To heat or not to heat an empty flat in winter

11/12/2009 - 18:26

We got back from a week in our new appartamento in Lunigiana last night.  Didn't see much sun in Italy, but the weather was mild, and when we threw open the kitchen window shutters on the second morning of our holiday it was to see snow had fallen on the tops of the mountains.  An amazing sight for us who are not used to having mountains on our doorstep!  The locals say snow has come early this year.  We noticed over the following few days the snowline became lower.On Tuesday we went down to Portovenere for a walk along the seafront, and it was a beautiful sight viewing the snow capped mountains glistening in the bright light across the bay.  There were very few people about, most shops were closed, but best of all we were able to get a parking space right in town instead of miles away as is the case in summer.When we locked up the flat to come home there was a decision to make.  Should we leave the heating on low or turn everything off for safety?  We are in a valley, not up in the mountains, and the property is modern, not made of stone.  All but two of the other seven flats have absent owners for the winter and their utility meters indicate that everything is turned off, so perhaps weather conditions are not expected to become too extreme.  What's best? Heating, electricity and water on or off? 


For me the answer isgas - offelectric - offWater - off and pipes drained [open up lowest taps and also flush loo after turning water off]Central heating system - don't drain, but make sure plenty of antifreeze in the system Benefit - no chargesDis-benefit - a cold flat when you arrive [for us it takes 24 hrs to warm it up properly if we do a winter visit]

"What do you do about your clothes and bedding?" We are pretty lucky - the house is relatively dry and we store the bedding in wardrobes - its cold [but not damp] when we get it out for use.If you are worried about damp you can use something like this.............  .................... which will ensure the clothes etc stay dry [and they reduce the space requirement].We get over the cold sheet problem by using hot water bottles for the first night - although you could take over an electric blanket if your a real softie................."Do you suffer a damp bed the first night?"No - I just make sure I don't drink too much  

It seems to me that Alan H's suggestion to turn off water and gas is very sensible.However, I'd suggest you might consider leaving a dehumidifier running. As I've mentioned previously here, we have one of the cheap portable versions and think it's very useful over the winter in our old house.I'd imagine that you have much less of a problem with dampness in your recently built place, but since you mention damp beds...When we go away for extended periods, we leave the dehumidifer on with the humidity sensor set to the mid-point. The thing normally dumps collected water in a container, but by moving a plug from one tube to another the water will dribble out the bottom, so we leave it sitting in the shower.The dehumdifier uses less than 300 Watts and the sensor means it's not on all the time, so it's not going to cost you a fortune to leave it running. What's more, the power it consumes is a small source of heat which might ensure that your place is frost-free over the winter.Al

When we first bought our house our geometra told us by law we had to turn the water off when we were not using it. We do turn everything off. Our house is stone and in the mountains but has never shown any sign of damp. At first I used to store bedding in wardrobes but I have become idle and just leave cleanish (slept in 1 or 2 nights) sheets on the bed ready for next time and cover with a dust protector. It always feels like we have never been away, even after a few months absence. I keep a good stock of hot water bottles ready to warm it up while we light the stove. Even our 3 cantinas are bone dry.You make me really envious talking about the snow capped mountains viewed from Portovenere. I love going in winter when the views are so sharp and the coast is wilder without masses of visitors. Really hope we can visit in Feb. Big Sigh! 

We also do much as the above, we have a house up the mountains and turn everything off before we leave, good idea about flushing the lo etc., after turning off the water.When we go back in December the house can take up to 24hrs to heat up beacuse it's an old building but we keep the heating on and have plenty of hot water bottles and use two duvets to keep warm, nice an cosy..................No problem with the linen or clothes as the house is not damp, they are just generally cold and don't take long to heat up. We are also in the Lunigiana region.........beautiful snow capped mountains. Wish I was there now.................

Thank you everyone for your advice, it seems we have done the right thing in leaving the water and heating turned off in the flat in our absence. However, I don't know what my old mum would say about using bedding and clothes that hadn't had a good airing in the airing cupboard. She'd say we'll catch our death of cold!Hopefully not, the flat's only 8 years old and the radiators when turned on pump out a ferocious heat, so getting everything warmed up on arrival shouldn’t take too long.I think what was playing on my mind was the memory of an unfortunate flat we viewed earlier this year when we were property hunting, Admittedly, it was on the ground floor of an old stone house, and the electricity had been cut off for a few months, but the lovely furnishings were stained with streaks of mould and there was a cold, dank atmosphere, like you’d imagine you’d find in a newly opened tomb. I ran out of that flat like a shot – had I viewed it on a summer afternoon I am sure my impression would have been very different.We’ll soon become old hands at property owning in Italy. We've lived abroad before, but this time we're the ones footing the bills, so we want to avoid silly mistakes like leaving the water on when there's an Italian law against doing such a thing when a property is uninhabited for a while ....... which, horrors, might invalidate our insurance!

My house insurance says that we have to turn off the water and electricity when the property is empty for a length of time, ie when we have returned to the UK and it is not being lived in. Years ago we would do the same in the UK if I remember rightly, when going away on holiday etc., I also leave the beds made up ready for the next visit because our flights from Newcastle are mid evening and we don't get to the house until about 10.30 or 11pm.  So I have electric blankets that we put on and "air" the beds for a good while before going to bed.  Whilst waiting we have sat outside with a glass of wine, relaxing after our travels.  (The reason we sit outside is because in the winter months or early spring it is warmer outside than inside our stone house after not being lived in for a while). The house is bitterly cold, as is the tiled floor but snuggled into a lovely warm bed is great.  A couple of days later and all is normal again.Maralyn