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Parfum ou Mauvaises Odeurs?

Smell is as emotive as sound – a song can transport you back to a moment in your life – smells can do the same.

For me the enduring smell of France was Gauloise, Pernod and the Drains. A waft of any and I was once more at a pavement café watching the world go by in a sunlit haze.

How things have changed. No longer does every blue suited Frenchman have a stub of a Gauloise in the corner of his mouth as he cycles home on his motorised velo with a bagette under his arm. Today the young drink alcopops although the older generation can still be seen with a glass of the cloudy/milky fluid. But the smell of the Drains has all but vanished.

France is working very hard at complying with the European Directive of 1992(?) with regard to the ecologically sound disposal of waste water. A wave of optimism gave rise to the declaration that the whole of France would be on mains drainage by the year 2000. Reality stepped in and since 1999 there have been several extensions, changes and modifications to the implementation of the EU directive.

What does this mean for today? I can only speak for this small corner of rural France with its tiny villages and even smaller hamlets and not a lot of money. Individual systems of drainage have gradually been installed in the majority of properties over the past forty years, to an ever changing set of regulations. The question is only critical when the property changes hands. The Notaire will now establish what exists at the property as part of his “local” searches and whether or not it complies with the current regulations.

However the only really important question is: DOES IT WORK?

It may well have been installed in 1985 or 1996 or even 2001 to the regulations in force at that time and still not conform to current regulations, but if it works nothing can force you to alter it – unless you change the specification of the property by increasing the number of bedrooms (or maybe surprisingly, not bathrooms), converting barns etc. etc. Then with the necessary planning permission will come the requirement to have a currently conforming system of drainage.

In an individual system of drainage, whatever “generation” of regulations apply the essential working part is the “septic tank” or “fosse septique” and its army of friendly bacteria. It is this bacteria that converts the waste material that arrives in its midst to clean water. Providing the “good guys” are looked after, fed occasionally and not poisoned they will produce the ecologically friendly waste water required under the directive.

Unfortunately our ‘modern’ way of life is not always compatible. The use of harsh cleaning materials with a bleach base kills off the little guys. We put lots of chemicals into our waste water in the types of washing powders, soaps etc. etc. we use to make ourselves and our washing smell good - these overpower our friendly workforce of bacteria and lead to a slowing down of the whole process. It is for this reason that the regulations keep changing to try and allow for this and give a longer period of time for the process to work, accounting as it goes for the increasing water usage that the average household now has.

The moral (and there is always to a moral to any story) for sweet smelling drains is honour your fosse septique; its function is as important to you as the working of the central heating boiler; put nothing into it that has not passed through you first; feed it regularly with suitable enzymes {the old wives tale of putting the odd chicken into it, or a tub of yogurt no longer need apply} you can purchase packets of the enzymes in any supermarket!; and if you are really keen have it emptied every 5 years whether it needs it or not!

Papillon Properties Home

Susan Dixon
December 2005

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