Exploring the Best Ways to Heat a House

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Land of sunshine – oh no it’s raining again!

Oh no it’s raining again!  We don’t have central heating but the living room is 14.5 celsius without it so that’s probably not too bad.  If you’re wearing a thick jumper.  I’ve read various online opinions from experienced expats on the most efficient form of heating in Portugal.  Double glazing and insulation being a given.  With that in mind, how are we doing?

Insulation and double glazing - not quite there yet

Insulation and double glazing – not quite there yet

Aha, we should move to Portugal I hastily thought as icy rain hit me in the face in England two years ago.  It’s warm there.  We froze through our first winter in the inland region of Castelo Branco in a house where we had ripped out the ceiling and therefore scuppered the chance of adding additional insulation.  Instead we created two mezzanine spaces.   They look good though.  Our neighbour insisted on giving us extra quilts which we were too polite to turn down, maybe we looked cold as we left the house and she was right, along with a constant supply of cabbages and oranges.

Bags of vitamin C

Bags of vitamin C

Eventually we installed a wood burning stove.

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The new wood burning stove in the old kitchen

Here we are, a year on much nearer Lisbon and the coast, again without central heating. On the bright side, touching wood here, I’ve not had a cold all winter.  The other day it was 20 celsius outside and a lovely sunny day.  Portuguese houses are traditionally designed to keep out heat though so it’s often much colder inside.

Much warmer outside, although you may need to be fully dressed to go swimming

Much warmer outside, although you may need to be fully dressed to go swimming

The heating system the previous owners had installed was let’s say, unusual.  A large pipe ran from the top of the fireplace around the ceiling into which hot air is supposed to flow from the fire.  It was then boxed in.  A builder who first came to look at the house said he had the same system and it was useless and advised us to dispose of it.  Diggory, the builder we finally employed, ripped out parts of it in the kitchen and showed us a nest that had been made inside, suspiciously more like rodent than birds nests, but then who knows the house was at one time full of birds before we moved in.  Evidenced by the amount of mess they’d left everywhere.

Central heating?

Central heating?

When the electricians came along they tore off another bit of the piping system leaving an ugly gap which we tried to hide over Christmas by hanging Christmas stockings over it.  Zed finally decided to rip out the rest of the boxing above the fireplace which is now ready for me to paint over.  Looking forward to it.

Just needs a lick of paint

Just needs a lick of paint

So what are we heating ourselves with?  Hmmm.  The main hall has a fire place.  Clearly it used to have a glass front which the last owners or vandals ripped out just leaving the metal casing. It’s not therefore very efficient but it burns wood and looks cosy.  For actual heat we have an ugly Calor gas heater in the living room and electric radiators in the bedrooms.

Gloves for indoors and outdoors

Wrapping up for indoors and outdoors

The long term plan is to install air conditioners which combine as heaters during the winter months as recommended by friends who have probably tried just about everything.  Costing around 700 euros to buy and install per unit.  Judging by various online forums, a wood burning stove seems cost wise to be the most efficient form of heating. Logs are approximately 100 euros a ton. Thing is I love to stare into flames in lieu of any decent TV programmes and so we will stay with an open fire and at some point replace the glass.  Solar heating isn’t apparently cost efficient due to the high price of installation (though of course a must for helping the planet if you can afford it) and we would eventually like to go that route for hot water.  We have been quoted 2500 euros although I’m sure we’ll end up paying more.  But that’s another story.

Meanwhile, a thick jumper will have to do and plenty of outdoor walks.

Plenty of outdoor walks

Plenty of outdoor walks

If you’ve got any tips and experiences on this subject I’d love to hear about them in the comments!

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2 thoughts on “Exploring the Best Ways to Heat a House

  1. We who have tried everything can only recommend you copy us. It’s great that your chimney works, unlike ours, but comparing our electricity bills with friends’ wood costs for the winter, you get less heat per euro with wood. Same goes for oil central heating. Check with EDP the maximum rating for your house; we had ours upgraded from 3.5kw to 6.9kw, above which at any given moment the lights go out. It’s still not enough to get our house above 16 degrees overall, but should be much better for you nearer the coast. We find storage heaters are good for background heating and you can plug them into a socket so they don’t need special wiring. Ask EDP about the tariff ‘bi-horario’ – electricity is just over half price for 10 hours at night and, if you prefer, fewer hours at night but 24 hours all weekend. You can heat your storage heaters then and use your washing machine and other appliances then too. H&C air conditioning is the only option for rooms you need to heat quickly or south facing rooms that might need cooling in summer. The new ones are very efficient and economical. Compare prices and look for sale offers. Worten sometimes have 20% off weekend sales which might make them cheaper than Maxmat etc. Get your double glazing and fly blinds in first, though!

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