainless steel extensively. It uses a unique design heat-exchanger unit welded by robots!!. The factory robotic welding unit for the stainless steel condenser units is really a “star wars” looking set-up.

The latest Firebird condenser boiler can produce an efficiency of very close to 100% in ideal lab conditions. In an ideally installed and tuned domestic situation, the figure could be expected to go to the mid nineties. This sort of efficiency is a great saving on fuel costs and if you had an elderly boiler it would pay you to install a modern condenser as you could save up to 20%. Two, max three years and you have the cost of the boiler back in fuel savings.

Combi all-in-one box Firebird Boiler

Watch this space for news on Firebird's new developments, for sure I will be reporting on them as soon as they are released.


Thursday, November 06, 2008

LED versus Halogen footnote


LED v/s Halogen

The dealer I purchased the 5 watt LED MR16 from, LinLin House, has revised their advertising blurb after I made a complaint that it was misleading. It no longer appears to claim that their 5watt LED can match a 50 watt halogen.

The 5watt LED element as taken through
the lens of the lamp

I was interested in what type of LED element this lamp contained. I was dis-inclined to open the unit because I might not get it back together again and that would be a waste of a perfectly good $25 worth of a lamp. So if you are curious, you will have to knacker your own lamp to find out!!

I had a go at photographing the LED element through the lens of the lamp. As you can see in the above photo, the LED element is made up of 3 rows of dots. There would appear to be a dead pixel in the centre, but this may be by design.

LED replacement lamps are certainly improving in the quality and quantity of light output, and the price is dropping almost monthly. When they reach twice the current output of light, and sell at half the current cost, they will then be a very viable alternative. In the meantime, I would consider them an expensive curiosity and would not be fitting out my house with them just yet.


Sunday, November 02, 2008

LED versus Halogen


Part 2 of
LED v/s Halogen

Which do you think are the LEDs and which are the halogen bulbs?

I promised that I would come back to the question of LED (light emitting diodes) lamps, and that I would test a 5watt MR16 type LED against halogen MR16. This post represents my initial findings.

I bought a 5 watt led on EBay from a dealer called LinLin House Taiwan. The EBay page and transaction history are here:

The advert claims that to offer a uniquely bright LED with a Cree element. The advert would appear to say that this 5 watt LED is as bright as a 50 watt halogen lamp. However, if you read the advert more carefully, with the eye of a lawyer, you will find that it is cunningly worded to avoid using any direct and clear description of the light output.

The wording of the above advert on EBay says:

In the piece near the photo:
"The brightness of our LED MR16 is double of other providers, and one 4.2 watt LED MR16 is able to replace one 50 watt halogen lamp - with similar light-out brightness as the above photo."

(Oh yes! indeed it can replace a 50 watt halogen - but it can only give just one quarter of the light.)

Further down it repeats the following:

"Many people are asking if the LED lights are bright enough to replace the traditional lights, especially for the 4.2W LED MR-16 whose power consumption is only 1/12 of traditional 50W halogen lamp. As soon as our 4.2W/2800K MR-16, which is dazzlingless design, were installed for the office lighting (as following photo) in Taipei, it is proved that our new 4.2W MR-16 is not only 2 times brighter that other LED MR-16 providers but also able to replace the traditional 50W halogen lamp to save 12 times energy."

Misleading Advert.

If the advertising authorities in the EU were to legislate on the above advert, I have no doubt whatsoever that the verdict would be that it be withdrawn.

Bottom line is that the advert is totally misleading, because the LED lamp in question is no-where remotely close to the light output of a 50 watt halogen. In fact, it doesn't even fully match the output of a 20 watt halogen lamp.

The photo below was taken by placing a white photo-mounting board about two feet from the lamps, and the shot taken from a distance of 5 feet from the board.

Pool of light on white photo-mounting board
On the left is the 5 watt LED on the right a 20 Watt Halogen
Which do you think has a brighter output?

Above is a photograph of the pools of light from the 5 watt LED on the left and a 20 watt halogen bulb on the right. You would not need to be a rocket scientist to figure that the 20 watt halogen is giving more light. The 5 watt LED comes close to the light output of a 20 watt halogen but certainly does not exceed it.

5 Watt LED does not match a 20 watt halogen.

The LED on the left above is claimed in the advertising to MATCH the light of a 50 watt halogen bulb. I say that it cannot match the light of even a 20 watt bulb. Unless I happen to have been sold a faulty LED, the advertising is totally misleading. I am contacting EBay and making a complaint on the basis of misleading advertising, and I am asking that the description is fully corrected or the seller removed.

