Why I decided to apply for FRENCH CITIZENSHIP
There’s a lot of talk at the moment about Brits living in France applying for French citizenship so I was interested to read about British author Charles Timoney’s experience. Those of you familiar with French bureaucracy won’t be surprised that it involves a lot of paperwork and queuing!
from time to time (for example, every three or four years) by a specialist company who will dispose of it.
By contrast, a cesspit is essentially a tank that does not have an outlet; it will fill up as time goes by and must be emptied on a regular basis (perhaps once every three months depending on its size). Cesspits are no longer allowed in France.
The water running out of a septic tank is not pure. The septic tank might be regarded as providing only ‘pre-treatment’; the water has to run through a network of perforated pipe drains so that it can be allowed to percolate into the subsoil. Some kinds of subsoil are more porous than others (sand, for example, being more porous than clay) and it is this degree of porosity that dictates the total length of perforated pipe drains that need to be provided.
If you are installing a new system, a porosity test has to be carried out and, in France at least, this has to be done by an approved person, not any old Tom, Dick or Harpic. In many cases, where the degree of porosity is very low, such as in the case of a clay subsoil, a sand filter bed has to be provided. This involves excavating a large area and filling it with sand to accommodate the required length of perforated pipes. It can be expensive or, in the case of a property with insufficient land, impossible to achieve. If you do have enough land, an alternative that might be worth investigating is a reed bed, effectively a pond filled with certain types of reed, for the septic tank to drain into.
As for the septic tank itself, the rule of thumb is that you need a septic tank with a capacity of 1,000 litres (one cubic metre) for each bedroom in the property. In other words, a standard septic tank with a capacity of 3,000 litres would be sufficient for a threebedroom property.
Bigger not always better An alternative to a septic tank, now approved for use in France, is a‘ mini station d’épuration’, which is essentially a miniature sewage works. It is a prefabricated unit about the same size as a septic tank and the installation cost is about the same. Units of this kind are extremely efficient to the extent that the water running out does not have to be run through an underground network of perforated pipe drains ( épandage) but instead can be discharged direct to a ditch or nearby watercourse. Or you could, if you wish, install a supplementary underground tank and use the outlet water on the garden.
A mini station d’épuration has an electrically operated air diffuser that bubbles air up through the effluent and therefore requires a constant supply of electricity (the consumption of the electric pump is quite low). However, this kind of facility is suitable only for properties that are occupied continuously, not for properties that are occupied for only a few weeks each year.
When carrying out pre-purchase surveys, I still come across properties where the drains run straight into a nearby river, with no purification whatsoever! Up until about 30 or 40 years ago, it was common practice for only the WC in the property to connect to a (relatively small) septic tank with waste water from sinks, baths, basins or showers running directly into one or more soakaway pits, or even out onto the surface of the adjoining ground.
Times have moved on though and all waste water, including that from sinks, bath, basins and showers etc must connect into an approved drainage disposal system, whether a septic tank or mini station d’épuration. However, it is usual for the waste water from the kitchen to first pass through what is called a ‘grease trap’ – which contains a weir that traps grease for removal at regular intervals – to prevent filling the septic tank with grease.
SPANC the tank The vendor of a property in France that does not connect to a public sewer is obliged to have an inspection carried out, and a report produced, by the local water authority or an organisation called SPANC (Service Public d’assainissement Non-collectif) to determine whether or not the drainage disposal arrangements at the property are adequate.
Aspects such as the size of the septic tank, ventilation of the drainage installation and the existence of a grease trap will normally be covered. If anything covered by the report is lacking, the incoming owner has 12 months in which to put it right or, if the property is not sold after the Above left: Asbestos-cement pipes were often used for drainage above ground until asbestos was banned in France, in 1997; look out for pipes of this kind that are damaged Above right: A modern ‘mini station d’épuration’ is usually smaller than a septic tank, and more efficient
inspection has been carried out, the existing owner must carry out the necessary work within a period of three years.
It has to be said that these inspections and reports do not necessarily cover such aspects as the provision or quality of the drains leading up to the septic tank or indeed the quality or existence of inspection chambers.
Existing owners are sometimes reluctant to commission and pay for the drainage inspection and report until the last minute before the sale. I recall once standing in front of a very nice, large house and asking the owner to tell me where the septic tank was. He proudly stated that I was standing on it, and as I looked around all I could see was some exquisite block paving leading up to the garage. He had had the paving laid over the septic tank – to which there was no longer any means of access at all. I never did find out the result of the drainage inspection and the report that he had yet to commission.
It all goes to show that unless you have carried out your own detailed investigation of the drains, there might well be merit in arranging for your own independent survey as part of the pre-purchase formalities. Drainage work can be expensive.
Ian reports on roofs
Ian Morris is a chartered building surveyor and an expert agréé par la Compagnie Nationale des Experts Immobiliers Tel: 0033 (0)4 67 89 43 46 french-surveys.com
If you are installing a new system a porosity test has to be carried out and this has to be done by an approved person, not any old Tom, Dick or Harpic
You might come across an old septic tank in a cellar; this one is too small to comply with contemporary requirements