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Reader question: When should I turn my heating on in France this year?

As possible energy shortages loom and temperatures drop, many in France are wondering when they should turn on the heating.

Reader question: When should I turn my heating on in France this year?
A person turns the knob on their heating device (Photo by Ina FASSBENDER / AFP)

What’s happening?

Amid the cost of living crisis and fears of energy shortages this winter, many across France are worried about heating their homes this winter – for cost reasons, as well as concerns regarding energy rationing. 

The government has clarified that French households will not need to worry about energy rationing this winter, though they will be encouraged (not required) to reduce their consumption by taking steps like turning the heating down by one degree.

In terms of gas, French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne clarified that if energy is constrained, gas shut-offs would only impact businesses, not households. For electricity, while short, two-hour long rolling blackouts are possible, they will only happen in worst case scenarios. 

In summary – energy rationing in France this winter will impact businesses and government offices/ buildings first and foremost.

You can read more about the energy situation, and whether there will be rationing this winter, as well as the cause for possible shortages in the first place.

Regarding cost, French households have been among the best-protected in Europe from soaring energy prices, as gas prices were frozen at 2021 levels and electricity bills were capped at a four percent rise.

However the current freeze – known in French as the bouclier tarifaire (tariff shield) – terminates at the end of 2022 and from next year prices will rise by a maximum of 15 percent, the government confirmed.

READ MORE: LATEST: France to set maximum 15 percent gas and electricity price rises for 2023

With residents concerned about rising electricity bills and with the cost of everyday grocery items in France having risen steeply in recent months people are understandably wondering about when and for how long they should start using the heating.

With temperatures dropping as autumn sets in, we looked at the whether there is any straight answer to those questions.

So when should I turn on my heating?

The ideal time to turn on the heating is when the indoor temperature drops below 19C. Generally speaking, this is around mid-October in most of France, but the exact date varies depending on the region, the weather and the type of housing.

Ideal indoor temperatures are considered to be between 17C and 19C, according to the French environment ministry (Ademe). You can see their infographic below.

Be sure not to let your indoor temperatures drop too low. Cold temperatures – below 17C indoors, particularly during the night – can cause health problems. 

Infographic from the French environment ministry, Ademe

What factors should I consider when heating my home?

There are several factors to consider – the weather, whether or not you live in a rented accommodation or your own property, as well as whether your home is primarily heated via gas or electric. 

Gas heating is on average less expensive than primarily electric heating. According to Ademe, France’s environment ministry, average per year energy bills for homes heated primarily by gas were approximately €300 less than those primarily heated via electricity. 

Additionally, you should consider the quality of your insulation. In France, there are seven ‘energy classes’ to determine how efficient your property’s energy consumption is. The rating goes from A (being most efficient, with the least greenhouse gases emitted) to G (most inefficient, most greenhouse gases emitted). The French government has instituted new laws to refurbish energy inefficient homes (Passoire thermiques).

READ MORE: Explained: The new rules for selling houses in France

Prior to purchasing or renting, this is something you ought to consider, as it will likely impact how much you pay for energy. 

For those with ‘collective heating’

If you live in a building where the heating is considered chauffage collectif, meaning the heating is turned on and off at the same time and at the same level for all units in the building. While French legislation does not specify any minimum heating period for these buildings, typically the dates are decided by the coproprieté or syndic (a ‘building union,’ or a rough equivalent of a ‘homeowner’s association’ in the US).

The rules for heating your building can either be found in the syndic’s written regulations or they might be decided by a vote at the general meeting for the building.

In most cases, October 15th is the date when the heat is turned on, and typically it is shut off on April 15th.

However, if temperatures in the apartments are cool (below 19C for several days for example), then occupants of the building (both owners and tenants) can always request that the heating be turned on earlier than the date normally set. In this case, you must make a request with the syndic. Once the request has been made, it is their job to contact the heating engineer to have the heating turned on.

Are there legal minimum temperatures?

If you rent your home or apartment, then your landlord must ensure that the rooms are sufficiently heated. This means that each room should be able to warm to a temperature higher than 18C. 

The French government considers a dwelling that fails to heat to a minimum of 18C in each room to be ‘energy inefficient.’

In the event that your home does not reach the minimum temperature of 18C, then the tenant should notify their landlord (or the real estate agency managing the rental of the unit). The landlord (or real estate agent) must then take steps to have the heating system adjusted properly.

Should the landlord (or the real estate agency) fail to respond, then the tenant can notify them that they will take legal action. To do this, you must send a registered letter with acknowledgement of receipt.

If all of these steps fail, then the tenant can refer the matter to a “Protection Litigation Judge.” You can read more HERE.

What if I want to heat my home using a wood burner or fireplace instead?

In general, across France, you can use your chimney or wood/pellet stove (poêle à bois in French) as long as it has been swept in compliance with local rules (set by our town hall or mairie) – this often means that the sweeping must be done at least once a year. Paris and the surrounding region have slightly different rules.

Each département sets its own regulations regarding how often the chimney must be swept. 

READ MORE: Heating homes: What are the rules on fires and log burners in France?

Additionally, if you live in an apartment or shared building your copropriété (the body that regulates public spaces in a building) must not have rules prohibiting chimney usage. 

