How to connect to Spanish utilities
If you're living in Spain, here's a guide to setting up basic utilities in Spain, including electricity, gas, water and waste disposal.
Once you've found your new Spanish home, you'll need to organise utility and communication services for your Spanish property, although some rental properties may have certain utilities included in the monthly rent or already set-up from a previous owner.
Although Spain does not have the recycling (reciclaje) facilities such as those found in Northern Europe, facilities have improved remarkably in recent years and most municipalities now recycle glass, paper, cardboard, aluminium, cans, plastic, batteries and other materials, although there are sometimes few collection points. Many municipalities also recycle garden waste, which is then sold as compost. Some municipalities publish leaflets detailing where and when to dump your household rubbish.
Only 0.8 percent of Spanish municipalities have more than 100,000 inhabitants, whereas 60 percent have less than 1,000 inhabitants. This concentration of population in smaller administrative units gives waste collection a more rural character. There are four identifiable household waste collection models:
- Traditional waste collection without preselection.
- Selectively packaged waste collection (yellow bag) plus collection of unsorted household waste.
- Selective collection of the organic waste plus collection of unsorted household waste.
- Selective packaging and collection of the organic waste plus collection and unsorted household waste.
Whatever the chosen models is, the streets of all Spanish municipalities have large-capacity containers to receive paper, cardboard and glass.
Most municipalities charge an annual fee for rubbish collection, which varies depending on whether you live in a town or a rural area. Costs are usually reduced for the elderly on low incomes. Check with your town hall and have the bill sent to your bank and paid directly by them, as (like all municipal bills) if you don’t pay it on time it’s increased by 20 percent.
Spain’s main electricity companies include Groupo Endesa (the largest), Iberdrola, Union Fenosa, and Hidrocantábrico. The energy market was completely liberalised in 2003 and clients can now choose which company provides their electricity. Note, however, that in many areas there’s still only one company providing electricity and unless you live in a large city, you still many not have a choice.
Here are some companies which provide electricity:
Getting connected to electricity
Immediately after buying or renting a property (unless utilities are included in the rent), you must sign a contract with the local electricity company. This usually entails a visit to the company’s office to register, although most companies now offer the possibility of registering online or by telephone. You need to take some identification with you (passport or residence permit) and the contract and bills paid by the previous owner (and a good book, as queues can be long).
If you register by Internet or telephone you will need your identification as well as the reference number for the electricity supply (usually found on the top left-hand corner of an electricity bill under Contrato de Suministro Nº).
If you have purchased a home in Spain, the estate agent may arrange for the utilities to be transferred to your name or go to the offices with you (no charge should be made for this service).
Make sure all previous bills have been paid and that the contract is put into your name from the day you take over, otherwise you will be liable for debts left by the previous owner.
If you’re a non-resident owner, you should also give your foreign address in case there are any problems requiring your attention, such as a bank failing to pay the bills. You may need to pay a deposit. Some electricity companies have service lines where foreign customers can obtain information in English and German in addition to Spanish.
Most modern properties (e.g. less than 20 years old) in Spain have good electrical installations. However, if you buy an old home you may be required to obtain a certificate (boletin) from a qualified electrician stating that your electricity installation meets the required safety standards, even when the previous owner already had an electricity contract. You should ensure that the electricity installations are in a good condition well in advance of moving house, as it can take some time to get a new meter installed or to be reconnected.
If you buy a rural property (finca rústica), there are usually public guarantees of services such as electricity (plus water, sewage, telephone, etc.) and you are not obliged to pay for the installation of electricity lines or transformers, only the connection to your property.
The cost of electricity connection (acometida) and the installation of a meter is usually between EUR 100 and EUR 300, although it varies considerably depending on the region, power supply and the type of meter installed. When you buy a community property, the cost of connection to utility services is included in the price of the property and it is illegal for developers to charge buyers extra for this. To reduce your electricity bill, you can check with your provider which are the cheapest times of day to use electricity, for example, see here.
In an old apartment block there may be a common meter, with the bill that’s shared among the owners according to the size of their apartments. It’s obviously better to have your own meter, particularly if you own a holiday home that’s occupied for only a few months of the year.
Meters for an apartment block or community properties may be installed in the basement in a special room or in a meter ‘cupboard’ in a stair well or outside a group of properties, e.g. in an apartment or townhouse development. You should have free access to your meter and should be able read it (some meters don’t have a window to allow you to read the consumption).
