Thu. Jan 20th, 2022

When Emmanuel Macron launched his successful bid for France’s presidency more than four years ago, one of his promises was to address the country’s fuel poverty and promote energy efficiency through improved home insulation.

But progress so far has been slow.

Macron’s promise was an acknowledgment that, despite the country’s commitment to the climate goals agreed in 2015 in Paris, France’s own record of reducing energy consumption by households is not particularly impressive.

At the center of the debate is what is called thermal sieves – literally ‘thermal sieves’, a term for dwellings that are classified in the two lowest categories of the country’s Energy Performance Certificate Scheme, with ratings of “F” and “G”.

This thermal sieves was estimated to be nearly 17 percent of the country’s house stock in 2018, according to France’s ecological transition ministry. A further 24 per cent were certified with the mediocre rating of “E” – about the same ratio as that in the three highest categories. Properties built before 1948 account for nearly 23 percent of French housing and nearly 70 percent of them have a rating of “E” or lower.

© Alamy

The problem is especially acute in cities like Paris, where many buildings from the Haussmann era of the mid-1800s are subject to protection on architectural grounds, but which tend to leak a lot of heat from doors and windows.

Insulation requirements for new buildings in the city only came into effect in 1974. But even then, planning rules prohibit the modification of exterior facades of protected buildings, which requires insulation to be installed exclusively in interiors.

Protected facades: view of an apartment building on Boulevard Haussmann, Paris, France
Protected facades: view of an apartment building on Boulevard Haussmann, Paris, France © Alamy

Macron’s new policies are driven by a combination of climate protection goals and years of concern about energy poverty, which is seen as a key component of economic hardship across the country.

According to a 2019 report by France’s Energy Poverty Observatory, a government-sponsored advisory body, 15 per cent of residents reported suffering from colds for at least 24 hours during the winter of 2017. And 11.6 percent of the population – mostly among the poorest – said more than 8 percent of their income went to the home’s energy costs.

A report on France’s progress towards net zero carbon emissions, published by the International Energy Agency last week, praised government plans and funding commitments to encourage building restoration. The IEA has noted that much of the country’s efficiency gains over the past 20 years have come from stricter building codes, but refurbishment figures remain slow.

Since 2017, the Insulation at 1 euro‘scheme offered weaker households floor or cage insulation by commercial installers with costs reimbursed by the government.

Tackling poverty: Aubervilliers, a poorer suburb of the French capital Paris
Addressing poverty: Aubervilliers, a poorer suburb of the French capital Paris © Philippe Lopez / AFP via Getty Images

However, the initiative has led to French households being bombarded by phone calls from businesses claiming to provide isolation under the one-euro scheme, many of them from scammers. The Ministry of Economy had to issue a warning to consumers to beware of fraud and cold calls by banning energy supply providers. The scheme, in its current form, ended at the beginning of July.

In addition to the official embarrassment, the government is required to offer free recertification to owners of up to 200,000 homes built before 1975 that received incorrect ratings, including 80,000 categorized as “F” or “G”.

Last year, Macron acknowledged that the government was reluctant to adopt stricter proposals to improve the housing stock. This included a direct ban on leasing properties in the lowest “F” and “G” energy efficiency categories. But the government feared it would penalize less affluent households and reduce the availability of rental properties.

Presidential concern: Emmanuel Macron flanked by ministers
Presidential concern: Emmanuel Macron flanked by ministers © Ian Langsdon / AFP via Getty Images

Energy efficiency recommendations made by the Civil Climate Convention, introduced by the president in 2019, has been implemented in the government’s climate and resilience legislation, which received final approval in August this year. The law sets out a series of measures that are gradually designed to increase pressure on owners of thermal sieves.

From 2023, owners of houses classified as “G” will be prohibited from increasing the rental price of the property, unless they take corrective insulation work. If they do not, two years later, rent will be banned. This restriction will apply in 2028 to homes classified as “F”, and in 2034 to those with an “E” rating. Existing tenants will be able to require the landlord to install insulation to bring the property to the minimum acceptable standard.

From next year, when single-family homes classified as “F” and “G” are sold, the sellers should have an energy audit done that sets out the necessary improvements. This obligation will be extended to class “E” in 2025 and “D” in 2034.

Meets standards: a new house built in the French Alps
Meets standards: a new house built in the French Alps © Alamy

All households will have access to government-guaranteed loans to finance some of the cost renovations, although independent estimates suggest that it will cost a minimum of € 50,000 to convert a “G” rated home to a “D” standard. to bring.

These measures are likely to lead to a reduction in the selling prices of affected properties, according to Fitch Ratings – although its analysts note that price changes are likely to be gradual as only about 3 per cent of France’s house stock is sold each year.

Nevertheless, there is already some evidence that owners are attempting to download energy sneak thermal sieves properties (those certified as “E”, “F” or “G”) before the legislation’s rental ban takes effect, according to SeLoger’s online marketplace for sale and lease.

It reported in November that bids for selling homes listed lowest for energy efficiency skyrocketed in 23 of 40 cities surveyed. In Paris, the list of inefficient properties rose by 72 percent in October compared to average volumes in the same month last year. In Rennes, listings rose by 74 per cent and in Nantes by 70 per cent.

Bar graph of units: GJ / m2 showing energy intensity per floor area of ​​residential space heating in selected IEA countries, 2000-2018

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