Old rural homes should be exempt from EU energy plan says French group

Green directive being prepared could hit value of character properties

Stone homes are among those the new laws will affect
Published Last updated

A heritage group has criticised new EU plans that would place more restrictions on less energy-efficient homes, including many older stone or character properties.

Many ski resort properties would also be impacted.

The plans – still at the early stages – aim to set ambitious efficiency goals, including for Europe’s entire housing stock to be ‘zero-emission’ by 2050, and homes with the lowest ratings to be eradicated by 2030.

They include the possibility of energy renovation work being required at ‘trigger points’, such as when selling, renting out, or carrying out major renovation on a property.

This year, France brought in new national laws banning the rental of the least energy-efficient among G-rated homes.

Read more: Rent prices in France frozen for least energy efficient properties

From April 1, owners of F or G-rated properties will also be required to pay for new energy audits before selling them, showing the work needed to get them up to at least category E.

Read more: Make sense of new energy audits for property in France

The head of the Maisons Paysannes de France heritage group for the Dordogne, in south-west France, said he thinks older traditional rural properties should be exempted from the EU plans, as energy renovations are liable to detract from their character.

Traditionally built with local materials

Jean-François Savier said: “We and others are fighting for the rules not to apply to old country homes that have character and are built traditionally with local materials like clay and stone.

“If you insulate from the outside, it doesn’t matter for a modern home, but it takes away all the beauty of an old stone property.

“These rules are being made by people who don’t understand heritage.

Read more: French energy rating law ‘puts older houses at risk’

Behind this there are lobbies for insulation, cement and polystyrene, who are pushing for these renovations to become obligatory.”

The French head of major estate agency group ERA Immobilier said France should stop penalising and opt instead for ways to incentivise renovation.

Threaten value of rural properties

He said the new rules, on top of this year’s changes, are liable to lower the value of rural character properties and buyers will be able to negotiate down on homes that are hard to insulate.

The plans, voted through by MEPs in March, would, if confirmed after discussions with the Council of the EU and Commission, then have to be interpreted by member states and put into national laws.

A new directive is expected to be finalised at EU level by the end of this year.

Apart from setting rules on existing homes, the draft version also proposes that all newbuild homes should be zero-emission (A-rated) and equipped with solar panels and electric car-charging points.

Buildings responsible for more than a third of greenhouse gases

The Irish MEP responsible for preparing the proposals, Ciaran Cuffe, said in a press conference that strong measures are needed because buildings are responsible for more than a third of greenhouse gas emissions in the EU.

He also blamed poor insulation for many people paying very high energy bills and said it has increased Europeans’ dependency on Russian gas.

The proposals do not outline sanctions for non-compliance, although Mr Cuffe said individual countries could consider this in their national laws.

The ideas were widely supported by Green and left-wing MEPs, but they were opposed by some on the right.

Possibility of exempting ‘historic’ homes

The proposals allow for the possibility of countries exempting ‘historic’ homes, holiday homes used less than four months a year, and a certain percentage (up to 22%) of F and G-rated (low energy performance) homes.

However, they do not stipulate how they would choose which homes qualify.

Mr Savier said it is possible to renovate – and insulate – using traditional materials sympathetic to character homes, such as limewash and hemp, but these are not accounted for by the software used in energy efficiency checks, which he said is tailored to post-World War Two properties.

“They’ll say your home is badly insulated whereas, in reality, if you have a thick layer of lime and hemp, it will do the job very well and it allows the stone to breathe and for water vapour to pass through, which cement and plasterboard or fibreglass don’t do.”

Eric Allouche, CEO of ERA Immobilier France, which has 500 agencies, said the rules are also impractical for small city flats, where external insulation is often impossible and owners do not want to put insulation on the inside walls and further reduce property size.

“All this legislation is starting to get heavy-handed in France.

We agree we must fight climate change but the problem is a tendency towards punitive ecology.

“If you punish people and make bans, it leads to complicated situations. It’s bad for social harmony.

‘Bad for social harmony’

We have to look at what is happening with pensions and what happened before with petrol prices and the gilets jaunes.

“Now, you might be renting out a property, but if the tenant leaves, you are banned from renting it without expensive renovations which are not necessarily easy to do.”

Mr Allouche noted that the directive will ‘fix objectives’ but it will be up to France to decide exactly how it should be done.

“I would much prefer they have incentivising ecology: for example, saying that if you renovate, you can have a reduction in stamp duty or other tax reductions and advantages.

“Then we would be in a virtuous circle, where everyone wins: ecology, as well as the seller and buyer, rather than always bashing people.

People are fed-up with that.”

Maisons Paysannes de France can advise on renovating traditional homes. See here.

Related articles

10 questions about France’s new energy audits for homes

French eco-renovation grants increase as price of materials rises

French property sales: Why do some listings not have energy ratings?