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Home heating

Posted by urufish on June 24, 2007


This is a good time to do this post.  We’ve had an unusual, but not uncommon, past month.  It came in with a bang, a cold bang… Then it mellowed a bit, then it went cold, then it mellowed again.  I think today (and the past few) have been mellow.  I had to pack a mattress in the car this morning in my pyjamas – outside.  I didn’t feel cold.  Try that in Toronto in December.  hah. 

This is somewhat typical of most winters.  Even though it’s not supposed to get cold until July, you get the odd cold spells lasting a day or two starting in May.  I think it’s been down to 1 or 2 degrees a few nights.  Practically speaking, that’s as low as it ever gets in July/August.  I guess in July and August, there are more days like that.  That’s what distinguishes the winter from the late fall. 

Those of us from the north, have respect for the outside weather, but what we really take for granted, is the weather inside.  My memory starts in Toronto in the early 1950’s and goes to the mid 2000’s.  In houses or apartments, except for when the heating broke, it was never, ever cold.  My parents set the winter thermostats at 22 degrees and that’s where the entire house stayed; kitchen, bathrooms, hallways, no exceptions.  In the 50’s we had coal fired radiators.  When we moved to the suburbs, we had oil fired central heating.  When I moved out, I lived in older buildings with losa using oil fired boilers.  The last apartments I lived in had forced electric, central heating and a/c.  When I moved into houses, all were gas fired, forced air central heating/air conditioning.  Again, there was never a single place anywhere in the house, including the basement, that varied by more than one degree from the thermostat setting. 

The only time I was ever cold living in Canada was one year when I lived in a trailer, like Jim Rockford.  It was forced air, gas fired heating.  When it came on, you were warm within 60 seconds.  When it went off, you were cold within 2 minutes.  It was a constant cycle of cold and hot.  The reason I bring this up is because some kinds of heating in Uruguay are like that.  I notice that effect, (not as dramatic though) with split, forced air heating.  It also depends on where you are in the room.  If you are sitting in the path of the heater, you get warm, (and windblown) when it’s on.  When it goes off, a few minutes before it comes back on, you cool off.  The bad news, in a bigger room with a high ceiling, if you’re not in the path and near an exposed wall, you may never warm up.  This is the case in our bedroom.  If you sit near 2 exposed walls, with the split past you, like my wife, she needs an electric heater to heat her feet under the desk.  Strange isn’t it?  We’ve got rads in that room, a split in that room and she still needs an electric spot heater.  Let’s go to rads next.

This house had a radiator system when we moved in.  It had cast iron radiators, about 80 years old.  We had them checked out before the renovation and they were in excellent condition so we kept them.  There were parts of the house that were never heated.  For instance, the kitchen, bathroom and service area.  These were areas used by the help and in those days, possibly to this day, owners didn’t heat those areas of the house.  Well, we’re north americans and we couldn’t conceive of not heating any room in the house, used by staff or not, (we dont have staff).  So we added modern, aluminum radiators.  Once we got the bugs out of this system, it works just fine.  So why is my wife cold?

In Canada, we set the temp at 22, 24/7.  I haven’t done that here, not yet anyway.  Why?  Because when I lived in an apartment, for the past year, the heat only ran from 7pm until 11pm and that kept us warm for the next 20 hours.  Houses in Uruguay have high heat mass.  Once you heat up all the bricks and mortar, it will radiate that heat for a long time.  But I found out that doesn’t work here in the house.  Because we use radiators, not losa, pipes buried in cement.  With rads, most of the heat goes into the air.  With losa, it heats the concrete which heats the air.  With rads, you heat the air.  Concrete doesn’t escape out through holes around doors and windows.  Air does.  So we double up the heating time.  8am til 12pm and 8pm until 12am.  Iron rads take over an hour to come up to full heat (and they hold heat for 2 hours after the boiler shuts off).  My wife’s desk sits next to an iron rad, 2 exposed walls with windows.  It doesn’t warm up until 11pm.  That’s why she uses the electric heater. 

