A short while back I put myself onto a new one-year fixed-price deal with SSE which was a little cheaper than the old three-year one that was coming to an end. It was dual-fuel: electricity and gas. And, by golly, I'm glad I did. The cold weather in the last couple of weeks has pushed up the wholesale price of gas. Quite a bit. And that could mean SSE (and the rest) seeking to raise their prices. If I had let the old deal run on to its natural end in May, and only then sign up for a fresh deal, almost certainly I'd have been paying more. But I won't be.
I can't claim to be prescient, or an energy-price insider. Getting onto a new deal early was just a fortunate act at the right moment. There was a principle behind it, that in the long run domestic fuels, particularly gas, are likely to get more expensive, and so one can't lose out by regularly taking new deals that hold down the monthly cost, or actually reduce it. Even a modest saving must buck the long-term trend.
In this instance it will work out nicely. But I recall doing the same thing a few years back - and it was a three year deal - that didn't go in my favour. I consoled myself with the thought that at least I could predict my monthly payments and maintain financial stability. Nobody wants excessive bills, but stable bills are a lot better than fluctuating bills - and that of course is the real advantage of all fixed-price deals. It matters especially when you are on a fixed-value income, such as a pension. You have to budget very carefully indeed, because there is no scope to match a sudden increase in expenditure with overtime, or a promotion, or a change of job, as you might if still employed.
Anyway, for the year ahead I can snap my fingers at talk of a general gas price increase on account of increased cold-weather demand. And if that is smugness, then I plead guilty m'lud.
My home isn't difficult to heat. It's a compact bungalow, so all rooms are on the ground floor, and all of them open onto the central hall. I don't have any unused rooms, and therefore no unheated rooms, apart from the conservatory.
There is double glazing throughout. The double glazing is not the newest, but it must be efficient because I can wander about scantily clad and still feel comfortable. And - another indicator of good double glazing - the inside of the house is remarkably quiet; sometimes completely silent. I might notice the sound of cars starting up outside, or the bin men doing their stuff, or power tools being used next door, or shouts from weekend football teams practicing in the park, but otherwise the house is serene and peaceful. Just how I like it! I suppose I'm wrong to say that good sound insulation equates to good heat insulation, but I can't help feeling that there is a strong connection.
I don't mess around with switching my heating on and off all the time. Experiment has revealed that - except in summer - it makes no difference to have the central heating on all day long, from 7.00am to 11.00pm, and just let the thermostat control when it fires up and tops up the warmth in all my rooms.
It's a sunny house: the front faces east, the back west, and each room in turn, including the central hall, gets its measure of warming sunshine, the lounge and conservatory at the rear most of all, right up to sunset. In fact the conservatory (which is a heat trap) can get so hot that in high summer I can't let the heat from it leak into the coolness of the house. But in early spring and late autumn, I sometimes have the two doors into the conservatory open while home, so that the pleasantly warmed-up air can circulate around the rest of the house.
Some heat undoubtedly leaks away through my attic. The insulation up there is thin and certainly not up to modern standards. But I'd have to entirely clear my attic to install new insulation material, and that clearance is a big task I am not yet in the mood to tackle. In fact it's something I'd prefer to leave until I need to have a new roof, with solar panels installed, all of which may be years away. Meanwhile I have easily-accessed storage space that never freezes. I think it's a reasonable trade-off.
Well, it's a lovely sunny day outside. Cold of course, and snow is forecast within a day or two. Snow in Sussex! Not unheard of, but a novelty all the same, and a great reason for getting wellies on and trudging out to get some magical photos, especially if the sun makes an appearance. Alas, it rarely does!
Here are some pictures from 2001 to 2013, taken in and around Ditchling, a nearby village at the foot of the South Downs. I want more shots like these!