Wednesday, February 13, 2013

[Living/Tour Press] Keeping Your Heating Bills low this Winter

Keeping Your Heating Bills low this Winter

As Daegu is in the grip of one of the coldest winters in years, with not one but three rare heavy snowfalls, many theories are bouncing around as the most economical way to keep warm. Keeping warm this winter can prove to be a challenge but using some initiative you can find ways to save on your Korean winter heating bills.

This is the third apartment I've had and my third winter in Korea. The last two years I would leave my ondol underfloor heating running from when I got home after work until the next morning and was facing gas heating bills of over $100/month.

Find more information how to save money on other utility bill in Korea

Gas Bill
Electric Bill

This year I've tried a different approach. Buying a used electric blanket for only $20 I've decided not to turn on my ondol except for the coldest days. Surprisingly I've managed to get by and my gas bill during peak winter season has not peaked past $15. I only leave the hot water switched on, not the underfloor heating, and take long hot steamy showers every morning so no need to visit a sauna.

If you are going to try this approach you will have to make some adjustments. Firstly wear double layers at all times including when in bed. Second wear extra items like socks always and a neck warmer in bed. I've even learnt from my students to wrap a blanket around your legs when sitting at your desk. 

Electric Blanket

This may seem going a little too far for some people but it depends on what you are willing to pay for heating cost, what room temperature you can tolerate, and how much inconvenience you are willing to put up with. I've lived in cold drafty homes in England, as well as toasty heated homes in Canada, so have had all kinds of experience.

The electric blanket also serves the double use of being a clothes dryer. By layering clothes between the electric and top blanket, using your body heat from above, I am able to dry most of my clothes within a few hours.

Last Years Gas Bill
Last Years Gas Monthly Billing

I only sleep with the electric blanket overnight and morning temperatures in the boiler have never gone below +9 degrees, so there was never any risk of freezing. It needs to get to zero outside before I feel chills inside and need to turn the ondol on for a few hours in the evening.

The blanket has not even registered on my electric bill which hasn’t moved from about $15/month year round. I was debating getting a glowing electric room heater but have been told by people this consumes more electricity and will cost as much as using the underfloor ondol heating.

Something else I learnt this winter is that under your kitchen sink are valves that control the underfloor heating. By turning these valves you can switch off different rooms thus saving your heating cost. 

Another concern is what to do when going away for winter vacation?  Back home tenants are held responsible for any damage from freezing pipes so I don’t know who is held responsible here? I left my heating on once when I went away and came back to a huge bill.

Ondol Floor Valves

Since then I've turned it off whenever I go away and had no problems. I always check the two week extended forecast to make sure temperatures are reaching above zero daily. There is a temperature differential between outside and inside and even if it goes below zero outside it can still be about 10 or more degrees warmer inside. 

Insulation in Window Frames
Jacket over Boiler

I've insulated all my window frames and even put a jacket over the boiler for extra measure. Depending on the construction and insulation of your apartment will determine any freezing exposure. My last apartment was a raised stilted style with parking below so was always cold with the cold air beneath.

Another measure I learnt from working in the insurance industry is to shut off your water supply from the mains and drain all the taps. This will also help lessen your freezing exposure if you are going to turn your heat off while you are away. 

Overnight Boiler Temperature

So using some creativity with personal adjustments it is possible to ride out the worst of winter and avoid sticker shock from staggering heating bills.  


  1. You could gather some firewood and make a small fire in the corner of the room and keep warm whilst chipping smaller pieces of wood into matchsticks and toothpicks to make some extra cash.

    1. Yes! Raise a pack of wolves and use their body heat works too.

    2. Wonderful !! Great thoughts about the electric blankets it is best to use and comfortable. keep it up your work about justifying electric blankets and share you knowledge with us.

    3. Thank you for the useful tips! ;-)