It’s time to come clean. I have a domestic problem – to the tune of a £3000-a-year gas bill. No, I don’t live in a huge draughty mansion, just a rather uninspiring 70s-style chalet house.
Farmers Weekly has teamed up with Rayburn to offer readers and users of our website the chance to win a fantastic new Rayburn Heatranger 600 (made by Aga), worth more than £6500.
Full details of this competition in Farmers Weekly magazine and here on FWi on Friday (25 September).
The old heating system is the main culprit for this gas bill, but my ancient gas-thirsty Aga doesn’t help. The Aga was in the house when we viewed it nine years ago and was undoubtedly one of the big draws when we bought.
The trouble is a good deal has happened since 1999. House prices have plummeted, energy costs went through the roof and we’re better informed about our responsibilities towards the environment.
Don’t get me wrong, like thousands of Farmers Weekly readers who have one, I’m still having a love affair with the Aga and it isn’t the main reason for the big gas bill. It heats the kitchen end of the house beautifully, cooks well and has other major benefits. The biggest godsend is that no cleaning is required inside the ovens no matter what is spilt. It miraculously also handles all the ironing if you simply lay newly washed clothes over the handrail.
I’m no domestic goddess and not ashamed to say that these additional time-saving features are very important. But the guilt is slowly getting the better of me.
I feel guilty over the waste of burning gas all day when the house is empty from 8am to 4pm. More importantly, I really cannot preach environmental good practice in my professional life to farmers while at home I’m wantonly ignoring it.
So when Aga invited me up to their Coalbrookdale foundry near Telford, Shropshire, I leapt at the offer. Here was an opportunity to discuss my dilemma with the experts – should I trade in my Aga for one of the company’s newer models – maybe something less luxurious but more fuel-efficient?
The trip would also give me a chance to see how Aga is moving into the era of “green” cookers after 300 years of casting iron at the Coalbrookdale site.
If you’ve never been to Coalbrookdale, it’s a great place and the area is well worth a visit.
The Aga foundry, the birthplace of the Industrial Revolution, is where Abraham Darby first smelted iron using coke. The Aga today is made in the same way by pouring molten iron into a mould to create cast iron. But these days every new Aga oven is 70% made from recycled materials and 70% of that is recyclable in the future.
WHY JANE LOVES HER AGA
A trip like this is a real treat for an Aga obsessive like me.
First, you get to see that rare thing these days – real British manufacturing at its best. Aga’s iconic design and proud British heritage make the brand instantly recognisable the moment you walk into the foundry.
Second, the full Aga tour not only includes a whistle-stop view of the more economical next-generation cookers coming on stream but takes in a couple of hours in the demonstration kitchen, where an impressive lunch was prepared using local produce.
Over lunch, Aga’s technical support manager Stephen Tull was staggered to hear about my gas bill and was confident he might be able to help with some clever new adaptations, which regulate the temperature of the cooker when not using.
GET THE MOST FROM YOUR AGA
He’s leading the development of impressive innovations to improve Aga efficiency, using low- or zero-carbon fuels and exploring use of other types of energy. Now Aga owners can programme the temperature control on certain models and save up to 30% on annual fuel bills. In fact, almost 60% of all Agas sold today are programmable, meaning they sleep when you sleep, holiday when you holiday and put their feet up while you are at work.
Like all established brands, Aga cannot afford to stand still. The recession has begun to bite in the luxury goods market.
Rayburns now outsell the traditional Aga mainly because they are more versatile as a cooker, central heating system and hot water provider and are seen as greener. Sales of the wood-burning Rayburn have really taken off in the last few years because it is viewed as better for the environment and cheaper to run.
Methane produced by anaerobic digesters, biofuels and even wind power are being explored as new energies for Aga. A major research project is also under way to test-run both Aga and Rayburns on another low carbon fuel – bio-oil – which is a mixture of cooking oil and kerosene.
Later that day, Michael Chesshire, technology director of BioGen Greenfinch, showed me an ingenious way of running a six-oven Aga on biogas produced from his own grass and anaerobic digester.
Chesshire has been experimenting with the Aga team from his nine-acre smallholding, near Worcester. He is turning grass waste into a brown sludge-like gas source by making “a soup” of grass, whey and glycerol, which is fermented and the gas piped into the kitchen.
It cuts his household energy bills massively, works superbly well and means he is self-sufficient for cooking at least. Only a handful of UK households are cooking on biogas but in China it’s used by 20 million people.
One can expect Michael Chesshire to be an early adopter of these new technologies. His company takes what everyone throws away in the food chain and uses it as fuel to make renewable energy. He works with local authorities like Shropshire District Council to turn household waste into a bio-gas to drive council vehicles, feed back into the national grid as electricity and offer to farmers as a nutrient rich bio fertiliser. It’s clever recycling, saves money and has obvious environmental benefits.
Sadly, I don’t have an anaerobic digester at home so cannot solve the gas consumption problem by producing my own biogas, but it is a good energy solution for farmers in the future.
|FAMOUS AGA OWNERS|
After an interesting day, I came to the conclusion that I’d never want to be without an Aga or Rayburn, but I may replace mine with a newer model. It turns out that mine is 25 years old and has the wrong flue to be adapted as a programmable oven.
Fact is, though, for a lot of people an Aga home need not cost any more to run or use any more energy than a standard home with radiators or underfloor heating. And I know one thing though: For me, a house wouldn’t ever really feel like a home unless it had one.
Suzie Paton: Our Aga is a way of life
I started my relationship with my Aga eight years ago when I moved into the family farm.
Initially, I viewed the blue shiny solid piece of cast-iron and chrome with some trepidation. How was I ever going to learn how to cook on something with no dials? Everyone knows that the Aga has long been associated with good food, so I was also excited at the prospect that this beautiful oven was going to turn me into a proper farmer’s wife, enabling me to create endless culinary delights.
Since then, my Aga and I have managed to feed cooked breakfasts to B&B guests, lunch to family plus extras, hungry children at tea time, Sunday lunch for the extended family, small dinner parties and large celebrations.
The beauty of the range is that it’s so easy to use and versatile. From baking, frying, grilling, stewing, toasting, simmering, steaming, roasting to stir-frying, everything can be done in one place. This means whatever chaos the children are creating behind you, you can quickly produce the hot meal Jamie Oliver would approve of.
It sits in the corner of my kitchen – warm, reliable and at all times ready for action.
I prefer to use it as a slow cooker. Meat and stock are left to cook overnight, potatoes and veg are added the next day and hey presto, a perfect lunchtime stew.
For those of us with little time, an Aga needs little maintenance, and its ovens are self-cleaning. Essential for the resident caffeine addicts and unexpected visitors, immediate heat means the Aga kettle also boils quicker than electric kettles.
A comforting presence in the house, our Aga has become a way of life. Its many virtues are too long to list here, but it’s handy for airing freshly washed clothes (saving on ironing), drying wet outdoor clothing, shoes and children’s paintings, and simply warming your derrière on a cold day.
In a world of gizmos and gimmicks and constantly superseded technology, the strong silent reliable type will still be there when the others are dispatched to the ever-growing scrapyard of modern disposable life. Long live the Aga!