True Lithuania

Living in Lithuania: utilities and more

It is useful for everybody who stays in Lithuania for a longer term (especially if renting an apartment or room) to familiarize himself with the utility system, utility bills, and other legal requirements.

Water and electricity

Lithuanian tap water is among the cleanest in Europe and is perfectly drinkable. This is because 100% of it is taken from abundant underground sources sheltered from human interference (rather than from surface lakes or rivers where it could be easily contaminated).

88% of all homes now have access to municipal water (75% to hot water) and 85% have sewerage. The remainder is mainly old wooden village homes that use wells for water and outdoor toilets (but the number of such homes nearly halved between 2001 and 2011).

Electricity in Lithuania is 230V (thus American or Japanese devices may be incompatible). Power plugs have two round pins. The electricity is now universal and there are nearly no service disruptions.

Lithuanian power plug and socket, compatible with continental Europe. ©Augustinas Žemaitis.

The European Union has ordered Lithuania to have even more environmentally friendly electricity system, leading to more expensive wind power as well as a ban on incandescent lightbulbs.

Fridges, WCs, cooking stoves and showers are nearly must-haves, while bathtubs, dishwashers, and washing machines are also common.

Heating, cooling and gas

Heating in Lithuania can be especially expensive, with the costs to heat a two room apartment approaching 50% of average salary in the coldest months. Both the bad insulation of Soviet-built homes and the punitive Russian gas prices are blamed for this, leading to calls for home renovation and construction of gas terminal that should provide energetic independence from Russia. This is especially true for the 55% of all dwellings (mostly Soviet-built apartments) that have public central heating without any possibilities to either regulate temperature, choose another supplier or disconnect altogether. The remainder of buildings is lucky to have local heating systems, ~21% of them (mostly in villages) using wood, which is cheap yet labor-intensive.

The annual "public heating season" is declared by a municipal decree and it is usually longer in kindergartens and hospitals. Given the costs of heating and inability to freely regulate home temperature, this season is nearly always controversial, with many preferring it to be as short as possible while others claiming this would be detrimental to health.

In cities, many homes have centralized gas pipes for kitchens. Others use electricity to prepare food.

Air conditioning has been virtually unknown in Lithuania as late as the early 1990s but now is increasingly believed to be a must in middle-to-upper class public buildings and cars. Few personal homes have it, but the increasingly hot summers make many wishes to consider installing ones.

TV, radio, phones, and the internet

Television broadcast in Lithuania is DVB-T MPEG4 (free and not taxed). Traditional PAL transmitters have been turned off. The DVB-T broadcast gives one access to ~10 free channels, nearly all of them Lithuanian but also one Russian and one Polish.

Many Lithuanians own a cable TV (paid) which gives an access to some 50 channels, adding more foreign channels to the ordinary Lithuanian ones. As television, in general, is more popular among middle-aged and older people (with the youth preferring internet). They speak better Russian than English so Russian TV stations predominate over Western ones.

Some Lithuanians own satellite TV antennas, which allow them to see many foreign channels free of charge (this was especially popular in the 1990s with the opening of the world).

HD TV broadcast is very limited.

Radio broadcast is nearly all FM. Most radio stations are Lithuanian but at least one is Russian and one is Polish (although the music played is usually English in many of them).

While a home telephone has been a must until well into 2000s today it has been nearly outcompeted by cheap cell phones. Most new homes and even some offices lack telephone and rely on cellphones while older homes disconnect their telephones. While cellphones, like the other bills, are often paid monthly, pre-paid SIM cards are also popular among young people and visitors.

Internet is now held to be compulsory by the younger and middle-aged families and most homes have a broadband access. Young families with the internet often abandon TV, watching the best shows on their computer screen.

Utility bills and payments

Lithuanian home owners pay utility bills every month. Typically, every home has hot water, cold water, gas and electricity meters installed. At the end of the month, the owner checks the meter, writes down how much he/she used and pays for such amount based on then-current rates (by bank transfer or at terminals). In case the authorities suspect incorrectly declared usage, they may come to check the meter. In case the utilities are left unpaid, they may be eventually turned off.

Additionally, owners receive bills for their phone and the internet (based on usage), as well as "common services" (includes building maintenance, trash collection, stairwell cleaning) and cable TV (fixed rates). In winter, heating bill is added, often amounting to the rest of the utility payments put together. The colder the winter, the more has to be paid.

If the apartment is rented out, then the lessee is usually expected to pay for all the utilities rather than the owner. In the case of short-term rentals, however, the owner may pay.

In villages, it is common for homeowners to produce and gather some utilities by themselves (especially heating and water). In urban environment, the possibilities to replace municipal/governmental (now usually privatized) services to self-catering are difficult. However, some Apartment block communities (which exist in most apartment buildings) vote to curb the "common services" at least by opting for apartment owners to perform some building maintenance themselves.

Parking and other rules for apartment block living

While the apartment block communities may set some rules on behavior in public spaces (such as the necessity to clean such spaces on a certain schedule), these are generally limited.

The municipal regulations are also more liberal than in many Western countries. The main / only actions they ban are typically loud music at night and smoking in public staircases.

Parking is usually in the apartment block courtyards on a first-come-first-serve basis. It is free, but in many courtyards, it may be hard to find a place for a car at many times. In city downtowns, street parking is paid, but those who live in the respective streets may often buy a monthly permit (at a great discount) to park anytime. In other districts and suburbs, street parking is free. Public transport offers an adequate but slow alternative to cars.

It should be noted that very different people (of difference affluence, ethnicities, jobs, ages) live in each Lithuanian apartment building and finding some common ground on caring for the common property. Therefore public spaces are often neglected and people cherish their apartments instead. As such, "a bad neighbor" (or, often, "a very different neighbor") is often the main nuisance, while an apartment block where "the neighbors are good" is highly sought for, although so rare that it is not even expected by property buyers.

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