As I type this at 9:56 p.m., it’s 95 F/35 C outside. Temps topped 100 F today and there’s no letting up until Sunday. France is in the middle of a heatwave, or une canicule, and sweet Jesus is it hot. I’ve told you before that winter is my favorite season and summer is my least favorite. I melt in the heat, sweat easily, and just hate being hot or sweating unless I’m working out. During the summer in France, I’ve been hot since 2012. You see, air conditioning in French homes is far from the norm and this year is different. 2019 is the year where I finally bought myself a portable air conditioning unit and it’s the best money I’ve spent all year. Why didn’t I do this 7 years ago???
Air conditioning in France
First, a reader wrote a hilarious guest post several years back on air conditioning in France and why the French are afraid of it, so if you haven’t read it, have a look. But jokes aside, temperatures upward of 100 F are uncomfortable, dangerous, and not bearable if your name is Diane. I can’t stand getting out of the shower and trying to put on makeup and nice clothes for work when I’m literally sticky with sweat.
Each year, I’d just suck it up and like clock work, the insufferable heat each summer reminded me why not having air conditioning in France was a bad idea. Do like the French, I’d tell myself, and open the shutters in the morning to get the cool air in and then close out the heat and light to trap the cool air indoors. If the French can get by just fine, I can too.
Except 2 things happened: I reached my breaking point and also realized the French actually like air conditioning and are buying portable air conditioners, too. I got sick of the volet dance and snapped myself back to reality. There’s an easier way that fixes everything with the touch of a button.
And yes, I realize air conditioning in France or anywhere isn’t the most environmentally friendly option, but if we try to make responsible choices both with the AC (don’t leave it on when we aren’t home, don’t put the temperature too low, buy an economical unit, etc.) and in other areas of our life, I think it’s more than OK to invest in an air conditioner if it’s going to make you a better, less cranky version of yourself.
So what was my resistance to buying an air conditioner in France all about? The truth was that I didn’t want to spend the money and have an aversion to portable units. Air conditioners aren’t THAT expensive, though. For 300 euros, you can get a nice unit that cools a normal size bedroom. But they are loud. I guess I figured the money could be better spent. How hot could it get? Couldn’t I manage during one little heat wave? NO. No, I cannot manage in 103 F heat.
The day before my parents left last week, I did what I should have done 7 summers ago. I bought myself a portable air conditioner unit that we’ve set up in the bedroom.
Here’s my beauty in action:
Not only do we sleep well, but there’s another plus. With the window kit that seals off your window around the exhaust hose, there are no mosquitoes (remember, no window screens in France). The pesky insects are my archenemy, so nothing makes me happier than to head upstairs to my cool summer retreat — mosquito free.
Even Dagny marvels at this newfound contraption. She curls up right next to it.
Why isn’t there widespread air conditioning in France?
The lack of air conditioning in France and other parts of Europe can catch visitors by surprise. It’s not as common as it is in the USA, and if buildings do have air conditioning, the temperature will be comfortable and not icy cold.
There are several reasons explaining why air conditioning in France isn’t as common and I’ll briefly run through a few of them.
One is because French homes are built a little differently than homes in the USA. Many French homes are built of cement or stone making them well insulated against the heat of summer. But even still, thick walls aren’t a match for a heatwave! Thick walls or not, sometimes it’s a legal matter. In some historical buildings, there are restrictions in place that prevent the modifications necessary to install air conditioning.
Also, windows are a bit different, making window a/c units a challenge. Instead, portable air conditioners in France are the simplest option and usually have wheels to move it to a different room and an exhaust hose that you vent out the window or door. It’s not dangerous to use it without the hose, but the warm exhaust air will stay in the room you’re trying to cool down, thus making the air conditioner less effective.
It’s not a super attractive addition to your decor but neither is sweating through your clothes at rest, so….
Another big reason is because many homes (especially older ones) don’t have central cooling/heating systems with duct work like many homes in other areas of the world. Also, air conditioning is expensive! Installing a permanent unit, not to mention the electricity costs, can get pricey.
Finally, many areas of France don’t stay hot enough to necessitate the cost of air conditioning. It might get really hot for a week or two and then it’s more bearable.
