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Electric heating

Last week was dominated by major plumbing works. My gas central heating system has been stripped out and replaced by a swanky new electric heat exchange pump system.

Why did I change? Well, for three reasons. First, my gas bills have soared over the past year. Last year – despite spending two months in hospital – my bills were well over the €2000 mark. (LPG gas in a tank is more expensive than town gas.). Secondly, I have the impression that although the system was only twelve years old it was not functioning well. I had failed to find any local plumber able and willing to do regular maintenance. I chose to change now rather than have to make sudden decisions when things broke down, given that I have had to wait two months for the new kit to arrive and be installed. Thirdly I feel I’m doing my bit for the planet (even though France depends largely on electricity generated by nuclear power). How nice it would be to have solar panels too, but I cant afford them. (I have paid for the switch to a pompe à chaleur by selling a large piece of land near the village of Bréau.)

I had signed up a company from Alès, an hour and a half away from us, and they arrived on the dot as arranged last Monday. The first job was to remove the old hot water tank which was vast. There had been talk of having to dismantle not just the door but the door frames to get it out of the ‘garage’. My utility room was called a garage in the plans and has kept its inappropriate name, partly because I couldn’t find a good French equivalent for utility room. Luckily the two guys, Christophe and Romaric, managed to dismantle all the insulation covers and reduce the size sufficiently to squeeze it – just – out of the garage door. It was so heavy that they then got it up the steps by attaching it to their huge van and literally towing it up. At the end of the first day, the dismantled tank filled up their van on the trip back to their atelier.

A couple of days later, they had an equally back breaking job heaving in the new system (boiler and water tank combined), this time by a precarious route through the main room and entrance lobby to the garage.

I quickly realised that these were two hard working professionals and felt relief that at last I had found a firm that appears to be competent and serious. Each day I offered coffee mid-morning and mid-afternoon and these became pleasant moments, sitting on the terrace in glorious sunshine.

We even managed to skirt round possible areas of tension when I discovered that Christophe had no intention of being vaccinated against Covid, bringing out all the usual lines about mistrusting experts, the press, and statistics. He is ex-army, but even though he had therefore had to be vaccinated against yellow fever before serving in Africa, he was still against compelling people to be vaccinated. He had had to give up his work as a volunteer pompier (ambulance/fireman) because of his refusal to be vaccinated.

Romaric completely agreed with my position and even dared say so to his work companion. Romaric was a gentler character who talked a lot about loving where he lived – in a converted bergerie in a wood beside the river between Anduze and St Jean du Gard – and his family. On the last day I discovered he was the son-in-law of the man who set up the firm and that his wife works (with her sister) in the office.

Friday all was up and running. The huge pompe à chaleur, which does the business of exchanging cold air with warm air from outside (in my ignorant understanding, a bit like the reverse of a fridge) is on the wall facing the entrance to my house. It is pretty hideous and I am thinking of ways to hide it. I’m impressed by how there is almost no noise inside the house and an acceptable amount from the fans outside.

Finally Romaric showed me how to use the two mobile thermostats to control the temperature, one for the radiators in the main room and one for the underfloor heating. I’m still experimenting with where to place these but already I can see how it is far easier than the last system to regulate the temperature.

Now all I have to await is the signing off the project, receipt of the maintenance contract – and then, the bill… …

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