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

French Property News - - Contents -

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.

Green el­e­ments: Fa­bien Cadot is cur­rently work­ing on this barn ren­o­va­tion in Loire. It in­cludes wood cladding on the façade, so­lar pan­els, a wood pel­let stove, heat ce­ramic bricks and a heat re­cov­ery ven­ti­la­tion sys­tem

Tim­ber frame: This spa­cious and modern 260m2 villa, de­signed and built by Loft­wood, hides a tim­ber frame

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