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Reader question: When should I turn on my heating in Switzerland this year?

Energy costs in Switzerland are set to reach sky-high levels this winter, which will leave many people wondering when they should start heating their homes.

Reader question: When should I turn on my heating in Switzerland this year?
19C is a good, energy-saving temperature. Photo by Arthur Lambillotte on Unsplash

The government has recently announced that “Swiss electricity prices will rise sharply for households in 2023”.

It added that “a typical household will pay 26.95 centimes per kilowatt hour, which corresponds to an increase of 27 percent. However, the differences can be much greater at the local level”.

READ MORE: Swiss government confirms ‘sharp increase’ in electricity prices

However, higher prices and the threat of energy shortage don’t eliminate the need to heat our homes during the coldest months of the year.

So when should you start heating?

While this wasn’t a concern during the summer heatwave — when most people were trying to find ways to cool off, not to get warmer — it is an issue now that the weather has gotten colder in much of Switzerland.

When you can start turning on the heat depends on whether you are a tenant or a homeowner.

In the former case, you pretty much depend on your landlord.

The usual heating season in Switzerland, according to Homegate real estate plarform, runs from mid-September to mid-May, which means it is currently underway.

However, “as soon as the outside temperature drops below 14C, landlords are required to switch on the heating”, even if this happens before September 15th and after mid-May.

If, on the other hand, you own your home or apartment, you obviously have more leeway in terms of when you start and stop to heat your dwelling.

Generally speaking, the September-to-May rule carries some flexibility too. For instance, if you live in Ticino, temperatures may not drop below 14C until the end of autumn, so you may not need to heat your place as early as someone in, say, in the village of La Brévine near Neuchâtel, which is the coldest commune in the country.

What should you do if your landlord doesn’t turn on the heat on time?

According to Swiss Tenants Association (ASLOCA), you should complain to your landlord by a registered letter.

In the meantime, and for as long as there is no heat, you are entitled to request (and obtain) a reduction in rent to go into effect from the moment the landlord is notified of the situation.

At what temperature should your apartment or house be this winter?

With the country bracing for energy shortages, including possible blackouts, the government has recently issued recommendations about electricity-cutting measures — including those related to heating.

“The room temperature should never exceed 20C. By reducing it by 1C, you save up to 10 percent of heating energy”, the government said on September 1st, as it launched a national campaign under the slogan “Energy is limited. Let’s not waste it”.

READ MORE: What the Swiss government is asking you to do to save energy

Also, the above temperatures generally apply from 7 am to 11 pm; the heating can be lowered at night to reduce fuel consumption.

The general consensus among experts, however, is that by lowering the indoor temperature to 19C, you could reduce your consumption (and bills) by 5 to 6 percent.

What happens if you don’t comply with the temperature rules?

Authorities are hoping that everyone will follow the recommendations voluntarily, for the common good.

But what if you turn on your heat earlier and keep it higher than recommended?

Likely nothing, but your social consciousness may suffer.

Despite a fake poster that urges people to snitch on the neighbours who overheat their homes, “it is difficult to imagine that police officers with a thermometer would come and hand out fines if the temperature is one degree too high in the apartment”, MP Christian Imark pointed out.

The goal, according to Economy Minister Guy Parmelin, is “not to create a police state”.

READ MORE: READER QUESTION: What are the rules on heating my Swiss home this winter?

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How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

European governments are announcing emergency measures on a near-weekly basis to protect households and businesses from the energy crisis stemming from Russia's war in Ukraine.

How European countries are spending billions on easing energy crisis

Hundreds of billions of euros and counting have been shelled out since Russia invaded its pro-EU neighbour in late February.

Governments have gone all out: from capping gas and electricity prices to rescuing struggling energy companies and providing direct aid to households to fill up their cars.

The public spending has continued, even though European Union countries had accumulated mountains of new debt to save their economies during the Covid pandemic in 2020.

But some leaders have taken pride at their use of the public purse to battle this new crisis, which has sent inflation soaring, raised the cost of living and sparked fears of recession.

After announcing €14billion in new measures last week, Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi boasted the latest spending put Italy, “among the countries that have spent the most in Europe”.

The Bruegel institute, a Brussels-based think tank that is tracking energy crisis spending by EU governments, ranks Italy as the second-biggest spender in Europe, after Germany.

READ ALSO How EU countries aim to cut energy bills and avoid blackouts this winter

Rome has allocated €59.2billion since September 2021 to shield households and businesses from the rising energy prices, accounting for 3.3 percent of its gross domestic product.

Germany tops the list with €100.2billion, or 2.8 percent of its GDP, as the country was hit hard by its reliance on Russian gas supplies, which have dwindled in suspected retaliation over Western sanctions against Moscow for the war.

On Wednesday, Germany announced the nationalisation of troubled gas giant Uniper.

France, which shielded consumers from gas and electricity price rises early, ranks third with €53.6billion euros allocated so far, representing 2.2 percent of its GDP.

Spending to continue rising
EU countries have now put up €314billion so far since September 2021, according to Bruegel.

“This number is set to increase as energy prices remain elevated,” Simone Tagliapietra, a senior fellow at Bruegel, told AFP.

The energy bills of a typical European family could reach €500 per month early next year, compared to €160 in 2021, according to US investment bank Goldman Sachs.

The measures to help consumers have ranged from a special tax on excess profits in Italy, to the energy price freeze in France, and subsidies public transport in Germany.

But the spending follows a pandemic response that increased public debt, which in the first quarter accounted for 189 percent of Greece’s GDP, 153 percent in Italy, 127 percent in Portugal, 118 percent in Spain and 114 percent in France.

“Initially designed as a temporary response to what was supposed to be a temporary problem, these measures have ballooned and become structural,” Tagliapietra said.

“This is clearly not sustainable from a public finance perspective. It is important that governments make an effort to focus this action on the most vulnerable households and businesses as much as possible.”

Budget reform
The higher spending comes as borrowing costs are rising. The European Central Bank hiked its rate for the first time in more than a decade in July to combat runaway inflation, which has been fuelled by soaring energy prices.

The yield on 10-year French sovereign bonds reached an eight-year high of 2.5 percent on Tuesday, while Germany now pays 1.8 percent interest after boasting a negative rate at the start of the year.

The rate charged to Italy has quadrupled from one percent earlier this year to four percent now, reviving the spectre of the debt crisis that threatened the eurozone a decade ago.

“It is critical to avoid debt crises that could have large destabilising effects and put the EU itself at risk,” the International Monetary Fund warned in a recent blog calling for reforms to budget rules.

The EU has suspended until 2023 rules that limit the public deficit of countries to three percent of GDP and debt to 60 percent.

The European Commission plans to present next month proposals to reform the 27-nation bloc’s budget rules, which have been shattered by the crises.