I could hardly believe this. Two days ago I was indoors working on my new X-Air panel when all of a sudden there was a loud buzzing sound on my PC sound system, the lights in my house started flashing and the computer began going haywire. Lots of other weird things began happening and I realised that there was some sort of electrical fault in progress but didn’t know what. Then there was a strong smell of burning plastic and when I touched the energy saving light bulb next to my computer it was much too hot to touch. Same thing with the strip light I only recently put up in the kitchen – I took the cover off and the choke inside was so hot that I couldn’t put my finger on it. When I went back into my lounge there were clouds of smoke coming out of my DVD player and I knew it was time to disconnect everything. Turns out I was too late but I’ll come back to that in a second. When I got my test meter out and stuck it in a wall socket it read 400 volts!!

I got the EDF (Électricité de France) engineers in immediately that evening and they confirmed that the supply itself was OK – the fault was in a box on my wall – but that my house is being supplied with 3-phase electricity. I was incredulous! Nobody had told me and as anyone knows, 3-phase is for industrial applications, needs special wiring, sockets etc and is NOT for home use. Not only that, it’s more expensive (no wonder I’ve been getting big bills) and in a domestic situation it could be very dangerous. As my friend Bruce has confirmed to me as an ex-engineer, shocks from 220V and 400V can both kill you, but the chance of surviving one of the latter voltage is negligible. As I’d just seen with my own eyes, if I hadn’t been at home when this all happened, there’s a very real chance that the house could have caught fire once items such as the DVD player had burst into flames, which from the smoke it was emitting, I’m sure it would have done if I hadn’t had time to disconnect it.

So far I’ve found that the following items have been destroyed:

– Microwave oven
– DVD player
– CD/music system
– Satellite receiver
– DECT phone system
– SFR internet/telephone system
– Kitchen light
– Coffee machine
– Automatic 12V battery charger

In fact the list includes more or less everything that was either operating at the time or plugged in on standby. Luckily my new TV was not plugged in and my fridge and freezer both survived, but just by luck I think. The same goes for my computer system which I was amazed to find was still working when I connected it to a 230V supply from my generator, which luckily I had to fall back on for necessities such as temporary lighting and heating. SFR have been marvellous and so helpful – a young lady arranged for me to pick up a replacement Neufbox this afternoon and having bought a replacement DECT phone system at the same time for 79.90€, at least I’m back up already with internet and phone connections.

I’ve contacted my home insurer to see whether I’m covered but I am not prepared to let the matter rest as far as EDF is concerned. I think it’s monstrous that when I signed up nobody told me that my house had a 3-phase supply because if I’d known, I’d never have accepted it. And they also came in in December and changed my meter and still nothing was said. The engineer gave me some waffle the other evening about how 3-phase is common in the countryside because of the need to operate machinery but even he had to agree that there wasn’t much use for it in a house which had been converted nearly 40 years ago and should have been changed over to single phase, a quick and simple operation. I can tell you, I’m livid that EDF can have been so sloppy and apparently have such scant regard for the safety of their customers. I phoned my estate agent this afternoon and asked why wasn’t I told about this before I bought the house, and how come I’ve got a Diagnostics dossier that’s an inch thick that analyses everything including the paint on every wall in the house to say whether it contains lead or not but mentions nowhere in the electrical section that the house had a very dangerous 3-phase electrical supply.

The way I feel at the moment, sitting in a house that came close to catching fire and having been unwittingly exposed to the risk of death from electric shock, there’s no way that this thing is going to stop here 😐

2 thoughts on “Extraordinary experience

  1. Too true Russ. I’m waiting for a reply from my house insurer to confirm that I’m covered but EDF has asked me to supply a list of the damaged items and apparently this is normal prior to payment of compensation after such events. Although not common, it appears that having a house’s system jump to 400 volts is not that rare an event. I think that the chap from EDF who I spoke to said that there should be a ‘disjoncteur’ on the panel to cut the power and prevent such damage when it happens. If there is, obviously it didn’t work on this occasion! Anyway, we’ll see. Just another interesting little aspect of country life in France to deal with and then move on 😉

  2. ouch, glad you were in at the time or you may have been left without a roof over your head!

    any chance of getting compensation from EDF?

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