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READER QUESTIONS

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

Energy costs in Germany have been rapidly rising, 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

Is now a good time to switch energy providers in Germany?

The market prices for electricity and gas in Germany are cheaper now than they have been for a long time, leading some consumer advisors to recommend customers shop around for lower tariffs.

Is now a good time to switch energy providers in Germany?

Why are energy prices going down? 

Last year, energy prices in Germany rose to record heights following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. But now, partly thanks to a milder winter than initially feared, market prices for gas and electricity have taken a downturn.

READ ALSO: ‘Over half’ of Germans heating homes less or not at all

So far, however, most consumers are yet to benefit from the lower prices, as they are still being supplied with the electricity and gas that suppliers bought at higher prices last year.

This is particularly the case with the so-called basic suppliers (Grundversorger) – the companies that supply most customers in a region (such as Vattenfall or GASAG) – as they tend to buy electricity and gas on a long-term basis, in some cases years in advance. 

Last year, this meant that the basic suppliers could still offer the lower prices of the past, but gradually, they have had to raise their tariffs. 

“As a result, they now have some catching up to do and are passing on the high procurement prices to customers,” Christina Wallraf, an energy expert at the consumer advice centre in North Rhine-Westphalia explained.

Who is offering low prices?

Gas and electricity prices from so-called alternative suppliers – energy companies other than the basic suppliers – are now falling across the board.

This is because such suppliers have a short-term procurement strategy, which means they can “pass on favourable market prices more quickly than the basic suppliers buy for longer periods”, Hans Weinreuter from the Rhineland-Palatinate consumer centre explained.

For new customers – energy shoppers who join a new provider – prices are considerably cheaper than they were a few months ago. 

A green plug in front of an electricity bill. Photo: picture alliance / Jens Kalaene/dpa-Zentralbild/dpa | Jens Kalaene

The current average price of a kilowatt hour of gas for new customers is currently around 14.3 cents – 64 percent less than the average at the beginning of September last year when it reached a peak of around 40 cents. 

Electricity prices for new customers have also dropped by around 24 percent since mid-October, when a kilowatt hour of electricity for new customers still cost an average of 56 cents, whereas the current price is 42.7 cents.

For basic suppliers, the prices have moved in the opposite direction. Since the beginning of September, basic gas supply prices rose on average from 12.7 to 17.7 cents per kWh, while the price of basic electricity supply rose by 27 percent – from 36.8 to 46.6 cents per kWh since mid-October.

When does it make sense to switch?

Numerous consumer advisors recommend those who are currently stuck in very expensive tariffs to look around for alternatives.

“That’s where a look at possible alternatives makes sense,” says Hans Weinreuter from the Rhineland-Palatinate Consumer Center.

Udo Sieverding, an energy expert at the consumer advice centre in North Rhine-Westphalia, told the Berliner Taggespiegel: “Anyone who wants to switch now has a good chance of finding a cheaper tariff.”

He added that there is no rush, however, and said that he considers “the risk of prices at discounters going up again in the next few months to be low”.

A man turns up the thermostat on a radiator.

A man turns up the thermostat on a radiator. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Hauke-Christian Dittrich

However, Julia Schröder, an energy law expert at the Lower Saxony consumer advice centre, recommended that consumers should not take the decision to switch suppliers lightly, as this usually means being bound to a new provider for one or two years when “nobody can foresee” how prices will develop over the next 24 months. A change would therefore be worth it only if it resulted in substantial savings, she advised. 

However, Ingbert Liebing, CEO of the Association of Municipal Enterprises (VKU), recently criticised the appeals of experts to consumers to switch from basic suppliers to discounters with cheap tariffs.

READ ALSO: Energy prices could double long-term in Germany, utilities companies warn

“It was foreseeable that now again soldiers of fortune would enter the energy market and think they can make a quick deal, at the expense of the municipal utilities and basic suppliers,” he said of the lower tariffs currently on offer by alternative providers. 

He warned against cheap tariffs that lure customers in with low prices for a short period of time and then raise them again in a matter of months. 

Can I switch from a basic to a discount provider?

Theoretically, switching from a basic to an alternative energy provider should be straightforward. Unlike those in contracts with special tariffs, customers of basic suppliers generally have the legal right to cancel at any time with two weeks’ notice and look for another supplier.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to change electricity and gas providers in Germany

Those who are not with a basic supplier should look at their documents and check for how long their current gas supply contract is still valid. If there is a supplier with more favourable conditions, it may be worthwhile to terminate the contract. 

Oncoming price brakes

Another thing to bear in mind when considering whether to switch energy suppliers is the oncoming price brakes for gas and electricity. 

READ ALSO: 7 reasons to be optimistic about life in Germany in 2023

In the case of electricity, 80 percent of consumption will be capped at 40 cents per kilowatt hour from March, backdated to January. The same applies to gas: from March, backdated to January, natural gas customers will receive a state-guaranteed price of twelve cents per kilowatt hour for 80 percent of their previous annual consumption.

A person holds a wallet with cash.

A person holds a wallet with cash. Photo: picture alliance/dpa | Lino Mirgeler

Despite the price brakes, it can still be worth switching if the contractually agreed energy price with your current supplier is over 40 cents per kilowatt hour for electricity and over twelve cents per kilowatt hour for gas.

That’s largely because the price brakes for electricity and gas are currently limited to just one year.

“If the price brakes are not extended, every kilowatt hour consumed will cost the regular contract price again next year. This is another reason why it will be important for consumers to choose the cheapest possible tariff this year,” said Thorsten Storck from Verivox.

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