Colin Peake, our guest correspondent from the France Forum is a man who has plenty of experience in dealing with preparing second homes in France to deal with the problems that cold winters may bring. Not making sure your beloved French holiday home is protected from the cold – whether it is for prolonged periods or short snaps can play havoc with the pipes and any equipment connected to the water supply.
One thing you can do at any time of the year but certainly before winter comes is to make friends with your neighbours and make sure that you have someone who can check on your home when you’re not there.
If you have wood fires in your home, order your wood to be delivered before winter – buying it late in the year usually means you’ll pay a higher price for your wood and you may have delivery delays.
Colin’s advice if you don’t have central heating is:
1) Turn off the water at the meter pit and open the cap on the drain valve to let the final dregs of water run to waste. This will mean there is no chance of a burst pipe your side of the meter. In France the home owner is responsible for pipes on the house side of the meter – the water authority is responsible for pipes on the road side of the meter.
2) Open all the taps and let the water run to waste.
3) Flush the W/C’s to empty the water from pipes and cisterns.
4) Add a hand full of salt to the W/C water seal (trap) and a table spoon of salt to all the other appliances traps. Salt will lower the freezing point of any water in the trap thereby protecting the appliance.
5) Turn down to the lowest setting the thermostat on the hot water tank (in France called a ballon). Note there is some discussion about draining the ballon – it may corrode on the inside owing to the metal being exposed to the air. There should be no danger of the ballon running out of water if the thermostat is set low.
If the property has gas or oil central heating:
1) Make friends with a neighbour, and ask them to look in on the property particularly after a power cut. You can bet your bottom dollar on there being at least one power cut in the winter months and you’ll need to reset the circuit breakers if they have tripped out.
2) Have the boiler serviced – before the onset of winter.
3) Make sure that you have a full tank of fuel – if oil it should be winter quality with an anti-gel additive. If it is fitted outside the property ensure the tank is insulated – otherwise the oil could “wax up” and not flow to the boiler when needed.
4) Have the water in the central heating system checked for Anti-Gell, (I would work on a 50% mixture for protection, this should give protection when the temperature is down to minus 25°c).
5) If not fitted, have a frost stat fitted on an external north facing wall.
6) Set all the radiator thermostats to either the frost setting or 17 degrees. Set the boiler to a low setting and be thermostat-controlled (internal and external frost stat) and not time clock-controlled.
For a property with electric heating:
1) Carry out operations 1 to 5 as per the list for a property with no central heating
2) Set the electric heating appliances to 1 or frost setting
3) Ask a friend or neighbour to check the heating after a power cut to make sure it’s still working.
Taking these steps will hopefully mean you will never come back to your home and find a burst pipe or other problems during or after cold months.