Notes From Hairenik
December 7, 2006

It’s starting to get cold in Yerevan. The temperature has already fallen below the freezing point, and it will only get colder, especially outside the capital. My in-laws tell me that the weather in Vanadzor is at acute sub-zero Celsius temperatures.

This year they have wisely chosen the most common, yet economical way to heat the home by using natural gas. The price of 1,000 cubic meters of gas, supplied by Russia’s conglomerate Gazprom, is about $110, significantly lower than the costs paid by other countries in the region who also depend on Russia, which are around $200 or more. Last winter the Armenian government was able to negotiate avoiding a sharp price-hike to last for two years by offering the incomplete Hrazdan thermo power plant on a platter. It may also surrender a portion if not the entire new Armenia-Iran natural gas pipeline currently being constructed. Armenians love the Russians; it seems they worship them and will do anything to please, including selling the control of nearly its entire infrastructure to them. Now the electricity grid and as of only a couple of weeks ago the entire landline telephone network operated by Armentel is under Russian control. However, I should add that the relatively low price of gas is contingent upon Russia’s turbulent relationship with pesky Georgia, which shares its border with the Great White Bear, across which of course gas enters Armenia.

In any case, an estimated 84 percent of Armenia’s populace now has access to gas for heating and other purposes. This is great news since gas is an excellent, relatively clean and dependable energy source. Wood should no longer be an option logically since it is essentially illegal to cut trees in most places, not to mention that burning it is filthy and bad for the environment—bad for the air and catastrophic for the diminishing forests throughout the country.

You can basically heat the home in one of two ways with gas. One method is by setting up a furnace-like device, which can be situated in virtually any home including apartment buildings, many of which were outfitted with accessible central exhaust pipes found behind walls that release fumes through small chimney ports on roofs. Basically these things are square boxes, usually black in color but can also be had in brown or copper tones. Most of them are imported from Iran. A dedicated gas line is attached to the unit, then solid, aluminum stove piping attached to the main exhaust line is used to release the carbon monoxide fumes. A few dozen blue flames rather quickly develop enough heat to warm up a home in about 20 minutes, depending on the area dimensions and the coverage ability of the unit. However, these things need to be properly installed by professionals—Armenians like to pretend they know everything and some install them on their own, with fatal consequences. Last winter there were several reports of people being asphyxiated from carbon monoxide fumes that failed to release with proper ventilation. So long as the unit is properly installed and situated directly beside an exhaust pipe that leads out of the building, or in some cases fitted for ventilation through a window, you cannot really go wrong with one of these things.

The other way is by installing a central heating system, often referred to as the “Baxi” method, named after one of the first European companies that offered such a solution in Armenia. There are at least a dozen such options now, which include dedicated piping and flat iron radiators that can be hooked up to every room in the home. The main unit doing all the work rests along a main outside wall, so the exhaust is immediately released into the atmosphere through a small vent hole. These things also naturally have to be installed properly, and you have to make sure that there are no air leaks around the vent so that cold air won’t enter the home, thereby defeating the purpose of installing the thing in the first place—a friend of mine was complaining of this dilemma. These systems from what I have heard start at around $1,000, perhaps less depending on the system’s brand name you choose.

A by far pricier but arguably safer alternative to gas is to use electric, portable radiators, which are oil filled. Once the oil starts circulating through the radiator or whatever it does you can feel the effects in about 10 minutes or less, depending on the wattage of the unit and how many heating fins it has. European brands like Ufesa and Ariston fetch high prices, costing at a minimum of $100 only for the small units. But three years ago I purchased a generic Chinese unit, stamped with the logo “Nautionl” in place of the genuine brand National, to make you think at first glance that you’re buying the real thing until you go home and kick yourself for not being able to read. This thing is still working great, which I bought at that time for about $80. Last weekend I bought a second oil-filled radiator for about $60, which is also doing very well—both of them have about 12 fins and heat up a 30 square meter room in no time at all.

But I found a way to bring down the cost of heating by having installed a digital electric meter. Between the hours of 11:00 pm and 7:00 am, I enjoy the miracle of electricity at about half the regular price per kilowatt. This is obviously a measure for people to conserve electricity during the day, but as far as I know I am the only person in the section of my apartment building to install one. It only cost me 5500 dram, or about $15.

Villages that do not have gas accessibility I believe are still burning wood or whatever people can get a hold of to produce heat. Affordability is also an issue with using gas, assuming it is available, but I don’t know if regional government subsidy programs are being put into place to help families in need. Something tells me that there aren’t such services.

Look into purchasing home warranty insurance for protection against heating problems.

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Blogger Nanyaar? said...
Howdy there!

I remember those chill days, kinda miss them, remember who I lived on the 8th floor and eventhough the heating was bad had to pay 75$ electricity bill for just one room.. lol.

but 5500 is awesome!!


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