When looking at houses in Spain what do you picture? Is it a quaint white-washed casita with earthy-red Spanish tiles on the roof and vibrant flowers overflowing the window sills? Or maybe a modernized flat in an early 19th century building of mudejar style or art deco. Whichever it is, living in Spain can actually be as romantic and picturesque as in your travel pictures and dreams. You just need to consider several details so your house feels as good as your dream looks when you’re living there day after day. Let us share with you from our own experience, the top 6 things to consider when looking at houses in Spain.
#1 - Insulation
You’d be surprised at how many houses in Spain have little or no insulation. Or maybe it’s just that their idea of insulation in Spain is different than where we came from in Denver, Colorado. Where are you moving to Spain from? Maybe you’re thinking, ‘But Spain is all sunshine and sultry heat, right…?’ Well, think again. It gets cold here. It even snows here. Even along the Mediterranean Coast, it gets cold in the winter months. What really makes it cold inside the houses is the humidity of the sea. While regions like Andalusia are dryer, they still get cold and if you’re right on the sea or close by, like we are, you’re little Spanish Casita will feel like a Spanish Freezer. Amalia’s mother lives in Extremadura near the Portuguese Border with Spain, and it gets so cold there that it freezes and sometimes snows in the winter, and the houses can be shockingly cold inside.
In the northern parts of Spain where it snows, there is more use of insulation. Yet it can still be quite different. The buildings and architecture are older, much older some times, and depending on how or if they were restored, some can still be somewhat ‘primitive’ when it comes to keeping a house warm and moisture out. Why is that? A lot of older homes and builders don’t have ‘central heating’ to the standards that we define it in other countries. How is your current home insulated?
Overall, the style of building houses in the southern and coastal parts of Spain still lingers from decades ago when the idea was that the summer heat was so intense that they wanted the homes to stay cool inside. Thus small windows, fewer windows many times, and tile floors. For heating…? Well, we’re getting to that next.
When it comes to insulation, make sure to specifically ask about it when looking at houses in Spain, whether it’s an older or newer home. If it’s a stand-alone house, chances are more likely that you really need to check, while an apartment can tend to be more naturally insulated and gets less humidity if it’s higher up and off the ground. Lastly, if the home was built as a vacation home, especially if it’s a beach house or in a popular tourist area, it’s an indicator that it was built with only the summer weather in mind.
#2 - Heating
When someone tells you a home has heating, what do you expect? Coming from the US, we expected central heating. And since, we have learned to not assume. The most important thing is to double check what is meant here by the word ‘heating’. If you’re looking at a place and it has ‘heating’ listed, or even says ‘central heating’, it may be referring to electric wall units that are used for both air conditioning and heating. These can help, but are better for air conditioning and they can also be costly and inefficient.
Some homes do have central heating as we know it from the US: a temperature controlled thermostat system that produces and releases heat through piping in the walls, which spreads through the house through small grates. Look for those grates in pictures and when you visit a home, just to make sure.
Are there other methods of heating? There sure are. Many of these were unknown to us in the US, except in the most unique of circumstances (we’re talking like hut-to-hut ski trips). Homes in Spain commonly use radiators, either the ones mounted on a wall or the electric radiators you plug-in and can wheel around. To our surprise, a lot of the Spaniards today still use gas heaters, that is a butane tank on wheels. We’re not kidding. Is that shocking to you too? The warnings on them say to only use with a window cracked open in the room! Then there’s also fireplaces that are gas or wood-burning, and there’s wood-burning stoves and pellet stoves. The pellet stoves are becoming pretty popular here. A fellow expat friend recently had one installed in his town home. An extra nice touch, depending on where you choose to live in Spain, is having a de-humidifier to help keep your home dry.
#3 - Dryers
This is the thing that Amalia misses the most – a clothes dryer. Even in dryer areas and with a sunny winter and little rain, hanging clothes out to dry can be a pain. It takes longer, they end up smelling musty and most of the time have that ‘wet-dog’ stench. And if you need to take off quickly for a trip, how enjoyable is it to pack damp clothes?
We have found that here in Spain and throughout Europe, the ventless dryers are more common than they are in the US. They’re also referred to as Condenser Dryers and there is no plumbing required because there is a compartment that collects the condensation, which once full is pulled out and emptied. On top of that, they can be as affordable, or more so, than the traditional dryer you have to vent. You just get it put in your home and plug it into an outlet.
How important is it for you to have a dryer in your house in Spain?
#4 - Windows
It’s important to check that the windows are newer, just like you would in a house anywhere. What a lot of them don’t come with are screens, which in Spanish are called ‘mosquiteras’. We’ll confirm the obvious – these are important for keeping out the bugs, but especially the mosquitos which there are plenty of here throughout Spain.
