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Canal boats’ green image goes up in smoke


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Narrowboats on the Shropshire and Union canal at Wheaton Aston in Staffordshire. Photograph: Gary Calton/The Observer

 

I enjoyed the article on narrowboating (After five years on a narrowboat, I’ve finally reached the end of the canal network, 17 February), as a regular walker of canal towpaths (and also hailing from north-west Lancashire). But the picture of the author relaxing in front of his wood-burning stove reminded me that this is the heating method of choice for most canal boat owners, so I suppose that those of them who are regular Guardian readers will still be agonising over another recent article (Wood-burning stoves largely offset fall in particulate pollution from roads in UK, 14 February).

 

And, given that most canal boats are powered by diesel engines, are there any words of comfort and advice that you can offer them now that their green transport credentials have taken another knock?

 

Canal boats’ green image goes up in smoke (msn.com)

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How did the author ascertain that the stove was actually wood burning, I would have thought it was more likely burning solid fuel.

 

I suspect that if you compare the energy costs for an average home plus at least one car with a live aboard boat, the home probably uses more energy.

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25 minutes ago, Tony Brooks said:

I suspect that if you compare the energy costs for an average home plus at least one car with a live aboard boat, the home probably uses more energy.

 

I'd say the average small house uses a load more energy than a narrowboat, but that energy costs less than the energy we buy for our boats. So comparing energy costs rather than kWhs disguises the fact that narrowboats use less energy as a dwelling, than a house. 

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7 minutes ago, MtB said:

 

I'd say the average small house uses a load more energy than a narrowboat, but that energy costs less than the energy we buy for our boats. So comparing energy costs rather than kWhs disguises the fact that narrowboats use less energy as a dwelling, than a house. 

 

I agree, but cost is what is the most obvious, and from what I paid out when boating and now at home I think the cost comparison still stands up. Although, it understates the difference in energy use. I am not sure how many are able or willing to convert the cost of fuel and gas for the boat to kWhs. I bet the author of that piece did not.

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4 hours ago, Arthur Marshall said:

Not sure that we ever had a "green image" after the invention of the diesel engine.

There are many London boaters that believe that they are green burning wood and living in a boat. One got particularly abusive when I pointed out that burning wood wasn't "green" and E-coal was better for the planet. Accused me of destroying the planet by living in a house 😱

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23 minutes ago, GUMPY said:

There are many London boaters that believe that they are green burning wood and living in a boat. One got particularly abusive when I pointed out that burning wood wasn't "green" and E-coal was better for the planet. Accused me of destroying the planet by living in a house 😱

On a bag of E-coal it says that it's made of 50% renewable materials, and their website doesn't say what the other 50 % is. I think I'll carry on using wood from local woodlands.

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44 minutes ago, Stilllearning said:

On a bag of E-coal it says that it's made of 50% renewable materials, and their website doesn't say what the other 50 % is. I think I'll carry on using wood from local woodlands.

Hopefully those downwind of you enjoy breathing particulates😱 it's as bad as the exhaust from a diesel car.

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13 minutes ago, GUMPY said:

Hopefully those downwind of you enjoy breathing particulates😱 it's as bad as the exhaust from a diesel car.

It's not going to affect the nearby boaters, as they are above the level of the emissions. Standard practice from coal fired power stations.

I use kiln dried logs and excell, I'm more worried about my own lungs than those of passerbies.

It will be an issue in city centres packed with boats and surrounded by mass population. There are areas where pollution levels are low, but jobs tend to be sparse.

Edited by LadyG
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2 hours ago, MtB said:

 

I'd say the average small house uses a load more energy than a narrowboat, but that energy costs less than the energy we buy for our boats. So comparing energy costs rather than kWhs disguises the fact that narrowboats use less energy as a dwelling, than a house. 

I did a little work on this a couple of years ago

 

My annual usage - continuous cruiser, full-time liveaboard (one plus partner about 50%).

