Now that you’ve been to see Bulgaria, been house hunting and bought your Bulgarian house, how is best to heat it in winter? Depending on where you are in Bulgaria, will depend on how cold it is and thus how much heating you’ll need. Parts of Bulgaria can get as low as -20 degrees Celsius whilst others might just get into minus figures. Here are some ideas on how best to heat your old Bulgarian house in winter because they can be cold!
Nearly everybody will have a petchka in some form or another. Some of these petchkas run on chopped wood (which is an environmental concern) or slightly more environmentally friendly briquettes.
Chopped wood is supposed to come with a government stamp on it to indicate that it was logged correctly but these stamps can be fraudulently used and chopping down forests & replanting them, especially young forests, is not that beneficial for the environment.
Petchkas were invented to heat one room, where you typically live in the winter and that you can cook on. If you’ve ever looked around a Bulgarian house and seen four beds in the kitchen, this is why. Some Bulgarians remain incredibly poor and I can see the benefit of this but I think we can move away from this system now.
Some British immigrants swear by petchkas and although I can see the benefit if you’re incredibly rural and the electricity is very bad however I think they cause long-term environmental problems that the majority of immigrants won’t have to deal with.
2. Log Fire
As above, a log fire will either require logs or briquettes. If you can bulk buy briquettes they might be cheaper than logs but I have reservations as to whether they’d be powerful enough to cope with minus twenty degrees in a big space.
Some log fires come with either/or heated radiators and a water tank. However, you can only have hot water or radiators if the fire is on. In my opinion, it would be better to have an electric water tank however, I understand why people do it. If you’re in an area with poor electricity, having an electric water tank might not always be feasible.
Side note: We invested in quite expensive vertical radiators but because we’d never had any experience of plumbing radiators we found a British guy (Andy now living near Balchik) to plumb them into a fire for us. He fucked it up majorly (and nearly set fire to our house) and didn’t plumb them in according to their instructions (had to have hot water connected to a specific outlet) and left us with no workable heating in December!
Biofuel is a cheap source of energy in comparison to electricity, if you can find it in the quantities you’d need. Biofuel is considered a clean energy source & better for the environment than logging, although it isn’t perfect.
Ethanol is typically made from corn and sugar cane while biodiesel is made from the fruit of palm trees, soybeans and canola (rapeseed). When organic crops are grown on abandoned agricultural lands and in areas that are not covered by natural ecosystems, they can have a low impact on the environment. These should produce less greenhouse gas emissions and help the environment. For example, the use of native grasses for biofuel production could offer higher biofuel yields and generate less pollution than corn-based ethanol. At the same time, these grasses can enhance soil fertility and do not drain the water table.
4. Ground Source Heat Pumps
This system would be the highest upfront cost and cause the biggest disruption to external land. You’ll need quite a lot of land for this or be able to drill to a significant depth.
Ground source heat pumps (GSHPs) use pipes buried in the garden to extract heat from the ground. If you’re opting for this system also consider installing underfloor heating as it’s far more economical than radiators.
The pump circulates a mixture of water and antifreeze around a loop of pipe, called a ground loop, which is buried in your garden. Heat from the ground is absorbed into the fluid and then passes through a heat exchanger into the heat pump.
The length of the ground loop depends on the size of your home and the amount of heat you need although longer loops can draw more heat from the ground but require more space to be buried in. If space is limited, a vertical borehole can be drilled instead and some can reach 30-50 metres in depth.
I’ve met Bulgarians who say these systems won’t work in Bulgaria and that the ground is too cold or too high-density clay. It isn’t true and I’ve met Bulgarian people who use this system and I’ve seen that it works.
Learn 5 more things about a GeoThermal heat pump from FamilyHandyMan.
5. Air To Water Heat Pump
This system has seen a flurry of improvements over the last 5-years and is now quite a common source of heat in the UK. It’s also my favourite and the one we will implement as soon as we can get back out to Bulgaria to live.
This system is the most environmentally friendly as it converts the air to water heat and provides a constant heat at very low cost. Although the initial payment can be high (reduced significantly over the last 5 years to less than £5k for the entire system), the long-term benefits of this brilliant system outweigh that initial cost.
