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Cooling Off as the World is Heating Up

Volume XXI, Issue 42

Photo by Cyril Dodergny, for Nice Matin https://www.nicematin.com/
Photo by Cyril Dodergny, for Nice Matin

When it comes to cooling your living space during the scorching French summers, air conditioning isn’t a given in most homes. If you’re yearning for a cooler indoor environment, you might need to take on the task of installing air conditioning yourself, but be prepared for potential hurdles and expenses along the way.

I lived without AC in my Paris apartment until just a few years ago when things started to heat up. Until then, for the few weeks a year when the temperatures rose, we positioned good old-fashioned fans in every room, opened our windows to allow for cross ventilation, closed our drapes and shutters to keep out the sun and heat, and grinned and beared it. Experts came to determine if AC could be installed in my apartment, utilizing the “garde manger” under the kitchen window—a box that juts out from the wall in which a compressor could be hidden. Nothing as integral worked, so I opted to use portable units that could be piped out the windows when in use and then be stored in the closets during the cooler seasons. They work amazingly well and were not expensive, although they are not lovely pieces of furniture and make quite a bit of noise.

Interior garde manger

Interior garde manger

View of an exterior a/c unit utilizing the garde manger

Exterior view of a garde manger

My Nice apartment is equipped with a compressor and two “reversible” units that both cool and heat. The compressor is on the balcony, as Nice is more tolerant in allowing the unsightly units, given the city’s warm climate. It’s absolutely silent, works very efficiently and inexpensively, making Nice in the summer way more enjoyable than Paris!

Reversible a/c unit in Adrian's Nice apartment

The hidden a/c compressor on the balcony of Adrian Leeds' apartment in Nice

There are new systems that don’t use a compressor. The UNICO® air conditioner without an outdoor unit is one of them. Installation is easy and it has no impact on the aesthetics of buildings. Only two holes can be seen on the external surface. You will see them all over Nice, if you just look up!

The Unico Inverter a/c system

When our clients are visiting properties, we always question the possibility of air conditioning them, as this alone could be a “deal-breaker.” That all depends on the climate in which the property is located, the ability to install the air conditioning and the clients’ own comfort needs.

For Single-Family Home Owners:

If you’re a single-family homeowner, the option to install air conditioning is available, but it comes with its own set of considerations. Depending on the scale of the work involved, you may need planning permission from your local town hall (mairie). In historically significant or protected areas, exterior modifications may not be permitted, necessitating a ‘déclaration préalable,’ with processing times lasting a few weeks.

Furthermore, the costs can add up swiftly. Air conditioner units themselves can range from €250 to €12,000, with installation expenses, annual maintenance fees, and increased energy costs to factor in.

For Residents in Communal Buildings:

For those living in apartments or shared buildings with a “syndic” (akin to a homeowners’ association in the US), permission from the syndic is typically required to install air conditioning, even if you own your apartment. External work might also demand planning permission. If you install it without permission (sometimes it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than permission!), you risk legal proceedings and/or having to remove it.

For Tenants:

If you’re renting your residence, you’ll need your landlord’s approval, who may in turn require the building’s syndic’s consent if it’s a shared building. The landlord is responsible for securing the necessary planning permissions.

The division of expenses hinges on your arrangement with your landlord. While some landlords might agree to cover installation costs, others may expect you to foot the bill. Nevertheless, remember that air conditioning is not a standard feature in French homes, so don’t presume your landlord will automatically cover the expenses. Here’s where the portable unit makes a lot of sense.

If installing air conditioning isn’t practical or environmentally responsible, alternative options are worth considering. Heat pumps, though costly to install, are eco-friendly and cost-effective in the long run. Another option is always a free-standing portable AC unit, which doesn’t require planning permission.

Example of a Trotec portable a/c unit

Don’t forget, electric fans, both desk and standing fans, offer hassle-free alternatives. They need no installation or special permissions and can be purchased at electrical retailers and supermarkets. (It’s best to buy them off-season for the most availability in stock and prices.)

Lastly, there are various ways to keep your home cool without air conditioning, such as utilizing shutters or curtains to block out the sun. And if you have good cross ventilation, you might not need AC at all.