So here’s my advice to you, the newcomer or you the resident who is uncomfortable during the winter.   If the house or apartment is without northern style insulation, with Uruguayan style windows, losa is your most cost effective option.  If you’re going to buy or rent an apartment, pay the extra few bucks and buy one with losa (or subfloor electric resistance heating).  If your building is more than 10 years old, have your architect inspect your piping.  Buildings from 25-35 years ago have a practical losa lifetime of 40-50 years.  That’s if the pipes are kept filled ALL THE TIME.  I know of buildings that had their losas drained for various reasons during the offseason and those pipes will not last as long, nor are they likely as efficient as they used to be.  

Your second best option is central boiler, radiator system.  As I stated above, because it isn’t heating the struture, it’s heating the air, there will be swings in temperature because it goes on and off more frequently.  Radiators aren’t everywhere like losa, so areas of the room will be colder than others.  The idea of putting radiators under windows is a very effective moderator when used with insulated walls like back home, but here, they’re not insulated.  So it’s cold near those uninsulated walls, farther from the radiators.  If you’re going to be sitting somewhere or working somewhere, place it as far from a cold wall or window as possible.  If you place it next to a rad, that’s fine when the rad is working, not so good when it’s not.  Rads are frequently set into a wall, which measn when it’s not working, there’s less wall between the outside and the inside. 

If you have or will use rads, I have a suggestion for you.  I am putting reflective insulation between my rads and the outside walls–silver side facing inside.  When a rad is placed on an outside wall, half the heat it produces heats the outside wall and makes it a nice place for a homeless person to lean against in July/August.  If you put reflective insulation between it and the outside wall, more of the IR heat will radiate into the house and when it’s off, less heat will radiate away from the house.  If your rads are totally exposed, this may not be aesthetically pleasing, but it will please your pocket book.  In our case, all the rads on outside walls are inside wooden cabinets with screens on the room side, so it cant be seen.  I expect this will put out a lot more heat than before.  You dont need to do this for rads against an inside wall. 

The next best option is a split heater/airconditioner.  If it’s a heat pump, using reverse cooling for heating and not resistance (like a ceramic heater), it wont be as expensive to run.  Uruguay is full of chinese units of questionable quality but it appears that they break under warranty, and when they’re fixed, they dont break again. 

person-on-rad.jpg With electric heat (radiant or oil filled rad) this is the only way you’re gong to feel toasty..

If you rely on spot heaters, like plug in electrical or wall installed gas heaters (like Mike has), you’re going to be miserable in the winter.  I’m sure there are some exceptions to this rule, but I have yet to experience one.  Most of our friends use spot heating..  Not a one of them is comfortable in the winter. 

With losa in our apartment, we didn’t even notice the winter last year.  With the radiators, I do feel a little chilly some mornings when it turns cold for more than a couple of days.  Then, I’ll dress up scandinavian style, with turtle neck, shirt, sweater and vest.. 4 layers.  And then I’m fine.. 

Posted in Daily life, Essentials | 9 Comments »

Telephone service

Posted by urufish on May 16, 2007

Today, we received a stack of telephone bills in the mail.  For some reason, all of our bills come on the same day.  We get a separate bill from Antel, (national telco), for each number and for each ADSL service we have.  Not sure if you can ask them to concatenate them but my best guess is they wont.  Seems the way their computer systems are set up. 

We have 3 land lines.  One for the summer house in Piriapolis.  One for the padres in the city and one for our daughter, (northern habits are hard to break).  We have 2 ADSL services.  One for the city house and one for the winter house.  This time of the year, our ADSL service is cancelled at the summer house.  

You can have the bills mailed to a different address than the service.  Not sure you can have that address outside of Uruguay, but inside, yes.  We added this tidbit because not all utilities will do that.  So be warned. 

The typical home telephone bill includes several services.  The basic service is around $200.  On our run of the mill, basic plan, that fee includes call waiting and no answer voice mail.  Other services are extra, like caller ID, call forwarding or ‘0’ call blocking (prevents someone calling long distance or cellphones).  For detailed charges, go to www.antel.com.uy

Unlike service in Ontario (Canada), you pay for all outbound calls here under the heading ‘Computos Urbanos’.  In conversation, we refer to them as ‘pulsos’.  Not sure if we’re an average family or not but our monthly fee for this service hovers around $650 for 685 ‘computos’. 

Occasionally, you’ll also see, (as the word suggests), Cargos Ocasionales… like traslado..

