Often times when somebody goes a little off-piste with their investments, I will make clear in the introduction that this site is for informational purposes only. It is not personal advice as to what you should do. Well, with my co-blogger apparently having gone off his rocker, I’m double underlining that today. Read on for enjoyment – but subscribe to his kind of cool at your peril!
One unfortunate development liable to banjax, derail, or otherwise severely stress-test a financial independence plan is galloping inflation and a cost of living crisis.
Oops! One minute my energy bill was a national average £1,200. The next I was being quoted north of £4,0001 as my old-skool affordable tariff expired – with me clinging on to it like Rose to a freezing Jack at the end of Titanic.
Time to dust off the emergency action plan I’d devised for precisely this scenario.
Ahh, about that…
Chapter 12: How to respond in the event of quadrupling energy costs.
I found I’d left that page curiously blank. Someone hadn’t covered off all the angles had they?
But I wasn’t entirely naked in the face of danger (and at these temperatures, thank God!)
In fact, my best way out of this, I decided, was to clothe the bejesus out of myself.
“Wouldn’t it be fun…” I said to Mrs Accumulator in that disarming way that instantly puts her on her guard.
“…if we challenged ourselves to use as little energy as possible this winter?”
Thankfully Mrs Accumulator’s action plan on “How to respond if TA turns out to be an utter nutjob” is also remarkably underdeveloped.
I mean, it’s not as if she hasn’t had fair warning.
“Yeah, alright then, Romeo,” she said.
So we set off on an adventure – like the Natural Born Killers of energy-saving.
Just how low could we go? Both on the thermostat’s dial and in terms of the social unacceptability of our chosen course?
And how many layers of thermals, fleeces, winter woollies, and the very best in technical gear would it take to live comfortably* in a house as warm as a tomb?
*Your mileage may vary.
Enter the Chillbreaker
His and Hers survival suits made everything seem possible.
Get a load of this bad boy:
Made by Refrigiwear and rocked by Americans working in industrial freezers or extreme Midwestern winters, this quilted beauty was the answer to our prayers.
Indeed I am writing to you from within its cosy confines now.
Polyester fiberfill insulation? Tick. 100% Taslon nylon 3-Ply outershell? Tick.Storm flaps for the front zippers. Double-tick!
The Chillbreaker comes in any colour you like. As long as it’s Mao’s Workers’ Paradise Blue. Guaranteed to automatically crush any attempts at individual expression or insurrection.
Excellent news! Especially as I wasn’t sure Mrs Accumulator was 100% committed. (And we might both be committed by the time this experiment is done – so that padding could come in doubly handy.)
Have I mentioned the hip length leg zippers? Perfect if you start to boil in temperatures of over 12°C, or want to give a cheeky flash of your thermals.
I know what you’re thinking.
Where can you get one of these dream-makers?
I’m glad you asked.
These babies are not available in the shops. Not in the UK at any rate.
But for a mere $110, plus shipping, import duty, VAT, and handling fee, you too can be the proud owner of your own adult romper suit.
In GBP, they cost us around £243 each. Plus some “can you ship to the UK hassle?” with US vendors.
But let’s not get bogged down in the details. The goods should pay for themselves in cubic metres of gas not burned.
So has the plan ‘worked’? (Put that in scare quotes, please – Ed.)
Do we live in an icebox sustained by our suburban space suits and balaclava helmets?
Does net zero now refer to the temperature of our house?
The icebox challenge
This was the temperature reported by my smart thermostat during the depths of the December cold snap.
The outside temperature was -8°C while inside at Chez Accumulator we were enjoying a positively balmy barmy 6.6°C.
I could tell I was still breathing because I could see it. Great gusts of exhaled air condensing into fog. Fun.
Actually somehow it was fun.
A greater challenge than living at 6.6°C will be persuading the sceptics that I’m not living in frostbitten misery and that Mrs Accumulator hasn’t left me for any dude with his thermostat set to 21.
But let’s give it a go.
A big part of what’s made this work is we set it as a challenge for ourselves. One that we’re solving together, while taking it in stages, alongside regular check-ins to make sure neither of us is hating life.
Starting in late October we rationed ourselves to two hours of heating a day in the morning.
When it’s freezing outside, our draughty old Victorian home struggles to get over 17.5°C, even with the heating on 24/7.
We’ve never been able to ponce around in T-shirts and pants in the depths of winter anyway.
In student days, we spent one winter in a flat sans central heating. And we have heard plenty of tales from boomer parents about nights spent huddled together in front of the one fire in the house.
Britons didn’t used to live in dwellings heated to 21°C. More like 12°C.
That sounds bleak by today’s standards. But we started out thinking no more ambitiously than: “Let’s find out what we can put up with. Let’s save some energy. Let’s put the money to better use than heating a house that doesn’t want to be heated.”
And we wouldn’t be eschewing all mod cons – as the short, sharp fashion parade above makes plain.
A big difference between Britain today and Britain before central heating is that most of us can now afford whatever clothing it takes to give us a personal tog-rating worthy of a double duck duvet.
Just chillin’ in my crib
The science of thermal insulation using clothing is also now widely understood. Indeed you’ll know most of it already.
