Trying to write a definitive guide to energy ratings in French homes is a bit like trying to pin jelly to a wall: almost every week there is a new aspect to the rules that changes their shape.
The latest evolution is the introduction, from April, of mandatory energy audits when selling a poorly-insulated French home.
It is already mandatory to undertake a diagnostic de performance énergétique (DPE) survey, which estimates the energy use of a home and the amount of greenhouse gases linked to it, and to state the results when selling or renting a property.
Properties are rated A to G based on energy consumption, with A being the best.
Now, in the case of homes that receive F and G ratings, sellers will also have to undertake an audit énergétique (energy audit) and show this to prospective buyers from the first time they visit the house.
The document will suggest the work needed to raise the energy category, although carrying out the improvements is not necessary for the sale.
The new regulations were originally planned for September 2022, but were pushed back to April 2023.
Reasons included computer software not being ready and a shortage of trained surveyors.
What will the audit cover?
The audit will be mandatory for houses, and buildings belonging to a single owner, but not for most apartments.
As well as describing the general heating and energy characteristics of the property, and the suggested renovation work, the document should include:
- An estimate of potential energy savings
- An estimate of the cost of renovations
- The main national and local financial aid packages available
It should offer at least two scenarios for undertaking the renovations, in one or several steps, allowing the property to reach a C categorisation.
Unless there are ‘particular constraints’, the first step should raise the level to at least E.
Plan to combat ‘energy sieve’ homes
The audit is likely to cost anywhere from €400 to €1,000 or more, depending on the property.
The document could also be used by buyers to drive down the purchase price.
Similar audits will be required for homes in bands E from 2025 and D from 2034.
It is the latest act in a long war being waged against so-called passoires énergétiques (energy sieves) – properties that consume a lot of energy.
The measure is part of French and EU efforts to become carbon-neutral by 2050 and is intended to “allow all French people to live in decent housing where they are not cold in winter and hot in summer”.
New measures to speed up change
DPEs were created in 2006, and were meant to warn buyers they were buying cold, expensive houses, in hopes that they would be able to knock the price down and use the money saved to improve things.
However, the nation’s housing stock did not change as quickly as the government would have liked, so coercive measures linked to DPEs became seen as a way of forcing an improvement.
Since January, this includes a ban on renting out the worst-performing houses – those consuming 450kWh/m² or more of energy per year.
All G properties will be banned from long-term renting from 2025, followed by F homes in 2028 and E in 2034.
Government figures show 24% of homes are in the F and G categories, but also that there are wide disparities.
Could backfire on cheaper rental market
The poorer and more rural a French department is, the more likely it is to have homes with a poor rating.
In Charente, for example, 30% of homes are in the F and G categories.
One immediate loophole in the law – the fact that it only applies to homes, and not short-term rentals such as Airbnb and other tourist rentals – led professionals to warn that when rental contracts expire, owners are likely to ask tenants to move out, and to put their flats on Airbnb instead.
In places such as Paris, where (pandemic excepted) tourist accommodation is found everywhere, there is an expectation that the number of cheaper flats to rent will drop.
Surveys have found that owners of half of the G-rated flats want to sell now because they cannot afford the renovations.
Housing Minister Olivier Klein revealed in December that he would like to see the rental ban extended to short-term ‘Airbnb-style’ lets.
Tourist offices up and down the land protested, fearing the nation’s network of gîtes would be under threat.
Syndics flag problems
Mr Klein will also have a busy start to the year – he announced that he will be “calling in the heads of France’s banks” to urge them to find innovative solutions to finance energy renovation in blocks of flats.
This came after complaints that syndics that manage blocks were having difficulty obtaining bank loans to finance work to raise properties’ DPE grades, especially when not all owners agreed that the work was necessary.
A group of associations set up to preserve old buildings have also expressed dissatisfaction with the current regulations.
They say DPE criteria do not take account of the third of homes built before 1948, when the first national building standards were introduced.
Traditional energy-saving features such as thick stone walls, south-facing buildings and a central chimney are ignored by the rating forms, they say.
The quickest way to raise energy ratings is to install insulation to the walls, but this can have “catastrophic” effects on old buildings, preventing the walls from evaporating humidity as they were designed to do.