One of the things that appealed to us about our new French house is that it has gas central heating. The radiators are an odd mixture of old and new types and the boiler is twelve years old. The gas is stored in one of those enormous tanks which is buried under a path outside the barn.
The boiler in our house in England was twenty years old before we decided to replace it with a more efficient one. Topping that, the one at work was at least forty years old before it started to need major repairs. Consequently we didn’t expect to have much trouble with this one - but there is probably a good reason for it.
When we moved in this September the heating system was “drained down”. Lots of people with second homes do this when they close up the house for the winter, to avoid the risk of burst pipes if the temperature dips below freezing for any length of time. The previous owners had spent the last four or five winters in warmer climes, leaving in the middle of October for six months each time. This means that our central heating system had certainly not been used since their return in April, probably had been drained down and not used for at least eighteen months, more likely several years.
We had trouble coaxing the boiler into life in October and eventually called in a plumber who got it going. He also fixed leaks on most of the radiators. (Except for one which leaks constantly and we now keep permanently switched off.) The boiler stopped working on and off and the plumber came back a couple of times and fiddled with it. Nick also fiddled with it after some advice from the chef in the local restaurant! For a couple of weeks it has been working fine.
Then last Friday, it died. The fault seems either terminal or very expensive to repair so we have given up on it and decided to have a new boiler.
Luckily there are two wood burning stoves downstairs, one in the kitchen and one in the living room. Up to last Friday we had only ever used the living room fire, not needing extra heat in the kitchen with the radiators on. But we were forced to light the kitchen fire at the weekend because we needed the warmth.
This fire seems to be a quality Godin wood burner. It burns wood steadily, it can be regulated and chucks out a lot of heat.
The living room fire, which we have been using every day for a month or so, is a different kettle of fish altogether. It’s actually an “insert” – one that is intended to be built in to a surround so that only the door part is visible. It gets through logs at a terrific rate and although it produces plenty of heat it’s impossible to control it - it burns at full pelt all the time. We plan to replace it with a better quality, better looking model next year, after we have finished using it for this winter.
The previous owners hardly ever used it, we think. They were in the habit of living in the kitchen, where they had their TV and dining table They shut off the living room and dining room end of the house, keeping the door closed and a heavy curtain over it to keep out draughts. That was before they decided to go south for the winter each year!
Curiously, they told us that it was not possible to have both fires going at the same time, saying that they didn’t draw properly because they share the same chimney. Out of necessity we have lit both fires and found no problem in keeping them going at all, although we did get the chimney and both fires cleaned before we started using them. The plumber fetched an old wasp nest down on one side, so maybe that was the problem!
So the boiler has to be added to the list of appliances that we have had to replace because they didn’t work. A local “chauffagiste” is coming on Thursday to look at the heating system and hopefully fit us a new boiler. Unfortunately it’s unlikely that it will be in place before we go home for Christmas, which means that, to be on the safe side, we too will have to drain down the system before we leave. In the meantime we manage downstairs with the two fires and upstairs with some electric radiators dotted around – ones that we had kept from the other house, just in case, plus a couple of extras kindly loaned by friends.
The thing I really miss is waking up to warmth in the mornings. I don’t mind so much having to wear multiple layers of jumpers and thick socks, and we can get the house warm enough by mid morning, but the general effect reminds me very much of my childhood in the 1950’s. The house we lived in had only a single coal fire in the living room for heating. My mother was always the first up and she would light the fire to warm the house before anyone else got out of bed. When it was really cold she would also light the gas oven and leave the door open to warm the kitchen! There was no heating at all upstairs and scraping the ice off the inside of my bedroom window is one of those childhood memories I have no great fondness for! I also remember dreading Sunday afternoons – the bathroom was downstairs but was not heated either. My mum would light the paraffin stove to warm it just enough to take the chill off before my brother and I were obliged to take our weekly baths – whether we needed it or not – before we could have our Sunday tea!