French Termite Surveys

Termiet, Lead and Asbestos surveys in France

ASBESTOS IN THE ATTIC – PANIC OR JOY?

by John Marshall FRICS MRAC

As you may already have discovered, you have to be licensed in France to practice many trades and professions. This is not to give the bureaucracy more work, but to protect us, the consumers. My favourites , which I discovered when attending a training course to get a gun permit, are mole catchers who are also entitled to wear a very smart uniform. When you sign for your property you may get a report from the licensed asbestos, termite and lead inspector or “expert”, even before you meet the licensed plumber or gas fitter. Their report will come with a copious number of pages which not only describe what they have found but will also advise you upon the implications. My clients often ask me to explain these reports to them, and whilst I am not a licensed inspector I try to simplify some of the jargon for them. Nothing can be as a good as a translation of the entire report, by a licensed translator of course, but here are a few basics.

Dependant upon the département and its rules you may be provided with a vendor-commissioned report or “expertise” upon the presence in the property of termites, you will get one on asbestos almost always, and if the property is old, you will probably get one on lead, particularly within paint.

Asbestos within fibre cement products such as drainage pipes, flues and corrugated sheeting is quite safe in situ provided that it is not degrading. The report will clearly state whether or not it is safe or degrading. Depending upon their exposure to the elements, fibre cement products should have a very long safe life, one should expect at least 30 years and often they last for much more. Signs of degrading are reasonably obvious - such as crumbling and dust.

Fibre cement roof sheeting is water and weather proof in its own right and is often used to cover agricultural and industrial buildings. There is also a product designed especially to support canal roof tiles over dwellings. The contour is a perfect fit for the tiles, so they tend to slip less and if they do, for example during high winds, water does not penetrate into the roof space.

Even if the fibre cement is in good order there are two important points that you should keep in mind, and bring to the attention of anyone who works on your property. The dust created when sanding or sawing it should not be ingested, that is swallowed or inhaled. Safe working practice is to wear a proper mask (and I don’t mean one of those cheap throwaway paper ones) and to wet the fibre cement where it is to be worked to reduce the creation of dust. Secondly waste fibre cement should not be taken to a general waste disposal site but to one licensed to handle it. The Mairie will advise you as to the location of the nearest one, and sometimes will even arrange for it to be taken there.

Termites are not found in all départements and therefore a survey for them is not compulsory throughout France. If found by the inspector in a property, he is obliged to report it to the Mairie. They should be killed, the wood removed and new wood should be treated against further attack. Generally termites don’t like the cold and draughts, so they burrow up and into the ends of wood from the ground or walls. You may have seen timber building uprights raised off the ground on metal posts and plates, now you know why. Logs stacked on the ground will act like magnets for termites, so wood stored out of doors should be raised off the ground with air beneath for example by stacking it on an old pallet.

Lead was in most gloss type paint up to 1948 and was in some paints up to about 1977. It is still possible to buy lead paint for use in special situations. Children and animals have been known to die from gnawing lead painted woodwork such as cots and stables. The risk today is rather like the asbestos, when it is burned or sanded the fumes & dust are toxic. An appropriate mask should be worn and you are obliged to warn anyone working at the property that there is lead in the paint so they can take the proper precautions. The report should give you the depth of the lead in paint below the surface and an indication as to whether or not it is a risk. If the paint containing lead is well below layers of paint that do not contain lead it is a much reduced risk, until of course you sand it down or burn it off.

So termites are not a cause for joy, but don’t panic about fibre cement containing asbestos or deeply hidden lead in paint, just treat it in a respectful way.

John Marshall has practised throughout Europe and particularly in France since 1984. He has lived on the borders of the Aude and Pyrénées Orientales since 2002. He is a Fellow of the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors registered with RICS France and is amongst other things a member of their Building Surveying Faculty and Building Conservation Form. He is also a Chartered Environmentalist, a consultant surveyor to the Channel 4 programme, Selling Houses Abroad and a member of the Fédération Nationale des Experts de la Construction et l’Immobilier.

Contact him

by telephone               +33 (0) 4 68 20 26 48
by email                      johnmarshallsurveys@wanadoo.fr

© John Marshall 2007

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