New homes built in the suburbs surrounding Beijing are heated by electricity, but coal-fired boilers have historically heated most apartments in the Chinese capital. Although the city is now in the process of switching to natural gas, those boilers use about 12,000 tons of water in order to warm 840 million square meters of living space. The local government typically turns on the centralized heating system for Beijing's 22 million residents on November 15 of every year, and warmth flows to radiators until March 15 -- even if temperatures drop to shivering levels before or after those dates.
Bundling up in Beijing:
- Beijing's coal plants began pumping heat to city apartments on a strict schedule in the 1950s. Residents have to make do with electric space heaters and electric blankets until the heating is turned on.
- In recent years, Beijing officials have promised to turn on the heat if temperatures drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit (4.4 degrees Celsius) for five days in a row, or if there is a significant snowfall.
- Residents living in a 1,000 square foot (93 sq m) apartment in Beijing pay about $500 USD for four months of heat. In newer complexes with their own gas boilers or electric heaters, residents pay twice that amount.