At home in France - Running costs

Owning a French property is wonderfully fulfilling but writing endless cheques for bills is much less so. There will always be unavoidable costs involved in property ownership and many of these such as local taxes, are fixed amounts. However, there are many things that property owners can do to make savings and minimise their running costs. Almost every area of household expenditure can be looked at and you may be surprised just how many savings can be made.

Heating fuel is a major expense in most households and this is especially true for those with an oil fired boiler. If you have an oil based system there are still things you can do to reduce the running costs. Simply turning the thermostat down slightly, reducing hot water temperature and wearing an extra layer, will make a difference. This is equally true of all heating systems. If you are on a low income and have a fuel based heating system, you may qualify for the winter fuel payment known as l’aide a la cuve. You will need your income tax notification from the previous year - l’avis d’impot - plus a heating oil bill or a rent receipt stating the heating method. Ask at your Mairie for details. Some communes have also organised communal deliveries for heating fuel with the savings in the form of lower delivery charges being passed on to the consumer. Ask at the Mairie for details and if they don’t have such a scheme, why not suggest one?

If you have an oil or gas fired system and are planning to remain in the property for the foreseeable future, it may be sensible to think about replacing the boiler. You could consider a geothermal system or installing a wood pellet boiler. Both of these will have lower running costs and attract tax rebates as they are environmentally friendly sources of heating. If changing the system is not practical, reduce consumption by ensuring the property is well insulated and that you have dealt with all draughts. Draught excluders attached to doors will help in older properties and expanding foam filler can be used liberally to seal gaps and holes.

Ensuring the property is well insulated is key to reducing heating costs. Anything other than a very recently built home, is likely to need extra insulation to bring it up to current standards. Insulating under eaves and in loft areas will reap dividends. If renovating, ensure that floors are properly insulated and if possible, also insulate exterior walls. Changing single glazed window units for double or triple glazed models will also dramatically reduce heating costs. If this cannot be done immediately, installing secondary glazing during the coldest months or even hanging heavy draught excluding curtains, will help as a short term measure. Opening shutters during the day to benefit from solar gain and closing them at night will also help to keep the property warmer.

If you have an open fireplace, consider installing a wood burner. Stoves also attract a tax rebate (le credit d’impot) and even a small stove will greatly reduce your dependance on central heating system. Wood is currently the cheapest form of heating fuel and lighting the stove on chilly autumnal evenings rather than firing up the central heating boiler, will make a big difference to annual fuel consumption. If you have woodland and the time and space to chop and store your own wood, it is a virtually ‘free’ form of heat. Even if you don’t have the time or inclination to ‘faire le bois’, you may be able to find someone to do it for you in return for a share of the logs. Some communes run a scheme where the occupants are allowed to cut wood, from communal woodland, for their personal use. Such timber is usually either free or available at a nominal charge.

Researching tariffs for electricity charges is sensible for all households. Many will be able to make savings by switching suppliers and those with an electric or gas heating system should be able to make considerable savings by shopping around. The end of the EDF/ GDF monopoly has given consumers more options, details of specific energy suppliers can be found at

Even with a better tariff, it is still important to use electricity wisely and to reduce consumption wherever possible. Simple lifestyle changes can have a big impact; get into the habit of always turning off lights when leaving a room and use energy saving light bulbs wherever possible . Always turn appliances such as the TV, computer and stereo off at the wall, leaving things on standby means they are still consuming electricity. When buying items such as lamps, check that they can be turned off whilst being left plugged in. It is a real pain if you have to unplug an item every time you want to turn it off properly! You could also install programmable timers which will switch appliances off at a given time. This can be very useful in areas of the home such as a home office or sitting room, where multiple items are in use. Use items that consume large amounts of electricity, such as tumble dryers, sparingly. Hang washing out to dry whenever possible and out up a line in an attic or outbuilding for rainy days. Upgrading older appliances to new energy efficient models is another way to reduce consumption. Look at the energy ratings when buying and always go for the most energy efficient model. Replacing a standard sized washing machine with a model with increased drum capacity can lead to considerable savings for larger households and families with small children. If your quilts are washable, opt for a model that is capable of taking duvets as this will save on dry cleaning costs too. Owners of gites and chambre d’hotes may find that using a local laundry service will work out cheaper than running a large machine on a frequent basis.

Reducing water consumption is another area where householders can lower their outgoings. Deal with any leaky or dripping taps immediately and when installing or upgrading items such as shower heads, toilets and taps, choose models that feature low water consumption. Metered water bills can come as a bit of a shock and most people will be surprised by their consumption. If the water bill seems high, establish if there is a leak in the system by turning everything off and observing the meter. If it continues to move, there is a leak in the system. Simple measures such as turning taps off when brushing teeth, turning showers off when shampooing hair and washing up in a bowl will all help. However, the greatest savings to be made are by installing a rainwater harvesting system. This can range from a simple rain butt to collect water for plants to an underground tank system which can then be used for things from flushing toilets to washing cars. If you are lucky enough to have a well on the property, you may be able to get the water assessed as being eau potable (drinking water standard) and in any case, you can use this water for all the households ‘grey’ water needs as well as for the garden.

