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EXPLAINED: When should I turn on my heating in Germany this year?

Energy costs in Germany are set to reach sky-high levels this winter, which will leave many people wondering when they should start heating their homes. Here's what you need to bear in mind.

EXPLAINED: When should I turn on my heating in Germany this year?
A woman keeps warm with a blanket and a cup of tea. Photo: Photo: picture alliance / dpa | Ole Spata

What’s happening?

As a result of supply stoppages for cheap Russian gas, energy prices in Germany have been at record levels for months and the security of the German energy supply is considered to be at risk.

Due to the situation, the German government has urged businesses and households to cut down on energy usage as much as they can. There are also some rules in place – for example people with private pools are no longer allowed to heat them with gas or electricity. 

READ ALSO: What to know about Germany’s energy saving rules

As the temperature starts to drop throughout the country, the heating season is getting underway and many people are wondering when they should start heating their homes, and if they have to follow any rules. 

Does it make a difference what type of accommodation I live in?

The right time to start heating your home depends on several factors including your own personal preference, the weather, whether you live in rented accommodation or own your own property, and on the age and features of the property you live in.

Does my landlord control my heating?

For most people in rented accommodation, your landlord has to turn on the central heating before your radiators work. 

Over the winter months, rented properties in Germany have what’s known as a Heizperiode meaning “heating period”, which is usually from October 1st to April 30th.

A serviceman checks the status of a radiator in a flat. Photo: pa/obs/Zukunft ERDGAS e.V. | kzenon/istock/Thinkstock

During the Heizperiode, the landlord must set the heating so that the minimum temperature in the flat reaches between 20-22C during the day and around 18C at night (11pm to 6am).

But, even outside the heating period, the landlord is obliged to keep the heating system of the building in an ‘operable condition’ and must turn on the heating if the outside temperature is below 16C or below 18C for more than 2 days. 

Some people in rented properties who have a boiler can turn the heating system on and off themselves.

Do I have to keep my rented accommodation at a minimum temperature?

Usually, tenants are obliged by a clause in their rental contract to keep their homes heated to a minimum level to prevent mould and disrepair.

But the Energy-saving ordinance, which was brought into force this year as a result of the energy crisis, means that this will be different for the 2022 heating period.

From September 2022, minimum temperatures in rental agreements will no longer apply and tenants will be allowed to heat less if they want to, to save on their energy costs.

However, tenants must still ensure that their property is not damaged as a result of cutting down on heating.

Can I just not heat my property at all?

If you’re considering not turning your radiators on at all this winter, you may have to pay for frozen pipes or mould on your rental property.

A woman turns up the temperature on a radiator.

A woman turns up the temperature on a radiator. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Christin Klose

This also applies if you plan to be away from your German home for long periods of time – for example if you prefer to spend the winter in the south or are on a business trip during the cold season.

Another main point is that it can be very bad for your health to be in a home where you feel too cold, so you have to think about how to make sure you (and your family or housemates if you live with people) are staying warm. 

Consumers should, however, keep an eye on the electricity and gas prices of their suppliers and also ask the property owner whether the entire heating system is actually optimally adjusted.

Owners of residential buildings, such as landlords or housing operators, and energy suppliers are obliged to inform their customers or tenants about energy consumption and costs, rising energy prices and possible savings potentials.

What about if I live in my own property?

Homeowners can generally decide for themselves when to start heating their homes, but experts recommend that they take the year of construction and the insulation status of their building into account.

READ ALSO: Cold showers to turning off lights: How German cities are saving energy

This is because – among other factors – these influence the risk of mould growth. 

When should I start heating? 

For both renters and property owners, there are some general guidelines that apply to the age of the building you live in:

If you live in a building built before 1977, you should start heating once the outside temperature reaches 15C or lower.

Mould grows next to a poorly insulated window frame. Photo: picture alliance/dpa/dpa-tmn | Andrea Warnecke

For buildings built between 1977 and 1995, you should start heating when the outside temperature sinks to 14C or lower.