The above photo is taken looking directly into the light of two LED MR16 type lamps, and two 20 watt halogen lamps. Not the way to tell the comparative brightness, but it gives an idea of the colour and light scatter. From the left it reads:

5 watt LED
20 watt Halogen
20 watt Halogen
3 watt LED

LEDs still have a way to go

LED lamps still have a way to go yet. A 5 watt LED can reasonably replace a 20 watt halogen bulb for light output. The colour is fairly good and the light output is maybe 10% less than the halogen. But with the cost of the LED you might think twice about the value.


Friday, October 31, 2008

Misleading Energy Adverts Part 4


Inaccurate Energy Adverts
Part 4

My post on "Misleading Energy Adverts" has drawn a bit of interest and the following comment is from a typically confused householder.

I thought I would share it as a post with you, along with my attempt to address the issue raised.

Blogger Donncha said...

I had no idea, but also unfortunately we don't have any room thermostat, only the dial on the boiler.

The only non-boiler control is the central heating timer which can be set at 30 minute intervals.

Should we set the boiler up high and set the timer to go on/off every consecutive 30 minute chunk of time?
'Course not, we need to get those radiator thermostats I presume. Our little baby boy would have a lot of fun with those!

1:36 PM


Hi Donncha,

Your installation is a very typical one where money was saved by not including a room thermostat. There are a couple of ways you could address the problem:

1. As you mentioned, fit thermostatic valves to the radiators. This is a messy and quite costly exercise, as the valves are expensive, and the system would have to be drained and the valves fitted by a plumber.

2. You might consider another option, that of retro-fitting a room thermostat. This requires just one pair of wires to be brought to the circulating pump, and there a very simple connection to be made. If cable can easily be threaded from your living room to where the pump is situated, you would have a very inexpensive job. A room-stat is cheap and the connection is quick and simple. You would also eliminate the problem of placing attractive knobs and bits at child level!!!


Thursday, October 30, 2008

Misleading energy Adverts part 3!


Misleading and Inaccurate
Energy Saving Adverts

I thought I would share with you this comment by Patrick at

Greennav said:

You raise an interesting problem. That is that explaining complicated engineering issues is not possible in the sound bite world we live in. Another ad they have tells people not to run the washing machine between 5 and 7, but I imagine 9/10 people don't understand why.

So what is the solution? (Not rhetorically... I'm really asking that question)


Hi Patrick, Thank you for your comment. I agree that there is a difficulty here. IMHO the solution is simple. Use properly directed advertising. People are not stupid and will learn fast where money is involved. If they are told that they are losing money by incorrectly setting their heating - the message will stick.

SEI and between them have some very well paid executives who's job it is to think up this stuff. I am sure, in this case, you would agree that they are not doing a very good job.


Misleading energy Adverts Addendum


Energy Saving Adverts
Important Addendum

There is one item I did not stress which is of major importance. This has to do with how your room thermostat is wired to the boiler. In many cases the room stat directly controls the boiler - if this is so in your case, it is a mistake by the plumbers or installers and should be rectified.

It is of prime importance that the room thermostat controls ONLY the circulating pump or solenoid valve. In that way the core temperature of the boiler is maintained, while the flow of hot water to the radiators is switched on and off as needed.


Misleading Energy Adverts


Energy Saving Adverts

Do you know all those adverts on TV the newspapers etc. telling you to turn down the thermostat and save energy and the environment?? Well - those adverts are quite misleading in many cases.

Why so are the adverts misleading?

The energy saving adverts are misleading because they do not tell you that turning down your oil fired boiler's thermostat will:

1. Make the boiler less efficient,
2. It will shorten the life of the boiler, and
3. And it will add to the build-up of dirt in the flue-ways of the boiler making it necessary to service it more often.
4. The lower water temperatures will make your radiators much less efficient also.

I should know I serviced many hundreds of boilers and the folks who kept the stat way down had much dirtier boilers and very often those boilers strung leaks due to the cold returning water in circulation. (There should be a hot water feed-back loop near the boiler in any case).

So what should you do then?

The thermostat to turn down is NOT the boiler thermostat which is usually situated right on the boiler unit. Instead the one to turn down is the thermostatic control which controls the room temperature. The room stat is usually NOT on or even near the boiler but situated in the rooms or hallway.

