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.

10 things to love about life in Portugal

Portuguese spring flowers
Abundant rains brought a dazzling display of spring flowers.

I first visited this wonderful country in 2011, exploring in and around Lisbon, with a short excursion to the Algarve village of Salema. I was so struck by the welcoming attitude of the Portuguese people I met, the charm of Lisbon and the laid-back atmosphere, that I began dreaming of retiring here. After a lot of hard work and planning, that dream became a reality for me in 2019. It hasn’t disappointed. Here are some of the things I love that have, and continue, to brighten my daily life.

1. Portuguese People

 I have found so much kindness and such helpful attitudes. Like the MEO internet technician who spent an hour helping me set up my computer and re-wiring my power strip even though he knew that the MEO service the sales people proposed wouldn’t work for me and I wasn’t going to buy it. Another time, a Millennium bank manager phoned me in the US, before I moved, to tell me how I could set up a savings account to AVOID paying bank fees. Sometimes it brings tears to my eyes.

2. Coffee

I have become accustomed to the rich bitter taste of a “Bica” – what they call an espresso in Lisbon. A tiny thimbleful of dark high-octane coffee is just right mid-morning.

3. Natas

Of course you can’t have a coffee without a pastel de nata (plural pasteis de nata), the flaky pastry custard cream cakes that are synonymous in my mind with a Portuguese cafe.

4. Living in the country

 I love walking out the door of my home in Portugal each morning with my dog. I have so many choices.  So many places I can go without having to drive somewhere or pay for parking. I can walk past olive groves and vineyards and happily hail those I see with a “Bom Dia.”

5. Harvests

I’ve been so delighted to help neighbors with their grape harvest “Vendima” and to assist in picking “Azeitonas” (olives.) This is such a key part of rural life.  I am glad to join in and learn new skills.

6. Festas

Before the Corona virus changed all our lives, there were so many fun country festivals. Every weekend during the summer a different village would hold a festival with food, music and general jolliness.

7. Markets

I love going to the weekly markets in my area of Central Portugal. Whether it’s the small Sunday market in the local village or the larger Monday or Friday markets in the towns of Tomar, Ferreira de Zezere or Freixanda. You wander around, shopping bag in hand, browsing the vegetables, dried fruit, nuts, olives, meat, fish, baked goods, clothing, tools, household goods and gardening supplies. I love listening to the shouts of the vendors and breathing in the scent of grilling chicken at the “Frango” stand.

8. Country stores

I love shopping at the little shops 3 kilometers from my house. The Amenhecer grocery has all the daily supplies I need. The hardware shop and gas/diesel station next door completes the list. And even though the stores are out in the country, the prices they charge are the same as the bigger supermarkets.

9. Poppies

Although I am not a big fan of rainy days, the old saying about April showers is true. The wet spring we had this year brought an explosion of wild flowers in myriad colors. Every morning was a visual feast.

10. Stars

Living out in the country there is little light pollution. On the many clear nights, I can look out my bedroom window and see a sky filled with stars infinitely brighter than I ever saw when I lived in the city.

magenta colored flowers
Flowers brighten each day for me in Portugal.

Why Portugal draws retirees

People who have made the move to retire in Portugal usually cite three reasons for their choice; the weather, the low cost of living and the Portuguese people.

Lisbon is a charming city that’s easy to get around on foot, metro or bus.

All eyes are turning to Portugal

Portugal is fast becoming one of the most looked at countries as a retirement option. People who have made the move usually cite three reasons for their choice; the weather, the low cost of living and the Portuguese people.

Climate

Most of Portugal enjoys a mild climate with hot dry summers and abundant rain in the fall and winter. Palm trees, bougainvillea, olive trees and grape vines grow everywhere. The Algarve, Portugal’s southernmost region, has long been popular with Northern Europeans because of its hot sunny weather and beaches.

Affordable

Eating out in Portugal is incredibly cheap compared to the US and most other European countries. Outside of Lisbon, which has become more expensive in recent years, you can get a hearty meal with wine for under 10 Euros, or less than $11.50. Also, tips are not usually expected.

On top of these advantages, the Portuguese people are very open toward visitors. On my first trip to Portugal in 2011, I was so impressed by the welcoming attitude of the people I met everywhere that I decided to look into the possibility of retiring here.

Dual passport advantages

Use your ancestors. I had a big advantage over many Americans who have the same dream. My maternal grandparents were born in Ireland.  Through that connection I was able to obtain an Irish passport. Ireland and Portugal are both part of the European Union (EU). In Portugal, people who hold EU passports do not have to obtain a visa to apply for residency.

Research, research, research

I spent several years dreaming about retiring and moving to Portugal. But living in a country is very different to being there on a vacation. Before I retired in mid-2018, I decided to spend an extended period in Portugal to see if my goal was realistic. I researched every website I could find. I looked at the cost of living, housing etc. However, what proved most useful was working as a volunteer. I found volunteer work opportunities through Workaway.com.

Contacts are invaluable

I had a wonderful time working with horses as a Workawayer. It gave me the chance to make contacts with expats who had been living in Portugal for several years. I got to know part of the Alentejo area south of Lisbon and an area near Tomar in Central Portugal. One of my hosts helped me get a NIF or Numero de Identificação Fiscal. This is similar to a Social Security Number in the US. She also helped me open a bank account. This was easier for me because of my Irish passport.

Documents

The NIF is needed in Portugal for all kinds of things like getting phone service and opening a bank account. My Workaway hosts also helped me find Realtors who aided me in my search for a home. I eventually worked through Chavetejo in Tomar to buy my house in Central Portugal

US PASSPORT HOLDERS NEED VISAS: US citizens can stay for up to 90 days without a visa. As non-EU citizens, however, US passport holders who want to move to Portugal must obtain additional documents. For longer stays they must obtain a visa. The application process involves multiple steps. A number of documents are required.

PATIENCE IS A MUST: Once in Portugal, Americans will need to visit an office of the Serviçio de Estrangeiros e Fronteiras (SEF) for additional visa services. Americans I have met since I moved here say it can be difficult to make an appointment with the SEF. They say they have to phone repeatedly to get through to an SEF office. Often they are told they must wait months to get an appointment.