Tuesday, 20 March 2007


Photo: A cold day in Buncrana.

(Click on the title for Action Inishowen link)

This year the wise boffins at the Met Office predicted that the winter will be a harsh one. If the berries on the trees are anything to go by then they might be right. Because of this it is important to take some time to ensure that your more senior relations and friends are well prepared for the winter months. Ireland is near the bottom of the table when it comes to houses having good thermal efficiency. The country is awash with houses that are damp and contain no or very little insulation against the cold. Countries such as Finland and Siberia where you would expect problems cope exceptionally well. This is because they expect the weather and prepare for it. The statistics on fuel poverty in the country is staggering (fuel poverty is defined as the inability to heat ones home to an adequate, safe and comfortable temperature owing to low income).

At least 7.5% of pensioners experience fuel poverty, that’s about 16300 households, and they are just the ones that admit to having heating problems. Thousands of people wouldn’t like to admit that they are in difficulty warming their rooms. The other reason is that some older people just are not made aware of what can be done by councils and charitable organisations. Means testing can assess whether you are eligible for help against Fuel Poverty. 27,000 homes are paid a fuel allowance by the government. At present the allowance is €9 per week. Age action are doing their best to get this increased to €18 per week simply to keep in line with inflation, the total could realistically be higher than this though if the spiralling cost of fuel is taken into consideration.


Frogs have the ability to adapt to changes in temperature, in fact if they are put in a pot with cold water in it they will not jump out if it is heated up to boiling point. Although it’s a strange example to use the same principal applies to people, especially the older people in the community. If the temperature of the room drops slowly the body doesn’t feel the change in temperature. The outcome of this is hypothermia setting in, which in some cases can be fatal. One way to check on the temperature of the room is to always have a thermometer handy. If it drops to below 21 degrees Celsius it would be time to turn up the heating. There are other ways to combat cold in the house, firstly get as much insulation as you can for the house itself. Sometimes it can get so cold that even layers of thermals cannot keep you warm. If you are cold in the house and lose loads of heat through the windows and doors, then get in touch with the local council. They can help with certain repairs to the house such as the windows to make it easier to warm. The Citizens Advice Centres can help to put you in touch with the right organisation to help. The numbers are at the bottom of the Know Your Rights section on this page.

The Saint Vincent de Paul Society is helpful too. If you are eligible you could even get a personal alarm, which could be a lifesaver. Action Inishowen based in Carndonagh deal with referrals from the council and SVdP about people who need things such as loft insulation and low energy light bulbs. There are instances where you can apply for free electricity and televisions. Eircom also give phones to pensioners for free.

Don’t be afraid to ask for help. Irish councils and voluntary organisations have a good track record when it comes to helping senior citizens. Find out what is available and go for it!


My own mother had a fall last winter. She was on the floor for a considerable length of time until she was found. Fortunately her central heating was on constantly and she managed to stay warm throughout the ordeal. If the heating wasn’t on to save money then I’m sure she wouldn’t be with us today. My brother on the other hand leaves his heating on for a different reason. He has done his research and found out that it works out cheaper and more energy efficient if the heating of his house is left on permanently over the winter. He keeps the rooms at a constant temperature of 21 degrees. He found out that it costs more to reheat the rooms after they go cold than to leave the heating on. He has also found that the cold virus thrives on the cold so it’s his way of keeping germs out of the house by keeping it warm!


The postie does a great job at keeping and eye on people when they deliver the letters but not everyone gets post every day, so don’t rely on them to keep an eye on things through the bad weather. Pop around to your elderly neighbours, friends and family over the cold spell. Check the house is warm and they are coping well. You could always stay for a nice cup of tea!
P.s. If you are someone who pushes unsolicited mail through people’s doors, please make sure the paper is pushed all the way through the letterbox. An open letterbox loses loads of heat.


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