Electricity - 360 kwh (90% solar, rest by-product of engine whilst moving)

Gas - 1,200 kwh (7ish 13kg propane bottles)

Coal -  7,200 kwh (32ish bags of smokeless)

Diesel - 3,600 kwh (360ish litres)

 

Average UK house (from some govt website, can't remember which one)

Electricty - 3,000 kwh

Gas - 12,000 kwh

 

So the boat's not too far off the house, especially for heating, presumably because of the crap insulation/stove inefficency/infinite heat sink underneath.  But the diesel isn't directly comparable to anything really due to differing lifestyles and transport needs....

 

In the couple of years since I did that calculation, I've almost halved the gas usage by switching to lithium batteries and increasing my solar output/usage by 150kwh - which also shows how inefficient gas cookers are compared to induction hobs.

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1 hour ago, GUMPY said:

Hopefully those downwind of you enjoy breathing particulates😱 it's as bad as the exhaust from a diesel car.

With a population density of 64/sq kilometre in the commune, in a department with an average density of 67/sq kilometre, I'm not worried for any of my neighbour's health.

Added info: the department has about 375000 population, of which 50% live in one city. So the average density of population outside of our little town is very low indeed.

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1 hour ago, GUMPY said:

Hopefully those downwind of you enjoy breathing particulates😱 it's as bad as the exhaust from a diesel car.

 

Point of Order...

 

Particulates from burning wet wood are not threatening the planet, they are only threatening the human beans living on it.

 

Also I disagree with that boater claiming you living in a house is destroying the planet. That's just hyperbole. I think the planet will survive humans burning fossil fuels perfectly well. Its the humans that might not survive. 

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34 minutes ago, Stilllearning said:

With a population density of 64/sq kilometre in the commune, in a department with an average density of 67/sq kilometre, I'm not worried for any of my neighbour's health.

Added info: the department has about 375000 population, of which 50% live in one city. So the average density of population outside of our little town is very low indeed.

PM2.5 pollution from woodburners is a big health problem in urban areas, especially in the UK where the number is still increasing as a "lifetstyle" choice -- and in these areas woodburners are now the biggest source of PM2.5 pollution, bigger than roads or industry. Current estimate is that the added death toll due to PM2.5 pollution is more than 30000 deaths per year in the UK, which puts it well up the list of biggest killers -- and it's avoidable since nobody in urban areas *needs* to burn wood. That's what all the fuss is about, and why legislation to ban wood burning in urban areas is almost certain -- and it's equally likely that this will apply to boaters as well as householders.

 

Outside urban areas -- in the countryside, boats outside towns -- PM2.5 from woodburners poses a much smaller health hazard and there's no reason to ban them, especially since in some cases it's the only cheap source of fuel -- and it is "green". Doesn't mean the UK government won't ban them everywhere because it's easier to administer and they're feeling lazy though... 😞

 

And before someone trots out the tired old "We've been burning wood for centuries and it never did no harm!" trope -- that's true in the countryside, and until recently (lifestyle!) very few people in towns burned wood, and the health hazards of invisible PM2.5 particles have only come to light in the last few years. Just because we used to do lots of things that we didn't know were lethal (asbestos, leaded fuel, smoking...) doesn't mean we should carry on doing them now we know better... 😉

Edited by IanD
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1 hour ago, DaveP said:

I did a little work on this a couple of years ago

 

My annual usage - continuous cruiser, full-time liveaboard (one plus partner about 50%).

Electricity - 360 kwh (90% solar, rest by-product of engine whilst moving)

Gas - 1,200 kwh (7ish 13kg propane bottles)

Coal -  7,200 kwh (32ish bags of smokeless)

Diesel - 3,600 kwh (360ish litres)

 

Average UK house (from some govt website, can't remember which one)

Electricty - 3,000 kwh

Gas - 12,000 kwh

 

So the boat's not too far off the house, especially for heating, presumably because of the crap insulation/stove inefficency/infinite heat sink underneath.  But the diesel isn't directly comparable to anything really due to differing lifestyles and transport needs....

