How to Stay Warm in Portuguese Houses During Winter

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Parts of Portugal like the Algarve, the Alentejo, and Lisbon are blessed with some of the mildest winters that Europe has to offer. Outside, that is.

Inside a Portuguese house is another story altogether. 

Portuguese houses and apartments are typically poorly insulated and almost never have central heating of any kind. The result: temperatures so cold that you can sometimes see your breath inside and many people wear 2, 3, or even more layers around the house and to bed. 

When I asked others what they do to get through winter, I received some creative and dramatic responses that show just how cold a winter here can really be. 

Many confessed to sleeping in sleeping bags during the winter, often underneath a duvet and sometimes on top of one as well, while others recommended using not just one but several hot water bottles. One person even admitted to using a 5 litre capacity hot water bottle. 

Other lifehacks included preheating the bed with a hairdryer or using an iron to iron your clothes on the bed so you heat up both your clothes and the bed at the same time. 

Most common recommendations

The following are some of the most common and most effective ways to keep your house warm. Utilising just one of these solutions mightn’t be enough and, generally speaking, most people should try to combine as many of them as possible in order to get the best results. 

A Heater

The most obvious solution is a heater such as this best-selling oil heater on Amazon.es, although this in itself isn’t always enough to solve the problem. 

The heat, particularly from the electric space heaters that most people use, doesn’t tend to stick around and only works when it’s directly pointed at you. Electric oil heaters and gas heaters suffer from the same problem, but some people say they do a slightly better job. 

You can also improve your property’s ability to hold heat by making small improvements to your insulation: put draft stoppers at the bottom of the doors and fix any cracks or holes around the windows. 

It’s also worth pointing out that heaters will raise your electricity bill, particularly if you’re using it all day, as electricity is very expensive in Portugal. Gas space heaters often work out cheaper, but many people don’t like having large gas bottles around the house. 

It’s also worth noting that because space heaters use a lot of electricity, you may find that the electricity cuts out if you use another high-powered appliance like a microwave or a hair dryer at the same time. 

A Dehumidifier

Another popular recommendation, and one that mightn’t be immediately obvious is to use a dehumidifier. Again, you can pick one up from Amazon Spain or alternatively at somewhere like Leroy Merlin.

Dehumidifiers remove moisture from the air, which reduces dampness and the risk of the black mold that plagues Portuguese houses, and also makes it easier for the room to heat up, especially when using a heater. Using one near your wardrobe can also remove dampness from your clothes. 

Not sure if a dehumidifier will help? You can get a humidity thermometer (or hygrometer) to measure the humidity in your home or simply ask a friend if you can borrow their dehumidifier for a day or two. 

A A good (or electric) blanket

A good duvet — one capable of keeping you warm in a Portuguese winter — will probably set you back more than €100 at IKEA and, even then, you may still want another big blanket on top. An even better option would be to add an electric blanket. For couples, there are even electric blankets that have two controls so you can heat each side of the bed according to your own desired temperature. 

Want to make your bed even warmer? Consider putting a warm blanket beneath the sheets or, even better, an electric mattress topper. 

Layers

Layers, whether on the bed or for your clothes, were another common recommendation with many people recommending wearing three or more pairs of socks, thermals, long-sleeve t-shirts and multiple jumpers, or pyjamas underneath the clothes. Hats, thick socks, fingerless gloves, and thick-soled slippers were also recommended. 

Warm drinks

Tea, coffee, or soup — warm drinks are great for keeping you warm during winter. You’ll get through a lot of warm liquids, so just make sure you invest in some caffeine-free tea bags otherwise you’ll be bouncing off the walls. 

Mind the drop

During a Portuguese winter, the air is often warmer outside than inside particularly between around 11 am and 3 pm. It’s a good idea to open up the windows both to get some of that warm air, but also to prevent humidity in the house. 

The only thing you have to watch out for is that sudden drop in temperature that Portugal gets when the afternoon turns into evening. 

South-facing rooms are usually the warmest

Unless there’s another building directly in front of you, south-facing rooms are usually the warmest and will require less heating. If you haven’t already bought or rented a place in Portugal, this is definitely something to look out for.

More Permanent Solutions

If you own your own property, you’ll have the freedom to make a few more permanent changes to your property which will help to keep it warmer including adding better insulation or installing heating. 

Wood Chip Stoves

Wood chip or pellet stoves are a very popular heating solution in Portugal. They typically give off more heat than a normal fireplace, the pellets are easier to store than the wood, they get going faster, they’re easier to clean, and your clothes don’t smell as bad from the smoke. 

Underfloor Heating

There are lots of different types of permanent heaters available, but underfloor heating is considered to be one of the most effective and wall heat is often recommended as well. Unfortunately both, particularly underfloor heating, are messy and expensive to install, but many say that it’s definitely worth it.

