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Electrical and Heating Information

Wood & Stoves

Over the last few weeks the leaves have been coming off the trees like pieces of giant confetti and now the area outside my office is covered by a carpet of red and gold. It very picturesque, but a precursor of things to come. Already, the nights are cold and the heating is on, but what of the source of that heat?

Many homes here in France still rely on oiland gas-fired boilers as their principal source of heating. So often the trusty boiler is switched off in springtime by the house-holder, who is delighted by the arrival of the warmer weather and relieved to be able to shrug off the burden of the cost of buying fuel. Unfortunately, the boiler is then ignored and neglected until the realisation that winter is almost upon them, whereupon the boiler is expected to do its job just as it did last winter. But isn't that a bit optimistic? When it comes to looking after a central heating boiler, there are three pillars of wisdom. These are cleaning, checking and adjusting. These three actions, carried out annually, should ensure that a boiler would function correctly and give its optimum return on the investment of the fuel that was fed into it. Now that might sound like common sense, but it has often been ignored.

What perhaps isn't so well known, particularly amongst the english-speaking community, is that the annual maintenance of a boiler is obligatory and has been since 1978. The wording of the law (Réglementation Sanitaire Départemental - JO du 13/09/78) is unequivocal in that it is the legal obligation of the user occupier, whether it be the owner or renter, to ensure that the equipment and its connection to the flue system is checked annually. There are three good reasons for this regulation. The first is that an out-of-date or badly adjusted boiler, or a blocked flue, can give off highly toxic carbon monoxide (CO) fumes. This gas is far more attractive to the haemoglobin in the blood than oxygen and is therefore readily taken up by the human body with possibly fatal effects. The Ministry of the Interior records that each year in France there are around 6000 intoxications and 300 deaths due to CO poisoning. The second reason is that ADEME (l'Agence De l'Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l'Energie, the government body charged with, among other things, the conservation of energy) estimates that a properly maintained boiler would consume 8-12% less fuel than a non-maintained one. The final reason is that it would extend the life of a boiler by 2 or 3 times and a breakdown would be 5 times less likely. The view of ADEME is that the solution to ensuring that a boiler is looked after is to take out a maintenance contract with a professional enterprise and this view is backed up by insurance companies, many of whom insist on it. The professional who carries out the maintenance must be properly equipped and trained to do the job and he will provide you with an attestation showing that the work has been done, the condition of the boiler and, particularly, the percentage of CO and carbon dioxide in the fumes. The user of the boiler is obliged to keep this attestation for a minimum of two years.

It was a lovely mild start to the Autumn here in France, but the evenings are drawing in and getting cooler, so its time to start putting on the heating. For many people, that means lighting a wood- burning stove in the living room. After all, there few things that are more satisfying than seeing and feeling the warm glow from a wood-fuelled fire and, of course, it is still one of the cheaper forms of heating. However, unlike electric heating, it is not all straight-forward.

There are things to consider in advance, such as getting the wood in early enough and making sure the chimney has been swept. In the last few weeks, I have seen requests on the english- speaking on-line forums for information on where to buy wood for the stove. Unfortunately, these people have left it very late to be getting in their winter fuel supplies. It might seem like common sense, but dry wood burns much more effectively than wet wood. Freshly cut wood from recently felled trees must be allowed to 'season'. This is the process by which the sap is allowed to evaporate and thus reduce the moisture content in the wood. Some types of wood can contain up to 50% moisture when they are freshly cut, so various types of wood take different lengths of time to season. In order to produce a satisfactory fire that is not too smoky, the wood must have a moisture content of less than 20%. When we get called to diagnose 'problem' stoves, where perhaps the glass is constantly blackened, one of the first things we check is the moisture content of the wood. It also makes sense to store your wood out of the wet weather. The best option is under a lean-to or in a well-ventilated shed. Do not be tempted to wrap it under a tarpaulin as this will trap the air and tend to increase the damp in the wood.

