Plan your electrical layout

To plan your electrical installation, start with a large sheet of paper and a floor plan for your project. Even better, get several photocopies of the plan so when all the lines and scribbling become to much you can start again! You are best preparing this plan although you will not be installing the system yourself, for the sake of clarity in discussions with your electrician.

Firstly designate the 'critical' sockets - those that must be in the correct position. These include the sockets for the appliances such as the oven, the washing machine, dishwasher, fridges / freezers, boiler and 'above the work-surface' kitchen sockets. The position of these sockets needs to be shown very accurately.

Because all these appliances need dedicated electricity supplies from the main distribution box it is not possible to simply use 'a spare socket'.

The second stage is to mark the other, more general, electrical sockets on the plan. In the US these are simply added every two metres or so, in the UK they are added wherever they might be necessary, and in France the electricians seem to keep them to a bare minimum. Of course, at this stage in your planning you will probably not have decided the exact placement of every bed and wardrobe, so it is preferable to include several in each room.

For a reason still unknown to me, French electricians still think you are confused if you ask for more than three single sockets in a room, especially a bedroom, so you might need to be persistent. Few houses end up with too many sockets, but a lot do not have enough. It only costs a little bit extra to add additional sockets, or to have a double socket instead of a single, and is much easier if you get it right at the time of installation.

Now you can add the lighting plan. This is much more complicated that you would expect! As a minimum you will simply have a central light in each room, with a switch by the door, and rely on the wall sockets for any lamps. But usually a property will benefit from having other lighting: wall lights, halogen lights, bathroom lights on a separate circuit etc.

The problems start when you try and define the exact placement of the light switches. Most rooms actually need more than one light, and more than one light switch. There may be two entry and exit points to a room, and sometimes several (e.g. an upstairs landing). For example, our kitchen has a front door, a back door and an internal doorway through to a lobby, and the lobby then accesses the stairs and various bedrooms.

The easiest approach is to mark each doorway, and also the top and bottom of the stairs, on to your plan, and then decide which lights should be operated from that doorway or location. If you want the bedroom lights to be operable from the bedside these will need to be included as well.


Remember that a light can be turned on and off from several different places, although the wiring is a bit more complicated for a light operated from three or more places. We have a landing light that is independently controlled by five separate switches - two are next to bedroom doors, one is at the top of the stairs, one at the bottom of the stairs, and a final one is on an external entrance doorway.

One problem you will perhaps encounter is that beamed ceilings do not lend themselves very well to central lights, either from an aesthetic point of view or an ease of fitting point of view. You may prefer to have several wall lights that are operated by the main room light switch instead.

A second possibility is to have a 'lamp lighting' circuit installed. With this arrangement you can have a main room light switch that controls a series of ordinary plug sockets, so that when you turn the main switch on, a series of lamps all turn on at the same time (rather than a central light).

If you are planning to have electrical heating, or a heat pump and reversible air conditioning, these will also need to be added to your plan.

External electricity requirements

Now the main internal plan is finished, you will need to consider any external electrical requirements. These will usually include:

External Lighting: lighting for the terrace, porch, pool, property entrance and so on

External electricity: it is always useful to have one or more external electricity sockets

Swimming pool: a swimming pool pump needs its own separate supply of electricity

Outbuildings and annexed rooms: many French properties have a cellar and a selection of garages and outbuildings.

Add all these to your plan, according to your own requirements.

Remember that external electricity supplies are usually buried in the ground (they can also be suspended several metres above the ground in certain circumstances). This supply to your outbuildings will therefore need a trench 60 cm deep to be dug, in as straight a line as possible between the two buildings . Mark the positions of septic tanks and buried water supplies on your plan to help you avoid them.