Plugs, fuses & bulbs
Depending on the country you have come from, you will need new plugs (enchufes) or a lot of adapters. Plug adapters for most foreign electrical apparatus can be purchased in Spain, although it is wise to bring some adapters with you, plus extension leads and multi-plug extensions that can be fitted with Spanish plugs.
There is often a shortage of electric points in Spanish homes, with perhaps just one per room (including the kitchen), so multi-plug adapters may be essential. Most Spanish plugs have two round pins, possibly with an earth built into the plug, although most sockets are not fitted with earth contacts. Sockets in modern properties may also accept three-pin plugs (with a third earth pin), although few appliances are fitted with three-pin plugs.
Small low-wattage electrical appliances such as table lamps, small TVs and computers, don’t require an earth. However, plugs with an earth must always be used for high-wattage appliances such as fires, kettles, washing machines and refrigerators. These plugs must be used with earthed sockets, although they also fit non-earthed, two-pin sockets. Electrical appliances that are earthed have a three-core wire and must never be used with a two-pin plug without an earth socket. Always make sure that a plug is correctly and securely wired, as bad wiring can be fatal.
In modern properties, fuses (fusibles) are of the earth trip type. When there is a short circuit or the system has been overloaded, a circuit breaker is tripped and the power supply is cut. If your electricity fails, you should suspect a fuse of tripping off, particularly if you have just switched on an electrical appliance (usually you will hear the power switch off). Before reconnecting the power, switch off any high-power appliances such as a stove, washing machine or dishwasher. Make sure you know where the trip switches are located and keep a torch handy so you can find them in the dark (see Power Supply below).
Electric light bulbs in Spain are of the Edison type with a screw fitting. If you have lamps requiring bayonet bulbs you should bring some with you, as they cannot be readily purchased in Spain. You can, however, buy adapters to convert from bayonet to screw fitting (or vice versa). Bulbs for non-standard electrical appliances (i.e. appliances that are not made for the Spanish market) such as refrigerators and sewing machines may not be available in Spain, so it is advisable to bring some spares with you.
The electricity supply in most of Spain is 220 volts AC with a frequency of 50 hertz (cycles). However, some areas still they have a 110-volt supply and it’s even possible to find dual voltage 110 and 220-volt systems in the same house or the same room. All new buildings have a 220-volt supply and the authorities have mounted a campaign to encourage homeowners with 110-volt systems to switch to 220 volts. Note that most appliances, e.g. televisions made for 240 volts, will function with a power supply of 220 volts.
Power cuts are frequent in many areas of Spain. When it rains heavily the electricity supply can become very unstable, with frequent power cuts lasting from a few microseconds (just long enough to crash a computer) to a few hours (or days). It’s advisable to fit an uninterrupted power supply (UPS) with a battery backup for your computer, which allows you time to shut down your computer and save your work after a power failure. If you live in an area where cuts are frequent and rely on electricity for your livelihood, e.g. for operating a computer, fax machine and other equipment, you may need to install a back up generator.
Even more important than a battery backup is a power surge protector for appliances such as TVs, computers and fax machines, without which you risk having equipment damaged or destroyed. In remote areas you must install a generator if you want electricity, as there’s no mains electricity, although some people make do with gas and oil lamps (and without television and other modern conveniences). Note that in some urbanisations, water is provided by electric pump and, therefore, if your electricity supply is cut off, so is your water supply.
Electricity is generally cheap in Spain, but the actual charges will depend on your local electricity company.
The standing charge is payable irrespective of whether you use any electricity during the billing period. The actual consumption is charged per KW. To save on electricity costs, you can switch to night tariff (tarifa nocturna, 2.0N) and run high-consumption appliances overnight, e.g. storage heaters, water heater, dishwasher and washing machine, which can be operated by a timer.
If you use a lot of water, it’s better to have a large water heater (e.g. 150 litres) and heat water overnight. If you use electricity for your heating, you can install night-storage heaters that run on the cheaper night tariff.
You can visit this website to view energy prices for average households: www.energy.eu
Fixed quota electricity
Some electricity companies allow their customers to pay a set amount (cuota fija) monthly regardless of consumption. At the end of the year the actual consumption is calculated and the customer either pays the outstanding amount to the electricity company or has money returned to them. This is a good idea if you need to stick to a monthly budget.
Electricity is billed every two months, usually after meters have been read. However, electricity companies are permitted to make an estimate of your consumption each second period without reading the meter. You should learn to read your electricity bill and check your consumption, to ensure that your electricity company isn’t overcharging you.