Other Creative Solutions

  • Tinder – If you’re single, find somewhere else to keep you warm at night. One person even recommended finding a couple. After all: more meat = more heat. 
  • Exercise – Press Ups, star jumps, and running on the stop all help you to keep warm and they’ll burn calories too. Alternatively, if you live somewhere hilly like Lisbon, take to the streets for a quick powerwalk up and down one of the many hills. 
  • Alcohol – If fitness isn’t your thing, try a little vodka, whisky, medronho, or bagaco. And don’t worry if it’s early in the day, just put a little bit in your coffee to get you going.  
  • Think about things that make you angry – Don’t meditate; fixate! Let that blood boil.
  • Pets – Cats and dogs can be good lap warmers during the day and, if you don’t mind them in the bed at night, a source of heat in the evening. 
  • Buy a brand new apartment – Rather than trying to fix insulation and heating problems in an old building, just buy a brand new apartment or house instead. 

If you enjoyed this article, you can look forward to my next article: how to stay cool in Portuguese houses during summer! 

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32 thoughts on “How to Stay Warm in Portuguese Houses During Winter”

  1. Drinking warm drinks is only going to make you colder, as your body temp is going to increase and make a much more difference between the temperature outside, resulting on feeling colder. Drink hot when it’s hot, and cold when it’s cold.

    Reply
    • I’ve heard this is why Indians drink piping hot tea.

      That said, I think there’s some psychological benefit to drinking warm drinks when it’s cold.

      Reply
  2. When I go to look for somewhere to rent I’m going to bring a digital thermometer/barrometer with me. This is if I go looking for somewhere in winter obviously.

    Reply
  3. We have decided to spend our winters in Germany and our summers in Portugal instead of the other way around. Once we have more money to spend improving our house we will make it more warm and then we will spend winter there instead.

    Reply
  4. It’s amazing how much you can fix by sorting out the windows. Most windows have gaps in them and some of them don’t close properly. It seems like such a small thing but it can make a huge difference.

    Reply
  5. 3 pairs of socks seems to be the magic number. I tried 2 pairs (thermal) but it wasn’t enough. I think you probably need 3 X thick socks + slippers though.

    Reply
  6. I just want to give a tips on what to wear when its cold – inside or outside. I live in Norway, and we have warm and insulated houses, but its very cold outside several months a year, at least 4 months with -5 celcius or colder (depending a bit on where in Norway). Well clothes, wear wool, its so much delicat and nice garments in wool to get, maybe you have to order, but i really recommend it. Last time I was in Portugal, last autum, I brought with me a thin, summerwool t-skirt, and I used it a lot. Does not get to hot in the day, and is so nice to snuggel in at nignt, and of course wool socks. And the best is that you can have wool in all thickness, from thin like silk, to thicker like fleece.

    Just a little tips from far north, someone that does not freeze willingly 😉

    Reply
  7. Its important to understand a bit about heating in Algarve – its humid but not too cold, but cold enough to be uncomfortable in winter. My advice is to avoid any form of heating based on combustion – gas heaters, pellet stoves…they all generate water vapour which aggrevates the problem.You need a source of dry heat such as radiators which heat up the air which in turn will absorb more water vapour.
    I installed electrical underfloor heating in my apartment, total cost was E1800, and yes it does consume electricity, but the payback in comfort is well worth the cost.
    If you are going to redo the flooring, this is by far the most efficient and effective way to heat.
    I know someone working in Quarteira area who is experienced in this kind of work.

    Reply
  8. I always used layers for winter her in VA because we have some time really cold 🥶 days but electrical blanket is a good Su jesting idea for winter.

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  9. very good article every one should read before moving to Portugal. I kinda gave up… I bought myself 2 fleece onsies and I think this is the best buy of my life:))) Combination of dihumidifier+heater works ok. But overall unless you are building the house yourself or can totally reconstruct you just get used to and survive those terrible terrible winter months.. fighting the mold, throwing away things ruined by the mold, paying crazy electric bills (we only use heater less than 3 hours a day in winter). I am also thinking of buying a ski balaklava because my face gets cold and…. i dont think anymore that this idea is too crazy:))))

    Reply
    • A lot of Portuguese houses don’t have central heating. We are lucky because ours does have. But it is diesel oil fueled. Last year I filled the tank and it cost over €1000. It was gone in three months. This year we are only using it very sparingly. I have bought a lovely furry blanket which I use in the evenings.
      PS we had exactly the same problem in Australia, freezing in winter and no houses there have central heating. They actually sell electrically powered blanket wraps for warming you up when sitting down. It was surreal.

      Reply
      • Yikes Christine! We have the same system with underfloor heating . We paid the same as you last year but our tank is still half full!! Are you heating day and night ?. We only put our heating on in the late afternoon and turn it off when we go to bed. Our bedroom stays at 17/18 deg’s the recommended temp for sleeping. A good duvet and the occasional hotter bottle is enough for us. We do admit to be lucky in that our house faces South and is on the coast. We have had to wean ourselves off living in high temps ( 26deg) as we did through the Dutch winters we endured for 30 yrs!

