This might seem a little premature. After all, we’re only in early September and it’s still summer officially. But heating these old stone houses has to be taken very seriously. The summers can be blisteringly hot here in SW France, but the winters can be the opposite. Nobody informs you about the latter before you move here. Today, we are having the third new heating system installed in 18 years.
Over the years, we have got to know our local plumber, M. Périé (even better if it had been spelt Perrier) rather well. In fact, like Peter Mayle’s plumber in A Year in Provence, we suspect him of living in the understairs cupboard.
Serial heating systems
When we moved here in 1997, the heating consisted of a rather small gas boiler that leaked and a few radiators that looked as if they had seen better days. There was no heating at all on the top floor.
We replaced the old boiler with a new one and installed much more efficient radiators. However, the price of gas soared and we paid €3,000 to keep the gas tank full one particularly cold winter.
So, next up, a heat pump that draws heat from the air, which is then circulated around the radiator system. This worked well for 10 years, and paid for itself more than twice over, but it gave up the ghost this spring when it started leaking CFCs. Not good for the environment.
Fast forward to today, and a brand new heat pump and boiler are being installed, accompanied by much grunting and swearing in French as the plumbers remove the old equipment. Since the technology has developed in 10 years, we hope the new system will be even more efficient – and it’s being installed in the garage, thus freeing up the understairs cupboard.
Belt and braces
Central heating isn’t enough. We also have a woodburning stove that provides additional heat in the living room, which also doubles as our office. So, a couple of weeks ago, we also took delivery of 4.5 tonnes of firewood, which is now neatly stacked in the lean-to.
All this might seem a bit obsessive but, believe me, we have had temperatures as low as minus 16C here, and cold snaps can last for a couple of weeks. So, if you’re contemplating buying a house down here, make sure it’s well insulated, has double glazing and an efficient heating system.
Today, when a house is put on the market, an energy efficiency test has to be carried out and included in the property advert. This classifies properties’ energy consumption and greenhouse gas effect from A (good) to G (bad). This is one of a series of diagnostic survey reports that the seller now has to provide. None of this existed when we bought our house.
I don’t want to put you off. I love the fact that the seasons are distinct down here, and winter has its own charms, provided it’s not foggy and freezing. We like snuggling down in front of the woodburner, going for walks on bright, frosty days, and eating the different winter produce and dishes. But I have to admit that I’m glad when spring comes around again.
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