Heat in Portuguese homes

Will you be cold in Portugal in winter? What about in summer? Heating and cooling is an economic issue, but it also has a cultural element, so it depends upon where you are and when.

Last Updated:
guarda
Southern Europe is not usually an area that Americans associate with cold weather.  However, Portugal in winter can be pretty brisk, especially in the north and interior, and even in the Algarve.  And it’s flat-out cold everywhere on winter evenings.  Yet only 14% of Portuguese homes have central heating — and by this I’m referring to wall-mounted heating units in every room; forced air heating is rare — and almost 90% of Portuguese suffer from pobreza energética, or energy poverty, because they can’t afford to maintain their homes at a comfortable temperature. In recent years, energy prices in Portugal were not especially high compared to the EU average, but salaries are far below it, making Portugal one of the most energy-expensive countries in Europe for most households.
By the same token, there is also a cultural aspect to Portuguese notions of “how cold is cold” that probably is at work here.  I’ve been to wintertime dinners in well-appointed homes with perfectly adequate heating that was not turned on and nearly froze.  I’ve watched people in a long-sleeved shirt, a sweater, a fleece, and a blanket over their lap tell me it’s not cold.  I’ve seen windows open on a 45-degree day (7 celsius) in January to arejar a casa, or air out the house, letting all the accumulated warm air go right back out.  And any Portuguese worth their salt will happily sip a coffee outside in a café while wearing a parka, as I’ve talked about before.
serra da estrela
Sierra da Estrela: amazing cheese and you can ski there, too.
As an amateur social psychologist, my working theory is that many Portuguese have internalized the notion that the weather is balmy year-round and are not especially interested in alternative interpretations, especially when heating a home can really add up.  Environmentalists might argue that the Portuguese are right, we shouldn’t heat our homes as much as we do in the US, but all I can do is shiver in agreement. 
I am what the Portuguese call friorenta, or someone who’s always cold.  I check the weather on my phone to get the outdoor temperature and adjust my outerwear accordingly, but that’s not necessarily a reliable guide to indoor temperature.  So, I put together the handy flow chart below to help you figure out whether you’re likely to feel cold in Portugal.
heat flow chart
cropped Favicon

Copying of An American in Portugal site content has been disabled.