If you get your wood from a supplier, you might be able to request the type of wood that you get. Hardwoods, particulary oak, ash and beech, are very good, hot-burning woods. Chestnut is very popular in this region and although very easy to split and burn, it is quite smoky. The French people around us would not consider burning softwoods, such as pine, but that is not to say that it should not be used. Seasoned correctly, softwoods such as yellow pine and Douglas fir burn well and can be mixed with hardwoods to produce a good fire. Finally, the law in France is quite specific on the topic of chimney sweeping. A flue being used regularly and serving places of habitation should be swept twice a year, of which once is during the period of use. (Reglément Sanitaire. Art. 31,6 Conduits de fumées. Entretien, nettoyage et ramonage). Always make sure that the contractor who sweeps your chimney gives you a certificate of ramonage and, if you have more than one chimney, you should have one certificate for each. This is your proof if you suffer a house- fire and the insurance company asks if you have had your chimney swept. The certificates that we use have two parts, the tear-off second part is something that can be detached and given to your insurance company to put in your file.

Water Heating

The ubiquitous electric immersion water heater (ballon chauffe-eau) has been around for a long time in France and a great many households still rely on them to provide their domestic hot water needs. It is a relatively simple device, easy to install and requires almost no maintenance, in fact the majority never get any and provide reliable service for many years, but at what cost?

A typical water heater has a 200 litre capacity and an element of 2200 W. It will take nearly 6 hours to heat a full tank of water from the incoming temperature of say 10°C to a set temperature of 65°C and consume 5,8 kWh of electricity to do it. With an off-peak tarif on the electricity meter this will cost 212€ per year. However, we are living in the 21st century, when technology is advancing at an impressive pace and global energy consumption is approaching something of a crisis. How could we heat our domestic water, but use less energy and at the same time pay less for it?

Well the simplest answer is the thermaldynamic water heater. This is a device that uses modern technology in the form of a compact air-source heat pump, built into a water storage cylinder, in the manner of the traditional chauffe-eau. The heat pump has a COP in the order of 4, that is to say that 1kW of electricity consumed will produce 4kW of heat, whereas a conventional water heater is only 75% efficient (COP of 0,75), i.e. 1kW of electricity consumed produces 750W of heat. The units can be installed in an unheated garage or laundry room and the heat pump will take in the air from these areas and by exchange extract the calories to heat the water. The operating range is from -5°C to 35°C, so even in winter, a basement will be able to provide enough heat for the unit to function. Normally, the unit would require a room of at least 8m² to operate effectively in this manner, so if the laundry room space is too small, ducts can be installed to draw in outside air and pass it through the unit. A beneficial side effect of the system is that it acts as a dehumidifier for the surrounding space, which is ideal in a laundry room. The use of a duct to draw air in from outside means that the thermal-dynamic water heater can be fitted as replacement for the conventional electric water heater, as it very similar in size and therefore takes up the space that is created by removing the old water heater. If space is at a premium the air-source heat pump and storage tank can be installed as a split system, i.e. the tank inside the house and the heat pump located outside. From the environmental standpoint, the thermaldynamic water heater produces ten times less CO2 in the production of hot water compared to a fossil fuel boiler, i.e. gas or oil.

The thermal-dynamic water heater is certainly set to have a bright future, as apart from the enormous reduction in running costs, since the beginning of this year it has attracted a tax credit of 26%, or 40% if installed as part of a bouquet of at least two energy-saving projects. The latest statistics reveal that that nearly one out of two new homes (48,6%) in France are now fitted with a thermal-dynamic water heater.

More About Water Heating

The hot water supplying our sanitary ware is a very important element of our domestic comfort. The equipment and systems that produce domestic hot water must guarantee a sufficient amount of water at an appropriate temperature, despite frequent or irregular drawing off of hot water of varying quantities by several users at the same time. There are three traditional methods of producing domestic hot water using oil, gas or electricity.