Outgoings such as insurance premiums for buildings and contents cover can also be reduced by shopping around. In some cases, the savings can be quite significant. There are numerous price comparison sites which allow you to compare cover levels and policy prices. If you prefer the personal service that comes with a local insurance agent, it is still a good idea to use online comparison sites to check that you are getting the maximum cover for your money. Having an idea of the price options that are available, will enable you to negotiate a discount when renewing household insurance policies. You should never assume renewal quotes will be competitive, so always ask for a discount when renewing and make it obvious that you will take your custom elsewhere if one is not forthcoming. Most local agents have a fair degree of leeway in their pricing and will be keen to keep your custom.

Changing your telecommunications provider from France Telecom to another such as Neuf, Orange, Alice or Bouygues will inevitably result in savings. The site allows you to quickly and simply check availability in your area and provides current information on all the tariffs and offers. and are a good choice for users who require an English speaking team in case of any problems.

So with a little thought, a few changes and some shopping around, you can keep property running costs from spiraling out of control and even reduce them further. And that means more spare cash to be spent on ‘nice’ things like delicious local produce, plants for the garden and the odd glass of something sparkling!

Make sure you shop around for the best possible deal.

Turn lights off when not needed.

Don’t leave electrical items on standby.

Use water sparingly and install some form of rainwater harvesting system.

The TV licence - la redevance audiovisuelle - is added automatically to the taxe d’habitation every year. If you do not own a TV set, you are not obliged to pay this but if you have a TV set, (even if you don’t have an ariel or dish and only use it to watch DVD’s / video’s ) you are still obliged to pay. has information on current insulation standards and requirements plus lots of useful information and tips on using insulation.

Copyright - Catharine Higginson

I sometimes have the feeling we are only working for tax and house upkeep .... it's quite depressing at times! Energy saving lightbulbs have made a big change here and the major change was having a heat pump installed to heat our house instead of fuel. And the house is much warmer now! We had people saying it's only worth when you also have your windows changed to double glazing, but that's not true. And we certainly couldn't afford THAT expense! Shutters make all the difference, that's right .... but I'm usually too lazy in the evening ....

I haven't had a mobile phone for a while as we have been trying to save money wherever we can. However, I did just want a phone in case the school wanted to get hold of me while I was out or if I break down in my car etc. I have now found quite a good "forfait" - 2 hours of calls and unlimited texts for 2 euros a month. Of course you don't get the phone with it and I'm not even going to try to phone England, but I thought for 2 euros a month it was worth it.

Very helpful! Do you know whether we can we get aide a la cuve with electric underfloor heating?

Just been reading your post.

For me the day when I do nothing and just sit back....and place some words on here to the other SF

people is probably the day I leave the planet.

A day without planning,cooking, doing things around the house and beyond...seeing people and

meeting them to not a true day in my life.

So your list of chores and whatevers to do is just an adjustment to life..picking the figs instead

of getting pickled in the pub....pardon my French.

Wendy i know exactly how you feel one step forward two back, we have been here almost two years though we have had the house since 2003 coming over each time was so demoralizing Easter and August wife was restricted to school holidays, we would try to work on the house and in the garden two weeks of hard work i decided it was useless to try to keep the garden tidy as 48 weeks it was left to go wild until one of the villagers complained to the Marie he was worried about snakes and insects so we had to get a gardener to do the basic grass cutting, now we are living here the plan is garden in the summer house in the winter, im an engineer but have always struggled to work with wood but my skills are improving laying floors building fences even wax polishing the net is a valuable source of information on how to do things .

I think most shutters are mounted on the wall, from the same shop as the shutters there are decorative hinges and catches the difficult part would be drilling the wall to mount them if same as us the house is old and made from stone not building bricks it may be the case of getting someone to do the job if you havent got a drill that will takle it,not sure where you are but someone local may help it does make a difference to heat loss as someone posted a while ago 5 degs never taken readings myself but it is warmer,this winter was a bad one but short thankfully summer this year has been glorious middle of May through to almost middle of September only about 5 days when we had rain keep the questions coming we are all on a learning curve some steeper than others , right must get on wifes gone back to the uk to see family left me here to look after the dogs and goats plus a list of jobs as long as my arm, to think i came here for a long and restful retirement

A BIG THANK YOU to John - I have now found some shutters for my Cottage:)

I'm sure by now that you have realised that my/my husbands DIY knowledge is not great - or though I must say has vastly improved since we brought our house!!!!! but we do have a wonderful 'have a go' attitude!:)

So sorry everyone............I have more questions!

