Nepali Times
Keeping warm


Nepal has already imported electric, kerosene and LPG heaters worth Rs 100 million this year from Malaysia, China, Taiwan, Korea, Japan, Italy, Spain and Germany. Add to this the untracked imports of the little Indian electric heaters,and you start to get an idea of how warm this country needs to be kept.

Kerosene heaters have been the choice of heating in the middle-class market for nearly a decade now, mainly because they're affordable and portable. The most popular brands are the Korean Kerona, the Chinese World and Lucky Star, and the Japanese Fujica, priced anywhere between Rs 2,200 and Rs 9,000, depending on where you buy them and how "original" they are. They're usually round-it's almost like sitting around a fire-and radiate heat in all directions. Salesmen insist that the heat generated by one of these lasts "long after the heater has been turned off."

Electric heaters are growing in popularity and there are different kinds. Leave the Indian and Nepali coil heaters to make tea and noodles in office kitchens. They cost only Rs 200, but consume an amazing amount of electricity and pose many safety hazards. A serious electric heater could be a fan heater (Rs 1,500-4,000), a storage heater with heat conduction segments (Rs 10,000-15,000), an electric oil heater that uses thermal oil radiation (Rs 10,000-13,000), or a fast-warming convector heater (Rs 5,500-6,000). Most electric heaters are 2,000-watt devices, which means every hour of use adds Rs 12 to your electricity bill.

Three years ago, LPG-powered heaters from Europe started making their appearance here. You can smell the gas and they hiss a bit, but they heat very fast. As long as you can keep yourself in cylinders, you can keep warm.

Each of these heating systems comes with its own set of problems that strain your budget, health or the environment. Kerosene heaters give out toxic carbon monoxide fumes which any user will tell you cause respiratory problems. People dislike the smell of LPG and worry about an explosion. As for electric heaters, the low-end ones can be unsafe, and electricity is expensive. Really expensive.

So how do you choose? First, decide what kind of aggravation you can handle. Then make a budget, taking into account your initial investment, how long you need to run your heater every day, and operating and maintenance costs. For instance, it's important to know that an hour's use of a kerosene heater costs Rs 5 on average, an LPG heater also Rs 5, and an electric heater anywhere between Rs 6 and Rs 12. Then there's the issue of maintenance. Space heater technicians say that the instruments would work more efficiently and last longer if they were treated better.

All of this sounds like common sense, but make sure you clean your heater before putting it away and keep it away from the dust in the summer. Though the temptation to huddle close to a heat source as you eat, drink and be merry is strong, try to avoid spills. Keep any grease-able parts such as wicks greased, or you'll find yourself paying Rs 250 for a replacement. It also helps to buy as close to the "original" as possible. Chinese-made "Japanese" kerosene heaters are among the most pernicious-and widely-bought-fakes. Devendra Jiv Tuladhar, a heater dealer in Mahaboudha, says, "They come with big tags that say Japan Produce or Made in Japan." Increased demand and competition over the last five years have spurred Nepali traders to go to the Guanxao area in China, also called "electric town", and order cheaper products. Unfortunately, here, no-name=no-quality. Other ways to tell a fake are checking to see the wick-holder is stable, looking for chromium-plated rods and a well-printed catalogue.

As for the high electricity tariffs, there might be a way out. In winter, power consumption shoots up almost 20 percent from 300MW to 350MW. NEA authorities say it's difficult to stop people using electricity during the peak hours, 5-9 pm. But as energy expert Bikash Pandey says, "Electricity is a high-quality energy-for Nepal it makes sense to use Time of Day (ToD)."

ToD is a billing option that doesn't just count the units used, but also keeps track of the time of day they're used, and off-peak use is charged at a lower rate. The NEA has recently started offering the facility, but following some arcane logic, there's been no publicity about the scheme. An official says on condition of anonymity, "People have to come and ask to change their billing system." All very strange, but worth a shot.

Architects and energy experts insist that all the heaters in the world won't keep you as warm as cheaply as smart planning and construction can. Says Pandey, "We haven't incorporated the concept of conserving ambient temperature in rooms." Architect Punya Sagar Marahattha, theory lecturer at the Engineering College, agrees: "Windows and doors are in the wrong direction and the use of cold-retaining materials like marble for floors is rampant. It's fashionable to construct big concrete blocks," says Marahattha.

But there are ways to make even a concrete block warmer. If you don't have as many south-facing windows as you'd like, double-curtain the north-facing ones. Even thin cotton and rush mats help if you have concrete or, heaven forbid, marble floors. Insulate rooms and seal cracks in doors and windows with cotton and scotch tape. If that doesn't help, buy a heater.

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)