The next heading on the bill is in-country Long Distance.  This includes calls to cell phones (the caller pays cell charges here – not the recipient), as well as other cities in the country that are not local calls.  Outbound calls to cell phones are around 4 pesos per minute.  Next heading is Long Distance out-of-country.  Last heading is 0900 service. Last month, we called for an appointment to renew my Cedula and sure enough, it’s on this month’s phone bill…. $186.   

One thing to keep in mnd when dealing with Antel…  Unless you tell Antel otherwise, they’ll put charges on cuotas for you.  We moved a phone line in April so now we’re payng $37.5 every month for the next 15 months.  

Usually, you get a week to pay Antel bills from the time they arrive until they’re due.  If you miss the date, the penalty is 10% and interest on top of that.  We pay ours through bank auto-debit.   All phone bills include the 23% IVA tax.

ADSL comes on its own invoice. It’s associated with a phone number in the Antel computers, but the invoice doesn’t show that relationship.   We used the 1536 service for the first year we were here but we recently switched to the 1024 service.  So far, no one has experienced a difference in performance.   If you’re a newbie to Uruguay and want ADSL, you must order the phone service first.  You cant oder ADSL until after the phone service is installed.  Figure a 3-5 working days for the phone to be installed and pretty much the same for an ADSL line. 

Phone service where we live in Pocitos, is excellent.  So is the service in our summer house unless a lightning storm takes out serivce.  Then it can take several days to restore it.  ADSL service is excellent.  You get what you pay for and downtime is rare. 

Posted in Essentials | 4 Comments »

Marriages – scrambled or sunny side up?

Posted by urufish on May 13, 2007

This post is strongly connected to property rights…. Wasn’t sure where to post it.  Was thinking on calling it property rights III… still might.  It has important implications for you if you have real estate and heirs.  The following information may not have practical applications to all readers, but some of you (and in particular, 2 I know :-), will find this invaluable. 

In the property rights post, we talk about the laws and how they set specific minimums of division of property rights in favour of bloodline over spouses, in particular children and parents.  Here we talk about protecting a spouse by way of putting the property in his/her name.  Of course, you’re playing a game somewhat with who will leave the earthly realm first, but in some cases, this may not be an over-riding concern. 

The point of complete separation of property is somewhat simple but complicated.  Simple in the sense, it can be done.  But complicated in the sense of how it gets done.  If you’re an ex-pat, starting from scratch, you cant just put it in one spouse’s name and forget about it.  Even if the escribano lets you put it in one name, legally, it’s still jointly owned by the both of you and upon the death of either spouse, the surviving spouse’s children, parents, etc. have legal claim, the same as if it was jointly owned.  This is where scrambled or sunny side up comes in.  Which one will you (two) be?? 

Married couples living in Uruguay have the option to keep their assets in common between them or completely separate.  Dont get this confused with the northern use of separate assets or income for Income tax purposes.  This goes far beyond that.  Think divorce. 

Here’s how it works.  After you get your Uruguayan cedula, provisional or definitivo, you hire a lawyer to petition the courts to have your assets separated.    This process can take from 3 to 6 months.  During this time, it winds its way through the legal system.   Your petition is published in the official newspaper (just like divorce), and the system waits to find out if someone in Uruguay has something against you (or on you :-).  Sooner or later, you will be officially separate for purposes of assets and from that time forward, each of you own whatever is in each other’s names.  That includes real property as well as bank accounts and various and sundry financial instruments.

Simple enough?? 

Now for the tough one.  The situation that most ex-pats will find themselves in…  because MOST ex-pats want to buy property before they’re even in a position to start this process.  Well, dont despair.  There’s a way around that too.   You ‘celebrate’ a PROMESA DE COMPRAVENTA and then go and ask for separation of assets in front of the judge, afterwards, (like 6 to 8 months after).  The husband (or wife), will gave their half to the spouse and then, the final SALE is done. The only point of concern here is if somebody (vendors and/or buyers) dies in the 6 to 8 months, that will push back the final sale for some extra time, but the result will be the same.