The first is instantaneous production systems that heat the water on demand. When the user demands hot water by opening a tap, cold water is drawn through from the mains. The water passes through a coil against which direct heat is applied. The heating is intense and powerful and thus a small quantity of water in the pipe rapidly increases in temperature. As long as the user maintains the hot tap in the open position, water will continue to flow through this pipe and be heated to the pre-determined temperature. Once the flow stops, the heating will be terminated automatically. The advantage is that only the water that is needed will be heated and there is no stored water to cool and thus lose energy. The disadvantage is the amount of energy required at the time is very high in order to heat the water quickly enough for practical purposes. Examples of this type of water heating system are electric showers, point of use water heaters and combi boilers.

The second option is to use an accumulation system. The cold water is drawn into a storage vessel and then heated. The hot water is kept in the vessel until the user opens a hot tap. This causes the pressure on the outlet side of the vessel to reduce. As the water pressure at the inlet side is now greater, cold water pushes into the lower part of the vessel and the hot water is forced out of the upper part. When the user closes the tap, the pressure equalizes and the cold water flow is halted. Because the water entering the vessel is colder than the water stored within, it is denser and thus remains below the hot water. Only a small quantity mixes in the boundary layer. The electric water heating option is very popular in France. The advantage is that the water heater may be set to turn on during the off-peak period (heures creuses) when the electricity is cheaper. This is usually during the night period, although in older installations, there might still be the obsolete EJP tarif in operation, which has a low-cost period at midday, as well as during the night. With accumulation systems, the amount of energy required at a point in time is less than with instantaneous systems. The disadvantage is that the cylinder takes between four and six hours to heat from cold. In addtion, the insulation of the vessel must be very good, otherwise the energy used to produce the hot water will be wasted. A simple test of the effectiveness of the insulation is to feel the outside of the vessel when the water inside is up to temperature. If the outside is cool, the insulation is good. However, cheaper vessels can feel warm to the touch and this shows that heat energy is being lost.

The third option is semi-accumulation. This is where a smaller storage vessel is used. The amount of water contained would satisfy immediate needs, but as the temperature of the stored water decreased, an electric heating element or oil or gas burner would be used to bring the water in the vessel back up to temperature.

Air-Source Heat Pump

Summer 2013 - the temperature in the shade outside of the office is 34°C. Thank goodness for the airconditioning (climatisation), so I am not sitting here melting into a puddle in front of the computer. The irony is that when I wrote the article for last month, the outside temperature was just 13°C and I had the heating on. This is the great advantage of the air-source heat pump (pompe à chaleur aérothermique), which is reversible airconditioning and therefore it does heating as well as cooling.

It is a system very well suited to this area of France, because we have hot summers and cold winters. The air-conditioning unit works on the same principle as the domestic refrigerator. Inside the fridge, behind the plastic walls, there is run of copper tubing. This tubing connects to a compressor, which is the black cylinder at the back of the of fridge. Above the compressor, and covering the rear surface of the fridge is another run of copper tubing, usually painted black. Between the two sets of tubing there is a small regulator, which is a flow restrictor. All of this tubing contains refrigerant fluid, usually nowadays that is R134A. One of the properties of refrigerant fluid is that it boils at a very low temperature. By taking advantage of this property, we are able to use it to cool and to heat.

The procedure is quite simple. The compressor takes the refrigerant in its gaseous state and pumps it up to a high pressure, in doing so it causes the fluid's temperature to rise (remember how a bicycle pump gets hot in your hand when you pump up a tyre). As the fluid passes through the tubing on the rear of the fridge known as the condenser, it gives off this heat and in doing so changes its state from a gas to a liquid. The fluid is only allowed to be slowly released from the condenser by the restricted orifice of the regulator. At the other side of the regulator is the evaporator tubing, i.e. the inside of the fridge compartment. As the liquid refrigerant passes through this tubing it continues to cool as the pressure reduces. In doing so, it absorbs heat from its surroundings and the temperature inside the fridge is lowered. The refrigerant is now in a gaseous state whereby it then returns to the compressor to continue the cycle. The significant difference between the refrigerator and an air-source heat pump (ASHP) is that the ASHP has an additional component known as a four-way valve. This valve is used to alter the direction of flow of the refrigerant as it leaves the compressor, so the function of the two sets of tubing is reversed. Thus the ASHP is able to absorb heat from inside the house and discharge it into the atmosphere when we want cooling. However, by altering the flow of refrigerant, the coil of pipework in the unit outside of the house absorbs heat from its surroundings, i.e. the atmosphere, and subsequently discharges the heat into the selected areas of the house.

