Image from To Vima – tovima.gr
Greece consumes more than double the amount of heating fuel used in Sweden and 3.5 times more energy than Finland in winter, due to 3.5 million Greek homes being poorly built, using outdated heating systems and lacking proper insulation.
The EU Environment report confirms that only 30 percent of Greek homes have minimal insulation and 15 percent double-glazed windows, earning Greece the title of “most wasteful” homes in the EU.
This explains why 70 percent of all domestic energy is used to power heating systems, with demand increasing steadily since 1990, which leaves Greece both dependent on other countries for constant supply and vulnerable to price increases.
With heating oil and electricity rates increasing steadily with austerity measures, how can residents of Greece stay warm without going broke?
* Article last updated on January 27, 2012
If you’re a renter
There are measures you can take, even if you do not own your home.
1. Choose a home carefully
The biggest determinant in whether you will be warm in winter and cool in summer is what house you choose to rent or buy. Some things to consider:
— Location: Apartments lower to the ground or sandwiched between two floors keep a more consistent temperature than those at the top.
— Look at the windows/doors: Are they a tight fit or are there gaps around the frame? Is there double-pane glass, and is it done right? Put your fingers near the seam and feel if there’s cold air seeping through. Not all double pane windows and doors are constructed properly and therefore do little or nothing to insulate against weather or sound.
— Look for insulation: Don’t take the word of the landlord regarding insulation. While you’re looking at the windows and doors, does the wall even appear thick enough for the possibility of insulation? If there isn’t considerable wall thickness where the sliding door pulls back when open, there’s no insulation. And ‘insulation’ to many Greeks means that pieces/sheets of plain white Styrofoam were stuffed in the wall, which does nothing. (See additional tips in the homeowner section).
— Choose an ‘autonomi’ heating system: Having an individual (autonomi) heating system means you can control the thermostat and pay only what you use, as opposed to being on the central (kentriki) system where someone else decides how long the heat is on/off and often has you paying equal or unfair portions of the petrol bill based on square meters.
— Natural gas: Some buildings/homes were built or renovated to use natural gas, rather than petrol (heating oil). Natural gas is far cheaper and very efficient, though I understand it’s not available in all areas of Greece. How much cheaper? Comparing apartments of the same size, I used to pay 50-150 euros for petrol in a former building in which it took forever for the heat to reach me, and I was always cold; now I pay between 7-25 euros for natural gas, heat is instantaneous, and I am always warm.
2. Weatherstrip, caulk and foam
Leaks account for up to 30 percent of energy escaping from the home. Taking the time to visit a hardware store and picking up a few winterizing supplies for under 20 euros can go a long way to keeping you warmer, saving money on your petrol/electricity bills and even insulate against noise. The biggest leaks can be found around the front door, windows and sliding doors
3. Door sweeps
A decent door sweep attached to a door with gap at the bottom can stop cold drafts from blowing in. Or use an old towel, flokati or door sock. You could make the latter with discarded materials, as shown in “How to make your own draft dodger.” I use these around certain windows, as well. Works just fine.
4. Cover windows/sliding doors
Curtains and drapes with or without insulation can be used to cover one-paned or otherwise hopeless doors and windows. It doesn’t solve the problem, but it helps create a low-to-medium barrier.
5. Avoid space heaters
It’s tempting to use space heaters when the central heating system leaves you cold, but they’re huge energy mongers that cause your electricity bill to skyrocket.
6. Sign up for DEH off-peak rates
DEH/PPC offers reduced electricity rates during off-peak hours. See, “Save money with off-peak electricity rates for DEH” for details.
7. Use CFLs
Converting to compact fluorescent bulbs (CFLs) is one of the easiest and quickest solutions. Only 10 percent of the electricity pulsing through a normal bulb is being used for actual light, with 90 percent generating unnecessary heat. On the other hand, a 26-32 watt CFL has the equivalent brightness of a 100-watt bulb without carbon emissions or wasted energy.
A CFL will cost more initially, but pay for itself in one year, last 8 years and save 12 euros a year on the electricity bill per bulb. i.e. If you have 10 bulbs in the house, that’s 120 euros savings a year without having to replace them for 8 years. IKEA has them; Philips and Osram have them available at various supermarkets.
8. Stop the standby
Put your TV, stereo, DVD player and computer equipment on a power strip that you can power off at night instead of leaving on standby or sleep mode. Why? Because if there’s a light on, they’re still using electricity and you’re paying for it. (e.g. We saw a 20 percent drop in our electric bill by doing this one simple thing).
Same with your charger. The charger is still using electricity when plugged in; it doesn’t know you’ve disconnected your iPod or phone.
9. Turn down the temperature
When sleeping — Throw a down comforter or another blanket on the bed instead of letting the heat run at night. Some modern thermostats allow you to program it to come on a half hour before you wake up for work, so you’re not cold when getting ready or eating breakfast.
