With Italian summers getting hotter and electricity getting more expensive, discover 10 natural and affordable property features to keep you cool in a hot summer.
The summer heatwave of 2022 in Italy will be remembered for being extremely hot, dry and long. But it’s only following a recent trend for rising temperatures. I know from my own experience of living in Puglia, that while the top summer temperature used to be 35C, the past three years it has been reaching 42C. Also, it arrives earlier in June.
We really appreciate our own home’s features that keep the heat out and we’re always trying to think of other improvements we can make to keep the place cool.
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Cities feeling the heat
Earlier this month, 22 cities were put on the Italian Ministry of Health’s heat wave red list. This indicates that the high temperatures over several days can be a health risk to all ages. This is why city dwellers try to escape to the coast, mountains or countryside in the hottest weeks. Many Italians have second homes or family they can visit.
The cities on the red list were: Ancona, Bari, Bologna, Bolzano, Brescia, Cagliari, Campobasso, Catania, Civitavecchia, Florence, Frosinone, Latina, Messina, Naples, Palermo, Perugia, Pescara, Reggio Calabria, Rieti, Rome, Trieste and Viterbo.
Keeping your summer home cool
In the Italy Property Guides survey almost 50% of readers said they were looking for a holiday home, and many of those intend to do a bit of ‘working from home’ in it. So if you are planning to buy a property that you can enjoy in the summer months it’s worth adding these property features onto your viewing trip wish list.
1. Door and Window Shutters
Whether the doors and windows are made of wood or plastic, direct sunlight can greatly decrease their lifespan. Wood warps and splits, paint flakes, and plastic can get brittle and discolour. Protecting them from the sun will not only make them last longer, but also help keep out the heat. Walk around any Italian town on a hot summers day and you will find all the shutters closed.
If they have opening vents you can keep the shutter closed and the windows open to let a breeze through. In addition, shutters can also offer good security, particularly those made of metal. If you are going to be leaving the property unattended, they offer that extra bit of protection.
Some door and window styles might not be suitable for outside shutters. Some windows have inside shutters. Doors with a protruding stone surround can also be difficult to attach shutters to. In this situation the best you can do is use good protective varnish or paint, create some shade with plants etc. or hang a cloth curtain over the door. We have some doors like this, so in the summer we staple fabric and mosquito netting to a piece of batten and attach it above the outside of the doors.
This two bedroom property in the Marche region has both outside and inner shutters on the windows. For just €140,000 this house has views across countryside to the sea.
2. Shaded walls
The heat of the sun can radiate through stone and brick walls. If the walls are thick or have a cavity this can be reduced. However, any kind of shade is also a great benefit. This may be created by trees, other buildings, a gazebo, or a veranda.
A veranda not only creates a pleasant shady area for you to sit, it also keeps the sun off the walls and doors. A big covered area will also provide an outdoor living space where you can dine with family and friends. Potted plants that wilt in direct sunlight can also be placed here during the summer months. For 175,000, this 3 bedroom house on the island of Sardinia has a covered balcony and ground floor terrace. Plus with that open view of the sea, you should also benefit from a sea breeze.
3. Secure windows
Although initially I was concerned to see bars on windows, I now understand the benefits. When you are sleeping, and want to have the window open to let in the cooler night air, window bars combined with fly nets make you feel so much more secure. There are some ornate metal work designs and with a window box of flowers they can look very attractive.
4. Covered Roof Terrace
Property buyers often have a romantic dream of sitting on their roof terrace sipping wine and enjoying the view. In the summer months, the reality is that it is way too hot up there during the day. Depending on the materials used to build the roof, the heat can also get into the rooms below.
Although, A roof of a light-coloured stone or painted white will help reflect the sun, the best terraces have a roof above them. This will allow you to get much more use out of the space. However, it should be of a sturdy construction, a light gazebo is a waste of money, as the sun and wind will very quickly destroy it.
5. A through breeze
So many people from cooler climates view property in Italy and say “The windows are too small”. You really need to live in a hot country to realise why big windows are really not a good idea, and why we close shutters during the day. Property features that keep the sun out become a priority.
