When starting your renovation project, take the time to find out about the tools that were and, in most cases, still are used to perform tasks. It is often the tool as much as the material that determines the finish, and ‘authentic’ tools will help you to achieve an authentic look.
It’s tempting to pack all your gardening equipment and decorating tools, etc, when moving to France, especially from the UK. Not only can transport be expensive, however, but you might be better off raising some money from a car boot sale and buying new items when you arrive.
When deciding what to buy (or hire) in France and what to import from your home country, you should take into account not only price but also quality and composition, as some materials used in France aren’t available in other countries or are of a different type or standard. Consider also whether foreign materials and tools are suitable for use in France. For example, US power tools will require converters or transformers, which may be impractical; UK tools will need only a change of plug.
Note that it isn’t wise to use adapter plugs for power tools, as the earth may not connect properly, which can have fatal consequences.
On the other hand, check the availability of materials and tools in the area of your property and estimate how much time you might waste tracking things down, especially if your home is far from civilisation. It’s also worthwhile importing small tools that you’re familiar and comfortable with, including paint brushes.
Of course, buying locally requires a good knowledge of French but it’s also useful to get hold of product catalogues – in your home country if you cannot find them in France – so that you can point to a picture of what you want. You will also need to be able to understand the instructions for using materials and tools in French. Many DIY products sold in France aren’t exported to English-speaking countries and therefore won’t include instructions in English.
Other points to note about French materials, products, equipment and tools include the following:
* Although many wood treatment products sold in France are similar to those available in the UK, British homeowners should beware of using UK-bought products in their French homes, as they may be unsuitable, particularly for southern France, where the products stocked by retailers may be slightly different from those sold in the colder, wetter north or in mountainous areas.
* Plumbing materials can be cheaper than in the UK, although prices obviously depend on the size of the outlet and the quantity purchased.
* French cement mixers (une bétonnière) tend to be light in construction with tiny motors, but they work.
* Spades, shovels, pickaxes and similar implements have straight handles – ie: without a cross-piece at the end – so bring your own if you prefer working with that type, but bring a spare handle as well, as French handles (une manche) have different sections.
* You will find odd-shaped hammers (un marteau), saws (une scie) and clamps (une chevillette, une pince, des pinces, un serre-joint, etc.) that are used by builders in France but nowhere else.
* French scaffolding tends to come in modular units, often on wheels (un roulant), which can be hired from builders’ merchants and are simple to erect, sturdy and safe.
* Electric showers aren’t generally used in France, so if you want one at any stage in your renovation you should consider importing one; an electrician will fit it for you.
From Renovating and Maintaining your French Home by Joe Laredo, Survival Books.