Going green – a hot topic

When you buy your French property, it could be your chance to go green’ with your heating options, as Matthieu Cany reports

With winter holding us in its icy grip and refusing to let go, our beloved gas central-heating will be firmly on high. But other, greener options are available that are far less damaging to the environment and, importantly, cheaper. Yes, sustainable and economical heating is possible, with a variety of options to choose from.

Dig deep

For instance, ground source heat pumps, which use solar energy naturally stored in soil, bedrock or groundwater as a heat source, can be far more effective than central-heating. Although they require electricity to operate, they produce up to five times as much heat energy for every unit of electricity they use.

Various types exist, depending on the heating requirements at hand. They can be installed almost anywhere, as long as there is enough space to lay the ground loops or drill a borehole. Then either a horizontal or vertical collector is used, the former necessitating pipes to be buried to a depth of one or two metres and the latter to around 50 to 200 metres below ground. Heat pumps are then used to heat water in a cylinder for distribution via taps, appliances and, of course, radiators. As an added benefit, heat pumps can also be used to cool down a house in the summer months.

And if that isn’t enough to sway you, remember that because the earth itself is storing the energy, this is a hugely reliable and constant energy source and, crucially, one that doesn’t produce harmful emissions.

If you are keen to have a ground source heat pump installed, you should ideally be looking for a property with a certain amount of land, for the laying of pipes and ground loops, as mentioned above. Nestled in the heart of the Charente, near the town of Montbron, a beautiful stone country house set in over 22 acres of grounds with horse boxes and outbuildings could be just the ticket and is priced at a reasonable €160,500.

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Staying within the Charente, you’ll find a charming six-bedroom stone house with a guesthouse and a barn, set in seven acres of countryside for €256,800. The property needs a little refreshing so you can put your own stamp on it, and it is located near Chabanais, a country town with all amenities.

If you’d like a completely blank canvas, then maybe a pretty farmhouse to renovate with outbuildings, set in nearly five acres, would be a better option. The property is situated in unspoilt countryside near Ste-Livrade-sur-Lot (€129,900).

Wood you believe it?

Wood heating is another viable alternative. In order for the quantity of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere not to increase, it is vital that the wood burned as a fuel comes from sustainable sources. This means that as trees are chopped down to be used as fuel, more should be planted in their place. That way, the carbon released during the combustion of the wood is reabsorbed by the new trees growing and the practice is carbon neutral.

Wood can be used as logs, wood chip and wood pellets in wood or pellet burning stoves or wood chip/pellet boilers for space and water heating. Stoves are becoming increasingly popular, often providing enough heat for an entire home on their own. In terms of convenience, because various sizes and capacities exist, one can be found to fit most rooms of any home.

Nearly all stoves are on direct vent systems, meaning that no additional venting system or chimney is needed. They also come in different styles and shapes, so you can easily find yourself an authentic-looking centrepiece tailored to your living room.

A pellet-burning stove is another option, as pellets (recycled sawdust, wood shavings or nut shells) don’t smell or release any toxins into the air.

If you own, or are planning to buy, a property with woodland, this could be the ideal solution for you. For instance, a renovated three-bedroom house with a woodland garden and stunning views, near Riberac in the Dordogne, would provide you with your very own source of fuel (€190,800). Alternatively, a charming isolated three-bed country house near Carhaix in Brittany comes with 15 acres of woods, and a converted stable featuring a mini bar and two-acre lake, for €402,800.

The power of the sun

Finally, when you think of sustainable energies, solar panels tend to come to mind. Indeed, their installation is rather straightforward in terms of plumbing and electricity, as is their maintenance. A 240V mains supply with a flow and return connection to the internal and external wall circuits will suffice.

A number of installation options are available including surface-mounted panels for pitch or flat rooms, A-frames, in-roof and complete roof installations, as well as a canopy or a fa�ade construction.

The process is three stage – collectors contain liquid that circulates through the panels and is heated by sunlight. This then passes through a coil in the water tank which heats the water. Solar panels reduce CO2 emissions in an average home by up to 400kg a year. They can thus help save money in terms of water heating energy costs and by lowering your need for costly imported energy. Solar panels can be combined with other heating systems in place to meet any additional requirements you may have during the winter months.

If you’re contemplating solar panels, hopefully you’ll be living somewhere sunny! The Languedoc-Roussillon is a stunning region, full of lush vegetation, valleys and mountains as well as its fair share of sandy beaches. With almost constant sunshine, it is a prime location to have a home.

Character village houses are very popular, such as a superb four-bed property set in just under an acre of land, with a guest apartment and pretty views. Located near Le Vigan in the Gard department, it is on the market for €283,000.

For a slightly more modest sum, a renovated village house with a roof terrace, 45 minutes from Montpellier, could be yours for €150,000.

If you’d like to be nearer to Spain and Perpignan, a four-bed character house with just under an acre of land, outbuildings for future g�tes and country views is priced at €299,000.

Whatever your budget and wherever your home, there’s no excuse not to go green. It’ll save you pennies in the long run and, significantly, you’ll also be doing your bit for the environment. If you still need some persuading, it is important to remember that France’s normes for BBC (low-energy consumption buildings) are tightening up.

Currently, if you purchase a property matching the normes (mainly new-builds at present), you may benefit from tax refunds or better interest rates on your mortgage repayments. As time goes on, you will be required to meet these standards. By 2012–2013, tax rebates will reach 20% if your property conforms to the low energy regulations (80kW/h per square metre for old properties, 50kW/h per square metre for new builds). Food for thought indeed.

Matthieu Cany

Sextant French Property

Tel: 020 7428 4910

www.sextantproperties.com