So maybe you would phone SEI and and tell them to make these facts a bit clearer for the ordinary person to fully understand?


Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Massive Energy Saving Small Cost



Shout Out Loud

If Ireland was to fit fireplace doors to just a quarter of the open fires in the country, it would save twice or maybe three time the energy that all the fancy "geo-thermal", "wood-pellet", and "solar water heater" systems to date put together would save in a year. Additionally, the effort would generate jobs and have a lasting benefit for many years to come. All the fancy SEI grants systems have cost the country countless millions and the overall benefit in energy savings against capital expenditure is not great.

Fireplace doors only cost a couple of hundred Euro including fitting and they would save vast amounts of energy every year for many years to come.

Open fire are here for some time yet.

Open fires are not going to go out of fashion any time soon in Ireland. In fact, they are still the primary and in many cases, the only, heating source for a large chunk of the population.

Both the cost and complexity of fitting fireplace doors is minimal - the saving on fuel is a minimum of 50%. In some cases there would be a 75% advantage.

But do you think that SEI, or any Government agency, representative or minister will ever listen to the idea or think about it???

I know I don't qualify to be listened to but ...

I guess that I have to accept that I do not have the qualifying set of fancy letters after my name, nor do I have the gravitas of a Dublin 4 address, or wear an Armani business suit (or any suit for that matter), nor do I have the €100,000 a year government salary and guaranteed pension that would put me in a position of authority, not do I have cozy chats in fancy pubs with Government ministers, or any other qualifying attributes, so I guess my calls, shouts, and pleas to Government to look seriously at this idea will be ignored. So shut up and go home!

End of rant.

Thanks for listening.


Friday, October 17, 2008

Need for Revised Fuel Price League-Table


Coal Prices
are now the
Big Rip-Off

Back in July I stuck my neck out a bit by suggesting to my readers that they not rush out and buy heating oil at the current greatly inflated prices.

As it so happens, oil which then peaked at $147 a barrel, has subsequently fallen to $70 a barrel today's quoted price, less than half the price of the July peak. Heating oil went to €823 per 1000 litres, today's price listed by Emo Oil for Limerick is €632. That is a massive 23% down from the peak price. No doubt it will go lower again in the short term.

If more people held out against price hikes, the hikes would end sooner. The housing bubble was caused in part by people willing to pay the hugely inflated prices. I bet some of you are now kicking yourselves that you didn't hold out a bit longer on the heating oil and save yourself €200 or more!!

Coal and Other Fuels Piggy-backed on Oil.

Coal, gas, peat and wood fuels all piggybacked up on the price of oil. The oil has since come down substantially but the coal, gas and peat briquettes have all stayed at the higher prices. In fact coal has continued to go up in price. It went up by almost another 6% on the July price. Prior to July last smokeless coal was selling at €400 per tonne or €16 for a 40 Kg bag. The coal importers then opportunistically pumped up the price by a whopping 12.5% - literally overnight purely piggybacking on the price of oil, and more recently by a further 6% hike added insult to injury.

Irish Coal Importers are Price Gougers!

Coal has continued rise in price, it is currently selling at €19 for a 40 kg bag of smokeless coal. That works out at €475 per tonne. The coal merchants are really coining it and I would now categorise them as opportunistic Rip-Off merchants. I would refuse to buy coal at the current price on principle.

Need for a Revised Heating League Table.

All of these price rises seriously affect my league table of fuels. I hasten to add that the table is simply based on the "Raw Kilowatt" energy output of each fuel. It does not take into account the relative efficiency of the boiler etc.

With oil prices now falling rapidly, a condensing oil boiler at 92% efficiency is possibly the best value for money, but don't expect oil to stay low, it is a dwindling resource!

I intend to have a go at a revised Fuel league Table in a few days time.


Tuesday, October 14, 2008


Madonna and Child
Could this be you and your child?


This current financial crisis or global financial meltdown as it has recently been termed – I ask myself; what is causing it? IMHO it is essentially it is caused by DISHONESTY - GREED and SPECULATION. The mega-rich are getting richer on the backs of the poor and starving.

The situation begs the question; has the human race progressed at all since the time of the cave man? I think not. Sure, we have technology and sophistication, or perhaps sophistry would be a better term to use, but we totally lack the moral and spiritual insight needed to run the machines of society. We are attempting to operate a modern world using caveman laws of “the law of the jungle”. The only palpable evidence of change in human society in a million years, is that we have found more sophisticated means of subjugating, robbing and killing one another.

