Extraordinary eco homes
Want to live in a more eco-friendly property? There are plenty of options for you to go green in France, whether you choose to renovate your home or purchase an eco new-build, explains Sophie Gardner-roberts
France has always attracted those seeking a lifestyle that inspires wellbeing, outdoors living and community values. Many expats say living in France has enabled them to enjoy simpler, happier and more eco-friendly lives. In France in general, mentalities are shifting towards an eco-friendly mindset. Housing is still one of the biggest source of greenhouse gas emissions but in an effort to reduce these, the French government has introduced measures that give access to more energyefficient homes.
A report published by ADEME (Agence de l’environment et la Maîtrise de l’energie) in June 2016 set out a series of environmental objectives for France to reduce its environmental impact. By 2020, it is hoped that every newly built residential building will produce more energy than it consumes.
Whether you choose to renovate your home to reduce its environmental impact or opt for a new-build property with eco specifications, living in an green home in France has never been easier.
Eco renovation Choosing to renovate an older home could not only make the building more eco-friendly, it could also help you save money on your household bills. That old house you’ve bought may indeed be full of character but more often than not, it won’t be the most eco-friendly of buildings. Stone walls, ancient doors, windows and roofs tend to be draughty and let the heat escape resulting in hefty heating bills. In fact, according to ADEME, two-thirds of overall energy consumption goes to heating, so one of the main things to consider when renovating is insulation to minimise heat loss.
ADEME estimates that some 10%-15% of heat escapes from windows so switching to double-glazing is one of the first things to think about. Most of the heat (25%-30%) escapes from the walls and roof while the thermal bridges – the points of junction between wall and roof or wall and floor – amount to around 10% of heat loss. Here insulation can help.
If you don’t want to alter the exterior of your property, you’ll have to consider insulating from the inside. This can be done by placing a lagging material such as fibreglass, rock wool or insulated panels on the attic floor and the walls. This is cheaper but won’t offer total insulation as there will still be thermal bridges; it will also reduce living space.
External wall insulation is preferable as it’s more efficient from a thermal point of view; it consists of encasing the entire building with a layer of insulating material. This is more work and requires a building permit. Although the outer appearance of your home will change, you can preserve the character inside. Maintaining good ventilation throughout your house is also a key element to keep in mind.
French architect Fabien Cadot of Odeum Architecture focuses on renovation and new-build projects that help improve buildings’ eco credentials. As well as insulating, Fabien
suggests using renewable materials to reduce the carbon footprint of your home. Instead of insulating with fibreglass or rock wool, you can opt for sheep’s wool, wood or hemp fibre and straw. Rather than concrete slabs and blocks, he suggests using products made from woodchip and lime, and says a timber structure is a good option.
Heating with renewable energies also helps. Fabien recommends a heat pump system which takes heat from the air outside. This can be coupled with solar panels that power the heat pump. In addition, you can install a geothermal system which absorbs heat from the ground, which stays at a constant temperature, to heat your property in the winter and keep it cool in the summer.
Bear in mind that renovating your home to make it more eco-friendly will be more expensive than a traditional renovation as it involves adding extra insulation, using special ecological materials or installing solar panel and geothermal systems. But the savings you make in the long term can be worth it, not to mention doing your bit to help save the planet. It should also increase the value of your house.
Financial assistance is available for those renovating ecologically. Le crédit d’impôt pour la transition énergétique (CITE) will deduct 30% of your renovation expenses from your income tax, while the eco-prêt à taux zero enables you to take out an interest-free loan to finance renovation works that will improve your home’s energy performance. The Habiter Mieux initiative from the Agence Nationale de l’habitat provides advice and assistance with renovation projects – it has helped to finance 49,000 construction projects and more than 150,000 renovations since 2010.
“It’s important to know that the industry is moving towards an ecological approach and that more and more materials, systems, regulations and sometimes subsidies or tax rebates are available to encourage people to consider this type of construction,” says Fabien.
Build from scratch If you are concerned about your environmental impact and want to reduce CO2 emissions as much as possible, the other option to consider is a new-build project. The RT2012, France’s current thermal regulation for new-build projects, sets out the regulations to improve the thermal credentials of newly built houses and to reduce their energy consumption.
Fabien Cadot explains that new-build projects are easier to insulate more efficiently: “For a new-build project to meet the RT2012 requirements, insulation needs to wrap the entire building structure, including a slab below the floor. This can be a technical challenge for a renovation project and a difficult choice to add insulation and cladding on a nice old stone house for example, even if you can keep exposed stone walls on the inside.”
Add to that the low maintenance level of a new-build property and the increasing number of government schemes to help with buying new-builds - like the Pinel law or the interestfree loan (PTZ) - and purchasing a new-build might indeed bring you closer to your ecofriendly dream home.
Loftwood, a French new-build company based in Haute-garonne, specialises in timber-framed houses. Their construction branch, Loftwood Maker, strives to reduce CO2 emissions in every aspect of a project, from building the frames, to erecting the house. Marketing director Audrey Kaced explains that the insolation and wiring are integrated into the timber frame in the factory and each wall is then assembled in three days on the construction site to minimise their impact on the environment.
Using wood as a building material is highly ecological as it is renewable and has a low carbon footprint in comparison with cement or steel. It is also an excellent insulation material as it reduces heat loss.
In addition to timber frames, Loftwood uses green roofs – topped with vegetation – which offer good insulation as well as integrating the house into its environment, absorbing CO2 and preserving natural wildlife. Heating is provided by a heat pump which reduces the use of fossil fuels. In addition to the timber structure, the company uses wood fibre and volcanic rock wool which are also entirely recyclable and renewable. Clients can choose pre-designed homes in Loftwood’s catalogue or opt for a custom-made project.
Across France some 376,500 new-build projects began construction in 2016 – a year-on-year increase of 10.4% - and 2017 looks set to be a good year for new-builds too so Loftwood is certainly surfing the right trend.
“Today, timber-framed houses represent 11% of the new-build market,” says Audrey. “All the obstacles that were in the way of timber construction are gradually disappearing thanks to the authorities and summits such as the COP21 or the Grenelle de l’environnement debate in France. There is a huge market for serious builders.
“Mentalities are also changing. More and more people want a home that is more energy efficient, to save money but also for ecological reasons. With climate change, people are increasingly sensitive to problems caused by global warming and they want to make their purchase with those questions in mind,” she adds.