Lightning Protection

It may not feel like it at the moment, but as we come into summer it is the time of year when the thunderstorms come in from the Bay of Biscay and move across our part of France in a north-eastward direction towards the mountains. Each year, the territory of France is struck by lightning around 2 million times. The thunderstorm intensity is calculated by the number of days that lightning is observed in a given department per year. This is called the niveau kéraunique, abbreviated as Nk. If the resultant Nk figure is greater than 25, a parafoudre, or surge protector, is obligatory on all domestic electrical installations unless the supply cabling is entirely underground, i.e. right back to the sub-station.

In our area, the Dordogne (24) is the only department where the Nk figure is greater than 25. The Creuse (23) and the Haute Vienne (87) each have a value of 23 and the Charente (16) has 21. Although most of these strikes are harmless and cause no damage to either people or property, it is a different story for those that find their way into our electrical and telecommunications equipment. The lightning occurs between two highly charged storm clouds, or between a cloud and the ground. The clap of thunder is the sound of the lightning striking and discharging its energy. At this point, a current of several million amps flows between the cloud and the earth via the ionised channel that has been created. The effects of this are well known and for electrical, electronic and telecommunications equipment the outcome is usually disastrous.

There are two forms of protection against lightning damage. The first is by using a lightning conductor, or paratonnerre, to prevent the direct effects and these are used on exposed sites and high buildings. The other method is with a surge protection device (parafoudre). The indirect effects of the lightning are the consequences of a direct strike, on or close to the electrical or telecommunication distribution system, which is then carried by the network of lines to our apparatus. The effects of the voltage surge can also be created by lightning strikes in the vicinity of buildings, or by the discharge of energy through a lightning conductor. The strength of the surge will depend on the intensity of the strike and the distance from the point where the electrical equipment is installed.

The parafoudres are categorised in three groups dependent on the level of risk, the expected strength of the surge and method of installation. A type 1 parafoudre is used where there is a high risk, such as where the building has a lightning conductor and where the strength of the strike would be consistent with a direct impact. They are fitted to buildings on exposed sites, or high buildings such as apartment blocks and churches. Type 2 parafoudres are installed at the head of the electrical panels, where the risk is only likely to be through an indirect effect. Type 3 parafoudres are used as a supplementary protection adjacent to a specific piece of equipment. It is not recommended to rely solely on a type 3 parafoudre, such as those purchased from a DIY store.

More Info...

Smoke Alarms

France is slowly catching up with the rest of Europe and most other developed countries by making it mandatory to fit smoke alarms in residential properties.

Originally published as circulaire III 417 in February 2011 (a preliminary to full legislation), the regulation became a Decree on 5 February 2013. The Decree states that from 8 March 2015, all residential properties must be fitted with at least one standardised smoke detector, that is to say one that conforms to the norme NF EN 14604 and is stamped with the CE mark.

In effect, the smoke detector must detect the fumes produced at the outset of a fire and then emit an audible signal of sufficient loudness to wake somebody sleeping in the building. In addition, the smoke detector may be either battery or mains-powered, but it must have a 'power on' indicator and, if in the case that the batteries are designed to be replaced by the user, they should have a minimum expected duration of one year. Moreover, there must be either a visual, mechanical or audible signal to show if the batteries have been removed. The alarm must have a noise level of at least 85dB(A) at 3 metres and an alarm with a different tone to indicate if the power supply has failed or the battery is exhausted. The smoke detector should be indelibly marked with maker's, or distributor's name and address, the number and date of the 'norme' to which it conforms, the fabrication date and batch number of the unit and the type of the replacement batteries.

