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Utilities and Your Italian Vacation Rental

Pat Byrne

Why Do Italian Vacation Rentals Charge Separately for Utilities?

You may be surprised to find that even luxury rental apartments in Italy charge extra for utilities: electricity, gas, and, sometimes propane. We may think our own utility bills are high, but that is nothing compared to costs in Italy which has some of the highest electricity prices in Europe. The result can be stunning electrical bills when you check out of your vacation villa in Tuscany or apartment in Rome.

I researched this on the internet and found this information that appears authoritative: While other nations have reduced their dependence on oil over the last 30 years by increasing use of nuclear and coal power generation (France from 45% to 2%, Germany from 23% to 1.5%, Sweden from 19% to 3%, Belgium from 78% to 15%), Italy has increased the use of oil from 61% to 71%. So the energy bills in Italy are three times higher than in Sweden and 60% higher than the European average. In the US there are a variety of schemes in which companies compete for your energy business helping to keep costs down; Italy has structured their regional electrical companies such that there can be no competition.

There are attempts to throttle electrical consumption in Italy so homeowners face a variety of surcharges. For example, the electric company imposes surcharges on all electrical use where the electrical capacity in the entire domicile exceeds three kilowatts (16 amps). By comparison, most houses in the U.S. have six or more circuits each with 16 amps! Three kilowatts is not enough to run one big air conditioner, and if you have a small one, you probably couldn't run it and the electric hot water heater simultaneously.

As a result, many vacation rentals in Italy use the electric and gas meters. Usually, the owner or key holder will show them to you when you check in and out, allowing you to see the number that they are noting. Some clever clients have taken photos to record the before and after readings as an easy way to remember. When you check in ask the rate they will use to charge you for utilities.

Controlling Utility Costs in Your Vacation Rental in Italy

Many Americans like to be comfortable and tolerate a narrow indoor temperature range, about 65 to 75 degrees Fahrenheit, and are willing to pay the relatively modest domestic cost to keep their homes within that range. Not so in Italy, where in the winter, Italians put on a sweater or two and warm slippers in order to tolerate 60F.

Summertime air conditioning is a relatively new phenomenon in homes and even in many offices. The traditional solution is to go to the seaside or the mountains when it gets hot. Italians have liberal vacation policies, so many can spend the month of August staying cool.

When you travel to Italy, be prepared to either pay rather dearly for a comfortable temperature in your rental apartment or villa, or to conserve energy the way the Italians do. Even if you don't exercise all of these energy saving options, consider that your Italian neighbors are doing so and this is an insight into how they live their daily lives.

Cool Weather Utility Cost Conservation in Italy

  • Only heat the room you are using, closing doors to the rest of the house.
  • Wear a sweater and warm clothes.
  • Wear warm slippers; those lovely marble and ceramic floors are cold. It is also a common courtesy in apartments to wear slippers inside so as not to transmit the noise of hard shoes on hard floors.
  • Close the shutters and draw the curtains in unused rooms and at night to increase insulation. (When opening shutters, do secure them. There is nothing better to take a few years off your life than being awakened in the middle of the night by the banging of an unlatched shutter.)
  • Turn down the heat when you leave the house.

Hot Weather Utility Cost Conservation in Italy

Schedules and buildings in Italy are designed for the warmer climate. The afternoon siesta allows you to sleep through the heat of the day. High ceilings, large windows, French doors, and thick walls all play a role in increasing comfort. The high ceilings allow warm air to rise away from you. Thick walls insulate, trapping cool air inside. And windows and doors allow you to invite the beautiful climate indoors.

  • If it is cooler earlier in the day, open up and let in the cool air. Open doors and windows on opposite sides of building and open internal doors to let the cooler air wash through.
  • It is usually better to turn off the air conditioner when you leave the building. Because air conditioning is relatively new in the country, the air conditioners are also usually new and very efficient and it costs less to cool a room than to keep it cool for hours while you are gone. Older buildings have thick walls that conserve the inside temperature.
  • Close doors and cool only the rooms you are using. 
  • Close the door to the kitchen to isolate the cooking heat. 
  • Before the day heats up, keep the sun out by partially closing shutters. There are many adjustments to shutters that can increase your comfort, see below.
  • Take a nap in the heat of the day and enjoy the evenings outside. The national schedule is designed for this with a two to four hour midday break and a late dinner hour.
  • Go swimming, go to the beach, and have a gelato in the shade.
  • Eat outside, al fresco.

Adjusting Shutters for Comfort

Shutters are both climate control and security appliances and have multiple settings to allow you to adjust for your comfort. If you can see your Italian neighbors, you can take cues from how they have their set for a particular time of day.

Always close and lock shutters when you are going to be out of your vacation rental and when you are sleeping. Robbery of vacation rentals does happen (get insurance) and some thieves target vacation rentals just because the occupants may not be particularly careful.

Notice how the locking mechanism latches. You can easily turn the handles and think that you've latched the shutters but, in fact, haven't. There are a variety of clever mechanisms: in some cases the vertical bar rotates, moving latches around a small metal post set in the upper and lower window frame, or two vertical bars attached to the handle move up and down into metal loops or holes in the frame.

When you open shutters, latch them open. There are several different mechanisms; spend a second and learn how the work. The alternative is restarting your heart after a loose shutter bangs you awake.

There may be adjustments for partially opening shutters. And some shutters have panels that open various ways when the main shutter is closed.

Persiani (literally Persians, no doubt having something to do with their origins) are shutters that slide up and down in a track outside the window or door and roll up into a reservoir above the opening. Opening and closing persiani is best done with long even pulls on the strap, jerking and yanking may jam your shades. Your host may point out a cranky shade and show you the trick for adjusting it.

You can see that the slats can be closed all the way to block light and air almost entirely. But, you can pull up a small amount and perforated bands between the slats will let in light and air. You can also open them partially to let in air below them while the upper sections block incoming sunshine.

Read No Air Conditioning - But You Can Still Keep Cool for a few more comments about shutters.

Hot Water

Many Italian homes are equipped with flow-through or flash water heaters. They are tankless and heat the water as you use it, conserving energy. These are usually great; you never have the problem of running out of hot water. The only caution may be trying to have several baths at the same time or trying to take a shower while running the washer.

Utility Cost Conservation in General

And, of course, you can turn off lights when you leave a room, turn off the television when not watching it. You may find that some vacation rentals use annoyingly low-wattage bulbs. It is very hard to explain to the Italian owner that they need to be more generous with their bulbs; the conservation ethic is very deeply ingrained. If you find that the bulb in your reading lamp is just too dim, my suggestion is to pick up a higher wattage one when you go to the store. If you aren't going to a large department store, you will find bulbs in a hardware store, usually easy to note because they display useful household items on the sidewalk or in the window.

An alternate perspective comes from my husband who likes it warm in winter and cool in the summer. You may have to make a number of cultural adjustments in your travels anyway, so if sweaters in the winter and sweating in the summer will negatively affect your disposition, be comfortable and expect to pay 20 Euros or so a week more for electricity; it is just another vacation expense.

Pat Byrne is the president of Excellent Europe a company that offers vacation rentals in Italy. She is also the author of the Italy Discovery Journal for family travel in Italy.
www.ExcellentEurope.com and www.KidsEurope.com.

© Copyright Kids Europe 2005

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