There are some factors you should consider when you buy an old property. See PLANNING AN ELECTRICAL LAYOUT (elsewhere in this electricity category) for some suggestions about how to approach the planning of your electrical system. See below for general information.
First thing, if your property has an old electrical installation, your priority is to get a qualified electrician to verify that it is still safe to use at all. Ancient ceramic sockets, dangling wiring, wooden conduits and plugs that fizzle when you unplug them are all often encountered. You will almost certainly want to replace your electrics if you have any or all of these.
I suggest getting this done at an early stage in the renovation process. Apart from the ‘physical danger’ aspects of an old wiring system, the channelling of walls to add new electrical wiring can be very disruptive to the entire house.
Restricted Power Supply
Every property in France has a pre-agreed level of supply of electricity. Usually this will be one of 9, 12, 15 or 18kw, although it can also be higher or lower than these standard ratings. Increasing the power supply to your property is usually a straightforward exercise – you can simply ask EDF to increase it – but you will need to pay a bit extra standing charge for a higher power supply.
Old houses are sometimes on very low supplies, possibly as low as 3kw. You will soon discover if your property is one of them – the first time you turn the kettle and the microwave on at the same time! For the majority of properties 18kw is sufficient, unless there will be a lot of electric heaters turned on at the same time.
You can see all the current electricity tariffs on the EDF website, and select the one that is best suited to your needs. In particular, look at the TEMPO tariff if you will have no electrical heating at all, and avoid it if you will. With this Tempo tariff you only pay roughly half price for your electricity for ten months of the year, then pay ‘normal’ price for 40 days and an astronomical ten times the normal price for 21 days of the year. This is good news if you can avoid electricity consumption on those 21 days (broadly speaking, the coldest days of winter) but not so good if you rely on electricity for heating.
In France the ‘earth’ lead does not arrive at your house with the electricity, in the way it does in the UK for example. So your property needs to have its own independent earth connection – this is usually connected to an earthing rod buried in the garden.
You need to find this earth connection (you can follow the earth cable from the electricity distribution box to help find it) and then check that it is clean and protected from the elements around the connection to the earth rod, and that the connection itself is solid. Best practice is to also get it tested by a professional electrician.
It is easy to inspect the wiring inside the property, and decide it is adequate, but forget to check this connection to earth. If the connection to earth is not made correctly the earth connections in the house – in the sockets etc – won’t work properly either, even if they look fine. And your life is at risk.
In some countries, such as the UK, electrical wiring is based on a ‘ring’ system, with cabling for sockets and lights running in a ring from the distribution box, through the sockets, and back to the distribution box.
This ring system doesn’t exist in France. Rather, the sockets and lighting are all on ‘spurs’ from the distribution box, each of which supports several plug sockets or several light fittings – regulations fix maximums on the numbers of electrical outlets that can be supplied by each of these spurs, typically 7 or 8.
Certain appliances – especially those that work with water or gas in some way – need to have their own separate spur from the distribution box. This includes washing machines and dishwashers etc
Thunderbolts and Lightning
In the southern part of France dramatic thunderstorms are common, and the electrical regulations take this into account. There is a map of France in the regulations that defines the risk for each department in France, starting from low risk in the north and north-west of the country and progressing through medium and high risk to certain areas of south-east France that are classified as ‘very high risk’ or even ‘exceptional risk’.
In certain regions, electrical protection against potential damage caused by lightning is obligatory, in some others it is highly recommended, depending on the risk category. This protection comes primarily in the form of an additional device in your distribution box – a ‘parafoudre’. Additional protection is also required in the regions of high risk. Your electrician will know and implement the requirements for your region.