The detector must be supplied with instructions for installation and method of use. The installation instructions should clearly show how and where in a domestic location the smoke should be fitted. In preference, this should be in the passageway or part of the dwelling which gives on to the bedrooms. It should be fixed securely to the upper part of the space, as close as possible to the highest point and away from walls and and sources of steam. For those people living in buildings with communal areas, e.g. a stairwell serving two or more apartments, please note that it is forbidden to put smoke alarms in these areas. The reason for this is that if an alarm sounds in a communal passageway it will incite people to leave their dwelling and enter into the fumes. They would thus be put at risk of being killed by smoke inhalation and 75% of fire deaths are due to this effect.

Travaux Au Noir

Nobody likes paying taxes. It's true, it's a fact, it's undeniable. Taxes, social charges, TVA and the like, nobody likes having to pay them. But they exist and if we didn't pay them, who would finance hospitals, transport, social security and so on. It's pretty much common knowledge that the French government are feeling the pinch at the moment, like all governments in Europe since the start of the global financial crisis, so it comes as no surprise to see in the French press that the authorities have launched a campaign against illegal working, or travaux au noir (working on the black).

Apparently social security officials, supported by the police, are visiting sites where building work is taking place to check on the credentials of those working there. The checks are said to include those on the identity of the individual and whether they are registered to work. It's easy to assume that this just affects the big sites, but that's not the case, as far as the French authorities are concerned, 'travail illegal' is fraud and that is an 'infraction majeure', as such the penalties are severe and in fact it is the employer or client that is penalised more than the person carrying out the activity. For instance, take the case of the unemployed man who was putting up a satellite dish and fell from the ladder. He was duly taken off to hospital to be treated for his injuries and the employer, i.e. the owner of the house, was fined for employing an unregistered person, and he was ordered to pay all of the fees for the treatment and the social charges for the individual concerned.

In another 'interesting' case, a builder carried out a renovation to a property, but when the client wanted some further work doing, he used the builder's employees and paid them in cash to get a cheaper price and avoid the TVA. Of course, these guys were unregistered and uninsured. It transpired that there were some problems with the work but because they weren't insured the client called back the builder to put them right and thus he discovered what had gone on, dismissed the employees and reported the client to the authorities.

There are plenty more examples of illegal working in the press and on the internet, but what of the risks. For the employee, working outside his legal employment, there is the risk of losing his/her job. For the unemployed person, there is a loss of benefits and social security. However, for the employer/client, as well as being ordered to pay the charges shown in the case above, the penalty is up to 3 years in prison and a fine of 45,000€. In addition, because the worker is uninsured the client has no recourse if the work is unsatisfactory or worse if it does not conform to the appropriate regulations. For example, take a house where the electrical work had been done on the black and a visitor received an electric shock, the owner of the house could be held liable for the care of the injured third party for the rest of his life.

Heat Pumps For Swimming Pools

Although I'm writing this piece in March, by the time that you read this Easter will have passed. The weather will still most likely be still on the cool side; it’s not yet the long baking hot days of summer that we are normally used to in this part of France. For most of you with swimming pools in the garden, the winter cover will still be on because it probably hasn’t been that inviting to go for a dip. If the air temperature is around 15°C, the water temperature is likely to be around the same level and it takes a hardy soul to jump into a pool of water at that temperature. However there is a solution and that is to heat the pool to a comfortable temperature. We normally consider that this should be between 26°C and 28°C.

An airsource heat pump such as the one shown does this in a very ecological manner. It uses refrigeration technology to extract heat from the surrounding air and transfers that heat to the pool water to raise the temperature to a comfortable level. The average swimming pool air source heat pump has a coefficient of performance of around 1:5, when the air temperature is between 15°C and 26°C. This means that the heat pump generates five times as much energy to be used for heating, as it consumes in the work of generating that heat. In effect, around 80% of the energy required for the heating process is already stored in the air, so it is free.

All that is required is to take this energy and turn it into a usable form. The heat pump does this by allowing refrigerant fluid to absorb the heat and then the fluid is compressed, thus consolidating the heat energy. The electrical energy required to run the pump and the compressor is approximately 20% of the energy rating of the heat pump. So, for example, a pump of 5kW rating would consume 1kWh of electricity for each hour that it was running.