The bulk of the work is done by wearing three distinct layers:
The base layer that wicks moisture away from the body. Ideally this is made from merino wool or appropriate synthetic fabrics. A thick insulating mid-layer that traps air. Think heavy wool jumpers (as worn by a fisherman) or a fleece. (Those sheep know what they’re doing).A windproof outer layer. Not needed indoors unless your windows are outrageously gappy.
There’s even a US unit of measurement of clothing insulation called the ‘clo’.
A warm clo inside
You can award every garment you’re wearing a clo rating. Add up your clo units to find out whether your outfit can handle the prevailing temperature even as your sweet backside is parked on the sofa.
That last distinction is not only a beautiful image. It’s also a crucial part of maintaining our thermal comfort zone.
Experience tells us that our 21st Century sedentary lives do not help us stay warm.
But 1 clo’s worth of clothing is enough to keep humans comfortable at 21°C while at rest.
An example of a 1 clo ensemble is a military uniform. A three piece suit – plus undies – is also worth a clo.
Interestingly, 1 clo equals 1.55 togs, which is the British unit we know and love from our duvets.
Anyway, every extra clo you wear means you can comfortably lower the temperature another 1°C. Which saves another 10% in energy use.
A superb article called Insulation: first the body then the home by Kris De Decker shows you how to use this clo-business to throw together outfits from your wardrobe that can handle any temperature.
But I didn’t do any of that.
I just kept piling on layers as the thermostat ticked down like the depth gauge in a bathysphere:
16°C – a comparative doddle.14°C – was totally bearable. I took to wearing my woolly hat indoors. 12°C – felt quite hardcore. Mrs Accumulator and I exchanged glances. Neither one of us caved. 10°C – I appeared on Zoom wearing full body bag, muffler, and hat. My mum pished herself. 8°C – I regularly popped a hot water bottle down my padded pants. If this thing burst I was done for.
Mrs Accumulator sensibly used a microwavable heat pack instead. No third-degree crotch burn danger for her.
How are we doing now? Still smiling?
I couldn’t believe it. Though we needed to adapt at every stage we were both completely comfortable.
Granted, I felt cold at times. But no more than living in this house during a normal winter – when the heating was on full blast but we didn’t think much about what to wear.
The heat pack is genius. As long as your core is warm then that good-time glow extends to your hands and feet.
We both spend too many hours tapping into keyboards (witness the waffle above.) But even that’s not a problem at 8°C when you’re inside a heated Chillbreaker.
And it’s never going to get any worse than that. Because it transpired 8°C was our minimum room temperature provided we got two hours of heating. And that on the coldest day ever recorded in my part of the world. (Right now it’s 5°C outdoors and 12°C indoors.)
You quickly adapt to a new mean temperature. (With the emphasis on the mean.) I used to feel chilly at 17.5°C. Now that temperature seems like tropical spa break luxury.
And how’s Mrs Accumulator holding up?
She just challenged me to do without our two hours of daily heating.
Back to The Good Life
I’ve told you this story for your (possible) entertainment. It’s not meant as a “Come on Britain, put your bloody backs into it!” polemic about how we’ve become a nation of softies.
I’d prefer to live in a Putin-less world of wind turbines and heat pumps keeping us all toasty. One in which the Chillbreaker remains hanging on its peg because power is too cheap to meter.
Nor do I think state-sponsored Selk’bags should be compulsory for the frail and elderly, the very young, or those with illnesses exacerbated by the cold.
If we have visitors then we don’t write “dress warm” on the invite. We crank up the heating to make everything seem ‘normal’ by the time they arrive. We get that not everyone will dig our ‘frugal casual’ look.
But you’d be mistaken if you read into this a tale of forced frugality and the folly of FIRE. We could burn the cash on heating if we wanted to.
We’ve just got better plans for it.
Take it steady,
Our annual energy bill looks like it’ll tot up to around £1,200 on the standard rate if we stick to our current regime. That’s roughly what we would have paid before the energy crisis.
Whereas our energy provider is now estimating £2,750 for the year if we opened the gas taps like it was 2021.
If anyone would like to buy a Chillbreaker, then may I recommend purchasing from Legion Safety. They were the one company I found in the US who would (a) send the goods to the UK and (b) charge a reasonable shipping cost.
Their online reviews aren’t uniformly brilliant, so I thought I was taking a chance. However, Legion’s customer service was very good. Getting the item through UK customs was straightfoward, too.
I’ll write a brief guide in the comments if anyone’s interested.
There is a French company who will ship Chillbreakers, too, but it was more expensive.
I’d also love to hear people’s thoughts on alternative outfits. Sleeping bag suits look viable. What about skiwear?
Finally, apparently the British unit of insulation, the ‘tog’, was derived from ‘togs’, the classic slang term for clothing. Togs was borrowed in turn from ‘toga’ – the Latin word for the famed Roman fashion item. Love that.
This was before the UK Government’s Energy Bills Support Scheme was announced.
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The lengths The Accumulator will go to just to avoid going back to work during a cost of living crisis. This is hardcore.
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