Donna and Dave Faulkner bought a rundown old French farmhouse in Deux-Sevres. Giving up a comfortable life style and jobs in the UK, they’ve never been deterred by any of the major renovation jobs that making this old house warm, dry and comfortable have required. With Dave working full time in France, Donna has had to take on the responsibility of builder and decorator and learn a whole new set of skills to bring their property up to date.
One of the bigger jobs that needed to be done was dealing with the fosse septique, the septic tank systems that are so prevalent in rural France. Donna looked at all the alternatives and decided to install a microstation, here she tells us what that entailed…
This house has never had anything in the way of waste drainage and we have been coping with a compost toilet for a long time and needed it to change!
Here in La Belle France not many places actually have mains drainage, it’s a huge country and although the Government have a plan to roll out mains pipes and connections across the country – it will take time and us rural lot will probably be some of the last on the list to get it.
Traditionally most houses have a septic tank (fosse septique) which includes a filtration system for the water that comes from the house. The waste water is usually filtered over a bed of gravel and sand and can take up quite a lot of your garden or land space. After a while (usually not more than 10 years) the sand can become saturated and contaminated and needs changing which is a big job and costly. Also any land that has had a fosse drainage bed on cannot be built on in the future.
Laws have changed in the last 2 years which mean that the requirements to pass inspection by SPANC (great name) have got harder. SPANC is the Service Public d’Assainissement Non Collectiff and they are the local government agency responsible for:
Advise and assist individuals in the development of their sewerage system
Control of sewerage facilities
Because of the size and future contamination issues with fosses and not to mention the cost being higher than other types of system, France has at last approved the use of Microstations as a way of treating sewage and waste water without having the need for any filtration bed.
The local companies which are contracted to undertake all of the work for SPANC are actively trying to get more households to take up the use of microstations instead of fosse septiques in our local area.
How microstations work
All of the household waste water and sewage goes into the microstation which is usually made up of three or more internal compartments, depending on the size of property and how many people are living there.
Each compartment does a different part of the waste treatment and what comes out at the end is basically clean water that can be run off into a water course or field – not that I’d want to try and use the water for anything.
There are different options available according to what region you live in – you can check with your local town hall or SPANC office for details. I have to say for ease of comprehension and because we had some friends who used the same contractor, we did use an English speaking guy for the work. However he had brilliant French and sorted out all the paperwork and registration of our microstation with SVL (SPANC sub contractors). This being France you can be sure there is plenty of paperwork needed and checks to be made.
Fitting a microstation in France
Before any work could commence, we had to have SVL come round and do an inspection of the land and see that the area that we had selected was suitable for the microstation. They check where the outlet pipe is going to go – it mustn’t go into a still water area i.e. a pond but into moving water or draining over a field. They also check for proximity to other houses and neighbouring boundaries and all sorts – you have to get their approval to the siting of the mircrostation before you begin. Make sure that your contractor knows the rules as ours did.
I must say it looks a bit like a battle ground in the garden. The land has been generally trashed but that was to be expected when a huge great hole gets dug.After the unit was put in, it was left open before it could be backfilled, because we had to wait for SVL to come back and inspect it and make sure that everything was ok. As we previously had a compost toilet, they opened a dossier on the house and have put it on record so in future when inspections are due we will be included. These two short visits by SVL added up to €338, not a bad hourly rate if you can get it.
The microstation needs electric to run but will cost less than €50 a year. I can cope with that. It meant we had to run a small trench to take the electric wiring. The trench doesn’t need to be deep – just deep enough to take the outlet pipe and also the electric wiring. The electrics weren’t part of the quote for installation so we needed to add that cost on. It totalled about €70 and the company that we bought the microstation from will do the connecting to the mains for us.
The finished product is all in place now and we need to rake the ground over and sow grass seed to improve the very messy area. Parts of the installation are above ground. These pipes etc. will always be above ground as they need to be able to be inspected on a regular basis by SVL. We’ve decided to disguise the installation by creating a false wooden well over the bits sticking out and a plant pot or two over the inspection portal. It’s not pretty – but for something that is essential like this we can work around it.
We placed the installation at the end of the house in an area we never use, so it won’t cause us a problem.
Costs of fitting a micro station in France
We paid €4363 for our microstation.
Installation cost us around €1600 and there were additional costs for governmental surveys (€358), pipes and electrics.
The installation contractor arranged all the official surveys – the first was 10 days before installation, the second visit was on the day installation was completed.
The total cost was around €7000 and the job took 2 days plus longer for the company to wire up the microstation to the electric power supply (included in the cost).
By Donna Faulkner, expat in France