A guide to building eco friendly and green property in France
You may have moved to France to escape the problems of modern life, but there are some things that are inescapable. All over the world, people are having to face up to environmental issues, and there is an ever growing amount of pressure upon us all to live more eco friendly and green lives. France is increasingly environmentally aware, and if you are thinking about building or renovating a house in France (House Renovations in France, Building or extending property in France) you need to be aware of the ways in which you can make this more environmentally sound, green and eco friendly. The planet benefits, and even your bank balance could benefit (Banking in France), as not only do these type of houses make for a healthier environment for their inhabitants, but also there are a number of grants and incentives to encourage people to "go green"!
How long is a piece of string? There are so many possible answers to this question, and the subject itself is massive. Eco friendly houses can range from the extreme, where everything is green with even the bath water recycled, through those where the fabric of the house is built from natural, sustainable materials such as straw bales and lime plaster, to those that simply incorporate small but effective changes. However green you want to be, there is something that you can do towards a healthier future for this planet, and probably improve your own standard of living as you do so.
There are many small things that you can do differently from the traditional methods if you are renovating or building a house in France. One of the best known of these is to install solar heating, or solar water heating. France, even in many parts of the north of the country, has an enviable sunshine record, so solar energy works well and makes good sense. Solar heating, in brief, draws and collects solar radiation from the sun and uses this to reduce the amount of traditional energy needed to heat the house or to create hot water. It is known to be most effective, in terms of cost saving, in households where there are a lot of people, where traditional energy consumption would be high. It follows then that it is a particularly good idea to install solar heating if you own a hotel, or a large amount of gîtes. (Owning Gîtes and Chambres D'Hotes (B&Bs) in France.)
If you decide to install solar heating (either for water or the house) you can apply for a reduction in your tax bill in France, as part of a government scheme to encourage use of green technology. (Property grants available in France.) There are conditions that must be adhered to if you want to do this, however, so make sure that you are fully aware of these and that you comply completely.
Another, perhaps less invasive move that you can make to use renewable energy sources, is to use solar heating for your swimming pool. Many people in France use heating in order to extend the swimming season, which can end rather abruptly otherwise when the nights chill down in September, even if the daytime temperatures remain high enough to render swimming an appealing proposition! (Installing a swimming pool in France.)
There are many companies now in France that specialise in alternative energy, eco friendly and green technology, and the Pages Jaune (Yellow Pages) is a good place to start. You could also ask at your Mairie, as they tend to have information for local tradesmen, and can often recommend someone whose work is known to be of a high standard. Ex-pat internet forums, specific to the area (such as the Languedoc page) can also be useful here.
"I'll huff, and I'll puff, and I'll blow your house down....!" If this is what comes to mind when you think of a building built of straw, think again. Using straw bales in the essential construction of a building is one of the fastest growing green technologies in the construction industry today, and is particularly popular in certain areas of France, where eco friendly and green issues are given importance. The straw bales are an ecologically sound material, a locally sourced renewable natural resource, and they have many advantages over traditional building materials. They offer a naturally high level of thermal insulation, and can be finished with an earth or lime plaster or boarded to produce a very durable and attractive end result.
One of the best known examples of this type of eco friendly and green building is the house belonging to Mark and Debbie Sampson, in the Lot region of south-west France. This ambitious project was followed by the Channel Four television programme "Grand Designs Abroad", and massively increased awareness of (and enthusiasm for) green eco friendly building. If you are serious about saving the environment and want to construct a home along these lines, there is plenty of information and help out there, with the Sampson's experience and advice available on the internet. (www.channel4.com/ 4homes/ ontv/ grand-designs/.) Just watch out for Mr.Wolf....
Next on Wolfie's list was the house built of wood. As long as you don't happen to be a tasty and gullible cochon, this is actually a highly recommended idea. France is tightening regulations in order to become more environmentally friendly, and is offering financial incentives to build wooden framed houses as opposed to the traditional materials of concrete and brick. The French government has put in place a charter which hopes to achieve a 25% increase in the use of wood in the construction of houses by the end of the year 2010. France has a long history of using wood as a building material, as you only have to go to the mountainous regions to see. In the Alps (Rhône-Alpes Property Guide) and the Pyrénées (Midi-Pyrénées Property Guide, Pyrénées-Orientales Property uide, Pyrénées-Atlantiques Property Guide) wooden chalet style houses are the norm, and modern techniques can produce designs that are stunning, practical and eco friendly. A specialist architect named Romauld Marlin, based in the Haute-Alpes in France's south-east, has a very informative website (www.architecte-bio.com) that gives useful insights into the technology, design and ethos of building with wood.
Breathable bricks, that is... ! If the straw and wood designs don't quite gel with you, you may like to consider a more green and eco friendly form of brick building. These materials are ideally suited to the construction of modern style villas, such as are typical of those built by many ex-pats in the south of France. (Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur Property Guide, Languedoc-Roussillon Property Guide, French Riviera Property - an insider's guide, South-west France Property.) Breathable bricks are described by BatiBio, a company who specialise in helping with the construction of green and eco friendly houses, as acting like a "Goretex shirt", preventing a build up of humidity and encouraging a healthier environment.
It depends how far you want to go! It's certainly much easier these days than ever before, as the world is waking up to environmental issues and governments are realising the need to encourage environmentally sound, eco friendly, green living. You don't have to be a pioneer, gathering feathers and sheep's wool for your home (although these can be useful insulation materials!) or live in a strange dome in the middle of nowhere. You don't have to line up all your doors and windows in accordance with Feng Shui beliefs... although if you want to, advice on building the Feng Shui way is available too! If you are building a new home, it makes sense to look into the financial help associated with eco friendly and green practices, and to do your bit for the future of the planet.
There is lots of information, knowledge and experience around now, and it is easy to find companies who specialise in green technologies, building techniques and materials. For general information on these issues, try the following websites:
Additional articles which may be of interest:
Sarkozy and French property owners
New build property in France
Life in France
Tax in France
Connecting utilities (water, gas, electricity, telephone and sewage) in France
Joanna Simm moved to the Languedoc area of south-west France in October 2004 having found her property through French Property Links.
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