Chateau Building Services
The Services to Consider:
Waste water (septic)
The provision of the water and drainage service is provided through the local councils, although it is an enormous task for many rural councils, most of whom lack the resources and expertise to undertake the task on their own. Accordingly, the organization of the service (and an increasing number of other services) is usually carried out on an inter-communal basis, in which several communes work together in the provision of the service.
The service is known as services d’eau potable et d’assainissement, carried out by a body called the Syndicat d’Eau et Assainissement. Around three quarters of local councils organise the water distribution service in this way, whilst around half organise the pubic sanitation services on an inter-communal basis. The role of smaller councils in the provision of water and sanitation services is gradually being removed to the inter-communal bodies.
The Syndicat may manage directly the water supply, or contract it out to a private company, eg Veolia, Suez-Lyonnaise des Eaux, Saur. The Syndicat (or private operator) may also manage the sanitation services, although there may be separate organisational arrangements for water and sanitation. Thus, whilst a local council may work an inter-communal basis for the water supply, it may manage sanitation services on its own.
Just to confuse the picture, a separate body (though often the same) also regulates private sewerage systems. This body is called the Service Public de l´Assainissement Non Collectif (SPANC).
At a national and regional level, responsibility for the management of water capacity and the control of water pollution resides with six water agencies (Agences d’eau), organized on the basis of river basins, ie, Adour-Garonne, Artois-Picardie, Rhin-Meuse, Loire-Bretagne, Rhône-Méditerranée and Seine-Normandie. These six authorities charge the local councils and others for abstraction of water and pollution management, some of which is then recycled to the councils to assist in investment in water treatment plants, as well as providing support to farmers and industrial users.
Opening an Account
When you have completed your house purchase you should visit the offices of the local Syndicat, who are normally located in the mairie. Many can also be contacted on-line. You should take along a copy of a certificate of ownership (called an attestation) that should have been provided to you by the notaire, as confirmation that you are the new owner of the property.
If you have no existing supply to your property, provided there is a building already there, or a planning consent in place, the local mairie are obliged to make a connection, but you will pay the connection cost. You will normally be expected to pay the connection charge in advance of the work being carried out. No-one is obliged to be connected to the mains water service, but if you use a private water supply for drinking water you are required to notify the mairie and to satisfy them that it reaches a satisfactory standard. Around 99% of properties in France have access to a public water supply.
The level of water charges in France varies by commune as the cost of running the service will depend on many factors, not least of which is the level of investment being undertaken in water and sewerage services by the statutory agencies – the local councils and the regional water agencies. Whilst water and sewerage charges in France remain modest, the costs have risen more noticeably in recent years, in large measure because of the need to undertake investment in sewerage systems. Nevertheless, these increases remain below the average across Europe, as other countries also take steps to invest heavily in water and sewerage treatment in order to comply with EU regulations.
Your water supply is metered, so your bill comprises a fixed standing charge (abonnement) and a variable consumption charge. You water meter will be read at least once a year. In urban areas the fixed percentage represents up to 30% of the charge, while in rural areas, it can be as high as 40%. This fixed charge is to ensure the authorities have a minimum level of income in order to provide the service. In some regions the variable element is also degressive, so that some larger consumers pay a higher rate.
Whilst the level of charges varies by commune, on average the amount payable for water services is around €2.00m3 (2018), with the cost of mains sewerage at about the same rate. Accordingly, the average combined bill for water and sanitation services is around €4.00m3 (2018), although it will vary by area, and it will be less if you are not connected to mains drainage. The level of the charge is one of the lowest in Europe and prices have remained stable for several years.
In practice, this gives an average annual bill of several hundred euros a year for those on mains drains, although it will obviously vary by household and region. Thus, in Provence-Alpes-Côte-D’azur and the l’Ile-de-France the water bills average €500+ a year, to which must be added the charges for sanitation, which brings the total bill to €600-€900 a year. Elsewhere total bills are circa €500 a year, for those with mains drainage.
Although those with no mains drainage will not receive an annual bill for drainage, they will be required to pay for the periodic (nominally every 4 years) inspection of their septic tank system undertaken by the 'SPANC'.
Despite the relatively modest water bills received by households, water charges are not equally spread between the different users. Thus, farmers consume 80% of the water yet pay only about 4% of the cost. This form of subsidy gives no encouragement to farmers to save water, or adopt farming techniques that minimize the use of water. Things are changing, but very slowly.
