How to heat a stone house in Portugal

Although Portugal is hot and dry for many months, the winters are chilly and damp. The typical stone Portuguese house can feel glacial and heating is a must. Wood burning stoves, butane gas heaters are the handiest and most economical methods of heating.

wood burning stove heating home in Portugal
A cast iron wood burning stove is an excellent way to heat a stone house in Portugal.

Portugal has a reputation for being a warm sunny place, but heating is still a must during the damp winter months.

Most homes are made of stone in the Portuguese countryside. Stone does a great job keeping the house cool in summer. But a stone house can feel glacial from November through February.

So, what is the best way to heat this stone house? Seasoned expats will probably agree that the wood burning stove, called a recuperador de lenha or salamandra, in Portugal, is your best bet. Having learned from experience, I recommend getting one made of cast iron rather than steel. Stores like Leroy Merlin, Bricomarche and Agriloja usually carry a selection. 

Cast iron stoves are more expensive than steel they radiate the heat more efficiently and hold the warmth hours longer. The heat rating of these stoves is rated in Kw. You can check the size of stove needed based on the area you need to heat. 

A good iron stove will typically cost 700 to 1,000 Euros. plus the cost of chimney piping.

Ordering Wood

I moved into a newly renovated stone cottage in Central Portugal in July 2019. Come September, my expat neighbors gave me the phone number of their wood supplier. The term for wood used for stoves is lenhas in Portugal. You typically order it by the ton and the supplier delivers a truckload. The first heating you get is the effort to stack it. Goes without saying you need a good, dry, woodshed.

stacked logs for wood burning stove
Oak logs stacked in a wood shed ready for winter. A plastic curtain is good to keep off the rain.
Kindling

My supplier delivers hard, dry oak which burns well and gives off good heat. But you need a large supply of kindling to get a fire going. I bought a log splitter from my neighbors, and regularly pick up pine cones and dry sticks in the nearby forest during the summer months. I use them as kindling. 

Log splitter used to split wood for stove
Electric powered splitter used to split logs into smaller pieces as shown, to help get fire going.
Other heating methods

A wood burning stove will usually burn out overnight leaving your house cold by dawn. A gas heater that uses bottled butane is the quickest and most cost effective heat source for those chilly mornings. Delba is a common brand sold in Portugal. It is available at the Agriloja stores for around 70 Euros. The first bottle of gas costs around 40 Euros. When you return the empty bottle a refill costs about 25 Euros.

Oil-filled electric radiators and electric space heaters which may or may not use a fan can also be used. But they take a longer time to heat and are only useful for small rooms. They are also expensive to run.

A year today I moved into my Portuguese home

In the year since I moved into my Portuguese home, I have found a whole new level of joy. I have made new friends and learned to love the simple life.

July 15, 2019 was the day when my shipment of household goods was delivered to the Central Portuguese house I had just purchased.

The newly restored old stone cottage in Central Portugal which I bought in 2019. The stone structure in the foreground is an “eira” or threshing circle

It was the culmination of years of wishful thinking and careful planning. I left Albuquerque, New Mexico, where I had lived for 21 years, in late April. Before I headed to Europe, I spent two weeks with my son Patrick and daughter-in-law in California. He is an army captain at Fort Irwin, and I was able to attend the ceremony where he took command of a company.

Research pays off

I arrived in Lisbon in early May, 2019. The previous summer I had spent two months in Portugal researching the practicalities of moving there. I made some valuable contacts who offered me a place to stay while looking for a place to rent or buy. I had a deadline of 10 weeks before the shipment would be delivered.

My first search was near the Alentejo coast south of Lisbon. Finding that too expensive, I switched to the area around Tomar, in Central Portugal. That’s where I found the newly renovated stone cottage in a small village that is now my home.

What I’ve achieved

In the 15 months since I’ve lived in Portugal I have: obtained a residency permit, bought an old car, bought a house, made many new friends, explored the country, picked grapes, picked olives, endured the rain, planted a garden, acquired a dog, became a grandmother, lived through the Covid shutdown and thoroughly enjoyed myself.

Here is a photo montage highlighting my adventures. I hope you enjoy it.

