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Reader question: Should I invest in an electric heater in Germany this winter?

With gas prices on the rise in Germany, is it worth investing in a small electric heater rather than cranking up your home heating system?

Gas heaters on display in Hornbach Baumarkt in Fröttmaning.
Electric heaters are among the many heating devices lining store shelves right now, like these on display in on display in a Hornbach Baumarkt in Fröttmaning Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Felix Hörhager

As gas prices skyrocket in Germany, largely fuelled by decreasing dependence on Russian gas and worries that the country could turn off the taps completely, many are worried that they won’t be able to foot their heating bill this winter.

A year ago, the cost of a megawatt hour of gas was around €20. By July, this had risen to around €140 per megawatt hour, leading to fears that bills could be as much as eight times higher than before when the colder months come.

READ ALSO: German households could see ‘four-digit rise’ in energy costs this winter

“With the alarming predictions about gas prices and heating costs for this winter, would using a small electric heater be SLIGHTLY cheaper and help reduce gas usage?” one Local reader asked us recently. 

“I have a small home office so will need some heat but the large radiator now seems a little scary financially.”

Cutting costs?

Johnson is not alone in considering investing in a home heater ahead of the winter. 

Sales of the devices have already shot up: in the first half of the year, around 600,000 were snapped up by shoppers in Germany, a full 35 percent more than in the same period last year, according to market research company GfK.

But these heating devices can actually have the opposite of the intended effect to cut costs, warn consumer protection experts.

At the moment, electricity costs in Germany are currently at an average of 30 cents per kilowatt hour, compared to oil and gas costs of 15 cents per kilowatt hour. This means that using electric heaters would be almost double the cost of using a radiator.

“You don’t save money with fan heaters; on the contrary, you drive up your electricity bill,” Ramona Pop, chairwoman of the Federation of German Consumer Organisations, told Redaktionsnetzwerk Deutschland.

“In addition, there is the danger that the power distribution networks will be overloaded if massive numbers of electric heaters are turned on,” added Pop. 

Electric heaters are known as 'energy guzzlers' and their use could hurt the electricity grid in Germany. (Photo by Achudh Krishna on Unsplash)
Electric heaters are known as ‘energy guzzlers’ and their use could hurt the electricity grid in Germany. (Photo by Achudh Krishna on Unsplash)

Other methods to save energy

Germany’s Association of Energy Companies and the Federal Network Agency advises people to simply keep the temperature in rooms lower, even if it means bundling up more indoors, in order to save on energy costs.

“Electronic heating devices such as fan heaters, radiators and convectors are not made to replace heating and should therefore only be used with caution,” a spokeswoman for the German Association of Energy and Water Industries (BDEW) told the newspapers of the Funke Mediengruppe.

Many German housing contracts furthermore have a clause that radiator heating needs to be set to a minimum during the winter ‘Heizperiode’ (heating period) – usually to the two setting out of a maximum of five.

Also known as the Heizsaison, this chillier time officially starts around October 30th and ends on April 30th. However, the German government is looking into changing this law to allow people with these contracts to lower temperatures further if they choose to.

Other methods of saving on energy costs – while ensuring that rooms still stay warm enough – include making sure that old windows are properly sealed and ventilating properly, since dry air heats up more quickly than stuffy humid air. 

As water accounts for 13 percent of heating costs in Germany, it’s also worth investing in a water saving shower head and taking shorter showers instead of longer baths. 

READ ALSO: 8 simple ways to save on heating costs in Germany

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Germany to turn thermostat down as gas shortage looms

Germany will limit heating in public buildings over the winter to save on gas as Russia throttles supplies to Europe, Economy Minister Robert Habeck said on Friday.

Germany to turn thermostat down as gas shortage looms

“Public properties – with the exception of hospitals and other parts of the social system, of course – will only be heated to 19C,” Habeck told the daily Süddeutsche Zeitung in an interview.

Public buildings and monuments will also not be lit at night, a measure already taken individually by some cities, as Germany searches for ways to save energy.

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

The recent reduction of gas supplies from Russia, amid tensions over the invasion of Ukraine, has forced the government to act.

Europe’s largest economy, which relies heavily on gas to heat homes and power industry, is trying to wean itself off Russian imports, while avoiding shortages over the winter.

The government has mandated gas storage facilities to be filled almost fully by December and restarted mothballed coal-power plants to take the strain off gas-fired units.

A public information drive has been launched and the government has also subsidised public transport over the summer.

Among the other measures decided in July was a move to ban the heating of private pools with gas.

Habeck, who has said he personally is taking shorter showers to save hot water, said that “more energy savings are needed in the world of work, too.”