 And now for the most important thing.   THE ABOVE ISN’T LEGAL ADVICE OR A ROAD MAP.  It’s a headsup for you to find a REPUTABLE lawyer.  Referred to you by someone you not only trust, but who has proven, beyond a reasonable doubt, that they know the lawyer knows what he(she) is doing.  There’s a lot of money on the table with real estate transactions and you dont want a dipstick or a crook between you and your property.   

Posted in Essentials, Real Estate | 1 Comment »

Learning electricity in Uruguay

Posted by urufish on May 11, 2007

Everyone knows that Uruguay is 220 volt, 50 cycle country.    That goes without saying.  But there’s a lot more to this than just making sure your hair dryer is set to 220v.  If you plan on living here, you have to relearn a whole lot about what you’ve taken for granted back home (up North).  

Our experience is limited to urban areas, Montevideo and Piriapolis, and in particular, the very top of San Antonio…  We hear that electrical service varies from place to place, and can be very different in rural areas, so you cant take what we write here and apply it to your situation, unless you’re in Montevideo, PDE or Piria. 

First of all, for the past several years, in all the above places, service has been reliable…  In our 18 months here in the city, it’s as reliable as it was back home…  One outage that lasted 15-20 minutes.   Otherwise, no problems.  

This past summer, there was a bit of a drought and nationwide, the government called on us to conserve energy.  In our building, we had 2 elevators…  the glitzy one and the service one.  The service elevator drew less power, so the we used it during the crisis.  The escalators in the major shopping malls and a the ultrabright lighting took hits.  The descending escalators were shut off for the duration.  When the crisis passed, everything went back to normal. 

 Plugs are a little strange here.  I think Uruguay has receptacles from all over the world in this little country.  It’s as if they changed standards every 10 or 15 years..  Over the years, we have accumulated almost 40 adaptors…  When we built the new house, we had modular plugs put in, like the adaptors, that handle several different plugs…  We still had a few plugs that wouldn’t fit so we cut them off and replaced them with standard plugs.  Word of caution.  When you do that, you blow out the warrantee…  So dont do that on your fridge or other appliance until after the first year… which is as long as any guarantee is good for here. 

In the city, we have never had a single issue with a surge or spike.  It could be we’ve just been lucky.  Or maybe Pocitos is special.  But with a houseful of appliances, electronics and computers and LCD’s everywhere, so far, no problems.  Cant say the same thing for the house in Piriapolis.  Living on top of the mountain kind of guarantees a direct lightning strike a few times a year.  A few telephones, several modems and a motherboard later, we’ve learned our lesson.  When you hear a thunderbolt, pull everything out of the wall.  This country sees a lot of electrical storms… so even a flatlander is at some risk of a big surge… but it’s probably the same or less than living in Florida. 

Most laptops made today use transformers that are 220/110.  So it’s likely you’ll have no problem plugging in here.  But you’ll probably need an adaptor.  Around $1 in most grocery stores.  If you do use a laptop, it’s a good idea not to use it on your lap.  Everyone I’ve ever used will shock you wherever smooth skin comes in contact with a metal part, like a little screw.  Will never forget the first day I used a laptop on a hot day.  I was wearing shorts, was sweating and put it on my lap.  Whoa… I got up really fast.  If you’re sensitive to voltage, run your hand along the case of the laptop lightly.  You’ll feel a vibration.  That’s the 220 trying to escape through you.    I use a ground plug on mind and I’m certain the plug is grounded, but nothing changes.  You still get tingly all over 🙂

Fluorescent lights buzz like mad here.  Electricians say it’s the cheap chinese ballasts they use here.  But we remember it buzzing 20 years..  long before cheap Chinese imports.  By the way, if the buzzing drives you crazy, take apart the fixture and take the ballast out of the unit and let it hang.  No more buzz. 

Electrical panels in Uruguay are bigger and have a lot more breakers (modern ones–older ones still use fuses).  It seems like there’s a breaker for every plug.  But it’s probably one to 3 or something like that.  Lot more than up north.  All wiring here runs through plastic tubing – not metal.  Even when you run wires under the lawn, they’re in plastic, not metal and unprotected.. eg.  there’s no concrete on top of them.  But they do use ground interruption circuitry on the mains, so it should shut off before your gardner is killed. 