There is plenty in this world to go around but the power hungry, greedy and dishonest aim to claim it all for themselves. That hasn’t changed and will not change unless the world collectively finds a different set of rules. We need a new instruction manual for our world.

Isn’t it about time that the world acted as one nation and treated all the people as children of that nation. Isn’t time for a proper “United Nations” with a global police force and an anti-fraud squad, or would that be a vice squad, capable of banning commodity speculation, arms dealing, etc., and powerful enough to jail the players for robbing and causing starvation and death by their actions?

The financial meltdown is forcing a somewhat child-like attempt at unified action but only in money matters. The talk surrounding the action is heavily loaded with words like ethics, transparency, and accountability. If similar worldwide co-operative actions could be taken in dealing with crime, dictators and warlords, and the other myriad problems facing us, there might actually be some hope for the future of humanity!

(If I break any copyright by using the above photo I sincerely apologise and will remove it immediately if so notified)




Saturday, October 11, 2008

Poverty is only an Imbalance


is really only

This post is my bit for "blog action day" which this year aims to focus attention on POVERTY. I am posting a few days early rather than get caught the last minute. This post can also be classified as one of my rants, it is one rant I make no apology whatsoever for.


Chinese philosophy is greatly bound up with the idea of “balance”. The Yin Yang symbol is one of the most widespread logos in the world – it is all about balance of the opposites.

We live in a very imbalanced world, where half the 3 billion inhabitants live on less than $2 a day. Yet there are over 100 BILLIONAIRES (that is $1,000,000,000 in the bank) in the USA. And what do they spend their money on?

Get him a Gulfstream Jet with that spare $40 million

A private jet maybe the Gulfstream-V (G-V), which retails for around $40 million. One guy bought 13 separate ranches. It’s like Imelda Marcos and her thousands of pairs of shoes – how many can you wear at any time?

Perfect for a Rich Prick

And then there are the not so mega rich that just want to lord it over everyone else and act the complete prick - the rich low-lifes that will happily buy a $1000 programme for the iPhone that does nothing except say they are rich – I have a feeling that God does not easily forgive this sort of prodigal son!

Nearly a third of the world’s population (1 billion people) are unable to read a book or sign their names. Yet - less than 1% of what is spent on weapons of war and destruction would educate every child in the world. 29,000+ children under 5 years of age affected by poverty die every day.

Betting shops for the rich.

In a way I am very happy to see the world economic crisis happening. It is, I hope, a salutary lesson to the financial world that it needs to consider adopting a strict code of ethics and morals. Greed, and nothing but greed, has caused this world crisis. Greedy banks, greedy equity markets, greedy individuals - no apologies offered to anyone!!!

Think about this: The rich and the super-rich betting on the price of an essential commodity can cause poor people to die of hunger - I wonder if these speculators or their agents could ever be tried for murder?

The Great Wall of China.

Shanghai skyline makes Manhattan look cheap

China today is a good example of a society which is going quickly into serious imbalance. On the one hand you have China emerging as the new high-power economy and making a big splash with the Olympics. The skylines in some of China’s cities these days make Manhattan look cheap.

China's Bang Bang Hotels are not 5 Star!!!

But China has a very dark underbelly and is IMHO heading fast down the road towards yet another revolution. China’s runaway economy is built on the back of some of the most serious and unjust social imbalance anywhere in our world.

Super-rich and super-poor live on the same patch. The haves have it all – while the Bang-Bang men or migrant workers live in appalling slums, without rights, medical care, insurance, or even basic safety where they work for a pittance.

Yin Yang and the Great Wall now Dividing China

China and the rest of the world may be forced to seek a better balance, the financial crisis now gripping the world is a symptom of the disease. There is a fair chance that the patient could die if the balance of Yin and Yang is not redressed sometime soon.


Friday, October 10, 2008

Born Again - Ban the Bulb


Born Again
Ban the Bulb Policy

Stalled plans to ban traditional filament bulbs are to now (hopefully) go ahead at long last - hip – hip – hooray!!!

Minister for the Environment John Gormley’s, multi-paged, and no doubt expensive "bright idea" will hopefully this time actually see daylight. The plan is to phase out the sale of filament bulbs in four stages.

Starting next March all filament bulbs with a rating of 75watts or over will be banned from sale.

I applaud this "better late than never" move. I just hope that this time the light will work!!