The biggest nuance of windows here that took us a while to get used to, is the storm shutters or blinds. Practically every house and living space in all of Spain has these heavy-duty storm blinds that are lowered to cover the windows from the outside. Even in higher up apartments, in cities or in the country. But what is especially mind-blowing to us, is that people here use them daily, not just for storms or when they go away. We’ll be out and about and see windows covered part way or totally shuttered up, even though we know people are living in there at the time. They use them regularly like some of us would use curtains.
While we don’t have them closed anytime we’re in the house, we’ve gotten more used to their helpful purpose. Test these out when you’re perusing houses. Some of the newer built homes and modern designs with large floor to ceiling windows, will have them electronically powered by a switch. Those are splendid.
Then there’s the bars. Especially among the more traditional Spanish-style of architecture, the windows are adorned with a full grate of wrought-iron bars. They may be decorative with curves and curls, and perhaps even painted. Most commonly though, they’re on stand-alone houses or ground-level apartments and town homes, for the first floor, sometimes the second as well, but not higher. Some homes even have them set to unlock and swing open like shutters, which is especially nice for cleaning the windows or if you don’t want them obstructing your view. We lived in one beach home that had a set of wrought iron doors over the sliding glass doors. It was a comforting sense of security, was decoratively charming, and practical for cleaning and accessing the doors. But what about you? Would you not mind bars on your windows?
#5 - Butane Gas Tanks
That’s right – you read correctly. Cozily located in the kitchen, is a large combustable tank. Ok, so that’s being a bit over-dramatic. Yet we still find it discomforting to have a butane tank inside the house that we connect and disconnect ourselves. Where we lived before, we were used to gas being piped in. Here in Spain, it’s typically what powers a gas stove and heats the water. For cooking it’s great and we love food so much we’d take such an explosive risk. But for hot water, we’re finding it annoyingly problematic at times.
Make sure that if your water is heated with gas, that it’s reaching the bathrooms well. If the pipes aren’t good, if there’s a lot of distance the water has to travel, or if the hot water heater component for managing all this is older or cheap, you will run into issues with having hot water.
We particular don’t like it because you even get that whiff of gas in the air, especially when you’re changing out the bottles.
If you do choose a home that has butane, many places deliver the tanks to your home or your apartment, even bringing them up to your apartment door if you’re on higher floors. You can also go to a local gas station and pick them up. You just take your currently empty tank and switch it out for a full one. Depending on the size, the cost is around €15 a tank
Otherwise, there are more and more homes that are using electric heating for the water and the stove. Some let you enjoy both, with a gas stovetop but then electricity for heating the water. Have you ever lived in a home with butane?
#6 - Bathrooms
The bathrooms. What can you imagine is missing from this room in the house? It’s what you may easily overlook and not think about until you’re all moved in and go to take that first steaming hot shower or luxurious bubble bath. Ventilation. Oh, there’s a window? Of course there is. So when living in Spain, a ventilating fan in your bathroom can be considered an inconsequential detail or a luxury. They are just not common, even among some newer homes. And while a window also works, it doesn’t do the same as a fan or help as much when the weather is rainy and humid outside. Take into account where your house or apartment is and where the bathroom is in relation to the rest of the house. Otherwise, keep bleach in a spray bottle on hand to keep that mold from forming. The Spaniards by the way, love using bleach.
The other oddity of the bathroom can be the shower head. Here in Spain they love the removable shower heads. Sounds nice, right? Check that the holder above is good quality and doesn’t let the shower head go flying about. Or you can always be prepared to buy and install a new one.
Then there are removable shower heads that go with a tub but are placed along the long wall and side of the tub, rather than at one of the ends. Can you picture it? Again, not a biggie but along with showering you, it can end up showering your bathroom floor. Maybe that’s the tub where you can have your bubble baths instead. Have you had any experiences with these bathroom characteristics in Spain?
Your House in Spain Can Also Feel Dreamy-Good
In all the houses in Spain where we have lived, we have had great experiences. And we have lived in a few in the time we’ve been here. Our landlords have been great, the locations incredible, the amenities modern, and the styles charmingly Spanish and cozy. You can have the same. Use our list of details to give deserved time and attention to your preferences and to refine your priorities for a house in Spain. There will be ones you can live with and ones you can’t live without. And you can always change it up once you’re here.
When moving to another country, there’s nothing like feeling at home in the house you choose. Once you’re living in Spain, you’ll find your preferences may change. We know our’s have. No matter what though, the best preference of all is your dream to live in Spain and we wish you all the best in looking at houses in Spain.
Where Have We Lived in Spain?
It’s like Goldie Locks and the Three Bears. We’ve gone from big to tiny to just right, living in the historic center of Valencia, the tiny vacation beach town of Xeraco and now settling in the ideal-sized Mediterranean town of Dénia.
Have questions or insight for us? We’d love to be of help, so please ask or comment below.