You can use most plug in clocks from up north, even though they’re 60 cycle and here it’s 50.  We brought down a couple of Radio Shack clocks that shine the time on the ceiling.  We both wear glasses and used to hate getting up in the middle of the night and trying to make out the numbers on the LCD screen.  This way, even without glasses, you can just open your eyes and see the time on the ceiling.   Anyway, they both work perfectly on 110v. 

You can use 110v ceiling fans too.  You just need to run 110v to the fan or use a small transformer.  The only issue will be speed.  It will run around 15% slower, but no one’s ever noticed in our house.  However bad the wobble on your NA fan, a local fan will be worse.  We’ve taken to guarding our Casblancas’ lest we need to replace one with something local. 

Electronics all works here…  you can either use a special transformer for electronics or buy a multi-duty unit that does everything.   We have a real Wurlitzer juke box we brought down.  Popped it into a 1000v transformer from up north and instant sock hop.   The carbon tetrachloride bubbles just like back home…  Haven’t noticed them swirling in the opposite direction though 🙂

The washing machines work without incident.. but we still haven’t got the dryer going.  Too complicated for the local electrical contractor so it’s sitting in the Whirlpool distributor, waiting for instructions from the USA. 

Wires are a lot thinner here.  Higher the voltage, the lower the current.  Ahhhhh… theory becomes practical here. 

The only supplier of electricity in Uruguay is UTE.  You can have your own generator… (lots of folks out in the country do), but city folks are all UTE customers. 

No, there’s no internet over the elecrtrical grid.  Antel has a lock on wireline internet. 

Cost of KW hour goes up to almost 5 pesos.  I’ve seen friends with under 800 pesos per month, and others with $5000 per month..  Depends on your lifestyle.  Of course, if you heat with electricity, your winter bills will be considerably higher. 

Under floor electrical cable resistance heating is being used more and more in high end residential construction.  Main provider here is Eurocable.  I believe most of Uruguay’s power is hydro electric.  Anyone care to comment on that?  One thing for sure, they do not have a nuke plant. 

Incandescent lightbulbs dont last a long time here.  Not sure why.  The more modern electronic light bulbs are hit and miss.  For every 4 we have bought, one dies within a month.  That makes them 30% more expensive than you expect.  Electronic bulbs are very big here.  Have been for many years.  The newer swirly types are taking over from the elongated tube types. 

Dont use surge proectors from back home.  They will blow up in a 220v plug. 

Posted in Essentials | 8 Comments »

Property Rights in Uruguay – Part II – Squatters’ rights

Posted by urufish on May 7, 2007

 The second and likely, more important aspect of property rights in Uruguay is that of ‘squatters’ rights.   These points are especially important to you if you’re an ex-pat or a returning Uruguayan who never knew or has forgotten how these laws work.  Many of you will purchase property on a visit or even off the net and not occupy the property for some time.  Or you may purchase a run down property and wait for a while to renovate it or build on the property.  Or maybe, you buy land or a property for the purpose of ‘holding’ it as an investment to sell at a later date at a higher value.  Or you may purchase a property while here, contract with an architect or GC to renovate it and go home.  In all these cases, and others not specified above, you’re vulnerable to these 2 situations detailed below.  Read them carefully, because they can be catastrophic… you could even lose usage of parts of your property… perhaps the entire property.     

 If you own an unoccupied property (usually building/house), (as in you’re not currently living in it or it’s vacant), and a family with children get in and you dont call the police within 48 hours, and its the winter or late fall, they’re going to be there until the spring or the summer.  That may not actually be the way the law is written, but practically speaking, that is what will happen.   The law moves very slowly against a family with children that has no other place to go when it gets cold.  

If your case is different from the above, eg. it’s the summer, change some of the facts in the above example and use your common sense to figure out the results.  The concept doesn’t change.  The bottom line is that social services, (I am told it exists but I haven’t actually seen it at work), aren’t motivated or able to relocate homeless families in the winter.  Perhaps they dont want to.   I’ve been told by people in the country (outside of the cities), this has happened to them too.

If you dont call the police or make an effort to evict people on your property (or in your house) for a longer period of time, (not sure how long that is–maybe a year or two–hope to get a definite answer on this soon), you can NEVER get them out.   For example, if you purchase a farm or a ranch, and a group of people camp out in a corner of the property, and gradually, over time, build match-stick structures, and ‘look’ like they’ve lived there a while, you cant evict them from the property-ever.  They can stay there as long as they want. 

