Preparing for Winter

Wood pile ready for winter
Wood pile ready for winter

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

Outgoing boiler (minus cover)
Outgoing boiler (minus cover)

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.

Shiny new streamlined incoming boiler
Shiny new streamlined incoming boiler

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.

Wintry view behind our house in 2012
Wintry view behind our house in 2012

You might also like:

How to Stay Warm in Winter
Nature Comes Back to Life

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  1. I live in Alabama, United States, where the summers can be blisteringly hot and the winters… not so much. I think it got below freezing like five times last winter. And if it does produce just one flake of snow, oh gosh. The roads close and the schools close and the entire state closes down. Just look up “Birmingham snow storm 2014” if you don’t believe me.


    • Places that aren’t used to getting a lot of snow are not geared up to it – that’s clear from your experience. Sometimes we get very little snow here over a winter; sometimes it can snow on numerous occasions and we always get snowed in when that happens. Around here, they clear the main roads but not the lesser ones. We were stuck here once for three days until a farmer hitched a snow plough attachment to his tractor and cleared our lane – which is 1 km long before you get to us.


  2. Hunkering down in winter is wonderful so long as you have something snuggly warm to hunker in front of … I know – Cantal is blinking cold in winter!!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Like you, we are due our second heat pump in a few weeks time. The first one has given up its soul after seven years hard toil. It turns out to have been too small – a victim of the plumbing trade struggling with new technology and getting its design sums wrong. Was an undersized boiler cheaper to run, so that it paid for itself, like yours? The opposite, unfortunately. Ours had to work so hard that it ran up huge electricity bills. It might have been better if M. Périé had taken up residence in our cupboard, rather than yours! Let’s hope we can all enjoy a cosy Winter this year. One small question – couldn’t “fluffy” insulation be blown up into your closed-off loft? I believe they use a machine with a small nozzle, a bit like a Hoover working backwards…

    Liked by 1 person

    • I think our previous heat pump was OK for size, but it was only cheaper to run compared to the gas we would have used. It still used a fair bit of electricity, which as you know has also gone up. We are hoping the new variety will be more efficient: i.e. it might use the same amount of electricity but provide more warmth. Thanks for the insulation suggestion. I don’t know how effective the fluffy stuff is. And they would have to break through the plasterboard to get into the roof space (we have bedrooms on the top floor with “cathedral” ceilings). We’ll look into it, though.


    • I agree, and I like the changing seasons down here. But occasionally we get a bitingly cold winter, and people move here blissfully unaware that winter is a different country in this part of the world. So it pays to be prepared beforehand. Some people we know were told they only need to heat the house for 2 months of the year, which is nonsense – more like 5.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. A great insight into life in the SW. I love both hot summers and cold winters, so, for me, it would be the perfect combination.

    Thanks for the tips. 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Yes, I realise it’s time to buy wood, although for the first time ever we have central heating which is wonderful 🙂 When I bought my first little house in Prévinquières, the notaire congratulated me at the end of the proceedings saying, “Congratulations, que vous avez acheter un frigo! :)” He was right, but insulation corrected all of that!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Nice of your notaire to tell you that after the event! Insulation makes a big difference. We have a small amount in our roof space, but we can’t access that area, so it’s going to have to wait until we redo the roof one day before we can insulate it properly. Otherwise we will destroy the whole of the upper floor.


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