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Heating Options For A Bulgarian Home

Central heating as western Europeans know it, is quite rare in Bulgaria.

In Sofia, many are lucky enough to be on the central steam heating (incredibly efficient and cheap), in Varna most use reversible air conditioning, and in towns and villages the majority use wood-fired heating.

It is possible to have central heating powered by electric, gas or oil, but these systems are infrequently chosen.

However, before considering your heating system, the essential thing is to have very good insulation. Without this you might lost nearly 60% of all your heat through your walls and roof!

Electric

Electricity prices have gone up enormously over the last few years, with further price hikes expected. The average cost in Bulgaria for electric is 0.86 leva kw/h, but a small reduction is available for night units. Also depending on individual needs there is a difference in commercial and domestic prices. (The E.U website has an in depth price list available for all European countries). When considering your choice of heating system it is worth bearing this in mind, especially if you have a limited budget. However you will have heating at the flick of a switch and can save time in comparison with wood heating systems.

For heating water, electric is commonly used. When you are installing the boiler, make sure it is big enough for your needs. Usually 150 litres is sufficient for a family but 200 litres would be better.

Beware; stand alone electric heaters can be expensive to run on a full time basis. Additionally, in the smaller villages there can be frequent power cuts, so ensure you have an alternative method of heating available in case of need.

Oil

The cost of oil has risen across the world and thus oil fired central is a relatively costly choice. Those living in the country usually opt for wood which is considerably cheaper. Consideration also needs to be given to access - most delivery trucks may not be able to get to your property. It takes an average of 1000 litres of oil to heat a 3 bed house, which would come to about 2400 leva for the year. The system should be cleaned and serviced annually.

On the other hand, there is a convenience to oil which you certainly do not get with wood. You should be able to get one delivery for the whole year sufficient for your needs.

Gas

Gas central heating has limited availability, being limited to the cities with mains gas. If you are lucky enough to have mains gas available to you, then this is the best option for heating. It is clean, economical and efficient.

If you are in an area without mains gas, it is possible to use gas central heating via the use of gas bottles. Apart from the space needed for the bottles and the cost of piping, there have been problems reported with faulty bottles and these systems need regular maintenance.


Air-conditioning

A bit of a luxury but well worth it when summer temperatures soar to over 30 C. Units can also be "reversed" to provide heat. Most new developments have air conditioning installed. However, many developers only install the cheapest of units, which can be noisy and big consumers of electricity.

When considering buying air conditioners look for those which have a silent running mode to reduce noise. A high quality air conditioning unit with a heat pump for heating in winter will be from 1400 leva each. The cost of installation is approximately 150 leva.

Air conditioners should be serviced regularly to empty the filters of dust and bacteria. Running costs will vary depending upon your needs, but these systems allow flexibility with heating during the winter and air conditioning in the hot summers compared to the other methods stated.

Solar

Many property owners these days are seeking the most environmentally friendly way to heat their home. Clearly solar energy would be high on the list.

Solar power cannot be relied on in Bulgaria for year round heating.

The cost of installation is much higher than other heating methods but it is increasing in popularity and the system should be cost-effective within about three years.

There are really no maintenance costs with solar energy and it becomes ‘free' energy after the initial costs have been recovered.

This may be a suitable option if you have an isolated rural property where connecting to mains electricity would be prohibitively expensive.

Wood

The majority choice. It is both cheap in Bulgaria and readily available. There is a huge choice of wood burners and you can select one which will also run several radiators. It depends upon your area, but wood this year is available at 50 leva a cubic metres.

Be aware, that wood is delivered in one or two metre lengths, so you will need to either cut it to suitable lengths yourself or get someone to do it for you. For ten cubic metres, it will probably cost an extra 100 leva to get this cut and stacked; again depending on who does the work, some locals may charge less.
Deciding how much wood you are going to consume is a big question for many expats as most are not used to this method of heating. If you are only heating rooms you live in similar to the Bulgarians you may only require around 8 cubic metres or less, if you prefer the house to be warm throughout e.g. a 3/4 bedroom detached it is possible to consume as much as 25 cubic metres or more if you are refuelling the heating day and night. It also depends on how cold the winter is each year.

Ask at your municipality as to where to obtain your local supplier. Whatever you do, do not go and try to collect firewood yourself in the forests with a licence. The forestry commission are very hot on this and you'll be fined.

The downside of wood is the constant work of bringing the wood in, cleaning the fire, lighting the fire, and attending to it...

Open fireplaces are particularly wasteful so a better option is a wood burner with a glass front, allowing you to still see the fire and benefit from improved heat output.

A good looking wood burner with glass doors would only set you back 300 leva.