Are wooden shutters easy to fix onto a stone wall?

My neighbour has wooden shutters fitted which are mounted on the wall - overlaping the window space (if you know what I mean!) = sorry....... but I have seen other stone houses locally that have their wooden shutters fixed snugly into the window/door recesses question is.....will this make much difference to the heat loss?

Sorry for sooo many questions!

Oh thanks for that John - I will check now :)

Yes we are coming up for our 3rd Winter here and still trying to renovate! - slowly, slowly :) It was sooo cold last year - that's why I'm trying to plan a little earlier this year - as all energy has gone into prepaing for 'visitors' or try to get 2 steps forward in the garden(jungle) - rather than 4 steps back!

I have been managing with a little camping twin tub washing machine to date but have told my Husband that there will be a divorce soon if we don't get an automatic one installed! but having read your comments about yours freezing up - I'm scared again! LOL!

I didn't realise until I read Catherines post from earlier tonight that Insurance firms need shutters fitting too and we've been paying for the last 7 years - I think that it must have got lost in translation :) and 5 degrees in temperature is alot too.

Any Brico Depot will sell them infact practicaly all Brico shops will, internet ,Bricodepot and look through their catalogue our house is warmer when we shut them ,it was mentioned on here i think the house was 5 degs warmer with them closed, last winter most of us saw minus 15 and lower the washing machine was frozen with clothes inside for two weeks friends of ours were reduced to using the well water as the house water pipes were frozen plus most insurance require them as security

Just wondered if anyone can help with info re.shutters?

Is your home warmer using them?...................Do you know where I can buy any?

We are still trying to renovate our little stone cottage and our 'little pot of money' is getting ever-smaller!...............would like to buy some second hand(if possible) or off-the-shelf wooden shutters - this may prove a little difficult as because it's an old property the sizes are not 'standard' but I just wondered if we could buy bigger and cut them down??? - has anyone else had any experience of doing this please? or do you have any to sell/donate? Many thanks in advance :)

Thanks for recomending this link to me Valerie :) I've just been reading through with great interest - lots of good points there.

Yes I have been washed out all day to be honnest! LOL! but I was soooo pleased to have found this site that I just kept entering different searches!!!

Yes I'm sure we will be much better than last Winter - we did alot of filling the gaps with expanding foam, pieces of foam(!) inserted between open plan stairs and the cheap sticky stips of foam on a roll to fill the gaps around the external door casings. I also added velvet thermal lined curtains to line my 'pretty' ones and added draught excluders to both external doors - the type that you fix onto the door(like a brush!) and the long padded ones stuffed with unwanted cut-up clothes = and I have to say that it did make a great difference. It is incredible to think of how hot it is in Summer(or it can be - going by the weather this Summer LOL!) and how COLD it gets in Winter - brrrrrr!

Ha ha ha, that made me go back and check the small print. Sorry Catharine!! I should have known really, shouldn't I!

James??? Hurrumph! xx

Sorry - had to go off and find the link. Try reading this as well Wendy if you've not come across it already. James wrote an excellent piece on readying your house for winter. Just click on the link

I think you'll be fine Wendy. These things are a learning curve and so much depends on whether we get a mild winter or a sudden blast of Siberian air. When the temperatures start to drop, you'll be able to work out where the cold spots are, where the draughts are coming in etc and deal with them. Do what you can in advance such as making sure the roof is well insulated and that should only leave you with some small 'fixes'. I can't believe you were reading through SFN until 7am, lol - you must be exhausted!

Dear Brian - thank you for the warm welcome!
Thanks to re info about pellet stove. We have just ordered one for our cottage after much research - but I still have a little wobble evrey now and then if it will keep me as warm as the literature says it does! but only time will tell and I will keep you all posted as there doesn't seem to be alot of people out there who have reviewed them - so hopefully my experience will help others :)

Sorry I have been preparing dinner. I'm not that good with computers and type really slow too, but you won't have to nag me now Catherine as my husband has just uploaded my photo :) - hope its not scared you! LOL!

That's brilliant Wendy - so nice to get such positive feedback! I'm so chuffed I won't start nagging you about uploading a profile photo. Yet...!!

Crickey Catherine that was quick! I must say that I just adore your site!!!! I only found it yesterday evening and was on until about 7.00am! Wonderful members and invaluable resource :) I'm just soooo happy to have found you all - thanx so much for letting me be part of it all x

Welcome to SFN Wendy. We don't have one but know people who do and their upstairs is a nice temperature. To be objective, we were not there during the very cold weather but as it was warming up in the spring and the room I was in could clearly have done with something else in the deep, deep minuses, but right then needed nothing else. The economy speaks for itself.