Tuesday, 23 November 2010

By Fire and Snow

Snow is coming, although from the forecasts it doesn't seem to be getting too cold for another week or so. I've decided that I will try not to add to the photos I expect shortly in other blogs - someone cycling in the snow and someone skying (or even skiing) on the street please. My resolve may fail...

Instead, I am singing the praises of the Polish wood fire. Wood fires are something new to me as part of routine house heating, but they are completely common here. (England would run out of wood.)

I grew up with open coal fires, which were only used in the living room and dining room, plus a coal boiler in the kitchen for heating water. The dining room fire was later changed to a then modern technology, enclosed, glass fronted fire, which also heated a few radiators and the water. I remember my bedroom having ice on the the inside of the window at this time, as it did not have a radiator. Paraffin heaters and small electric fires gave additional warmth, but the basic rule was to put on a jumper. I then moved to a flat which had storage heaters. Polish people may never have heard of these, but they are basically lumps of concrete heated by cheap night-time electricity, letting out heat through the day. In my next place, I replaced a fireplace with a combined gas fire and radiator and water heater - the first time the whole house was warm on cold days.

My first Polish experience was a flat heated by radiators fed from the local heat and power plant. The heat was unbearable. At the New Year Celebrations, bottles of vodka were freezing in a supermarket shopping basket on the windowsill, but the window was open. The next place had the same system, but with thermostats on the radiators. It was still a bit hot for me, but everyone else was comfortable.

We now have the fire, which we fitted into the position prepared when the house was built. The column to the right with the ventilator hole at the top is the chimney. The fire fits to the right of that.

The fire is just a normal, not particularly expensive iron fire. What I had not realised before we had it installed, however, is how the design incorporates a radiator. The grill above the fire (normally only one) is an outlet from a large insulated box holding air heated by the fire. It acts as a short term storage device and, since the metal chimney goes through it providing additional heat, it serves as a basic heat exchanger.

I wonder whether the storage effect would have been enhanced by putting some concrete blocks in the box, like the electric storage heaters in England, but this wasn't suggested and, as far as I know, isn't normal practice. However, I feel that the traditional Polish heaters with stone surrounds must have had the same effect. The one in the middle below is a decorated corner version.

This functional one near Sztutowo, North Poland may have been of German design.

There are quite a few people around who sell wood. Last year we used over 10 square metres, whilst this year our delivery of 5sq metres so far is holding out well.

The tricky bit with the fire is to keep it burning low enough not to be to hot, but yet not go out. To pick up on a discussion elsewhere, I consider myself competent rather than proficient and nowhere near expert or master. On the other hand, I don't know anyone who does better.

The relatively easy bit is cleaning the glass, although sometimes a couple of bits on the top corners stay for a few days. The best thing I have found is Dix Professional Oven, Fireplace and Grill Cleaner. I have only now made a quick check and I think it's Polish. I can't be bothered to take a picture, so this comes from www.ceneo.pl.

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