 

House buying is different in Portugal

Thew newly restored old stone cottage in Central Portugal which I bought in 2019. The stone structure in the foreground is an “eira” or threshing circle

Buying a house in Portugal is a very different experience from the way you purchase property in the United States. Several websites like Portugal Virtual give detailed information on the house buying process in Portugal.

But I’d like to talk about my own experience. The first step for me was to find something that I loved. I spent time looking online at houses in near Grândola in the Alentejo, where I had spent time. I also looked at properties in Central Portugal near the town of Tomar, where I’d also made contacts.

My budget was modest and I’d hoped to find something under 100,000 euros. While house prices are considerably lower than in most US states they have been on the rise in recent years as Portugal has begun featuring in the lists of top destinations. Lisbon and environs, Porto and the Algarve as well as other popular coastal areas have become much pricier than just a few years ago.

Houses of horrors

I had a tougher challenge than I had anticipated. I looked at a lot of dumps that left me discouraged – places that had been empty for many years, that smelled damp, kitchens that were totally empty save for a couple of holes in the wall where the plumbing should go. There are a lot of abandoned empty houses all over Portugal.

Finally, an estate agent with Chavetejo in Tomar showed me a place that totally wowed me “ a newly restored stone cottage in a small village about 15 minutes drive from Tomar, in Central Portugal.

Legal issues

Next, I had to find a lawyer. When buying a house, the lawyer has to do “due diligence” research work. (I will explain this later.)

I used a Facebook group called “I Love Tomar” to ask for lawyer recommendations. This group has hundreds if members who are expats who have moved to Portugal from different countries. I have have posted many questions to this Facebook group. The responses have been very helpful. The advice I got was not to use a lawyer suggested by the realtor. This was to avoid conflicts of interest. One lawyer came very highly recommended by several of those who responded to my question.

The lawyer’s job is to check that the property is free of liens, to check the legal boundaries, to make sure there are no illegally built additions and other matters like that. I was given different estimates of how much this would cost. Around 600 to 700 Euros plus tax seems to be the going rate. The buyer will also have to pay a notary fee, stamp duty and IMT, a purchase tax, which will be on top of the purchase price. However, so far it seems that these costs will be less than typical closing costs in the US. (In my case the lawyer’s fee ended up being about 840 euros and the closing costs about 2,400 euros.)

After doing the due diligence research, the lawyer prepares a promissory contract, “contracto de promessa de compra e Venda.” The buyer agrees to buy and pays a deposit of 10 percent of the agreed purchase price. If the buyer pulls out, they lose the deposit. If the seller renegs on the contract, they have to pay the would-be buyer double the deposit.

When I signed my promissory contract I was surprised to find out that It did not have to be done in front of the lawyer or a notary. Those formalities happen when the deed of sale is completed, the buyer pays the rest of the money and the purchase recorded by a local notary.

House search hopes & horrors

A typical house in the Alentejo region, south of Lisbon.

When I arrived in Portugal last year, I had an invitation to stay in a part of the Alentejo region near the town of Grandola. I’d spent a few weeks there the summer before and liked the area. It was near the coast and within an hour by train or car from Lisbon.
So, I talked to a Realtor with the local ERA agency and looked at a few houses in the area.

Surprises await

It was quite an adventure. Although you can find a house for $90,000 to $100,000, those I saw needed a lot of work, and when I say a lot of work, that might even be an understatement. Often they had been empty for several years. The rooms were small and dark, typically to keep out the heat. Some I looked at had nothing in the kitchen except holes in the wall where you would put the plumbing for the sink and water heater.

Many houses had orange and olive trees on the land. However, the “yard” around several houses I looked at was a jungle that would take months of work.

One house I looked at had a warehouse attached where the family crushed grapes and made their own wine. Sadly it was in very poor condition.

Alentejo prices higher than Central Portugal

House prices in the Alentejo area near Grandola are generally higher than in central Portugal, where I ended up buying. I think this was because it it is closer to Lisbon and close to the coast, thus popular as a vacation spot.

I quickly decided that I’d have to spend more than I’d originally anticipated to get something that I could move into without facing months of camping out and dealing with builders and plumbers.

The “kitchen” in one of the houses I looked at had no cupboards or shelves. There were just a couple of holes in the wall for the plumbing but no sink.