So what’s a heat-hater to do? Well, there are two options. Suck it up or get some air conditioning in France. I finally made the right choice and it sure took long enough. No clue what I’d been thinking the past 7 years. I think the heat was messing with my head!
Many portable units here are quite noisy but here are a few quieter ones to check out. I’ve that anything under 300 euros is going to be super bulky and loud.
—Olimpia Splendid Compact
—Window kit to seal around hose
Anyway, happy Friday, tout le monde. Hope you’re staying cool! Over and out from my cool bedroom… What do you think about air conditioning in France?
For more fun, here’s a story about a plumbing disaster chez moi and that time I confused a bread bag with the trash. And don’t get me started on the hard water! Despite that, France is a great place to live. Really!
Taste of France says
35 at 9:30 a.m.! That is awful! We’re at 26 outside at 10:45. But it’s already 25 inside. It was hard to get it cool during the night, even with all the windows open.
It’s true that yesterday afternoon was a loss–too hot to do anything. I had to shut down my computer because it was overheating. We can’t have A/C because of historical restrictions, but, as you point out, between shutters and thick walls, it stays distinctly cooler inside. Yesterday it was 38 outside and 28 inside. 28 isn’t cool or comfortable, but it beats 38.
Hey there, get a portable unit. You’ll never look back!!
You mention a window kit that seals the window off. Your unit hardly looks sealed in that photo.
In my photo, you only see a small sliver of my window but I assure you it is sealed off just fine. 🙂 The window actually stays open and there’s a Velcro enclosure with a zipper that opens just enough for the tube to hang out the window. Works great!
We started with a used portable unit and then installed a fixed unit with no exterior component last summer. Both are used to cool the bedrooms mainly during the evening, but to also give us at least one cool room where we can go during extreme heat. Even with an old French building, it’s still possible in many cases to install a fixed unit with or without exterior component. The fixed unit is much more efficient and quiet. The fixed unit is also dual purpose (heat/air), so we were able to replace a radiator. It’s only going to get hotter.
Oh please share which fixed unit you bought! We have a guest apartment that is built up into the roof which gets very hot during the day in summer, baking under the tiles! I have my mother and then my mother-in-law coming to stay and I’m afraid we are actually going to bake them without some kind of A/C!
Super! We do have a portable one, but not as wonderful as yours. We neglected to get the window kit so lots of hot air from the outside gets in. We were able to sleep with that on as well as a fan. It never got lower than 25 all night!
Olimpia Splendid MFR, Unico Inverter model.
Was about 1300 euros when we bought 2 years ago.
American (Boston) checking in from La Possonniere (outside Angers). Here with wife and kid visiting grandparents. And pardon my French, but is it hot as balls! God I miss civilization.
Claudine Sherman says
What ?France is not a civilized country??
American (Boston) checking in from La Possonniere (outside Angers). Here with wife and kid visiting grandparents. And pardon my French, but is it hot as balls! God I miss civilization, part deux.
One of the first thing Feng bought in France was a fan when we visited my parents for the third time 😆 First time it was early spring so not so hot, second time it was summer and I had to explain that French “air con” was basically opening the windows. Yes, the windows without screens. Sorry, eh 😆
QiaJenae Hamilton says
I remember as a kid in the 60s-70s living in the south suburbs of Chicago going to bed sticking to sheets. We had one large standing fan that blew hot air out our front screen door, and a wee ottoman-sized fan in the hall in front of all 3 bedrooms. We had the windows open & on those very hot 90-100 degrees of Jul.-Sep. we knew we’d go to bed sweaty & sometimes awake the same. It wasn’t until the late 70s that we could afford a/c. It was a big deal, not that many folks had it in our neighborhood.
I don’t like to be sweaty, but I actually don’t like a/c; still prefer a fan or the cool breeze. I’m in North Carolina now & it’s been in 90s all week. Hitting 100 this week. Congrats on the a/c! We have it here, but the cost of energy! Yikes! For all the sun we get, wish this rental community would install solar!
Mary Melton says
I grew up on the South Side of Chicago and we did not get a little window A/C unit until I was in high school in the 1970’s! We had a huge fan that we would put in the dining room window and we would all camp out in front of it to sleep. For us, we headed to Lake Michigan to cool off but we had to eventually go home. Interesting that when my parents sold their house in the late 1980’s they had to install a central house A/C in order to sell it. How times have changed!
