How Austrians are resorting to old earth cellars to save energy

Underground cellars have been used for centuries, but the energy crisis has made them more sought after.

How Austrians are resorting to old earth cellars to save energy
18th century cellar entrance (Photo by Tibor Pinter on Unsplash)

Before there were refrigerators and freezers, there was the earth cellar, an underground area surrounded by soil but protected against water infiltration and animals where a family could store food, drink and more.

Now, as energy prices increase in Austria, many are looking into this solution again, as it can store fruit, vegetables, cheese and wine in ideal conditions for several months – all without consuming electricity.

READ ALSO: How people in Austria are reducing their energy consumption

The earth cellars take advantage of the “temperature-compensating and moisture-regulating effect of the soil”, according to broadcaster ORF. Even in cities, some old apartments still have storage facilities that are underground and would fit the criteria – though not every Keller can be considered an “earth Keller” (Erdkeller).

Communal cellars

In parts of Austria, it’s not uncommon to find communal earth cellars owned by garden associations and available through a membership – or even places where you can rent a spot at an earth cellar.

In Vorarlberg, a communal earth cellar that has existed since 2019 is now more popular than ever as people look for ways to reduce their energy consumption. The 40-square-meter underground storage area was built with an excavator and used bricks to keep temperatures always cold.

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The conditions, temperatures between four and seven degrees, humidity between 78 and 96 percent, and darkness make it possible for produce to last longer. Potatoes and beetroot, for example, can stay up to one year in such a place.

Isabella Moosbrugger from the Bezau-Reuthe Gartenbauverein told ORF that such storage would also be suitable for residential complexes.

Smaller private solutions

Even though it can get expensive to build a large “earth cellar” with the proper insulation, depth, drain and ventilation pipe, there are some smaller home solutions that could work.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How to keep energy bills down in Austria

Technically, a closed (so it’s protected from animals) area or storage unit underground (and in contact with the soil) is an earth cellar. That means that even a barrel buried in the ground can act as a small earth cellar.

Such small solutions are environmentally friendly storage options even for private households – they require no electricity and, therefore, not only save on your energy bills but work even in case of a blackout or power outage.

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How much do you need to earn for a good life in Austria?

Austria is known as a country with a high standard of living, but it also comes with a high cost of living. Here’s an overview of what you can expect to earn in Austria.

How much do you need to earn for a good life in Austria?

As with most things in Austria, the question of ‘what is a good salary?’ is difficult to answer as the cost of living (and wages) can vary between states and cities.

For example, the east of Austria is typically much cheaper than the west for housing (with the exception of Vienna). And those living in cities often have easier – and cheaper – access to public transport when compared with people living in rural areas. 

READ ALSO: ‘Bad-tempered locals’: Vienna ranked the world’s ‘unfriendliest city’

Childcare is also something to consider with huge differences between Vienna, where there is access to heavily subsidised services, and places like Tyrol where childcare costs more.

To delve a bit deeper, we looked at the data to find out the average salary in Austria and how it differs between professions and locations.

What is the average salary in Austria?

In 2021, the average gross annual salary in Austria was €44,395, according to the latest data from Statistics Austria

However, in the latest survey by online job platform Step Stone, the average gross annual salary in Austria is €49,609.

The Step Stone survey then broke it down further by industry with those working in pharma earning the most at €60,504. This was followed by energy at €60,345, medical technology at €59,106 and banking at €58,711.

The industry with the lowest average annual salary is hotels/gastronomy at €37,546, followed by agriculture at €39,779 and tourism at €43,965.

FOR MEMBERS: REVEALED: The best and worst districts to live in Vienna (as voted for by you)

Occupation also plays a part with people working in management earning the most – on average €66,768. Consulting came second at €53,721.

And like many other European countries, the gender pay gap in Austria prevails. The average annual salary for a man is €52,633 and for a woman it is €44,330.

Furthermore, the top earning city in Austria is Bregenz in Vorarlberg with an average annual salary of €54,620. When comparing the west of Austria with the east, the median salary in Vorarlberg is €46,450, whereas in Burgenland it is just €39,100.

What is the average cost of living in Austria?

Many international residents will find everyday living costs in Austria to be expensive, especially for those that come from countries with a much lower cost of living.

Inflation has also been rising steadily in Austria throughout 2022, leading to some steep rises in prices for groceries, housing costs and energy.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: 10 ways to save money on your groceries in Austria

However, the average cost of living varies across the country, depending on the location. For example, Vienna and Innsbruck in Tyrol are two of Austria’s most expensive cities, but more affordable places to live are Graz in Styria and Klagenfurt in Carinthia.

In Vienna, the average price for a one bedroom apartment in the city centre is €915, going up to €2,000 for a three bedroom apartment, according to Expat Arrivals.

Whereas in Graz, the average cost of a one bedroom city centre apartment is around €609, and a three bedroom apartment is €1,170.