When washing — Lowering the temperature from 60°C to 40°C on the washer will save money/energy and still get clothes clean.
When cooling — Consider using 28°C and/or a standing/ceiling fan to circulate air, instead of 25°C.
When cooking — The last minutes of food preparation in the oven or on stove top don’t necessarily require full power, and the heat can be turned off. Plan meals so they can be baked at the same time or consecutively, rather than consuming extra energy to preheat for each dish.
10. Choose energy-efficient appliances
If your home came unfurnished, consider purchasing energy-saving appliances with the highest rating you can afford (‘A’ being the highest). It may appear expensive to pay an extra 100-200 euros for a higher rating, but it will quickly pay for itself, especially if it’s a refrigerator or stove (and you cook often).
If you’re a homeowner
In addition to the 10 tips above, homeowners have greater freedom and ability to save more by making long-term improvements.
1. Add insulation
Most homes in Greece are brick and cement based and don’t have insulation, even many newly built ones. Unless you personally oversaw the construction of your home, or had it inspected after purchasing it from a previous owner (who probably claimed it had insulation), it’s safe to assume there isn’t any.
How can you tell if your home has insulation?
a) If you hammer a nail into an outer wall to hang something and dust falls, the wall is solid or filled with plaster and has no insulation inside.
b) If you can’t hear the TV or stereo when a family member or roommate is using the shower or washing machine down the hall, there’s no insulation in the walls of your home. Insulation would deaden the sound.
c) If you put a hand up to an outer wall of your home on a cold day and can feel it’s cold, there is no barrier or insulation inside. The temperature should be neutral.
d) If the water coming into the house is ice cold in winter and hot in summer, and the toilet sweats after flushing, your pipes are not insulated.
e) If you can hear any noise from outside when all the doors and windows are shut, you have no insulation. You should hear nothing.
2. Upgrade heating system to natural gas
By getting away from a liquid gas and oil heating system and upgrading to natural gas, it will cost approximately 4,000 euros. But if you intend on owning this property for a long time, it will pay for itself quickly with a 25% to 40% savings annually on heating and electricity costs, plus a tax credit of up to 700 euros. Natural gas not only costs less, but also heats the home more quickly and efficiently so you will use less.
3. Put a water heater blanket on the water heater
Insulating the water heater helps water to warm up faster after flipping the switch (if it’s not already on a thermostat) and retain warmth.
4. Install a solar heater on the roof
Greece has plenty of sun, even on cold days. The best part: It can save up to 250 euros a year.
5. Replace old appliances
Major kitchen appliances that are older than 10-15 years old are less energy efficient than those made today and are the biggest energy wasters. New appliances have an initial cost, but quickly pay for themselves with up to a 20 percent savings per year.
Look for the Energy Star rating on new appliances when shopping. The highest rating is ‘A.’
6. Replace air filters
Replacing the air filters on air conditioning/heating units improves their efficiency
7. Upgrade to modern double-pane windows and doors
Replacing outdated, single-paned doors and/or windows would greatly improve energy efficiency by insulating against weather conditions and noise pollution. Even older double-glass doors and windows could stand updating since many are not air tight or fitted properly. (i.e. The house I once rented appeared to have double-pane glass, but the thickness, setting and fit are all done incorrectly, so cold air comes into the house and heat escapes).
If you’re stuck with a house that leaves you cold and none of these solutions are workable, I highly recommend: Silk thermal underwear (lightweight, breathable, efficient), 100% wool or cashmere sweaters, and Polartec jackets, hats and socks.
√ False – Putting rugs on the floor help keep the house warm. Rugs are purely a comfort item and do nothing to retain heat.
√ False – Natural gas is dangerous. Installation by inexperienced, unlicensed “technicians” are often the cause of accidents, not the gas itself since countries worldwide use it without incident.
√ False – CFLs have a weird glow. More modern technology has taken that glow away, creating a softer, more natural light without the inefficiency and emissions.
√ False – Putting the TV and stereo on a power strip will cause them to lose presets. If they’re already shut off, powering off via the strip while they’re on standby does nothing; it’s true that a DVD player may lose its place when powered off, however.
√ False – Wearing more layers equals more warmth. Keeping warm is about the fabrics you choose, not how many layers you put on. I can be toasty warm wearing one silk layer, one wool layer and one Polartec layer. The person next to me wearing seven cotton or acrylic layers will still be cold and look ridiculously bulky!
Aside: An EU directive that requires all newly built buildings in Greece to have a “green card” to certify its energy efficiency has not been implemented. Brussels set the deadline for January 4, 2009 and also provided guidelines on appliances, office equipment, water boilers, lighting and creating renewable energy, and Greece failed.