Prepare your French home for winter by following this essential checklist and keeping up with property maintenance
There’s something rather nice about the prospect of the colder months to come; snuggling by the fire in a cosy knitted jumper with a steaming bowl of home-made soup, fewer visitors and a generally slower pace of life can make the winter months a relaxing time. But if your French property isn’t ready for winter weather, you’ll find yourself engaged in a constant battle with the elements and unable to kick back and enjoy the season.
It makes sense to prepare your home for the colder months and addressing any issues, plus keeping on top of general property maintenance, will pay dividends.
Create a checklist
French homes are all highly individual. This is part of their charm but it does mean there is no ‘one-solution-fits-all’ approach when it comes to property renovation and maintenance. The best option is to create a personalised planner for your home. Take your time, walk around the interior and exterior of the building, grab a notebook and pen and create what the building trade calls a ‘snagging’ list. In other words, make a note of absolutely anything that could be considered a defect. These might be issues that need to be addressed before the winter sets in, or maintenance tasks that can wait until the spring. For example, you might notice a shutter hanging off its hinges which is definitely a job for before the weather gets worse. Creating a to-do list is a useful exercise and it will save you time in the future. You will be able to refer back to it in future years, check what needs to be done as a pre-winter priority and also ensure that you are keeping on top of ongoing maintenance. Start with the exterior of the property. This is the shell that will keep the inside warm and dry; if you have any problems with the exterior, they are obviously going to affect the interior, so making sure your home is well maintained and watertight is absolutely essential.
Check the roof
Take a good look at the roof and check for any missing or slipped tiles as these will need to be replaced as soon as possible. If you are in any doubt, call in a professional. The roof is a key element and ensuring that it is perfectly watertight is vital.
Check the gutters
Check that gutters aren’t blocked. After an autumn of high winds and stormy weather, almost every property’s gutters will need clearing out and this is a good opportunity to make sure they are all in working order. Take a look at the downpipes; make sure that these aren’t blocked or damaged and that the water is going where it is meant to be and not just collecting at the bottom. This can cause long-term damage and is an easily fixable issue. Look around your property after it has rained heavily and check that water isn’t pooling around the base of the building, as this will cause damp problems and possibly subsidence or heave. If it doesn’t drain away quickly you may need to install drains around the building. Again, a relatively cheap and easy thing to do which can prevent major structural issues in old French properties.
Check doors, windows and shutters
Take a good look at your doors, windows and shutters and ensure that they are all in good working order. Check that locks work smoothly. There is nothing worse than arriving home in torrential rain while you battle to get inside. Shutters need to fit securely; not only will they protect doors and windows from the worst of the weather, they will also provide an extra insulating layer. Loose shutters will bang around in high winds and potentially cause other problems.
Put away garden equipment
With the weather seemingly becoming ever more extreme, winter storms do appear to be getting worse and while you can’t prevent high winds, you can make sure you are ready for them! With this in mind, take a walk around the garden and make sure that any large items such as rotary washing lines, barbecues, tables and trampolines are either put safely away for the winter or, if left out, can be put away or secured quickly and easily in the event of bad weather. Many insurance policies will not pay out for damage to ‘garden’ items so it is sensible to pre-plan and ensure that these items don’t get damaged, if possible. Check trees, especially those near the house and remove any dead branches that are likely to come down in a storm or damage power lines. Again, if in doubt, call in a professional. Tree felling can be dangerous and requires adequate training and proper equipment.
Cover your swimming pool
Many people shut swimming pools down for the winter and adding a cover isn’t essential but will keep your pool cleaner and better protected during storms. Lagging any exposed exterior water supply pipes will prevent freezing and you should also protect external water meters and taps.
Is the lighting adequate?
While you are outside have a think about lighting – is the exterior lighting adequate for your needs or could it be improved? Winters can be long and dark, and installing security and task lighting can make life a lot easier. Sensor lighting is ideal for when visitors arrive at your property and is a very effective security deterrent. Lights that come on automatically when you arrive home in the dark make unloading shopping easier and improve safety – you are less likely to stumble and fall if an area is well lit. Think about your lifestyle, too. If you have animals, need to get firewood or access an outbuilding, installing exterior lights that can be turned on before you leave the main building will make life during the winter a whole lot easier.
Heating and draughtproofing
Inside the property you need to think about keeping warm, so effective heating systems and draughtproofing are key. If you have an open fire or wood-burning stove, your chimney needs to be swept and checked. Annual chimney sweeping is a legal requirement in France (Article L2213-26) and is vitally important from a safety perspective too. You will also need to make sure you have an adequate supply of wood. This can sometimes prove to be surprisingly difficult so get organised ahead of time and ask neighbours for recommendations, look on sites such as leboncoin.fr or check out the small ads in local shops and supermarkets. Ensure your central heating system is regularly serviced and maintained and keep an eye on fuel prices as they can fluctuate. Expanding filler foam can be used to fill any gaps around doors, windows and beams, and if your windows aren’t double glazed, consider installing secondary glazing. Thick curtains help with draughts and if your house is particularly chilly, curtains across doors and strategically placed rugs on cold floors will help, although these are not ideal with underfloor heating systems as they will stem the flow of heat.
The key to retaining heat is insulation. Most older properties will have inadequate insulation, and adding extra loft insulation is an easy DIY job and well worthwhile. I guarantee you will notice the difference! Even newer properties that conform to current regulations or normes, can be vastly improved by additional or more thermally efficient insulation. In older properties, insulating interior walls may not be feasible unless you are doing a full renovation so why not consider adding external insulation? This improves thermal efficiency and adds to the value of your property. Winterising your home before the bad weather sets in means that with a little effort, you can create a comfortable environment that will keep you snug throughout the winter months.
Catharine Higginson moved to France 15 years ago and has been involved in renovating properties ever since. She is the co-founder of survivefrance.com, an online resource for Anglophones in France
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