It’s advisable to pay your utility bills by direct debit (transferencia) from a Spanish bank account. If you own a holiday home in Spain, you can have your bills sent to an address abroad. Bills should then be paid automatically on presentation to your bank, although some banks cannot be relied on 100 percent. Both the electricity company and your bank should notify you when they’ve sent or paid a bill.
Alternatively, you can pay bills at a post office, local banks (listed on the bill) or at the electricity company’s office (in cash).
Mains gas is available only in major cities in Spain, although with the piping of gas from North Africa (Algeria and Libya) it may become more widely available.
When moving into a property with mains gas, you must contact the local gas company to have the gas switched on, the meter read and to sign a supply contract.
As with electricity, you are billed every two months and bills include VAT (IVA). Like all utility bills, gas bills can be paid by direct debit (transferencia) from a Spanish bank account.
In rural areas, bottled gas is used and costs less than half that of mains gas in most northern European countries.
Many people use as many gas appliances as possible, including cooking, hot-water and heating. You can have a combined gas hot-water and heating system (providing background heat) installed, which is relatively inexpensive to install and cheap to run.
In most areas of Spain, gas bottles (bombonas) are delivered to homes by Repsol Butano (the company responsible for distributing gas bottles), for which a contract is required. A contract is drawn up only after a safety inspection has been made of the property where the gas appliance is to be used.
In some areas you must exchange your bottles at a local supplier. Bear in mind that gas bottles are very heavy and have a habit of running out at the most inconvenient times, so keep a spare bottle handy and make sure you know how to change them (get the previous owner or a neighbour to show you).
A bottle used just for cooking can last an average family up to three months. If a gas boiler is installed outside, e.g. on a balcony, it must be protected from the wind, otherwise you will continually be re-lighting the pilot light.
You must have your gas appliances serviced and inspected at least every five years. If you have a contract with Repsol Butano, they will do this for you or it will be done by your local authorised distributor. Some distributors will try to sell you a package which includes third party insurance and free parts should they be required, although it isn’t necessary to have this insurance and is a waste of money. Beware of ‘bogus’ Repsol Butano representatives calling unannounced to inspect gas appliances. They may represent legitimate companies, but their charges are extortionate and they will give you a large bill for changing tubing and regulators (which usually don’t need changing at all), and demand payment in cash on the spot.
If you wish you can let them make an inspection and give you an estimate (presupuesto) for any work that needs doing, but don’t let them do any work or pay any money before checking with your local Repsol Butano distributor.
Incidentally, plastic tubes have an expiry date printed on them and you can buy them from a hardware store (ferretería) and change them yourself.
Water, or rather the lack of it, is a major concern in Spain and the price paid for all those sunny days. Like some other countries that experience regional water shortages, Spain as a whole has sufficient water, but it is not distributed evenly. There is (usually) surplus rainfall in the north-west and centre and a deficiency along most of the Mediterranean coast and in the Balearic and Canary islands.
During water shortages, local municipalities may restrict the water consumption or cut off supplies altogether for days at a time. Restrictions can be severe and householders may be limited to as little as three cubic metres (m3) per month, which is sufficient for around 10 baths or 20 showers. You can forget about watering the garden or washing your car unless you have a private water supply.
If a water company needs to cut your supply, e.g. to carry out maintenance work on pipes and other installations, they will usually notify you in advance so that you can store water for cooking. In some areas, water shortages can create low water pressure, resulting in insufficient water to take a bath or shower.
After buying or renting a property (unless utilities are included in the rent), you should arrange for the water contract to be registered in your name.
Always check in advance that all water bills have been paid by the previous owner, otherwise you will be liable for any debts. You must usually visit the local town hall to register your ownership and have the water contract transferred into your name. Take along some identification (passport or residence permit) and the previous contract and bills paid by the former owner. When registering, non-resident owners should also give their foreign address in case there are any problems requiring their attention, such as a bank failing to pay water bills.
Water heating in apartments may be provided by a central heating source for the whole building or apartments may have their own water heaters. If you install your own water heater, it should have a capacity of at least 75 litres. Many holiday homes have quite small water boilers, which are often inadequate for more than two people.
If you need to install a water heater (or fit a larger one), you should consider the merits of both electric and bottled gas heaters. An electric water boiler with a capacity of 75 litres (sufficient for two people) costs from EUR 150 to EUR 250 and usually takes between 60 and 90 minutes to heat water to 40ºC in winter.