However, when night falls, you’ll want to open all the windows and doors and let the cooler night air come through. This works best if you can create a through breeze by having open windows or doors on opposite sides of the room. A fan placed by an open door will help blow the air through.
Air-conditioning is often considered expensive, as it uses a lot of electricity. However, it has its obvious benefits during a heatwave and modern units have improved their energy efficiency ratings. Used conservatively to just cool a room before bedtime it will make a hot evening so much more comfortable. With many more people installing photovoltaic panels to create cheaper electricity for their homes, the option of air-con becomes much more affordable.
Whether you call it a cellar, basement or cantina, an underground room is always going to be the coolest room in the house. You wont fully appreciate what a gem it is until you venture down there on a hot afternoon and feel that cool air. Why let bottles of wine feel all the benefits? This is one property feature often overlooked, but if you have one it’s worth looking into the possibility of making it into a more usable room. Thus, adding living space to your property.
8. A good water supply
With a heatwave comes a lack of rain fall, which can lead to drought. Ultimately, this can lead to water restrictions being put in place. When viewing properties always ask where the water comes from. It could be mains water, an artesian well, or delivered by lorry into a tank. At our countryside property in Puglia our water is pumped up from 150 metres underground using an artesian well. So far, We have always had a constant supply of fresh cool water and consider it well worth the €4,500 we paid to have it drilled.
In addition, it’s always a good idea to collect rain water when you can, to water plants. It may also could be worth having a good sized back up tank of tap water too. Just make sure it is in a shady position or underground.
9. A Pool
On a hot day it’s nice to have a dip in a pool. It doesn’t have to be a big expensive swimming pool, an above ground pool or plunge pool will do the job. With a small pool it’s actually easier to shade the water with umbrellas and keep the water cool. In the summer you lose a lot of water through evaporation and it will need regularly topping up.
A large pool also requires a bigger pump and more chlorine and maintenance. When viewing property with pools always ask how much it costs to maintain, and the cost of a replacement pump. A large pool can cost over €25,000 to install, and you will also have to pay for planning permission. There is no guarantee you will get that permission either. Some local councils restrict the number of pools they will allow. Therefore, if a pool is top of your wish list, finding a property that already has one can be a big bonus. Like this two bedroom village house near Bagni di Lucca, Tuscany. Costing just €175,000, it comes with a good sized pool with superb views.
10. Solar panels
At a house viewing always look out for panels. Solar panels that heat water for taps and showers are well worth having, especially in the current climate when using gas or electric to heat water is so expensive. We get hot water from ours most or the year.
Photovoltaic solar panels are also becoming increasingly popular to produce cheap electricity. If you view a property that has them, ask under what terms they were bought. For example, you can buy them from the electricity company and sell excess electric you produce back to the grid.
Also, ask if they have batteries. Although the initial outlay is higher, a battery will store the energy, so that you can use it when the sun isn’t shining at night. Otherwise, you could be paying the electricity company for power usage in the evenings.
The government has introduced various bonus schemes in recent years to encourage the use of renewable energy and home insulation, so it is worth checking with a local geometra if you are considering buying photovoltaic panels for your Italian home. Currently, there is a 65% Eco-bonus and a 50% restructuring bonus (Bonus ristrutturazione) that might apply. However, the professionals able to carry out the work are in very high demand at the moment.
Comparing property prices
All of the above features add value to a property, as they can cost a lot to buy and install if the property doesn’t already have them. Therefore, when comparing property prices, this should be taken into consideration. You should also check their condition, and the cost of maintaining them.
Life in a heatwave
If you find yourself in Italy during a heatwave, I recommend doing as the locals do. Get up early, if you need to go out and get things done. Rest inside during the afternoon, then go out late in the evening. Restaurants don’t start filling up until after 9pm and summer music events in the Piazzas don’t generally start until after dark. When in town make regular stops for water, gelato or an ice-cold granita. You will soon find the shops and bars with the best air-con and shade.
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