Your water bill will state the cost of water per m3, and it will also state the cost per litre. The bill will set out how the consumption and fixed charges have arisen, although rarely in a form that is easily comprehensible! The charges will include the cost of distribution of the water supply, the cost of the sewerage services, and the levies imposed by the water agency. These levies relate to investments by the water agencies, such as la redevance pour la modernisation des réseaux de collecte d’eaux usées and la redevance pour pollution de l’eau d’origine domestique.
If you are not connected to mains drainage, then you will not pay the charges relating to sewerage treatment, other than the pollution charge.
No matter where you are planning to live in France, you will need to activate an account with an energy supplier in order to have electricity service. Luckily, getting an electricity service in France is fairly straightforward - we break it down into easy steps!
Electricity supply in France is deregulated, meaning that you have a choice of supplier and the company that supplies your electricity is not the same as the company that responds to power outages. The grid operator throughout most of France is Enedis (formerly ERDF - Électricité Réseau Distribution France). You will need to contact Enedis if you are moving into a new home and need to have a meter installed.
While ERDF (now Enedis) is responsible for delivering electricity, you must open an account with an electricity supplier to start electric service In most cases, however, your main point of contact will not be with Enedis but rather with your electricity supplier. The historic (and largest) electricity supplier is EDF (Électricité de France). However, other suppliers also exist in France (such as Total Direct Energie, Planete Oui, Eni, and others), and generally offer more attractive rates for energy supply.
Information Required by the Supplier:
It will save some time if you have some information
prepared before calling a supplier to activate an account for your electricity.
In an ideal world, you would have the following information available:
• Your contact information: name, e-mail address, phone number
• The address of your new accommodation. Don't forget the floor and apartment number if it is a flat (e.g. third floor, the door on the left)
• The name of the previous occupant
• Your banking information (IBAN and BIC, if you choose automatic payment)
The energy supplier will use this information to identify your meter. They will also likely ask you questions about your home and consumption habits (e.g. the size - in meters squared - of your home, how many people live there, whether heating/cooking appliances are fueled by electricity or gas, etc). This allows them to determine the appropriate amount of power capacity for your home.
The natural gas market in France has the same structure as that of the electricity market, with one actor that delivers energy (in this case, the GRDF) and about a dozen suppliers operating in a competitive market.
The Gaz Réseau Distribution France (GRDF) is responsible for operating the natural gas delivery network infrastructure throughout much of France. A subsidiary of Engie (formerly GDF Suez), it has two primary missions:
1. To deliver a safe and secure gas supply to
2. To maintain the distribution system (GRDF is the system operator, but does not actually own the network).
Engie, formerly known as GDF Suez, is the historic supplier for natural gas throughout most of France. Engie sells the regulated rate for gas through the name brand GDF Suez. As is the case with electricity, many alternate suppliers offer lower rates than the regulated tariffs.
You can find out more about other French energy suppliers on the internet.
Guide to fosse septiques (septic tanks):
We hope this little guide will give you a basic understanding on the fosse septic rules and why it is relevant when buying a French property.
In its simplest form this is the tank that collects waste from toilets, sinks, baths, kitchens etc. In practice it is a little more than just a tank and the term “fosse septique” is often used to cover the complete system which includes tanks, pipes, filter beds etc. In this article the term fosse will refer to the complete system.
If you’re planning on buying a house in a town or a village then there is a good chance the property will be connected to mains drainage or will have a mains drains connection in the vicinity in which case a fosse won’t be necessary.
If there is no mains drainage available at the property then it will be important to find out whether there is a fosse and if so, does this comply with the latest regulations.mIn 2012 the French government introduced a new set of rules relating to drainage and in particularly to fosse septiques. These rules make the new owner of a property responsible for bringing the fosse up to current standards within a year of purchase.
Don’t worry though as long as you have budgeted for the work, if any is necessary, and understand some basics then there no reason to bypass a house with an older fosse. In fact, you may well be able to use this as leverage to negotiate a good price. And the rules now also make it compulsory for sellers to provide buyers with a fosse inspection report prior to signing the initial sales document.
The report will detail whether a fosse is present, if it can be found (which isn’t always easy on very old properties), if it fully complies, if it needs reparation work or if it is otherwise non- compliant. The report will contain recommendations of works needed both compulsory and advisory.
What to ask?
