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Why are Spanish homes so cold?

Granada with snowy mountains
Even though Granada is in southern Spain, its winters can be very harsh and houses are not generally well-equipped for the cold. Photo: Juncho614 / Pixabay
Many foreigners who move to Spain are surprised by just how freezing Spanish winters can be, but they're equally shocked by how sometimes it's colder inside their Spanish homes than outdoors.

The last thing that crosses most people’s minds when they think of Spain is the idea of being freezing cold.

But daytime winter temperatures in Spain can vary between minus degrees in the central and northern regions near the Pyrenees to around 10°C to 15°C in the south.

While this might not sound bad, the problem is often that houses in Spain are not well-equipped for winter and it can sometimes feel far colder inside the house than it does outside, particularly in southern cities such as Málaga and Granada. 

So why is this the case? The Local Spain speaks to readers about their experiences of ice-cold Spanish homes and goes over some of the reasons why houses and apartments seem so ill-equipped for low temperatures.

Lack of insulation

One of the main reasons why Spanish homes are so cold is the lack of insulation, as many houses were designed to be kept cool during the hot months with little thought for the colder months.

A large number of Spanish properties were also built before regulations on insulation and other modern building standards existed, resulting in these houses losing any heat they do have very quickly.

Combine that with the glacial winters some parts of Spain have, and you’re more than likely to keep your scarf and thick wooly socks on indoors.

Daniel Welsch told The Local: “I was surprised that Spain had a winter at all. I’d never really been cold before moving to Madrid”.

Cáceres resident Troy Nahumko added that “my Canadian mother has said that the coldest winter she had spent was in Extremadura…and she lived above the continent on islands in the Artic for several years”.

Madrid in the snow
Snow storm Filomena sent temperatures plummeting in Madrid in January 2021. Photo: Check in Madrid / Unsplash
 

Older apartment buildings are draughty

More than half of all residential buildings in Spain were built more than 40 years ago, some of which are protected, making it harder to carry out renovation work.

As many foreigners in Spain move to historic city centres and like the idea of living in an old building packed full of authentic features, they soon find out that these outdated dwellings tend to be draughty and don’t retain their heat well. 

Lots of Spanish buildings are also built around central patios, which keep them cool in summer but cause even more of a draught in winter. 

Cities in Andalusia, especially near the coast, often have more humidity than cities in the north or inland, making them feel a lot colder than they actually are.

Katie Uniacke, who used to live in Granada but now lives in Zaragoza – a city also famed for its chilly wind – said: “In my first place in Granada (a crumbling house below the Alhambra) I absolutely froze”.

Lack of central heating

According to Spain’s National Statistics Institute, around 70.3 percent of Spanish homes have some type of heating, but this means that there’s a pretty large percentage that don’t. Even among those classified as having heating, around 14 percent are just using small electric heaters rather than proper boilers with a system of radiators.

Mark Harrison, who lived in Granada, told The Local: “I had no central heating, or anything installed at all, when I lived in Granada. Froze every day during winter until someone loaned me a mesa camilla con brasero eléctrico. Couldn’t believe such a thing even existed. Like a blanket/table/bed combo with a dangerous heater attached.”

Particularly if you’re renting a place, you’ll often find that your house or apartment won’t be equipped with central heating.

Deborah Powell, who lives in Cádiz in southwest Spain, told The Local: “I have never been as cold as I am here in Cádiz each winter. I had central heating when I lived in Madrid, but not here. I tend to wear more clothes inside than outside in winter. The house has a log burner, but wood is very expensive”.

radiator in home

Many houses in Spain don’t have central heating. Photo Eduard Militaru / Unsplash

Many places don’t have double glazing

Along with the lack of insulation and central heating, many Spanish homes don’t have double glazing either, leading to plenty of heat loss through the windows during the winter months.

Christopher Dottie, who lives in Catalonia, said: “I bought my house a few years back and didn’t bother changing the small original windows in the attic. After a winter of home-working up there I put double glazing in and I can now work without constantly stamping my feet”.

Double glazing can definitely make a big difference in your Spanish home, with the added bonus of saving on gas and electric heating if your windows can retain the heat from the sun.

READ ALSO: How the right orientation of your Spanish home can save you hundreds on energy bills

The floors

Spanish homes typically have tiled or wooden floors. British readers in Spain will know it’s very rare to find a property with wall-to-wall carpets like in the UK.

Tiled or wooden flooring helps keep Spanish buildings cool during the hot summers, as well as making it easier to clean up dust and other dirt. Unfortunately, these types of materials do tend to make the floor much colder to the touch during the winter months, and if it feels that your feet are freezing your whole body is likely to feel a lot colder overall. Investing in some rugs in the winter can help retain heat and keep your feet a bit warmer.

James Allison, who lives in Madrid, told The Local: “I used to have to wear ski socks on top of regular socks just to function. Slippers didn’t cut it”.

slippers, cold

Tiled floors in Spain make it extra cold on the feet. Photo: Katrina_S / Pixabay

The houses on the coast and Andalusia are built differently from the ones in northern Spain  

As Spain has vastly different climates, the building rules and regulations are different between regions. This means that the houses in Málaga and Granada are not built to the same standards as the ones in Galicia or Asturias, even though sometimes temperatures can be the same – or even lower in the case of Granada, which has a high altitude and bitterly cold winters, not aided by the surrounding snowy Sierra Nevada mountains. 

Eleanor Staniforth, who swapped southern for northern Spain, said: “No central heating here but I find the cold a lot more bearable in Galicia than I did when I lived in Granada. I’ve never, ever been as cold as I was that winter. The only heating we had was a stinky gas burner and they’d give you a headache after a while”.

Electricity is expensive

Spain currently has some of the highest electricity prices in Europe, meaning that if your Spanish home doesn’t have insulation, double glazing or modern building materials, keeping your place warm can turn into a veritable money pit. And many people in the country simply can’t afford to heat their homes for long periods of time.

As Lorna Turnbull, who lives in Barcelona, says: “No central heating in our flat, just those electric heaters on timers. Not looking forward to our bills this winter”.

READ ALSO:

Properties in Spain

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