City specific regulations for fireplaces can be made on a municipal level, and some parts of france have introduced outright bans on open log-burning fireplaces.

How to heat your home and save on costs

Cook and bake – cooking food, whether that be on the stove or in the oven, can also help heat up a room. Consider doing this right when you get home at night, as soon as you turn the heating back on. This will assist in gradually warming up the room.

Use a space heater – to warm up a room, like a bathroom quickly, use a space heater that you can turn on and off as you please. Keep in mind, however, that space heaters use a lot of electricity, so they are good for warming up a space quickly, but do not leave them on for too long. Additionally, avoid simply purchasing the first space heater you see. Some are more efficient than others. 

Buy thermal curtains – consider investing in some thermal curtains to keep the room warm. They not only keep the room dark, but they also serve as an extra insulator between your bedroom and the outdoors. They also work effectively in the summers to keep the heat out. Carpets can also provide more insulation to your home, as uncovered floors can account for up to 10 to 20 percent of heat loss in a home. 

Buy practical accessories and warm clothes – get yourself some cozy socks, soft blankets, extra sweaters and a handy hot water bottle to warm you up while relaxing on the couch

You can read other tips for cutting your French energy costs HERE.

Member comments

  1. Whilst electricity and gas prices have been capped no such control seems to have been placed on oil/paraffin that a majority of rural dwellers use to heat their homes. The price to fill a tank has jumped from €800 in 2021 to nearly €2000 now and most winters require two tanks to get through.

    Similarly the 20L bottles of paraffin have gone up from around €24 to currently €39 for the same volume. Contrary to popular belief, not all homes have fireplaces or woodburners fitted and even with the subsidies offered, replacing old oil fired heating systems is still beyond the reach of many.

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French bakers protest over surging power prices

Dressed in aprons and brandishing baguettes, hundreds of bakers demonstrated in the streets of Paris on Monday to warn that the country's beloved bread and croissant makers were under threat from surging electricity and raw material costs.

French bakers protest over surging power prices

“We feel like there’s a huge injustice,” said Sylvie Leduc from the rural Dordogne region who had travelled to the capital for the protest. “We know how to run a business, that’s not a problem, but we’re faced with increases that are just impossible to pass on to customers.”

The protest was yet another sign of the anger and incomprehension felt by many French people over the sudden price hikes linked to the war in Ukraine, as well as the Covid-19 pandemic that hit global supply chains.

Bakers were already struggling with higher butter and flour costs, while the price of eggs has also spiked because of a national bird flu outbreak that has hit many French farms.

The final straw for many of the country’s 35,000 bakeries has been the annual renewal of their electricity contracts, with suppliers suddenly asking for astronomical monthly payments in 2023.

READ MORE: Boulangeries across France face closure as energy bills skyrocket

Leduc’s husband Jean-Philippe said their power bill had increased six-fold in January, meaning they could hang on for only a few more months before being forced to close — unless financial help arrived. 

“Thirty years of being a baker and it’s going to finish like this? I could never have imagined it,” he said, shaking his head. “We don’t want hand-outs, we just want to be able to live from our work.” 

For the French, their local bakery is about more than simple food shopping: they serve as a symbol of the national way of life, while providing a focal point for many communities.

“The day starts with a baguette!” former presidential candidate Jean Lassalle, an ardent defender of traditional rural French communities, told AFP at the rally.

“These people are the ones who get up the earliest in France and they’ve had enough.”

‘Bakeries in Danger’

Given the emotional attachment to French bread, the government of President Emmanuel Macron has sought to highlight the help on offer for small business owners.

Macron welcomed bakers to the presidential palace on January 6, telling them: “I’m on your side”.

He outlined various government schemes which could help bring down electricity bills by 40 percent for eligible businesses.

But many of those demonstrating said the different systems put in place were either too complicated, too slow to deliver help, or  available for only the smallest bakeries with less than 12 employees, for example.

Some carried banners reading “Bakeries in Danger”, while one man pushed a wooden coffin on wheels with a skeleton inside dressed in a baker’s apron and trousers.

Many said they had always accepted the long hours, lack of sleep and gruelling physical labour out of the love for the profession, but felt compelled to hit the streets now.

“I’ve never seen bakers protest before,” said Joelle Reimel, 56, who said her monthly power bill for her bakery 50 kilometres (30 miles) southwest of Paris had increased from €2,500 a month to €14,000.

“We don’t have time to demonstrate normally. We’re up at 2am and go to bed at 8 in the evening.”

Pension protests

The protest came after one of the biggest demonstrations in decades last Thursday when more than a million people protested against an unpopular pension reform that will raise the age of retirement to 64 for most people.

Macron’s opponents have sought to pin the blame for electricity rises on him and European Union rules which mean power prices across the bloc are linked to the price of gas, even if the electricity is generated from other sources.

Anti-immigration and eurosceptic leader Marine Le Pen has assailed the “refusal of Emmanuel Macron to break from the absurd European rules on the electricity market.”

Macron has acknowledged that European electricity pricing rules are “flawed” and has promised to reform them.

For Lionel Bonnamy, the fate of France’s bakeries is also about the country’s economic model, which has long sought to protect small shopkeepers and artisans — what he called the “economic fabric” of the country.

“If we carry on this way, everything will look the same, uniform, big business,” said the award-winning baker from Paris.