Connection costs & standing charges
Water is a local matter in Spain and is usually controlled by local municipalities, many of which have their own wells. In some municipalities, water distribution is the responsibility of a private company. The cost of connection to the local water supply for a new home varies considerably from around EUR 50 up to EUR 300 (when a private company controls the distribution), or even EUR 1,500 in an isolated area.
In most municipalities there is a standing quarterly charge or a monthly charge for a minimum consumption (canon de consumo), e.g. 14m3 a month or EUR 10 a month plus IVA at 7 percent, even if you do not use any water during the billing period. Water shortages don’t stop municipalities from levying high standing charges for a water supply that is sometimes non-existent.
The average tariff for water supply and sanitation is EUR 1.50/m3. On average, industrial users pay EUR 1.81/m3 and residential users EUR 1.40/m3. This is one of the lowest water tariffs in the EU. There are large variations between cities and regions. The province with the highest average tariff are the Balearic Islands (EUR 2.65/m3) and the region with the lowest is Lugo (EUR 0.61/m3).
Some municipalities levy a quarterly surcharge (canón de servicio) and regional governments may also levy a charge for water purification. Sometimes a higher water rate is charged for holiday homeowners or owners in community developments, where the water supply isn’t controlled by the local municipality, while in others the cost of water is included in community fees.
Water bills usually include sewerage and may also include rubbish collection, e.g. when a city provides all services, in which case the cost of rubbish collection may be calculated on how much water you use (a large family will usually use more water and also create more rubbish).
Always check your water bill carefully as overcharging on bills is widespread. Sometimes water company meters show a huge disparity (increase!) in consumption compared with a privately installed meter and when confronted with the evidence water companies often refuse to reply! Some municipalities arbitrarily levy higher tariffs on certain urbanisations, although this is illegal.
To reduce your water costs, you can buy a ‘water saver’ that mixes air with water, thus reducing the amount of water used. The cost of fitting an apartment with water savers can reportedly be recouped in six months through lower water bills. Water savers can be purchased from El Corte Inglés and Hipercor stores, hypermarkets and DIY stores.
Bills are generally sent out quarterly. If you do not pay your water bill on time you will receive an ‘enforced collection’ (recaudación ejecutiva) letter demanding payment of your bill (plus a surcharge). If you do not pay your bill, your water supply can be cut off, although this doesn’t usually happen until customers are around a year in arrears.
However, many thousands of people have their water supply cut off each year for non-payment. If your supply is cut, you must pay a reconnection fee, plus any outstanding bills. Note that IVA is levied at 7 percent on water bills.
Generally, water in urban areas of Spain is described as safe to drink. However, the quality can vary from perfect to brown and having a nasty taste. Most people in Spain prefer to drink bottled water, regardless of the quality of the mains water supply.
In rural areas, some water supplies can be tainted by chemicals and fertilisers used on the land. Note that although boiling water will kill any bacteria, it won't remove any toxic substances contained in it. You can install filtering, cleansing and softening equipment to improve its quality or a water purification unit to provide drinking water. Note, however, that purification systems operating on the reverse osmosis system waste three times as much water as they produce. Obtain expert advice before installing a system as not all equipment is effective.
Many areas have hard water containing high concentrations of calcium and magnesium. Water is very hard in the east, hard in the north and most of the south, and soft in the north- west and central and western regions. You can install a water softener that prevents the build-up of scale in water heaters and water pipes which increases heating costs and damages electric heaters and other appliaces.
Surprisingly for a western industrialised country, around a third of the population is not connected to a sewage treatment system, with untreated waste water going straight into the ground, rivers or the sea. In some areas there are no sewage plants and sewage is drained into cesspools (pozos negros) or septic tanks (fosas sépticas) which are emptied by tankers.
Septic tanks can cause problems in summer in some buildings, for example when holiday homes are fully occupied and the septic tank isn’t emptied frequently. Note that cesspools are illegal in many areas and properties must be connected to mains drainage.
Most sewage treatment deficiencies are found in central Spain and along the northern Atlantic coast, although raw sewage is dumped into the sea throughout the country.
A special tax (canon) is levied in many areas to pay for the installation of sewage treatment plants. Towns with 15,000 inhabitants or more were expected to have a sewage treatment system by the year 2001 and municipalities of between 2,000 and 15,000 people by the year 2006. However, many towns are still without proper sewage treatment due to lack of funds and planning.
Petya Vetseva / Expatica
This article is an extract from Living and Working in Spain, by David Hampshire. Published by Survival Books.
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