QiaJenae Hamilton says
Sorry Mary! Just found this link. I posted my reply on the main page. Sister Chicagoans! Woohoo!
Congratulations! Neal and I saw the news about une canicule and wondered how you were doing. We also laughed about how all of our French friends recommended 2 things during our heatwave: 1) la piscine and 2) le ventilateur. Neither of which really helped us out of our sticky situation. Glad you are keeping cool
Bravo! It’s not such an awful thing (AC). Our friends in Provence have a
swimming pool ( they are ubiquitous in Le Sud!) But what do you do in a heatwave if you live in an area where you can’t just jump in the pool? Get yourself some AC!
It’s a WONDERFUL thing!! And when you have to get dressed in business clothes for work and have meetings, jumping in the pool is not an option. AC all the way!
bonnie groves poppe says
I moved to Provence from San Diego, and never had aircon in SD as there was a cool breeze always from the bay, a mile or so away. Provence is much hotter than SD, and I had a portable unit in my big upstairs attic bedroom in my other house. It kept the room bearable for sleeping, and downstairs I had a fixed reversible unit which worked very well. In my current house I don’t have AC, I got rid of the portable unit which was very heavy, and when not in use was not how I wanted to decorate my space! It has been over 100F here quite a few days in the last 2-3 weeks, but I’ve managed to keep the stone house (very thick walls) bearble by closing it up in the daytime (not with shutters, just closing double glazed windows). I live near Carpentras, which was one of three towns in France which broke the previous heat records. My main frustration is that its too hot to do things outdoors, and I have a lot of projects and gardening to do and am unable to stand the heat outside. It cools off at night sufficiently that a fan in a window, sucking in the cooler air, makes sleeping fine. If the climate trends continue, with ever hotter summers, I will have to see about putting in an exterior unit, we shall see.
bonnie in provence
I as well moved to Antibes from San Diego (Carlsbad) and hardly used an ac there since the pacific wind is cooler in the summer. Time to go buy a couple portable ac units to get through the hot summer months in the Cote d’azur. Enjoy, and i know its hard to beat San Diego when it comes to weather.
QiaJenae Hamilton says
Mary Melton! I can’t see your answer on the Oui in France page, but it came to my email. I can completely understand! I lived in Chicago for years and just left our dear Windy City 2 years ago to move to NC. No more uber cold winters for me.
My folks put in AC, too, and yes, it so became a thing back in the 80’s, but how weird it seemed to me after suffering through childhood without. LOL
Some have asked what unit we got for a fixed AC system. It’s from Olimpia Splendid, an Italian company. They have a number of models, but we got a UNICO Smart 10HP, which has to be mounted on an exterior wall. They run about 1200e and are available on Amazon.fr.
Hi Diane I completely agree with you about the heat – I hate it. We’ve had the same problem this year in the south and are looking at air con units for next summer. What make did you get? and how noisy is it?
We are visiting South of France in a month. We are staying in an Airbnb that doesnt have AC and Im 5 months pregnant. Where do you recommend getting portable AC’s from in France and what are the general return policies?
Richard Hubbell says
Looking back, do you think the massive effects of global warming in Europe have effected the quality of life in France. It was so hot in Geneva I had to sleep in my wine cellar. Three years ago I was working in Montpelier and it hit 95° every day, making it impossible to focus on work.
40 years ago I lived all over Europe and heat was never a factor. No A/C needed. Cars didn’t have it. Now Europeans routinely have AC in their cars.
I want to retire in France, but now I wonder if that’s realistic.
Mary Beth Hebert says
I’m so glad that I stumbled upon this post, even though it’s a few years old. I’m planning on moving to France this summer for a year and was determined not to move somewhere without a/c. I grew up in South Louisiana and thought my elementary school had no a/c I’m now in my 60s and between that and global warming I know I can’t live/sleep somewhere that is hot. I’ve been watching the heat waves in Europe, especially in Paris, where I plan to move, and know I’d be miserable with no a/c. I was really worried that almost no apartments I found online had a/c but this post gives me hope that I could purchase one of these units and make it bearable. Thank you so much!
Hi Mary Beth, so glad my post was helpful and yes you can definitely find standalone units. They are readily available so no worries at all!