Insulation

It’s at this time of year I am so pleased that I live on a lovely well insulated narrowboat that keeps me nice and warm. Nice and warm that is providing I keep bringing bags of firewood to the boat to keep the stove going and keep me warm. It’s also at this time of year I have to reach into my pocket and splash out on a few bags of coal. It would be possible for me to go the whole winter just burning timber but as we reach mid January and into February the weekly trips with bags of firewood and the more attention the stove requires when burning timber starts to become a drag and its also more difficult to keep the fire going through the night so I have dug deep and bought four bags of smokeless coal for the outrageous sum of £42.

Front deck becomes a coal and log bunker this time of year.

Front deck becomes a coal and log bunker this time of year.

Coal is great it will last four times longer than timber and burn hotter and give you an even heat over many hours, you simply light the fire set the air flow and forget about the stove for a few hours. Compare that with timber and you are up and down to the stove every thirty mins if not sooner adding more timber increasing the air flow to warm the boat or reducing to cool the boat. The down side with coal and particularly smokeless coal apart from it costing money is you get loads of ash.

Not coal but some nice logs keeping the boat warm

Not coal but some nice logs keeping the boat warm

Growing up as a child our house was pretty cold during the winter months, a gas fire replacing what would have been a wood coal cooking range in the living room and that was it, well apart from an old probably lethal gas fire on the first floor landing that from memory my parents only ever lit when the temperature outside perhaps hit -10. Me and my sisters had the two bedrooms in the top of the house and my pillow was right under the window and It was a regular thing for me to have frost on the inside of the window in the morning and with my head only a few inches from the glass. My breath and body heat would have contributed to the condensation that formed on the  glass and then froze. Sometimes this frost was short lived as the day would warm and would melt but during very cold spells this would build up into a reasonably thick layer of ice and that’s when I used to chip away at the ice that had now formed on the glass. Boy it was cold at times but it did me no great harm. So one year we insulated the roof space (it’s hard to imagine that people never had their houses insulated) and it was a noticeable improvement and way more comfortable as what heat used to percolate up through the house actually hung about for a bit before disappearing. I still had frost on the inside of my window over night and the mornings were cold but never had the build up of ice as I did before. So as I know how a bit of insulation has made and makes my life more comfortable I use this to help make my bees that bit more comfortable during the cold dark winter months. So what I do for my bees is very simple I provide them with loft insulation in the form of a slab of 25mm insulation over the crown board. On most of my roves I have filled in what I consider the pointless cavity in the roof with insulation and then covered that over with plywood and a simple baton around the edge with the advantage of the insulation is fitted all year round.

Simple slab of 25mm insulation

Simple slab of 25mm insulation

Roof cavity filled in and covered over with thin plywood

Roof cavity filled in and covered over with thin plywood

I also go one stage further especially if I need to feed fondant and this time its a piece of 50mm insulation with a hole in it to accommodate a tub or bag of fondant.

A nuc with 50mm insulation and tub of fondant

A nuc with 50mm insulation and tub of fondant

Hive with 50mm insulation and bag of fondant

Hive with 50mm insulation and bag of fondant

I obviously dont go mad over insulation and could do my beekeeping without but the bees definitely benefit from this bit of roof insulation especially now that most beekeepers have open mesh floors. The big strong colonies are always going to be ok but I have seen small weak colonies come through the winter in good shape and would place a good bet that they would have perished without the insulation.

Just wanted to add this last photo as it’s been a few years now since we have had a decent winter with a frozen canal and strangely I would like one like this next year please.

Boat in snow

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11 Responses to Insulation

  1. Emily Scott says:

    Wow Tom, no wonder you are so keen on insulation after your chilly childhood. As you say, it did you no harm but nice to be a bit cosier. Love that photo of the snowy canal.

  2. The Apiarist says:

    I took part in a Beekeepers question time this month and there were mixed views about insulation. One of the panel had been a bee farmer and he’d kept all his colonies on solid floors with no roof insulation. He was unconvinced of the benefits. I think the suggestion was that a weak colony doesn’t necessarily benefit from being mollycoddled as it is unlikely to build up well enough in the Spring to collect much honey. However, I do pretty much what you do … I have 2″ thick Kingspan blocks on the colonies all year, either built into the crownboard or the roof. I’m experimenting with simple plastic roofs this year on a few colonies which provide no insulation at all (but are “cheap as chips”) but the bees remain tightly clustered under the insulation in the crownboard. On a morning with a hard frost it’s clear which hives are insulated and which are not by the speed with which a clear patch of melted frost appears on the top of the hive.

    • thomas73640 says:

      I would agree in part with the beefarmer and on solid floors perhaps roof insulation is not needed in the same way as hives with open mesh floors. I think most beekeepers don’t realise that the bit of top ventilation and the roof cavity is from a time of solid floors and now that we have great big open mesh floors the way moisture and heat is managed in the hive has changed. I would also say as we all know how to handle varroa there could be a move back to solid floors. Good luck with the season.

  3. I lived in Cornwall for a year without central heating in a 300-year strong stone cottage, only a log fire in the living room for heat. It kept us surprisingly warm. Your riverboat looks almost as toasty as the hives – enjoy the sparkling frosts this week.

  4. solarbeez says:

    Smokeless coal? Sounds interesting. We’ve never burned coal, but I know what you mean by having to add wood all the time. I was wondering where you kept your bees until I noticed they’re on land (not on the boat). Stay warm!

    • thomas73640 says:

      Smokeless coal does sound wrong and I don’t know how they do it but somehow they can take away most of the nasty bits of coal that produces all the smoke reform the coal into small bricks and you have all the warmth and very little smoke. Yes no bees on the boat but have thought about a bait hive on the boat and will do it this year, could be interesting. Thanks.

  5. Tim says:

    That certainly looks cold, cold but lovely too. Living in a temperate climate I have no idea what that would be like and how I would get bees through the cold either.

    • thomas73640 says:

      Hi Tim , to you it looks cold but it’s not that bad and the snow is a good insulator to the bees. In the UK we sometimes get cold winters but even then they are never as bad as Scandinavia and say Canada and both countries manage to overwinter bees. The honey bee is such a wonderful insect and thankfully for us beekeepers has developed coping strategies that makes it cope with a wide range of temperatures, natural disasters and even blundering beekeepers 

  6. Pingback: Winter moves into spring | Ealing and District Beekeepers Association

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