For buildings built in 1995 or after, residents can often hold off on heating their homes until the temperature outside reaches 12C.  Depending on the energy efficiency of the building, it might also be wise to switch on the heating with warmer temperatures.

For low-energy houses, heating can be firstly switched on when the outside temperature gets to 11C.

At what temperature should I heat my home?

As a general rule, Rita Maria Jünnemann, energy expert at the consumer advice centre in North Rhine-Westphalia, advises people not to go below a temperature of 16C in their homes.

Speaking to Business Insider, she said that people should also think about what they do in certain rooms in order to make a decision on how much to heat them. 

Jünnemann said: “Those who move around a lot in the apartment, for example cooking, often don’t need much heating. But, for the person sitting at a desk, even 20C might be too cold. But you don’t have to heat right away, a blanket can fix that.” 

How can I save on heating costs?

There are plenty of ways you can help to keep your heating costs down, the most simple of which are keeping doors and windows insulated with draft excluders, and regularly airing out rooms.

READ ALSO: ‘It’s going to be a bleak winter’: How people in Germany are coping with the energy crisis

According to experts, it’s better to turn your heating on and off as and when you need it, rather than keeping it at a constantly low temperature. That’s because even though reheating a room uses a lot of energy, it still uses less than heating constantly. 

If you’re determined to keep your radiators switched off most of the time, then it’s advisable to move your furniture away from the walls slightly, to prevent damp or mould build-up and also to use a dehumidifier in rooms that you intend to keep cold.

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ENERGY

Why electric fan heaters in Germany could make energy crisis worse

Hundreds of thousands of households in Germany have been stocking up on fan heaters to prepare for winter in the face of rising gas prices. But experts say over usage will worsen the situation.

Why electric fan heaters in Germany could make energy crisis worse

Why are people buying fan heaters?

The cost of heating a home in Germany with oil or gas has doubled in the past two years, according to a heating index published on Tuesday by the non-profit consulting company Co2online.

Due to the rising costs, people are looking for alternatives to heat their homes. And in the first half of this year alone, 600,000 electricity-powered fan heaters were snapped up in Germany, according to market research firm GfK.

But this way of heating could end up being more expensive for consumers – and lead to higher gas consumption than with gas heating, an analysis by strategy consultancy Oliver Wyman shows.

READ ALSO: German households see record hikes in heating costs 

What happens when there’s overuse of electric heaters?

If fan heaters were to be used by people in large numbers, utilities would have to generate much of the additional electricity in gas-fired power plants, according to the firm. The fan heaters would then exacerbate rather than alleviate the energy supply shortages. At worst, there would even be a threat of local power outages due to grid overload.

READ ALSO: Should I invest in an electric fan heater in Germany this winter?

The main problem is that fan heaters provide heat less efficiently than standard gas heaters, said Jörg Stäglich, head of the European Energy & Natural Resources Practice and global head of utilities at Oliver Wyman.

“Their use is therefore more expensive for households than conventional heating.”

To generate the same heat, he said a fan heater requires twice as much gas via a detour to produce electricity in gas-fired power plants as boilers that burn it directly.

“There’s a vicious circle looming,” Stäglich said. “If we have to use more gas for electricity generation, the amount of gas available in Germany will become even scarcer and the price of gas will rise.”

In a scenario where 30 to 50 percent of the 20 million German households with gas heating relied on fan heaters to keep their homes warm in winter or at least compensate for a lowered room temperature, the demand for electricity would increase by up to 25 percent at peak times, experts calculate.

Experts say that even with rocketing gas prices, the use of electric heaters isn’t justified. 

Although the price of electricity has not risen as dramatically as gas, it has still climbed significantly this year.

“That’s why electric heating is not recommended at all,” said Norbert Endres, energy consultant at the Bavarian consumer centre. 

Stäglich added that using fan heaters was “not economical, climate friendly or sensible”. 

Vocabulary 

Fan heater – (der) Heizlüfter

Gas consumption – (der) Gasverbrauch

Power cut – (der) Stromausfall

We’re aiming to help our readers improve their German by translating vocabulary from some of our news stories. Did you find this article useful? Let us know.

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