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Le Sous Sol - A French Home's Hidden Advantage

A guide to sous sols (or basements) - common in homes in France

Le sous sol - what is it?

A sous sol is, quite simply, a basement under a house. Literally translated, it means: under (sous) floor (sol). They are very common in France, particularly in the south, and estate agents (French estate agents, Property in France - Getting More Info) will frequently use the existence of a sous sol as an attractive advertising feature when describing a property.

Making the best of an uneven plot

Many houses that have sous sols are built on uneven or sloping plots of ground, such as are frequently found in the mountainous regions of France. The front door would be found on the higher ground level, with the entrance to the sous sol on the lower level at the back of the house. There are flat plots where houses with sous sols can be found, but there can be drainage or damp problems with these.

Traditional uses of a sous sol

Older houses which have a sous sol level were probably built this way to allow for wine storage. The term "wine cellar" did not arrive on a whim, but has a basis in the fact that many sous sol levels were used to store wine. Wine keeps best a constant temperature, and sous sol levels tend to maintain a temperature of around 18 to 20 degrees in all seasons. Being dark too, the sous sol made a natural home for many fruits and vegetables before refrigerators were commonly owned.

Advantages of a sous sol today

There are many good reasons to choose to build a sous sol level under a new build house (New build property in France, New Build in France), or indeed, to choose to buy an existing house with this basement already in place.

More space but no more tax to pay

Firstly, it is an excellent way of increasing the useable space without increasing the footprint of your property, and perhaps even more importantly, without paying extra taxes on extra space. The catch here is that in order to avoid tax liability (on your owner's Tax Foncière), the sous sol must be under two metres in height. However, should you include living areas in the sous sol you will need to inform the tax offices, as they could then become taxable. (Taxe Foncière and Taxe d'Habitation - property tax in France, Tax in France.)

Le sous sol and planning consent

The sous sol does not impact on the size of house you have permission to build, as it is below ground level. Planning consent, and the taxable value of the house depends on the actual living areas, not basement, subject to the height restriction. Garages, utility rooms etc. do not count, and a sous sol does not increase the footprint of the house. Converting sous sol space to other uses does not require further planning permission as long as the exterior facades are unchanged. (Building or extending property in France, House Renovations in France.)

Every one needs more storage

Even though everybody has a refrigerator today, a sous sol is still a great place to store wine, potatoes and other things that require a constant temperature or dark conditions. And a sous sol is a great space extender even if you don't use it for extra living space. You can use it to keep all the junk that takes up too much room in the house (but that you can't bear to part with), or to store bulky sports equipment such as skis, wet suits and golf clubs, for gardening equipment and DIY materials, or to keep suitcases and seasonal clothing when not in use.

Other uses of a sous sol

Common uses of a sous sol, besides those mentioned in the paragraph above, include use as a garage for motor vehicles, bicycle garaging, use as a utility room containing washing machines, tumble dryers etc, for housing boilers, tanks, water manifolds and pipes, photographic darkrooms or even as a home cinema, perfect for the last two uses due to the comparative lack of sunlight.

Ventilation possibly needed and a sous sol pump

A sous sol may need a good ventilation system, in order to ensure against the problems of mildew or foul air, and they can also suffer from damp or even flooding on certain sites. If your sous sol is in a place prone to flooding, a pump called, perhaps unsurprisingly, a sous sol pump, can be fitted into the basement, which senses rising water levels and pre-empts the problem.

And finally?

Anyone who has read the book "Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus" will know, of course, that every man requires a cave to retreat to for a while when he first returns from work in the evening. So if your man comes home uncommunicative or grumpy (or if you happen to be just such a man), isn't it good to know that you have a ready made cave right under your house? It beats the garden shed any day!

Other articles which may be of interest:

Property in France - Types of houses in France
Buy-to-let Property in the South of France
Builders in France
Electrics in France - wiring your house

About the author

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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