Even before you have seen the report there are some questions, assumptions and steps you can make to protect yourself from any surprises further down the line. Firstly ask the agent or owner whether there is a fosse present and if so what condition it is in. If you are told yes there is a fosse and it complies with latest regulations then they should be able to provide you with receipts to show the fosse was put in recently or they already have a full report to hand. The report must be less than 3 years old.
If you’re looking at any property and it is clear that no major work has been done to the house over the past ten years and if there is no information relating to the fosse, then at this stage you should assume the fosse is non compliant and some work will be needed. If the property is older than 30 years with no evidence of recent work then it is likely that a complete new fosse and drainage system will be required to bring things up to date.
If the house is newer then it is possible that the fosse system may just require some updates - the extent of which should come apparent when the fosse report is produced. A common fault is lack of ventilation and/ or grease traps which are relatively inexpensive to remedy.
If the owner or agent tells you the property is on mains drainage then things are very straight forward. You can always check to see where this connection comes into the property. If there is a cellar you can often see a 10cm diameter pipe coming from the outside of the house and/or there should be a manhole just outside or near the property. If in doubt the local mayor’s office will be able to confirm if a property is connected to mains drainage or not.
If you have settled on an older property that needs a complete new fosse – the cost of this system will depend on various factors i.e. accessibility, type of ground, size of land, size of property, usage (holiday home or full time home), number of inhabitants, etc.
There are two main types of fosse system that can be installed and these are a traditional system and a micro-station and there are variants on both of these. As a rule the traditional system has a larger filter bed, is cheaper and used more widely. The micro station costs a little more and requires a smaller filter bed. This is often the only solution if the ground type and size isn’t suitable for a traditional system. A complete fosse system for your average 3 bedroom house will normally cost between 6 –12,000 Euros installed. The lower figure can generally be applied to a property with a decent size garden and easy access. If on the other hand space is limited and there are other obstructions such as wells, trees, swimming pools then we’d advise budgeting towards the higher end. If in doubt and things look as if they could be problematic, e.g. bedrock or very limited space, then we would advise getting quotes to be certain of costs.
It is possible to install a fosse septique and drainage system yourself but you must get permission and get the works checked off at various stages by a controlling body (normally the SPANC). Should you do the work yourself then costs (including materials) could be as little as a third of the prices detailed above.
However, unless you’re skilled with a mini digger and carry the necessary insurances we’d always advise our clients to use a specialist contractor. A good firm with the necessary diggers can get in and do the works within 2 – 4 days. You’ll get a ten year guarantee for the installation and normally they’ll organise all the necessary permissions. Work is carried out from the outside of the property and it is unusual for contractors to need to go inside apart from maybe to test toilets are flushing once work is complete. If you are planning to do other work that involves digging, e.g. landscaping , building pools, adding extensions, etc., it is best to tie this all in together.
Making your offer
We sometimes get clients saying they are only
interested in a house if the fosse septic conforms. This is generally due to
lack of knowledge or understanding of what’s involved and how the process
If you limit yourself to fosse compliant houses only you’re going to miss out on some fantastic properties and possibly bargains.
Our advice is simply this:-
• Make sure the price you pay for the
property allows you to do the necessary work.
• Always ask what state the fosse is in,
• Make some budget allowances using average fosse costs and then
• Make your offer but make it clear to your agent or owner in writing that your offer is based on these assumptions.
Ask that they send you the fosse reports and/ or quotes for the work as soon as they have them - when you get them you are free to renegotiate if things are not as you had been told or assumed earlier on.
In France you’re not tied into a deal until 10 days after the ‘Compromis de Vente’ has been signed. The compromis de vente is an initial sales document and must be accompanied by a fosse reports as well as other diagnostics – a subject for my blog for another day. A good agent will be able to help and advise on all the above and put you in touch with fosse contractors - always wise to get two or three quotes before starting work.
A wood burning stove could be a good choice.
In the UK the typical family home has a central heating system with a boiler and radiators. The boiler is usually fired by gas or heating oil. Some, well insulated homes and apartments use electrical heating. In France, each of these options is available but they can be more expensive.
If you buy a stone house and it has not been completely refurbished and insulated, it will have relatively poor levels of insulation and cost correspondingly more to keep warm. Indeed, we have friends with stone houses that complain about the cost and come round to visit in the winter dressed for the arctic. Our house is only 15 years old and provides much better insulation, our guests are forced to strip off once they cross the threshold! Being used to a UK climate people often don’t realise what winter is like in southwest France. We often see several weeks when the temperature doesn’t get above freezing and continuous temperatures of –10 deg C are not unusual. Heating is a serious business.