I have found two installers of the air-to-water system, one in Vratsa and one in Sofia, although other heating companies will tell you this system does not work & is impossible in Bulgaria, it isn’t. I have seen it in use in Bulgaria and it was roasty-toasty warm with underfloor heating and piping hot water.
If you could match this system with solar panels too, your costs would be minimal. I have many friends in the UK using this system and whilst I’m paying £180 for my electricity and gas a month they’re paying under £15! I am jealous but at the moment I’m not in a position to upgrade.
The benefit of this system is 100% Heating Capacity at -15°C.
6. Electric Wall Heaters
The electricity in Bulgaria is hit and miss in some places (you can pay to upgrade your electricity cables and to a 3-phase connection) so if it goes out, you would be left with no heat source but these eco-friendly wall heaters provide a good source of quick heat. They weigh very little and can be hung, even from lightweight walls.
The benefit of these heaters is that you can turn them on and off very quickly and they are highly responsive. The downside will be the cost of electricity and whether the electricity even works.
7. Calor Gas/ LPG Tank
It does appear as if there is Calor (equivalent)/LPG gas in Bulgaria but delivery to a large, above-the-ground-level tank is still non-existent. The biggest bottle I have found is 47kg.
I’ll update this if I find a company to deliver.
8. Exchangeable Gas bottles
If you’re wondering what the cost of gas-fired central heating is, I am not exactly sure however I think this would be an expensive way to heat a large house. It would be more manageable if you only needed to heat a small room or two although you need to factor in the drive to the station to exchange it.
Gas bottles are easy to come by in Bulgaria and rather than re-filling them, you take them to stations to exchange. If you use this option, make sure you have carbon monoxide alarms around the house.
In Sofia, there is an option to subscribe for a replacement service where a van collects your empty gas tank and supplies you with a full one.
9. Mains Gas
Mains gas distribution networks are still confined to major cities. Overgas (Овергаз) is the main private gas retailer in Bulgaria with the largest network of regional distribution companies in the country.
10. Improve The Insulation
Whether you fill the walls, build new exterior walls, put in triple-glazed windows, build new floors, false ceilings or replace any roof insulation, insulation is going to be your best means of maintaining warmth, especially in an old house.
The common method to insulate an attic is fibreglass although you can also find sheep’s wool, cotton, newspaper and chemical foams. Icynene foam insulation is blown into cavities (including walls) using water and contains no CFCs or formaldehyde once cured.
There are plenty of options if you want to reinsulate and most you can do yourself.
11. Fill your floorboard gaps
The floorboards are beautiful to look at but those gaps in between them are chilly.
You can fill those gaps with a filler and sand them afterwards for a level finish. As a double job, I would also fill the skirting boards and make sure there’s no gaps in them.
12. Draught Excluder
Draught excluder is cheap and fairly efficient if you have draughty doors and windows. You can often buy the traditional felt-feeling stuff at 5 metres for less than £7 and it sticks in between the cracks nicely.
However, there are also large draught excludes that embed into PVC windows and have a more plastic look to them. They are described as T-shaped (on Amazon) and sit in between the opening of the window.
Weighted draught excluders used to be very popular back when I was a kid and we didn’t have PVC doors and windows. They come in all sorts of shapes and sizes, often made into animals and covered with bright material. Click here for an example.
13. House Furnishings
These might be the cheapest and most effective in the long run.
- If you’re thinking about carpet, invest in a thicker underlay
- Consider installing winter blinds behind the curtains
- Hang thick curtains with multiple linings
- Buy floor rugs & runners for hallways
- Use blankets and throws for couches, chairs and beds
- Have cushions for couches and chairs
14. Thermal clothing
Investing in thermal long johns might be a good way to stave off cold during the winter months. They should keep your core temperature much higher than if you weren’t wearing them because they trap body heat to warm you up.
I recently watched a video of a Finn in northern Finland getting ready to leave the house and was astounded to see her put on six layers before she left, including long johns.
15. Furry Boots
16. Electric blankets
It is such a pleasure to get into a warm bed! It was one of the first things we invested in when we bought our house in Bulgaria.
Since then, a multitude of electric items have come to the market such as electric shawls and electric slippers.
An electric blanket sits under the sheets (not on top). Click here for an example.
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