Sunday, October 05, 2008

Hearth and Home


Fireplace Doors
A Very Good Idea for Ireland

As part of a real-world and practical approach to addressing the energy crisis, I am proposing that the Irish Government, and SEI its agency, take on the idea of fitting fireplace doors to every open fire in the country!!

20% of Irish homes do not have central heating, a large proportion of these use open fires. Additionally, many home with central heating use an open fire as a secondary source of heat. Doubling or trebling the efficiency of all of these fires would therefore be a practical approach to energy efficiency.

Fireplace doors, in a simple form and design, could be very cheaply produced in Ireland. The work of production and fitting would provide much needed employment in metal fabrication industries etc.

I have included a number of photographs in this post of commercially available fireplace doors to give you some idea of what is actually involved.

The government promoting and grant aiding the fitting of these doors would be at once a massive, practical, and inexpensive investment in our energy efficiency drive.

What are Fireplace Doors and what do they do?

A fireplace door is a common part of an open fire in the USA. They perform several very useful functions.

1. By controlling the amount of air being sucked up the chimney, it helps cut down the loss of heat. Open fireplaces can lose over 80% or four fifths of the heat up the chimney to warm the crows!!! A fireplace door can reduce this heat loss substantially. It will reduce the directly radiated heat by a relatively small amount. But if the fire has a back boiler, the addition of the fire-front doors will substantially increase the heat going into the boiler and thus to the radiators.

2. By controlling the amount of air and oxygen, the fire will burn in a more controlled and efficient way and the fuel burns for longer.

3. Fire-front doors make an open fire much safer in almost every respect. The danger of falling coals or sparks is totally eliminated, and the danger of a child or elderly person falling into the fire is equally eliminated.

4. The doors will also reduce smoke and dirt being released into the room. Better for health and hygiene, and also lowers the re-decorating costs.

5. When the fire is not lit the doors will reduce draughts caused by the suction of the chimney.

What are they made of?

Fireplace doors are generally made with steel or stainless steel frames and tempered glass windows. Tempered glass is heat resistant and is much safer and stronger than ordinary glass. The frame has to be a good fit in the existing fire opening; any gaps need to be sealed to air tightness using fireproof materials such as fibreglass and fire cement.

Fireplace doors commonly have adjustable vents to control the air intake to the fire allowing the rate of burn of the fire to be controlled. This is very useful as it prevents waste of fuel. These vents need to be kept at least partially open. Otherwise the fire would be starved of oxygen.

What are the benefits?

Properly installed fireplace doors can substantially increase the energy efficiency of any house with an open fire. Essentially, they will save money and make a house more comfortable. Correct fitting is of the essence, as poorly fitted doors will not control the flow of air properly and therefore will have little effect on the burn rate of the fire.

Safety is another major advantage of these doors. If every home had them fitted, there would be a reduction in the number of household accidents.

Types, Design and Price?

The design is basic, glass fronted airtight doors fitted with an adjustable vent; the rest is a matter of taste.

Each door would need to be sized to the individual fireplace that would depend on the measurements. There are a number of ready-made options on the US market. A few manufacturers are starting to offer models in the UK.

Price? Anything from $60 in the US for a basic design DIY kit. Fancy stainless steel designs could run to €700 or a lot more. The fitting should be no more than a couple of hours work by a competent handyman costing anywhere from €100 - €200. Many would be able to fit them on a DIY basis.

End Word

All I can say at this point is that I hope the government runs with this one and does a bit of forward planning and something to stop the price gougers before it starts. It would be nice to think we could avoid a fiasco like the wood-pellet cock-up by SEI.


Effective Energy Efficiency in Eire


Irish Government
Some Incorrect Emphasis in its
Energy Efficiency Drive?

There are currently some 1.5 million dwellings in Ireland.
Approximately 570,000 homes were built before 1970.
Some 1.1 million built before 1991. ESRI

These older houses, for the most part, do not have a high level of insulation or high efficiency heating systems.

20% of Irish homes do not have central heating. Many with central heating additionally use fires for heating.

Few New Houses will be built.

The number of new buildings being currently started is greatly reduced on previous years and the outlook for the foreseeable future is that the number of start-ups will further reduce. The emphasis therefore being placed by the government and its agencies on encouraging energy efficiency in new dwellings is becoming less and less practical.

Efforts Need to Focus on Older Homes.

