How to turn on the heating systems in apartments in Beijing

For westerners, there is something unusual in the way heating systems are turned on in China. The Chinese economy has still remains of planification system when the country’s economy was very closed from the rest of the world and managed in an administrative manner.

This is still very much the case regarding residential compounds heating systems. Actually, you do not chose when to turn the heating system on or off, it is monitored for the whole residential compound you are living in, you have no choice but ask to the people in charge when is the heating going to arrive. Most of the time, your neighbours will know about it very precisely.

There are other reasons for this system except remains of planificaion, this is a measure which is caused by the size of the Chinese population. The authorities want to be able to control energy consumption for the whole country, since it is a very high energy cost with the number of Chinese people around there. You have to be able to have the resources, the coordination and there are ecological issues. For Beijing alone, this represents 41.000 tons of coal burned every day in winter to keep the inhabitants warm.

Every year since the 1950s the date is more or less the same, around the 15th of november in Beijing. Some years it can be slightly earlier on because exceptional meteorological conditions, but this remains rare. There are years where it can be very harsh when winter begins too early, people find themselves freezing inside their apartments, sleeping with additional blankets or gloves (this is not exagerated, winter in Beijing can be really harsh).

Other solutions do exist: turn the air conditionning on, in the reverse mode to get some warmth, this is the way most Beijing people heat themselves in case the wnterbegins too early, and this is the way a large part of China heats itself, especially in the south where there is sometimes no other heating system. You might use a independant electric space heater

Be aware that in some compounds, dates can be different. This is the case of diplomatic compounds, where official different rules do apply and the heating is tuned on one month earlier. This is the case as well in most of serviced apartments and high end compounds. Ask your property anagement if you want to know when the heating comes where you are living. It can be from October 15th to November 15th.

In some apartments, you have new systems of independant heating but you’ll have to buy city gas apart and manage it yourself, and it might prove quite costly.

It is probably one of the main questions to ask your real estate agent when you move in a new flat in Beijing: how does the heating works here ?

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