December 8, 2014



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!


  1. Sorry but these thing seem to happen here. We had a massive German contraption here which used oil for our central heating. I admit it did hang on for a few years but after several expensive repairs we decided a new one was a must. Luckily it did not just pack up on us in winter and we changed over in warmer months. The new one is great, not as big and is also working 3 extra radiators that we have put upstairs in the office and the spare room. Hope your changeover goes smoothly Bon courage. Diane

  2. We have lots of anti freeze in our central heating system and this works fine. It was a clause in,our house insurance. We have a separate water system which we drain and open up the taps if we go away in winter. Our boiler is an English Stratford boiler imported and installed by a french plumber and it is extremely efficient. My childhood,was the same except for one thing - bathroom? Tin bath in the kitchen,once a week!

  3. Oh dear problem after problem... May not be a bad idea to import an English boiler given you are going back anyway. It could save you some money if water softner prices are anything to go by... My childhood was the same as yours one coal fire and scrapping ice off the inside of bedroom windows in icy weather. Bathing was a Tin bath in front of the fire once a week... It hung on the wall in the yard the rest of the time!!! C

    1. Colin and Christine, when she was a little girl my mother and her family were the first occupants of a brand new house built in the early 1930's that had a proper bathroom. It was part of a national between-the-wars house building plan designed to get families out of slums and into houses with proper facilities, such as gas lighting and bathrooms. Prior to that they all lived in a back to back terraced house with no bathroom and a toilet at the top of the garden! The bath was a tin bath that hung on the outside wall.
      Having said that, our house still had the toilet outside - it was within the walls of the building but you had to go out of the back door and in another door to get to it - and it had no light other than daylight! The bathroom was a tiny room just long enough to get a bath and a small wash basin in it.

  4. Yes, like Christine and Colin we remember it well!!

    Perhaps you should invent a word to cover when things go wrong with the house... grovesism, perhaps.

    Tim is working on Rhiannon's boiler - again. You can only keep it going for so long, so getting a new one fitted is probably the best course to take.

    1. Gaynor, most of our terms for the catalogue of disasters are unprintable!
      We've come to the point where what we really want is a good, reliable boiler. Spending yet more money on repairing this one seems very much like throwing good money after bad so we've decided to cut our losses. We could no doubt repair it again but then we'd be forever waiting for another part to break down.
      A new boiler was on the cards but we were hoping this one would get us through the first winter.......but it was not to be.

  5. That boiler looks new to me. So what has gone wrong? The fact of draining it for too long? I'm so sorry to hear that your brand new house is causing you so much unexpected trouble. Hope you'll get things sorted out soon. Btw, where should I send this year's Xmas card to: France or the UK? In both cases I need your address ... because I only have you're 2013 addresses. You can send it by email when you have a minute :) Martine xxx

    1. Hi Martine!
      It's relatively new as boilers go and I know nothing much about boilers except that all the others I have ever had lasted much longer than twelve years before they broke down!
      I am therefore assuming that leaving it unused for several successive winters did it no good at all.

  6. Jean,
    don't forget that any new boiler should be far more efficient than the current one...
    is there anything else you need in the meantime?
    And whilst it looks new to Martine...
    is that perhaps just through lack of use?

    On the frosty window front...
    did you make peep-holes in the frost with an old 1penny, warmed up in your hands?
    Thoughts are with you...
    and Lulu and Daisy....
    at least the latter probably keeps herself warm by rushing about...
    or finding the laundry basket full of clean washing.....

  7. I know all about those freezing mornings! The coal fire in the sitting room, and an electric fire in "the front room" which was never used except for Christmas dinner, Boxing Day tea (when aunt, uncle and cousin came over) and, er, I can't think of any other times it was used... My parents installed a Baxi Bermuda gas fire with a back boiler for their central heating, and that must have lasted thirty years at least. Your boiler looks more than twelve years old to me, going by the style. It;s a lot like the one I had installed in about 1990. Might it have been second hand? No doubt it never got an annual service. It's probably rescuable, but not worth the effort I hope I didn't put the mockers on it. Pauline

    1. Pauline, the current problem is to do with a fan inside the boiler itself so I doubt you had anything to do with it!
      It might be older and second hand but in any case we agree that it's not worth spending any more money on it. We planned to replace it anyway but, like everything else, we are obliged to do it sooner than we thought.

    2. The boiler Pauline is refering to also had a problem with the fan...
      the material it was made from was incompatible vith the flue gasses...
      and they ate the metal in the middle and the fan fell off its shaft!!
      If we hadn't have had a service agreement it would have cost around £250 to replace...
      so think of that as a discount off the new one!

  8. Living as we do with no heating system in Barrou we often refer to having regressed. Why not just up-cycle your kitchen units? We also have a name for these type of projects - 'Playing at wee hooses' and we still enjoy them!

    1. Jim, we plan to save some of the units to fit out the utility room, as they're much better than the ones in there!
      However, we're at a loss as to what to do with the granite worktops. It took five big blokes to lift one of them, allegedly! It will be hard to get them out in one piece I think, which is a shame, as someone would probably like them even if we don't!

    2. Put them up on Le Bon Coin...
      buyer to remove them from site!!
      {after you've got the boodle!!}
      I'll be able to use some of your old utility units, Jean...
      in my workshop....
      can you see the granite from inside the cupboards?
      They might be the much cheaper, granite-skinned tops...
      which could explain that lip....? Camo-farrage!
      Normally they are rounded off, like Simon & Susans's....

    3. We think the granite is about 4cm thick. The lip that stands up all around the edge appears to be glued on.
      We had thought about advertising it on LBC. Not sure how to go about it exactly though. We don't want a lot for it but we would like it to go to a good home rather than the tip.

    4. Our boiler has a label on it telling us when it was manufactured. Does yours not?

    5. Ken, there is no date of manufacture on the boiler itself. It's a French manufactured boiler which was sold for the English market. We think it was probably imported and neglect is the reason for its demise.

    6. Our boiler is German-made. Seems like it would be a good idea to buy a boiler here in France and from a plumber who will maintain it. The other option is to signa service contract on our so that the boiler is cleaned out and the chimney is swept once a year, in summertime. The service company we use is Savélys and the contract, including emergency service, costs us less than 200 euros annually.

    7. Ken, I think that's a good idea. We'll mention it to the boiler man when he comes on Thursday.
      We had a similar contract with British Gas on our UK boiler which cost about twice as much ( although it also covered all the gas appliances and the drains).

  9. I love a cold room when I sleep, but I hate to get out of bed (or out of the shower) into a cold room. Hope your heat is resolved quickly.

  10. Another one here who remembers ice on the inside of the bedroom windows and the tin bath in front of the Rayburn. We had a calor gas boiler in the old house and had one which needed replacing far sooner than it should have done. It was a condensing boiler and the condensate didn't drain properly so that it rusted. Sigh... Just something else to take into consideration in your choice.

  11. I wouldn't like to wake up to a cold house either, but I bet in the summer it's lovely over there. Your wood burning stoves look so elegant in your home. It's a pity they take so much effort to run. My wife got rid of ours as she thought it was too messy. Hope you get your new boiler installed soon.

    Wilfred Andrews @ LB Plumbing and Heating

    1. Wilfred, we could have done with your services that month!
      In fact we could probably do with some help now, to fathom out how the replacement works!