        The trick is extra layers.. particularly if you can get your hands on cashmere based underwear used by climbers ( my D picked hers up on eBay .. or at the thrift store cheap as chips) Ditto socks..Keep the extremities warm

        Reply
        • We put in another €500 in November and have spent December and January freezing to death as I wouldn’t put the heating on for more than 3 hours a day. We have heated up just the rooms we stay in, not even the kitchen. The fuel is nearly all gone already. Quite depressing. I feel like I am just burning my money. The cold gets into your bones and makes me not want to do anything except sit with two blankets around me. We are just going to look for another rental with more cost effective heating. The house we are in at the moment is big but quite well insulated in comparison to normal Portugal standard.
          I was much warmer in UK as the central heating was not as expensive to run and the house was better insulated. The harsher than normal winter here in Portugal has certainly been a reality check, not helped by Covid obviously.

          Reply
      • I grew up in Australia where many houses have central heating, at least in the South, where it is quite cold in winter. I grew up with what we call “(gas) ducted heating” which is known as “forced air heating” in (at least some parts of) America. Just sayin…

        Reply
  10. This made me so nervous. There are few things I dislike more than cold weather. Thanks for the many suggestions of how stay warm inside.

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    • I’m retired in north-central Greece and have been thinking about moving to Portugal to be warmer. After reading this article, it sounds the same as where I am here. House not insulated for winters, no central heat, just a wood -burning stove, only turn it on in the afternoon when the sun goes around the house, mold in the bathroom on the outside wall! Maybe I should think twice before making another move! Ten years ago when I moved to this house, the winters were wonderful – nice enough to sleep with my window open and the sun during the day warmed the house so well. Then two years later, climate change occurred and it’s been cold, cold, cold with snow ice and rain.

      Reply
  11. Under floor heating in combination with solar could be a good permanent solution (of course with some insulation as well). Another thing that is often overlooked is use the winter sun better. So much sun not benign used. In the past they made the windows small because of the single pane glas but now we have much better ones and the need for small windows is gone. If I look for houses I need the sun in my house in the winter but not in the summer. To block the summer sun you need the right size of roof overhang. One of first things I would do is bigger windows. But I am not sure if this is always allowed.

    Reply
    • Yep, windows are definitely small here which also makes the rooms very dark as well. I’d be interested to hear from people who have added larger windows.

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      • Hello James, brilliant article, we are building our house and have two large glass sections, double glazed, a large overhang to shade the glass in the summer, the walls are positioned to catch the early morning sun and possible early afternoon for a short time of the year. The remaining walls have slit like windows from floor to ceiling so as not to let too much heat in during the summer months but enough to allow light in during the winter months, we took this idea from the monasteries built in this area. Should work! we also have 100mm insulation to floors, walls and ceilings, central heating from a wood burner, it is hard to believe Portugal has very cold winters and very expensive electricity.

        Reply
  12. Is radiant barrier available in Portugal? It is great to keep the warmth in and the cold out in winter. If you own an older home you can attach it to screeds at top and bottom of the wall and around any openings. Then you can upholster the wall for a decorative effect. I would recommend a synthetic fabric to avoid any problems with mildew.
    And I also have a question. We are considering renting or buying an apartment in a high rise. Are they more energy efficient? And totally on a different subject, if you buy a unit, what is the range of home owners fees associated with ownership. I have never seen any quotes on fee assessments?

    Reply
  13. Another suggestion: Cover your windows at night with insulating curtains. In the U.S., windows are one of the biggest sources of heat loss/cold gain in a home. There are curtains available that have insulation built in, but another way is to hang panels of fleece over each window. You can hang them using clip-on curtain rings so that you can open them during the day to let sun in. I don’t know about Portugal, but fleece is very popular in the U.S. and there are many colors, patterns, and prices available. You could even install a very long curtain rod, or multiple rods, across an entire outside wall and hang fleece floor to ceiling to help overcome the lack of insulation. I’ve used fleece over drafty windows and it helps a lot.

    Reply
    • Great idea, thanks. I’m in Greece and have the same problems as those in Portugal in the winter time. The winters have gotten so much colder the past eight years and this year I put up three layers of cotton curtains and it’s still cold. I’ll try flannel although no idea where I’ll find it here. Amazon I suppose. Houses in Med. countries are often built as summer homes and therefore just haven’t got the insulation – just cement and brick and nothing else. I’ve been thinking about relocating to Portugal but it seems as if it would be the same as here!

      Reply
  14. Definitely recommend a pellet stove. Paraffin heater is a no no because they generate moisture which in turn condenses on cold surfaces and causes mould

    Reply

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