Posted in Essentials, Real Estate | 4 Comments »

Property Rights in Uruguay – Part 1 – Inheritance laws

Posted by urufish on May 6, 2007

There are a few extremely important concepts a northerner has to learn if you own or are going to purchase real property here.  My wife and I are no experts on this matter.  We’re neither lawyers or escribanos, nor do we have experience with hundreds of properties all over the country.  But we have had a few very important learning experiences that you should know.  If someone reading this posts is aware of others, please comment and we’ll adjust the post and credit you. 

The two that we have had experience with are inheritance laws and what we would call in english, squatters rights.   This post deals with the former.  

Inheritance laws in Uruguay apply to all real property, whether you’re a resident here or not.  Real property is for all intents and purposes, real estate.  If the property is in the name of a person, Uruguayan law applies.  If you own property, or even more important, if you intend to purchase property, and you have children, discuss this with an attorney or an accountant, before you close the property.  You can make any changes you want to the ownership afterwards, but you’ll pay taxes twice and they are significant as a % of the purchase.  The key issue we’re aware of is that upon death of a parent, children automatically inherit 50% of that parent’s real property.  In the most common case, when property is owned jointly by the husband and wife, the children will inherit 25% of the total property value, automatically.  Should the surviving parent resist, the courts will hold to this strictly.  Whatever is owned that isn’t lived in, as in permanent residence, the courts will liquidate upon petition of the child or children.  The exception to liquidation is the equivalent of a northerner’s principal residence.  They wont throw the surviving parent out in the cold, so to speak.  But if that parent decides to sell the property, eg. to downsize, 25% comes off the top of the sale for the ninos.  If you need more detail, speak with an attorney.  

Posted in Essentials, Real Estate | 9 Comments »

Cell phones

Posted by urufish on May 5, 2007

There are 3 carriers in Uruguay. Ancel (the incumbent), Movistar and CTI. Google them for for their websites and relevant pricing information. They have material on both contract and prepaid phones.  Ancel, being the original telco, is more expensive (majority opinion), Movistar’s in the middle and the new kid on the block, CTI seems to be the cheapest. The vast majority of Uruguayans use prepaid cards. You’re in good company there. That’s easily done and you can get cards in almost every corner store. Your problem will be the phone and chip.

 I know that you can buy phones in all the agencies around town. There are piles of them. Just walk 10 blocks in either direction of most of Montevideo and you’ll pass a few. I bought my daughter’s at Motociclo. http://www.motociclo.com.uy/motociclo/. You can get a phone for U$S20.00 and that includes 300 text messages and $200 worth of voice.

I dont know if they’ll sell you one on a passport. Unfortunately, every time we bought a phone here, I was with my wife and she used her cedula.  Going to have to research that and update the post. 

OK. so now you have the phone which automatically comes with a SIM. You can either buy a phone card in the same store or go to one of the corner stores. For rates, check the websites for the 3 providers above.

The other option, and the one I used starting a few years back is just to buy the chip here and use your phone from up north. If you have a world phone (4 frequencies) and it’s not blocked, you’re in business. If it’s blocked, it may be worth it to take it to a local shop here and have it unblocked. Probably less than buying the U$S 20 phone.  If you want to an unblocked phone, search the web.  There are hundreds of companies selling them on the web. 

One catch.. if you want to use your phone here in Uruguay, you have to declare the phone when you enter Uruguay. You pay a few bucks. They give you a paper that says it’s authorized to use here. You go to the centro offices for the provider you want to use in Uruguay, eg. Ancel, Movistar or CTI. Show them your document and your phone. They’ll sell you a chip for $50 (that’s pesos) and away you go.

There is very little in the way of minute offers here. With prepaid phone service, you pay by the minute, you buy ‘x’ minutes. That’s it. Even contracts here aren’t that competitive.  There are plans that give you a discount if you talk within the network and if it’s one of 5 friends and if it’s your grandmother/grandfather and a plan for under 21 year olds, but you wont see the volume discounts and you surely wont see unlimited calling.  I figure that’s years away.  That’s why everyone in Uruguay uses SMS to communicate… not talk.

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