Central heating systems have the great advantages that they are clean and simple to operate, can be pre-programmed and may be the only option if the house is not occupied for all of the day. Wood fired heating on the other hand requires a large amount of storage space, more regular maintenance and the ongoing task of feeding wood into the stove. Wood might be cheaper but it is not always the most practical solution. This point is well illustrated by our very own wood supplier – he has hundreds of hectares of woods and keeps up a steady supply to many of the homes in the area. But, how does he heat his own home? With oil fired central heating because even if the wood is free it would mean him coming home at night to a cold house!
Fuel Price Comparison
Here are some figures from Energie Plus et Commerce comparing the relative costs of different energy sources:
Energy Source Price € Unit Price/kWh Relative Cost
Wood 60 Stére (1m3) 0.026 1 450kg, 50cm
Natural Gas 0.056 kWh 0.056 2.2 Tarif B1
Heating Oil 0.62 litre 0.062 2.4 2,000l delivery
Propane Gas 1,240 Tonne 0.097 3.7 1,000 kg delivery
Paraffin 30 20l 0.16 6.2 20l container
Electricity 0.112 kWh 0.112 4.3 kWh
From this, we can see that wood is far and away the cheapest option, assuming a central wood burning stove would be suitable for your house. Our French neighbours have a relatively new house, but the only form of heating is a wood burning stove placed centrally in the house that manages to heat all of the main rooms and the bedrooms. Houses with bedrooms a long way from the heat source or with very high ceilings may not be suitable for such a system.
What About An Open Fire?
Most houses in France will have an open fire
and it is nice to be able to burn a few logs to create a homely atmosphere and
add some additional heat. However, one should beware of using an open fire as
a serious source of heat as it is extremely inefficient.
An open fire can have an efficiency of up to 10%. To put this into perspective, maintaining an output of 10kW for one hour would require 20kg of wood. This lack of conversion efficiency makes wood an expensive option as a main source of heat. One study in the US actually found that badly designed open fireplaces could actually have a negative efficiency – lighting the fire made the room get colder due to induced draughts of cold air from outside the room! Installing a wood burning stove or poele a bois in the open fireplace will raise the conversion efficiency to about 75%, by controlling the airflow to the wood and allowing the heat energy to be stored in the metal of the stove and gradually released into the room.
There are a huge variety of stoves to choose from and from late summer onwards the brico stores are full of them. As a general rule, you get what you pay for. The simplest stoves are assembled from bent and welded steel plates, have an ash pan and a simple air regulator. These will serve the purpose well for an occasionally used fire but don’t have any additional features and are not the most attractive.
Other features which come with the more expensive stoves include:
Cast Iron body – a much heavier stove
giving much longer heat retention, but taking correspondingly longer to warm
Fire bricks – added to the interior to further aid heat retention
Secondary air – an additional air inlet higher up the stove to increase combustion efficiency and reduce tar deposits
Clear glass- a system of controlled air flow
to keep smoke deposits off the glass front of the stove
Fan assisted – an electrically powered fan to increase the heat output into the room and provide more heat at ground level
There are strict regulations concerning the installation of wood burning stoves and their chimneys in particular. It is recommended that, at the very least, you get an installation quote from the supplier of the stove to fully appreciate what is involved. If the stove pipe passes through a wooden floor, the regulations require the use of double walled, insulated stainless steel pipe. In some cases the cost of the stove pipe and fittings can equal the cost of the stove itself.
TVA and Crédit d’Impôt
If you buy the stove and install it yourself you will pay full TVA of 19.6% and (as far as I know) be unable to claim a tax credit.
If the stove supplier installs the stove, TVA is only charged at 5.5% and you can get a tax credit for 50% of the cost of the stove. This only applies if the stove is being installed in your main residence residence principale and you are a French taxpayer. In practice you will need to pay all of the costs (with TVA at 5.5%) and claim the tax credit against your next tax submission. The stove supplier should provide the necessary paperwork.
Note that this tax credit only applies to stoves that have been awarded th Charte qualité flame verte. To achieve this the stove must have an efficiency of more than 70% and CO emissions of less than 0.6%. Beware that not all stoves achieve this – especially the cheaper ones.
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