Monday, January 21, 2013

Keeping Warm in Italy

We decided to take the risk and move out to Mercogliano.  A small town in the province of Avellino.  If you've seen some of my recent Facebook posts, you see that it started snowing this week!  I light dusting here and there.  There isn't much to build a snowman with or to play in, but the views of the surrounding mountains are magnificent!

With snow brings cold weather.  Although the last couple of days have been a bit rainy and even a bit warmer (for instance I was cleaning up the dog poop in the back yard in a t-shirt yesterday), the nights do get cold.

When we moved in, we had radiators, but we didn't know how to use them.  We had one air conditioning unit that worked in our bedroom that also puts out heat, and we had a pellet stove that wasn't completely installed.  And it was COLD.  We lived Italian - we slept in layers and almost slept in coats.  We kept the kids in our queen size bed so that they could stay warm (us too).  One time I remember seeing my breath in the hallway.  It was a bit miserable.

Piano, piano (or Slowly, slowly) we started to get things fixed and working.  We bought some space heaters to heat individual rooms that we were in.  We finally got the pellet stove working, which is on the third floor of our 4 floor house.  It puts out heat, but the problem is distributing that heat to the other areas of the house.  It makes it up the stairs to the kid's floor, but not quite inside their rooms.

Then we learned how to use the radiators.  We vowed that we were not going to use them because gas prices in Italy are so high!  But we talked to our landlord who told us that we probably only need  to run them 1-2 hours in the morning (before getting up) and 1-2 hours at night.  We started doing this, and it really helps!  I have yet to see the gas bill, so I'm not sure what to expect exactly, but we'll hope for the best!

Then we finally got the other air conditioner unit installed in the living room (that like our bedroom also puts out heat.  Still waiting to get the electricity run in the wall instead of a giant cable meandering around the fireplace, but hopefully that will happen today (LOL).

Radiators require hot water to run through the pipes, just as we got settled into our routine of using them, the hot water heater for the first two floors went out!  I've really been without hot water waiting on repairs to complete for over two weeks.  It doesn't only affect the ability to heat the house, but it also makes hand washing dishes virtually impossible without boiling some water on the stove.  I have slowly been developing some arthritis in my hands (self diagnosis anyway) and my hands just ache whenever I have to wash my Italian coffee maker!  The only saving grace is that major appliances like the dishwasher and the clothes washer make their own hot water, so I am still able to use these appliances and for now EVERYTHING is going into the dishwasher without a pre-wash.  Amazingly it does pretty well!

And yesterday we had firewood delivered to the house so that we can use that too.  Our house has two fireplaces, but we don't anticipate using the one in the basement much.  I mostly go down there to bake and the oven and radiators heat the room up nicely already.

There is one last way Italians heat their home.  With bombola heaters.  Bombola is another word for the propane tanks we use for gas grills, etc.  Many restaurants in the states use bombola heaters for outdoor patio spaces.   Here Italians use them inside!  We've been cautioned that this is very dangerous, but yet most people still do it.  We did get a heater, but we have opted to use it on the patio.  It actually works very well and we can sit out there on a cold night comfortably and watch our crazy downtown street below.

The last variable in the equation is electricity.  Electricity has two rates - the daily rate and the evening weekend rate.  But it doesn't work like you think.  If more than 50% of your energy consumption is during the day, then you are charged the DAY rate for ALL power you used.  If more than 50% of your energy consumption is NIGHTS and WEEKENDS, then you are charged the lower rate (almost half) for all power used.  This is a great incentive to not run your laundry and heaters during the day, for sure!  So if I'm home and cold during the day, I will choose to turn on the radiators for a bit to warm up the area verses the space heaters and air conditioners that are electric or do as I'm doing now, keep my hat and scarf on in the house!  On the weekend we are more flexible.

When we first moved in we also were competing with ourselves for power.  In the states we had circuit breakers for different areas of the house, one for the kitchen, one for the bathroom, etc.  Here we had once circuit breaker for each floor.  If something tripped the breaker the whole floor went out.  So in short, if we could not run two things at once.  If I had the oven on, I couldn't run the dishwasher.  If I had the space heater on, I couldn't use the oven.  We were constantly losing power because we couldn't keep it all straight!  Our electrician finally replaced all the circuits with larger ones, and now I can do everything at once with no outages! Of course now, I have to consciously be more frugal with our power...

So there you have it.  There's lots of ways to heat your home.  Haven't seen any of the bills yet, so we will have to see how it looks after a few months, but for now, that's how we stay warm!  But my favorite way is to snuggle with the kids!

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