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CLIMATE CRISIS

What are the limits on air conditioning in France?

From new laws to practical availability, here's a look on the limits on air-conditioner usage in France.

What are the limits on air conditioning in France?
A man looks at air conditioners in Bordeaux, France in 2004 (Photo by MICHEL GANGNE / AFP)

The repeated heatwaves in France might leave you gasping for AC, but long-standing environmental concerns coupled with new fears about energy shortages have lead to extra restrictions on the use of climatisation.

Temperature limits

The French government has laid out temperature guidelines for heating and AC – in the winter the heating should be no higher than 19C while in the summer the air-con should be no lower than 26C.

These will become compulsory for government ministries and offices as part of France’s sobriété énergétique (energy sobriety) plan, but voluntary for private homes and businesses.

Some of France’s leading supermarket groups have created their own energy-saving plan for all stories that includes limits on heating and air-con levels.

READ ALSO: Air con, ties and lights: How Europe plans to save energy and get through the winter without blackouts

Shutting doors

Shops are permitted to use air-conditioning, but those that do must shut the door, in a new law designed to cut waste. Shops that do not comply will be fined.

Availability 

But for most people, what limits AC use is simple availability. While it’s fairly common in shops and offices, it is pretty rare in private homes – only around five percent of French homes have air-conditioning.

If you own your own house you can install it, although depending on the works that you need to do you may need planning permission from the mairie or préfecture and if you live in a historic or protected zone you may not be able to make any alterations to the exterior of your building. It’s also quite a costly undertaking.

If you live in an apartment or communal building which has a syndicat you will almost certainly need to get permission from the syndic to install air-conditioning – even if you own your apartment. If you intend to do any works that affect the exterior of the building you will likely also need planning permission. For Americans, the role of the syndicat might be comparable to a homeowner’s association…. 

If you rent your home you will need permission from the landlord (who in turn may need permission from the building syndic and/or planning permission).

Alternatives

The alternative to a full air-conditioning system is a free-standing AC unit, which has a hose like a clothes dryer that hangs out of the window. These are less effective than full AC systems but nonetheless provide some cooling.

You won’t need planning permission as you’re not making any structural alterations, but if you live in a building with a syndic you may still need their permission to install one, depending on the rules of your building (some syndics are very strict and even forbid things like hanging clothes out to dry or storing items on your balcony).

The other alternative is an electric fan – either a desk fan or a standing fan – which don’t require any kind of installation or permission. These are on sale in almost all electrical retailers and many large supermarkets (although they often sell out in the first days of a heatwave).

There are also lots of ways of keeping your home cool without AC, including using shutters or curtains to block out the sun.

READ ALSO: How to keep your home cool during France’s heatwaves

Cool rooms

If you’re really feeling the heat, the best thing to do is go to a cool location.

Most supermarkets, shopping malls and cinemas are air-conditioned and during a heatwave local authorities publish maps showing where the ‘cool spaces’ in the city are, including air-conditioned rooms at town halls and local government offices that are available free to go and sit in to cool down.

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CLIMATE CRISIS

Thunderstorms expected around contained French wildfire

French firefighters were keeping a wary eye on a huge blaze that appeared to be contained in the country's southwest, with thunderstorms and strong wind gusts expected in the area overnight.

Thunderstorms expected around contained French wildfire

The 40-kilometre (25-mile) fire front in the Gironde and Landes departments around Bordeaux “did not significantly progress overnight. Firefighters are working on its periphery,” police said in a statement.

But officials said it was premature to say that the blaze — which has already reignited once — was under control.

“We remain vigilant” because “while we can’t see huge flames, the fire continues to consume vegetation and soil,” Arnaud Mendousse, lieutenant colonel of Gironde fire and rescue, told AFP.
 
Weather forecasters are expecting thunderstorms with wind gusts of up to 60 kilometres an hour in the region in the evening.
 
The wind “could reignite the fire” that “is in a state of pause,” Menousse warned.
 
EU members including Germany, Poland, Austria and Romania have pledged reinforcements totalling 361 firefighters to join the roughly 1,100 French ones on the ground, along with several water-bombing planes from the European Union fleet.
 
 
Most of the reinforcements had arrived on the ground, with the last 146 firefighters from Poland expected later on Saturday.
 
France has been buffeted this summer by an historic drought that has forced water use restrictions nationwide, as well as a series of heatwaves that experts say are being driven by climate change.
 
The blaze near Bordeaux erupted in July — the driest month seen in France since 1961 — destroying 14,000 hectares and forcing thousands of people to evacuate before it was contained.
 
But it continued to smoulder in the tinder-dry pine forests and peat-rich soil.
 
Officials suspect arson may have played a role in the latest flare-up, which has burned 7,400 hectares (18,000 acres) since Tuesday.
 
Fires in France in 2022 have ravaged an area three times the annual average over the past 10 years, with blazes also active in the Alpine Jura, Isere and Ardeche regions this week.
 
European Copernicus satellite data showed more carbon dioxide greenhouse gas — over one million tonnes — had been released from 2022’s forest fires in France than in any summer since records began in 2003.
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