About five years ago, I went to a Historic Houses Association conference about energy use in historic houses. The key message from the conference was that weather would become more ‘eventful’. Wetter rain. Dryer dry spells etc. Their point was that we should get prepared, belt and braces, investing in the infrastructure necessary to cope with such events. On an estate like St Clere ‘getting prepared’ takes a huge investment, and it isn’t something that can be gone into lightly, but failing to act is sometime more expensive still.
First, we looked at the energy use across the estate to keep warm in cold times. Every pound spent on keeping heat IN, is worth at least two pounds paying for heating. So, loft insulation, window repairs, door seals and finally individual radiator thermostats which stopped un-used rooms at the top of the house being kept at a sauna heat because the system was trying to heat the drafty high ceilinged ground floor rooms.
Next, create energy. We now have our own beloved wood-chip boiler which has caused more problems than all my children put together, but now finally works, and we produce all our own chip and one day, in about 10-15 years, it will pay us back financially. In the meantime I have to enjoy the benefit to my conscience, rather than the bank account. We put in ground source heating at the cottage we restored in the walled garden, and hope to put another woodchip boiler at West Yaldham if we get planning for a development there. Finally, we are considering a field mounted solar panel site. We’ve found a site that we think can only be seen by one or two houses from their top floor, as it runs between the motorway and the railway line to the west of Chaucer. The best guess is that this will supply enough clean electricity to supply the whole of the St Clere Estate, plus a further 6000 or more homes in Kemsing.
After the winter and spring of 2013 I thought we’d seen the wettest we could get. Halfway up the North Downs and surely flooding shouldn’t be a problem at St Clere? But it looks like 2014 will be even wetter. Last year the wet was felt most keenly in the farm, with some crops being abandoned because we couldn’t get tractors onto fields without sinking. This year the house is bearing the brunt. The brickwork is saturated, so now when the wind and rain blows onto the house, the water blows through the body of the bricks and it rains inside. Doors and windows are swelling all around the estate, and nothing can be done about any of it until things dry out. And when it does dry out, we’ll be ready. We have our own water supply; we found the old underground water storage tank and now capture and use our own rainwater, and have come off the mains.
The weather last summer was so glorious that we forgave the miserable spring. We’re hoping that this miserable winter means this summer will be as good as last year. We’ve got the garden open on 15th June for NGS and Sevenoaks Shakespeare Society are performing Twelfth Night (we’ll be giving our proceeds to Breast Cancer Care) from 1st – 6th July. As long as the weather stays fair for those, and the various weddings and events we’re hosting this year, I’ll put up with the rain inside.