The work effort and money should therefore be put into making the 66.6% of older homes more energy efficient. This could be cheaply and effectively be accomplished in a few simple moves.

1. Attic insulation in older homes needs serious upgrading. Encourage it by price fixing and grants.
2. CFL and LED lighting. Grasp the nettle and ban incandescent bulbs and make the new lighting VAT free and grant aided. The energy savings would be huge and lasting.
3. All open fires should have fireplace doors fitted, or be replaced by closed inserts or stoves. Fireplace doors are very cheap and easily fitted. A whole new small industry could be supported here giving employment. But the costs and quality need monitoring from the outset.

I will discuss Fireplace Doors in the next post.


Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Gormley - New Minister for Hardship?


Gormley and "Experts"
Flogging a Dead Horse?

John Gormley has yet again introduced some more proposed anti-citizen measures constructed by “Experts” - these "new" measures are aimed at "reducing Ireland's greenhouse gas". emissions.

OMG - Here we are presented with yet another THICK as in FAT - 170-pages, and THICK, as in STUPID, document from the Dublin based “Expert” think-tankers - 60 of 'em, at the Institute of International and European Affairs (IIEA). I wonder how much per page this one cost us???

The "Report" suggests making life even more difficult for beleaguered motorists with fuel tax on already crazy prices and even more parking restrictions.

The new proposals include:

1. Upping the price of indispensable and essential fuels even further. It will soon be more viable to stay at home and draw the dole!!
2 Make parking even more of a nightmare by charging even more. Another reason to stay home!!!
3 Workplace parking levies and discounts to those using public transport – if there was public transport to use – where do these guys think we live?????
4 A GOOD SUGGESTION The immediate abolition of VRT and motor tax on all electric vehicles.
5 ONE OK SUGGESTION that all new buildings to be "carbon neutral" by 2020.

But What About?

Not having access to the actual "document" I don't know exactly what it does or doesn't contain, I am going on the current news headlines.

I would consider the following measures of prime importance and of immediate practical use in reducing carbon emissions and saving on imported fuel - but do they get a mention??
  • Does CFL and LED lighting get into the "expert" document?
  • Do attic insulation grants get a mention.
  • Micro-generation - grant aided and VAT free – is it in this tome?
  • Grant aided (and VAT free) installation of closed multi-fuel wood stoves and “fire fronts” do these practical measures get covered??
Experts? - give them a shovel!


Monday, September 22, 2008

Wood Stove in a Wood part 3


This Post is dedicated to
"No See Ums"
Blood Sucking Nano-Monsters

The Dreaded Midges

As I told you in the last post, the problem on the day proved to be the blood sucking Nano-Monsters which attacked in very large numbers.

However we persevered and drilled the hole for the flue, installed the flue insulating jacket, sealed against the weather (and bugs), installed the flue itself with home-made brackets, and even made a flue cap from the cats drinking bowl!!! All this was done in double quick time - we only lost a couple of pints of blood!!!!

You can clearly see the sealing and the brackets here

We badly needed to replace the lost blood and sweat, so the new stove was pressed into immediate practical use - to boil the kettle and make the tea of course.

Polly put the kettle on!

Thankfully all worked well and there was no need to call the fire service. Only problem experienced was the burn-off of the paint the stove was coated with. This took a couple of hours and needed plenty of ventilation.

Our home-made triple walled flue through the caravan wall proved itself and temperatures were moderate on the outer skin. While you would not care to leave your hand there, it stayed comparatively cool posing no danger to the wall fabric.

Heat output and Efficiency?

Heat - yes plenty of it in no time at all. From such a tiny stove there was a very good heat output, way beyond what one would expect.

Efficiency? Hard to say without specialist testing. If we had put the flue running up the inside of the caravan no doubt the efficiency would be better, but that was too difficult an option to consider.

The finished flue with smoke rising around the cat's bowl cowl. You can get a glimpse of the wood and the really lovely countryside.

Thanks to "Polly", the pioneering owner and tea maker, who allowed the whole thing to be photographed, and no thanks to the midges who left their mark for many days!!


A note on the stove since writing this piece. The firebox of the stove is obviously tiny - like the stove itself. This however is a disadvantage because the fire will not stay burning for long without being re-fuelled. In fact it needs re-fuelling, when burning wood, every 40 minutes or so. With peat or coal it will go for longer.  A larger stove on peat or coal could give heat for most of the night - but not this little baby. This little stove would keep you busy constantly. Feed me - feed me now!!