Chris van Schaick: The perils of living ‘off the grid’

PUBLISHED: 10:01 30 August 2016 | UPDATED: 10:01 30 August 2016

Getty Images/iStockphoto

Getty Images/iStockphoto


There are many important questions which are hotly debated in rural communities like the Meon Valley. Affordable homes for young families. Protecting our environment. Dealing with the impact of traffic on our roads.

But in our house an even more fundamental question has been confronting us. Should our new heating oil tank be made of steel or plastic?

You may scoff. But feelings on the issue are intense round here. Our next door neighbour is strongly in the plastic camp. Yet her friend down the road argues passionately for steel.

As we all agonise on this seemingly insuperable dilemma, I’m wondering whether I should ask the vicar to deliver a sermon on the subject to give spiritual guidance to the village.

You see we live in a neighbourhood where heating oil looms large. The gas main doesn’t reach and our warmth arrives by road tanker in liquid form. The delights and perils of life beyond the gas main soon become apparent.

We’ve learnt by experience about Running Out – and how that often happens on December 23rd. Even the most harmonious marriages hereabouts can turn ugly when one partner blames the other for the notorious Ordering-The-Oil Oversight. In fact when it comes to Meon Valley status symbols - never mind a Porsche or a flat in London - What really sets apart the high net worth individual round here is having a gauge inside the house instead of outside by the tank.

When you’re off the gas and on the oil, you learn about leaks. We hadn’t been here long when someone we’d paid to cut the hedge managed to slice through the fuel line from the tank to the boiler. Fortunately they were versatile enough to repair the line as well as finish the hedge.

In fact local legend is full of shudder-inducing stories of times when people’s heating oil ended up outside the tank in places where it shouldn’t be. We’ve become more and more sensitive to the dangers. Then, Portsmouth Water wrote round to us all suggesting how angry and litigious everybody would be if our oil ever seeped into the water courses.

So we decided the time had come to replace our 20 year old single skinned steel monstrosity. We summoned the experts from Petersfield and Chichester and Andover to give their verdicts.

Yet on the key question - metal or plastic - no one could give us an unequivocal answer. Hands were wrung. Steel tanks can rust, they said. Plastic ones can split, they added. And no-one would say which eventuality is more likely. Nobody would plump.

Mrs v. S. and I have finally come to a decision. But I’m not going to reveal it here. I value my friendships with people in the other camp too much. We don’t want to walk into the White Lion on a Friday night only to be shunned by those who took a different view. Until our choice becomes obvious later in 
the year, our opinion on this Great Question must remain between ourselves.

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