In Moscow, and most other big Russian cities, heating in flats is a communal affair. I mean, you don’t have control over the heating in your flats, it’s controlled by the city.
How this is done I don’t exactly know. But it works. And it works well.
In Moscow, most people live in flats. Houses are extremely rare in the city, and it’s not until you get out past the Moscow city limits that you start to see individual houses.
But back to the topic on hand – heating.
Our flat is one just like all the others in Moscow. Built in the Soviet Union and quite basic but functional. It’s the third flat Olivier and I have lived in together in Moscow, and my fourth.
Let me show you some photos from our various flats.
My first flat
Our first flat together
Our second flat together
Our current flat
Before we moved in and made a mess:
When the weather starts getting colder, usually in September, we start thinking of turning the heat on. But we can’t because it’s controlled by the city.
From the end of September to the first couple of weeks of October is probably the only time that I stay fully dressed while I’m at home, because it’s cold in the flat. By fully dressed I mean, jeans and sometimes a jumper. Or, at the very least, a t-shirt with a cardigan is in order when the temperature starts to drop.
Because contrary to popular belief, it does get quite warm in Moscow in summer and spring, so we don’t need to be rugged up all year round. Summer is usually shorts and a t-shirt or singlet while hanging around the house.
So, usually in September the mercury starts to drop and we start to wear socks to bed. Well, I do anyway, I don’t know about everybody else.
When will the heating come on?
Then we start to complain about the cold. We start wondering when we’re going to have the heat on. And we try to remember when it came on last year. Each year we forget to make a note of it so it’s always just speculation on our part. Guessing makes it a bit more fun.
There’s a special calculation which they use to decide when to turn on the heating. It’s something like, ‘If it’s under 8 degrees C during the day for 5 days in a row we’ll turn on the heating’. It’s not exactly that, but I read it somewhere once and it’s something like it.
This year, September has given us glorious weather. Days on end of 24 degrees C, sunshine, blue skies, walks in parks and all the rest of it. Lovely. And not usual so we’ve been wallowing in the sunshine making the most of it while it lasts. On Saturday, it was something like 27 degrees C in Moscow and we enjoyed it by wandering around Moscow, walking down streets that we hadn’t been down before and discovering even more sides of Moscow than we already knew.
And then, Sunday arrived. It was cold. It rained.
Monday was even colder. And it rained all day. And all night. Autumn had arrived with a bang.
Tuesday followed the trend and we had a maximum of 8 degrees C. It was clear that the Indian summer was over and it was time to adjust everything to accommodate the new season.
That’s one of the reasons why I love living here. The seasons are really separate from each other. Each one is so different from the others. Colours in the streets are different four times a year. Unlike in Australia, where it’s always the same colour and there is really only two seasons – hot and cold or wet and dry.
But I digress.
Once the summer is over in Moscow, we can expect a week or two (or more!) of much cooler weather and having to wear clothes at home while waiting for the heat to come on.
But not this year!
Only 4 days of colder weather and while I was out teaching this evening, I had an SMS from Olivier to tell me that the heat was on! And it’s still September! What joy!
It’s always cause for celebration in our flat when the heat comes on. I just love this process, because it reminds me that I’m not in Australia, or anywhere else like it. I had never heard of this ‘communal heating’ before I came here. Imagine, your heating is turned on when somebody decides it’s time, and in spring it’s turned off when somebody decides.
One less thing for me to worry about!!
There’s no thermostat on our heating system. I don’t even know if I should call it a ‘system’ or what. It’s pipes with water in them with big radiator things attached to the wall. But there’s no thermostat anyway. It’s either on or off. And we can’t turn it off. Or on for that matter.
Well we probably could turn it off, there are taps on it. But if we turn off the taps, it cuts the neighbours off too. We’re all connected.
And when the heating’s on in everybody’s flat, the building gets hotter. Then all the flats get hotter. And we get hotter.
And then you have to open the windows to let some cool, fresh air inside. If you don’t, you’ll die of heat exhaustion or something. Honestly it’s so hot inside in winter it’s suffocating sometimes.
I brought a hot water bottle with me when I first came to Moscow. I never used it.
It’s the funniest thing. Imagine. Outside it’s minus 20 degrees C. Too cold to stay outside in the street comfortably for more than 5 minutes.
You’re inside your flat, toasty warm on a cold winter’s night. Wearing shorts and a t-shirt with the living room window open. So you don’t die of heat exhaustion.