France is in the process of implementing new regulations to govern air conditioning usage, sparking discussions on public sentiment towards AC and the potential for more stringent legislation in the future. The upcoming legislation will make it illegal for air-conditioned stores in France to keep their doors open. Government offices will be permitted to use air conditioning only when indoor temperatures exceed 26°C. Additionally, outdoor café and bar terraces will be prohibited from using air conditioning.

These nationwide regulations are a response to growing concerns about excessive energy consumption and have been initiated following the implementation of similar measures in various French cities, including Paris, Lyon, Besançon, and Bourg-en-Bresse.

The government office regulation aligns with President Emmanuel Macron’s “energy sobriety” campaign, a response to gas shortages linked to the conflict in Ukraine and the long-term implications of the climate crisis. The 26°C limit will not be mandatory for private businesses or homes, but it is recommended.

France is not the only country taking steps to limit air conditioning usage. In Switzerland, the installation of air conditioning in private residences is highly regulated in some cantons. Italy and Spain have imposed restrictions on how low the AC temperature can be set, particularly for government buildings.

It’s worth noting that over 90 percent of households in the United States have air conditioning, resulting in a significant energy consumption imbalance compared to other regions. In France, air conditioning remains relatively less prevalent, with around 55 percent of stores and 64 percent of offices equipped with AC as of 2020. However, less than a quarter of French households have air conditioning. The interest in AC has been on the rise, with growth rates in the market and the number of units sold increasing.

Heatwaves are driving a surge in air conditioning purchases in France as these extreme weather events become more frequent and intense. Nevertheless, French concerns about the climate and energy conservation remain a driving force behind these regulatory actions. During a 2019 heatwave, air conditioning usage led to record energy consumption in France, attributed to the increased use of air conditioners and fans. With every degree above normal seasonal temperatures, energy consumption increased significantly. This usage contributes to CO2 emissions and can amplify the “heat island” effect in cities by expelling hot air outdoors, raising street temperatures.

The French attitude towards air conditioning has often been marked by caution, with some believing it can have adverse health effects. However, there is also evidence that air conditioning can protect against environmental particulate matter. France’s efforts to regulate air conditioning use reflect a broader concern about energy consumption and climate impact. While it is not mandatory for private businesses and individuals, it is clear that France is taking steps to address the climate crisis and energy overconsumption, particularly in the context of increasingly common heatwaves. As heatwaves become more frequent, the demand for air conditioning units is rising not only in France but also worldwide. These cooling systems provide welcome relief from high temperatures and, in some cases, even save lives. However, they are also a source of pollution and extra energy consumption that contributes to the worsening of climate change.

The first week of September brought another wave of high temperatures to France as the school year began. Much of the country, especially in the west, was placed on yellow alert, urging residents to be cautious of the risks of hot weather. Temperatures soared to 34°C in cities like Paris, Tours, and Bordeaux, with expectations of reaching up to 37°C, potentially setting new temperature records for September.

This increase in warmth follows a late summer heatwave in August and record-breaking July temperatures. As global temperatures continue to rise, the demand for air conditioning units also climbs. About 20 percent of homes in Europe are now equipped with air conditioning, and globally, the number of installed units is projected to triple by 2050, according to the International Energy Agency. In France, there has been a shift in attitudes towards air conditioning, with 25 percent of homes having installed cooling systems in 2020, up from just 14 percent in 2016.

Despite its growing popularity, air conditioning remains a topic of debate. Environmentalists argue that air conditioning has a negative impact on the environment and contributes to global warming. However, the dangers of extreme heat should not be underestimated. In 2022, more than 62,000 people in Europe succumbed to high temperatures, making it the second-warmest year on record. France alone recorded 32,658 deaths due to high temperatures between 2014 and 2022, with nearly a third of the victims being under 75 years old.

For vulnerable individuals, air conditioning can be a lifesaver. A 2021 report in The Lancet medical journal revealed that globally, around 195,000 lives were saved in 2019 due to air conditioning, tripling the figure from two decades earlier. Striking a balance between the benefits and drawbacks of air conditioning is essential.

A bientôt,

Adrian Leeds in ProvenceAdrian Leeds
The Adrian Leeds Group®

P.S. Did you know we have filmed over 50 episodes of House Hunters International?! Newer episodes frequently re-air, so we work to keep you informed when they’ll air. You can also review all the episodes and see if they’ll be shown again by going to our HHI page.

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