 

In the couple of years since I did that calculation, I've almost halved the gas usage by switching to lithium batteries and increasing my solar output/usage by 150kwh - which also shows how inefficient gas cookers are compared to induction hobs.

 

But actually, you can't really compare absolute figures because you're not comparing like for like. Since the average house is much larger than your boat and can accommodate more people, the boat is actually much worse than the house per m3. Living on a boat is not a green lifestyle at all - whatever that vague term means.

Edited by blackrose
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23 minutes ago, IanD said:

PM2.5 pollution from woodburners is a big health problem in urban areas, especially in the UK where the number is still increasing as a "lifetstyle" choice -- and in these areas woodburners are now the biggest source of PM2.5 pollution, bigger than roads or industry. Current estimate is that the added death toll due to PM2.5 pollution is more than 30000 deaths per year in the UK, which puts it well up the list of biggest killers -- and it's avoidable since nobody in urban areas *needs* to burn wood. That's what all the fuss is about, and why legislation to ban wood burning in urban areas is almost certain -- and it's equally likely that this will apply to boaters as well as householders.

 

Outside urban areas -- in the countryside, boats outside towns -- PM2.5 from woodburners poses a much smaller health hazard and there's no reason to ban them, especially since in some cases it's the only cheap source of fuel -- and it is "green". Doesn't mean the UK government won't ban them everywhere because it's easier to administer and they're feeling lazy though... 😞

 

And before someone trots out the tired old "We've been burning wood for centuries and it never did no harm!" trope -- that's true in the countryside, and until recently (lifestyle!) very few people in towns burned wood, and the health hazards have only come to light in the last few years. Just because we used to do lots of things that we didn't know were lethal (asbestos, leaded fuel, smoking...) doesn't mean we should carry on doing them now we know better... 😉

 

I think you will be proved correct when the ban on woodburning (maybe even all solid fuel?) in urban areas comes in. 
Does the ULEZ affect boats in London now or is that just for car emmissions? Can't see the NBTA accepting £12 per day to burn wood. Fortunately we live in the moors and when we cruise in summer we don't use the stove, but I can see issues ahead for boat diesel engines and central heating units as the government forces the green agenda upon us. Ingnoring of course the 18000 planes emitting crap at any one time and the pollution from destroying Ukraine and Gaza. @MtB is absolutely on the money. The planet will survive long after us beans have killed ourselves off for a quick profit. I wonder how long nature would take to reverse global warming? 

 

PS Was going to say "Can't see the NBTA accepting £12 per day to burn wood and move to the next bridge" but they don't move do they? 😆

 

 

 

Edited by Midnight
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15 minutes ago, Midnight said:

 

I think you will be proved correct when the ban on woodburning (maybe even all solid fuel?) in urban areas comes in. 
Does the ULEZ affect boats in London now or is that just for car emmissions? Can't see the NBTA accepting £12 per day to burn wood. Fortunately we live in the moors and when we cruise in summer we don't use the stove, but I can see issues ahead for boat diesel engines and central heating units as the government forces the green agenda upon us. Ingnoring of course the 18000 planes emitting crap at any one time and the pollution from destroying Ukraine and Gaza. @MtB is absolutely on the money. The planet will survive long after us beans have killed ourselves off for a quick profit. I wonder how long nature would take to reverse global warming? 

 

PS Was going to say "Can't see the NBTA accepting £12 per day to burn wood and move to the next bridge" but they don't move do they? 😆

 

 

IIRC smokeless fuel has much lower PM2.5 emissions than burning wood, and unlike the "lifestyle woodburners" there are still some houses which don't have another source of heat -- so the reason for banning smokeless is less compelling, and the reasons against banning it are stronger. Doesn't mean the government won't do it, but I expect they'll go for woodburners first as the easy -- and justifiable! -- target.

 

Don't confuse global pollution causing climate change -- from all reasons, including planes and cars -- from local pollution causing health problems. They both need addressing, but PM2.5 pollution is killing people today right here, CO2 will kill lots more but globally and in future. Despairing that we're not doing enough to stop climate change is in no way a reason to not bother doing anything about PM2.5...