As the typical household on the EDF base tarif would pay 0.1287 euros per kWh, the cost of running a heat pump would be less than 13 cents an hour for the comfort of a heated swimming pool. The actual size of the pump that would be required depends on the volume of water in the pool and the regional mean average air temperature. For this region, that would be 15°C or above from April to October inclusive. A 5kW heat pump would satisfy the heating requirement for a pool of up to 35 cubic metres. For pools of greater volume, a proportionately more powerful heat pump would be required. The installation of the heat pump is quick and it generally requires only a small amount of modification to the pipework for the pool pump. The heat pumps are also very quiet in operation. A heat pump can extend the usable period of the pool for up to nine months of the year.

Wood Burning Stoves

Wood stoves are a very popular way of heating the home in our region of France. However, there is more to it than getting a stove from the 'brico' store and putting it in the fireplace. There are risks associated with badly installed stoves and flues causing carbon monoxide poisoning. Apart from that danger, there is also a very real risk of fire. You wouldn't set light to a pile of wood in the corner of the room without making an assessment of what else could be set alight by that fire, so just by puttting those logs in a steel box should the risk be any less? The outside surface of a stove can reach temperatures in excess of 300°C, so materials such as fabrics, wood panelling and furniture will scorch or catch fire if put too close. All stove manufacturers in France are required to have a notice with their stoves listing the safety distances between the stove and combustible materials.

Likewise the flue liner has a safety distance. This is a calculation based on the diameter of the flue, the type of construction and the combustible rating of materials in the vicinity of the flue. It was an experience this week that prompted me to write on this topic. Not for the first time were we asked to line a chimney in a house where the previous owner had put in a stove. When we removed the blanking plate at the base of the chimney, we found it had been screwed on to soft wood supports, these were scorched and partly burnt away. This is not the first time that we have had this experience and I doubt that it will be the last.

On the subject of flues there is always the question of sweeping it. The law in France is quite specific on the topic. A flue being used regularly and serving places of habitation should be swept twice a year, of which once is during the period of use. (Reglément Sanitaire. Art. 31,6 Conduits de fumées. Entretien, nettoyage et ramonage). Another point is that size matters. The outlet at the top and/or rear of the fire is calculated to correspond with the nominal performance of the stove. However, the size of the flue is governed by other factors and there is a legal minimum cross-sectional area, no matter how small the stove might be.

The size of the stove is an important consideration. You may be tempted to buy a large stove because it looks nice. The nominal rating is to guide the buyer in getting the right size stove for the room. Too big and you end up with having a tiny fire in the bottom of the stove because the room gets too hot. Another problem occurs when the stove is put it in a space that is too small, such as a fireplace, and the output is stifled because there is insufficient passage of air around the stove. If in doubt, you should consult a qualified installer and one that has decennale insurance for 'fumisterie'.

Read more about wood burning stoves.

The Consuel

During the course of my work, I regularly deal with an organisation known as CONSUEL. The full name is the Comité National pour la Sécurité des Usagers de l’Electricité and as the name suggests the purpose is to safeguard the lives and property of people using the electrical network.

Read more about the Consuel

Solar Water Heating

Solar energy may be harnessed by the use of solar systems for the production of domestic hot water. These systems use collectors, often mounted on the roof, which absorb solar radiation. There are two groups of solar water systems and these are either natural circulation by thermosiphon effect or pumped circulation. The first group although simpler in design is low efficiency and has significant implications for siting and operation. Read more about Solar Water Heating

Boiler Maintenance - Reasons and Obligations

When it comes to looking after a central heating boiler, there are just three pillars of wisdom. These are cleaning, checking and adjusting. These three actions, carried out annually, should ensure that a boiler would function correctly and give its optimum return on the investment of the fuel that was fed into it. Now that might sound like common sense, but it has often been ignored. What perhaps isn't so well known, particularly amongst the english-speaking community, is that the annual maintenance of a boiler is obligatory and has been since 1978. Read more about Boiler Maintenance

