What is communal heating?

We usually find communal heating systems in apartment blocks, as they can be a smart option for landlords for a variety of reasons. Often, communal heating systems will run on natural gas energy, heating the entire property via the same network. So, is communal heating a good idea for your property? Here, we’ll take a closer look at all the key aspects, advantages and disadvantages of communal heating systems, as well as the building and property types best suited to these heating systems.

Communal heating systems: what exactly are they?

Communal heating systems are widely used in apartment buildings, usually featuring a connection to the natural gas network in order to heat the property. Often, a landlord will opt for a communal heating system as it’s a practical way to ensure a reliable heating supply for all the occupants in an apartment building.

What is communal heating?

As you’ve probably already gleaned from the name, communal heating systems are heating systems that are shared between several homes. So, if there’s a communal heating system installed in your apartment building, your home will be heated from the same system that provides heat for your neighbours in the property, too.

Communal heating systems usually operate using a communal boiler that’s connected up to the natural gas network, providing heating throughout the property. With these systems, it’s easy to provide everyone who lives in the building with a simplified heating setup, sharing service and maintenance costs between everyone. For a landlord, that can be much simpler than having separate boilers and heating systems to maintain in every apartment in the building.

How do communal heating systems work?

Usually, the setup for a communal heating system will be located in the basement of the building. This often includes one or more heat generators, for example a boiler or heat pump equipment. Communal heating systems often provide domestic hot water for all the residents in a building, as well as heating the building itself.

In communal heating systems, heat can be distributed between all the homes in a building in several different ways:

  • A two-pipe distribution network: this is the most common distribution setup in communal heating systems. Hot water from the communal boiler circulates through the pipes to heating devices in each individual apartment in the building. Once the hot water has cooled, it’s returned to the communal heating device via the same pipe network.
  • A one-pipe distribution network: this is a less efficient communal heating setup, one you’re more likely to find in an older building. One-pipe systems can mean heating is uneven throughout the building.
  • A centralised individual heating network: these systems offer each separate dwelling in the property an individual heating distribution setup.

What happens when the heating reaches each dwelling in the building?

Once your heating has been distributed out by the building’s communal heating system, the heating devices in your individual dwelling kick into action. Those might be radiators, underfloor heating systems or other home heating setups.

Communal heating systems: how does heating the entire building affect the billing process?

Before we dive into the advantages and disadvantages of communal heating systems, we’re first going to clarify a common misconception about these types of heating systems. When residents of a building hear that they’ll be getting their heating from a communal system, they’re sometimes concerned that they’ll end up receiving billing costs based on their neighbours’ heating consumption.

However, it’s still very much possible to individualise billing within communal heating systems. That means you’ll only receive billing based on the heating you use in your home, not based on what everyone else in the building uses! Nowadays, accurates meters and helpful billing regulations mean you can rest assured you’ll only pay for the heating you use, even if you live in a building with communal heating.

Your billing will be based on your specific heating consumption data, based on accurate metering. That amount will represent the majority of your bill - around 70% - while the remaining 30% will represent shared fees for your building’s communal heating system. These could include system maintenance (such as communal boiler repair) and the costs of the fuel used to power the communal heating system (such as natural gas from the grid network).

Key advantages and disadvantages of communal heating systems

Communal heating systems have several highly practical advantages for a property:

  • As there’s just one communal boiler (usually tucked away in the property basement), there won’t be a boiler taking up space in your apartment
  • Maintenance costs are split between everyone in the building, lessening the burden on you as an individual
  • It’s possible to individualise consumption billing within a communal heating system, meaning your billing is determined by accurate metering
  • Your building landlord will often manage all communal heating administration

However, there are some disadvantages to communal heating systems:

  • You can’t fully control when and how you access heating in your building, as the start and end of seasonal heating is set for the entire building
  • While your billing is based on constant metering, you won’t be able to precisely control your personal energy efficiency in a communal heating system
  • If your building uses an old-fashioned one-pipe heating network, you might find that some dwellings in the property receive better heating than others

If your building has a communal heating system, you can control the heating in your individual apartment with Netatmo Smart Thermostat Heads! Simply install them on your home’s radiators or other heating devices and control your heating remotely from your smartphone. Set each room at exactly the right heating level and optimise your energy efficiency, room by room.

Is communal heating the right choice for you?

Ultimately, the specifics of your property will determine whether communal heating is the right choice for you.

It’s important to remember that communal heating systems provide great opportunities for saving on maintenance and service costs, as these are split between everyone who lives in the building, given they all benefit from the same communal boiler. Plus, having one communal boiler in the basement of the building means more space in each individual dwelling. What you might lose in individualised heating control, you gain in price reduction!