IN APRIL 2002, Lois and I had an opportunity to travel to France for a visit with Geminox Chaudieres, the manufacturer of Monitor MZ boilers.
Upon arrival at Charles de Gaulle Airport, after a sleepless night of flight, I immediately became aware of one thing the French do well: They all chainsmoke! As an ex-3 1⁄2-pack-a-day smoker who had last puffed some 11 years prior, the thick tobacco haze that enveloped everything was killing me. We were in for a long wait; others in ourgroup weren't due to arrive for hours.
Our host, Pete Caruso, treated us to a breakfast in an airport bistro. Seating myself strategically away from the nearest chain smokers, I was at last feeling better.
Evidently, an unwritten or secret law in France states that one must sit next to anyone who speaks English and chain smoke while blowing said smoke directly in his face! Upon letting that first word slip my lips, a chain smoker took up residence at the closest seat.
So, I did what any self-respecting English-speaking preservationist would do under a similar assault, I turned away to breathe in some less contaminated air. Unfortunately for me, the person seated directly behind me, where I turned my head and gasped for air, had not bathed for some 100 years and that immediately brought tears to my eyes! Welcome to Paris, the city where the no-smoking section means chain-smoke'em-if-you-got-'em.
Off to visit the factory in Brest, along the coast of France, where we met Thierry Lannuzel for a tour of the cleanest manufacturing facility I've ever witnessed. You could have eaten off that factory floor, and the attention to cleanliness stretched all the way to the roof where the bar joists had not a speck of dust on their surfaces. During our tour we witnessed amazing things being constructed with stainless steel. (Things we would see come to U.S. shores that are now commonplace such as indirect water heaters and condensing high-efficiency products.)
During our visit in the R&D lab where a wide variety of high-efficiency condensing boilers were in live-fire test modes, our guide was paged and excused himself. Before leaving, he encouraged us to check out the equipment and dismantle anything we cared to dissect.
The tools to do so were all over the lab and I wanted to check out the oil-fired condensing boiler — a foreign concept (no pun intended) at that time. The boiler had been running for months, so I fully expected to see a rather gooey blackened mess on the condensing side of the oil-combustion exhaust stream. Imagine our surprise after dismantling the boiler's chambers only to find almost-clear condensate and no soot residue — none in the concentric plastic exhaust lines either.
As we were told, during a factory training session, this squeaky-clean result was due to the oil having very low sulphur content. Today, most nations in Europe are embracing high-efficiency condensing oil-fired equipment, and they have mandated reduced levels of sulphur in home heating oil to meet this demand. Here in the United States, we too are moving in that direction. However, in 2002, this was an amazing site to behold.
Back in Paris, our host treated us to lunch in the Eiffel Tower. It was a raw day, yet there we were — floating in air — high above the scenery surrounded by walls of glass in perfect comfort. No means for supplying heat were visible, so an investigative walk was in order. Hydronic finned convectors line the exterior glass walls with a metal cover concealing their presence. In fact, everywhere we went in France, including a centuries-old cathedral, we had seen nothing else except hydronic heat emitters of every type I'd ever seen and many I'd never seen before — it was a hydronician's dream come true.
The buildings, as Lois noted, had dust older than our country on their roofs and, as you'd imagine, that meant all their indoor plumbing and hydronic systems had been added much later. A stark contrast to what we, as American plumbers, face; the piping is simply run exposed on the surface of walls and floors. That's as practical as it gets! Need to trace the heating? Just follow the exposed piping! Other tourists no doubt take pictures of places and art; I was photographing the exposed plumbing and heating.
Lois and I wanted a few days to explore Paris, so we bid a fond farewell to Pete Caruso and the group. Off to Notre Dame and other sites along the River Seine that cuts a swath through Paris.
A short walk across the river, we stopped at a sidewalk café where a huge decorative fountain could be viewed. That turned out to be the water company's fountain and it was, at one time, one of just a few sources for potable water. Water-borne diseases from sewage contamination presented lifethreatening dangers. Watermen, several thousand strong, would collect drinking water at this same fountain and deliver it for a fee throughout Paris.
Come back next month for some fascinating facts about the best, and least visited, tour Paris has to offer.
Dave Yates owns F.W. Behler, a contracting company in York, Pa. He can be reached by phone at 717/843-4920 or by e-mail at [email protected].
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