Photovoltaic Energy

Photovoltaic energy generation is going to play an increasing part in the source of electricity in France. In fact, in western Europe the production of electricity from solar sources has risen dramatically in the last few years. This region has seen the fastest growth compared to the rest of world and by 2004 had overtaken the United States in terms of mega watts of electricity generated. When we look at the percentage of photovoltaic installations in the world in 2009, the US had a 7.5% share of the market whilst Germany had 54.7%. ...Read More about Photovoltaic Energy

Energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions

Energy efficiency and greenhouse gas emissions are two very hot topics (no pun intended) at the moment in France. Of course the two topics are very much the same thing, in that the less energy that is used, the less that there are emissions of greenhouse gases. These are the gases in the atmosphere that absorb and emit radiation in the infra-red spectrum and they include water vapour, carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide and ozone. The second one in the list, carbon dioxide, is a by-product of energy generation and use, i.e. the combustion of fossil fuels and wood. In France, the government have launched the Grenelle de l'Environment. This is a state-backed drive towards the protection of the global environment and one of its targets is the reduction by 38% of the consumption of energy in existing buildings by 2020. To achieve this goal, it will require the intensive renovation of 400 000 homes each year from 2013 and the anticipated consequent increase of 120 000 jobs in the building renovation sector. So we have the initiate towards energy efficiency and the reduction of CO2 emissions, but what of today? ...Read More about Greenhouse Gas Emissions

Lightning

Since 2002, the French wiring regulations, NF C15-100, has defined the situations in which it is obligatory or strongly recommended to have a parafoudre in the installation. The requirement for a parafoudre is determined by the niveau kéraunique, or Nk level, for a particular department. This is the thunderstorm severity and it is calculated by the number of days that lightning is observed in a given department per year. If the resultant Nk figure is greater than 25 a parafoudre is obligatory on all domestic electrical installations unless the supply cabling is entirely underground, i.e. right back to the sub-station. In our region, the Dordogne (24) is the only department where the Nk figure is greater 25, whereas the Creuse (23) and the Haute Vienne (87) have a value of 23 and the Charente (16) has 21. This is not to say that a parafoudre is unnecessary in those areas, but it is not obligatory. ...Read More about Lightning in SW France

Smoke detectors

Five years after the law was originally proposed, the text to make the use of smoke alarms obligatory in all places of habitation has been published in the Journal Officiel. The law from 9 March 2010 means that at least one smoke detector must be fitted in all flats and houses, whether it is new or existing, within 5 years of the publication of this law. The text of the law is precise in that it is the responsibility of the occupant and not the owner to fit, maintain and ensure the good working order of the smoke detector. The law also requires that the occupant must notify their insurance company that they have fitted the device in their home and that the insurance company should make a reduction in the premium for the policy as a consequence. The publication of this law brings to an end a marathon of the legislative process, as it has been 5 years in development. ...Read More about Smoke Detectors France

Thermal-Dynamic Water Heater

As an alternative to solar heating for hot water, the thermal-dynamic water heater, which uses either ambiant air or extracted air, is a very attractive option. There is an economy in the order of 70% on the cost of producing domestic hot water when compared to a traditional electric water heater, known in french as a ballon chauffe-eau. Nowadays, highly efficient central heating systems make ecologically sound houses a reality. As a result, the production of hot water has tended to be more demanding in energy than the central heating. ...Read More about Thermal-Dynamic Water Heaters

Dim lights or blackouts?

If you felt a bit dim in December and again in mid-January, it probably wasn't your fault.  In fact during those two periods of unseasonably low temperatures (7-8°C below the normal) EDF turned down the power.  As a consequence of the wave of very cold air that passed over France, the demand for electricity increased and very nearly exceeded the capability of the network to satisfy the requirement.  In order to avoid blackouts, the power output was reduced by 5%.  On the evenings of the 6th and 7th of January, the consumption of electricity reached 91 000 MW,  according to Réseau de Transport d'Electricité (RTE).  They estimated that on the 11th, 12th and 13th of January the demand would set a new historic record, beating the 92 400MW consumed on 7 January 2009, but in fact the weather warmed slightly and demand fell back.  ...Read More about Electrical Blackouts in France

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