Edited by IanD
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Real world energy figures 3 bed detached house

 

2022

Electricity

Import 1009kWh

Export 2703kWh

Gas 13228kWh

 

2023

Electricity

Import 1051kWh

Export 2624kWh

Gas 12278kWh

 

 energy consumed

2022: 11534kWh     2023: 10705kWh

 

2024 gas consumption should be less than 2023 so far its looking that way.

 

 

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47 minutes ago, bizzard said:

Fresh air is bad for you. Leave the lid off a jar of jam or a tin of beans and let the fresh air in and they go bad.

 

This is mainly only true if you are a jar of jam or a tin of beans.

 

 

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1 hour ago, IanD said:

And before someone trots out the tired old "We've been burning wood for centuries and it never did no harm!" trope -- that's true in the countryside, and until recently (lifestyle!) very few people in towns burned wood, and the health hazards of invisible PM2.5 particles have only come to light in the last few years. Just because we used to do lots of things that we didn't know were lethal (asbestos, leaded fuel, smoking...) doesn't mean we should carry on doing them now we know better... 😉

Coal burning in town was rare before industrialisation got going. People burned mostly wood instead for heat and cooking. The particulates from wood burning were no doubt as bad for health as they are now, but all the other perils of urban living, plague, cholera, assorted STD's, murder, would get you long before your lungs gave out.

An odd little footnote. Cooking pots used to be very expensive, before cheap iron was smelted from coal. Cooking pots used on wood lasted many decades and were passed down the family. Cast iron cooking pots used on coal corroded out in a few years, so coal only became practical to cook on when coal also made iron cheap enough to make cooking pots a consumable.

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1 minute ago, Jen-in-Wellies said:

Coal burning in town was rare before industrialisation got going. People burned mostly wood instead for heat and cooking. The particulates from wood burning were no doubt as bad for health as they are now, but all the other perils of urban living, plague, cholera, assorted STD's, murder, would get you long before your lungs gave out.

An odd little footnote. Cooking pots used to be very expensive, before cheap iron was smelted from coal. Cooking pots used on wood lasted many decades and were passed down the family. Cast iron cooking pots used on coal corroded out in a few years, so coal only became practical to cook on when coal also made iron cheap enough to make cooking pots a consumable.

I have and still use a proper cast iron frying pan, it's better than so called non stick. It's heavy and has been in constant use since 1945. It was a wedding present for my parents. Mainly used on a proper old stove but last forty years ISH on a gas stove. You simply cannot buy stuff like this in 2024.

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5 hours ago, Tony Brooks said:

How did the author ascertain that the stove was actually wood burning,

 

I would imagine he just assumed it based on this phrase in the article:

 

"the picture of the author relaxing in front of his wood-burning stove"

 

 

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12 minutes ago, Jen-in-Wellies said:

Coal burning in town was rare before industrialisation got going. People burned mostly wood instead for heat and cooking. The particulates from wood burning were no doubt as bad for health as they are now, but all the other perils of urban living, plague, cholera, assorted STD's, murder, would get you long before your lungs gave out.

An odd little footnote. Cooking pots used to be very expensive, before cheap iron was smelted from coal. Cooking pots used on wood lasted many decades and were passed down the family. Cast iron cooking pots used on coal corroded out in a few years, so coal only became practical to cook on when coal also made iron cheap enough to make cooking pots a consumable.

The first bit is of course true if you go back far enough, but before industrialisation and massive population growth towns were much smaller -- and since coal/industrialisation happened, very little wood was burned in the new bigger towns and cities (because there wasn't any available), hence the pea-soupers -- which almost entirely disappeared after the Clean Air Act stopped most coal-burning.

 

The recent rise in woodburners in towns -- the main cause of rising urban PM2.5 levels -- is pretty much entirely down to the "cosy lifestyle" brigade, and they're still being sold and installed in large numbers on this basis... 😞

Edited by IanD
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