While most homes in the UK and United States have a gas or electric central-heating system, there are several different options for heating your home in France. Whether you own a modern apartment or an old stone property, you may come across wood-burning fires, gas and oil boilers, and electric heaters—here’s a rundown of the most common options.
Wood-fired central-heating is a popular choice for many homes in France (around one in four new homes now opt for some type of wood heating), and it remains the cheapest option for heating your property. Typically, this consists of a wood- or pellet-burning stove (poêle à bois or poêle à granulés), which can also be combined with a boiler (chaudière) that feeds radiators throughout the house. There are also dedicated pellet-boilers which stock pellets in a silo to feed directly into the boiler.
Wood is widely available to buy in France, with some suppliers also providing home delivery, and is sold as logs, pellets, or chips (bûches, granulés or plaquettes). Pellets and chips tend to be more efficient and more eco-friendly, with the capacity to heat much larger areas. However, homeowners with land may be able to provide their own wood supplies, making this an even cheaper option.
The biggest downside to wood-burners, however, is the convenience. Not only do you need a suitable area to stock your wood, but there’s no flipping a switch or programming your heating to come on at certain times. Getting up early to build a fire or coming home to a freezing house may not be ideal, and cleaning and maintaining a wood stove can be time-consuming. However, there are now many options for pellet-stoves and hybrid stoves these days, which are far easier, quicker to fire up, and more convenient to run.
Central Heating Systems
Standard central-heating systems (chauffage central) in France use oil, gas, or electricity. Most traditional systems use radiators (radiateurs) in each room, but underfloor heating (chauffage par le sol) is an increasingly popular option.
Although energy prices vary, oil (fioul) tends to be the cheapest option, and although it is becoming less and less common, many older rural properties still use oil. Oil systems typically require a large outdoor storage area for the oil tank, and you will need to arrange for a supplier to deliver oil to your property.
For properties connected to mains gas (raccordé au gaz de ville), this can also be an economical option and gas boilers have historically been cheaper to install than oil and wood boilers. Some rural properties that aren’t connected to mains gas will have a gas tank installed outside the home, and – as with oil – you will need to get a supplier to deliver gas to your property. Read more about setting up gas at your French property.
Electric central heating is generally the most expensive option, although it is also arguably the most convenient and easy to install. Electric heating is most commonly seen in small homes or apartments which are well-insulated to keep the running costs low. An electric central heating system might also be used in addition to wood heating. Read more about setting up electricity at your French property.
Central-Heating Systems on New Build Properties
It’s worth noting that while your French property may well have one of the above-mentioned central heating systems, new legislation means that from 2021, new build homes in France will be discouraged from using gas, oil, or electric heating. Planning permission is likely to only be permitted for properties heated using biomass, heat pumps, and solar heating. Electric central heating may still be allowed in some cases, but priority will be given to more ecological heating methods. The same rules will come into play for new build apartments from 2024.
Renewable Energy and Green Heating Options
Environmental concerns are top of the agenda for property builders and renovators these days, and with heating accounting for some 75% of energy consumption in the average home, choosing the most ecological, efficient, and sustainable heating option is fast becoming a priority.
Biomass, heat pumps, and solar heating are the three most common solutions available, and, as mentioned above, all new builds will soon be required to choose one of these heating options. If you are looking to upgrade or replace your old heating system with a more ecological option, you may also qualify for a grant (more about that in a minute)
Heat pumps (pompe à chaleur) work by using refrigeration technology to capture the heat from either an air source (from the air outside your home), a ground source (geothermal heat from the soil), or a water source (from a groundwater source such as a well).
The two most common heat pump systems in use in France are:
Air-Water Pump (L’aérothermie pac air eau) : This pump captures the heat in the air found outside your home and uses it to heat the water used in your home’s radiators.
Air-Air Pump (pompe à chaleur air/air) : This pump draws air from outside the home, transforming cold air into hot air and diffusing it through the house through fan coils. This system can also work in reverse in the summer months, transforming hot air into cold.
Both systems require a rather hefty installation cost. Prices vary, but you should budget between €8,000 and €12,000 for an air-water pump, or between €6,000 and €10,000 for an air-air pump. Geothermal pumps are also available in some areas, but installation costs can be upwards of €20,000. However, exchanging an old fuel or gas boiler for a heat pump system could save you up to 60% in heating costs, so this could be a worthwhile investment.
Solar energy is another renewable and ecological heating source, using solar panels (capteurs solaires or panneaux solaires) to capture energy from the sun. Solar-powered heating systems (chauffe-eau solaire or système de chauffage solaire) use solar radiation to heat water that can then be distributed to radiators throughout the property.
One of the biggest benefits of solar energy is that once the system has been installed, your energy source is practically free. However, you do need to live in an area where there is enough sunlight for this to be a viable option (properties in the south of France, for example, will likely be able to generate more energy from solar power than those in the north). It will also need to be combined with another energy source, as it is extremely unlikely that you will be able to satisfy 100% of your property’s energy needs with solar power. However, you might be able to cover between 50% and 80% of your property’s hot water needs.
Installation costs can also be substantial and will vary greatly depending on the number of solar panels required. This, in turn, will depend on your location (a sunnier location means fewer panels) and the energy needs of your property. Solar panels typically cost between €1,000 and €1,700 per m², and you should budget for €15,000 to €20,000 for the installation of a full system.
The above-mentioned wood-burning stoves and boilers, especially the more modern pellet-burners, are becoming increasingly popular and are far more ecological. Burning four cubic metres of wood is equal to burning a tonne of oil, and doing so would save some 2.5 tonnes of CO². Expect to pay around €18,000 for the installation of a wood-pellet boiler, or between €3,000 and €6,000 for a wood-pellet stove.
Grants and Incentives for Upgrading Your French Heating System
To encourage property owners to switch to more ecological and renewable energy sources, the French government have offered several grants, tax credits, and financial incentives.
Grants of up to €10,500 are now available for all property owners looking to replace an oil-burning heating system with a pompe à chaleur, or improve the insulation in their home. You can find out more about the grants and apply for a quote at MaPrimeRénov. However, being as these grants are offered depending on your declared income, they are only accessible to those who make income tax declarations in France. The majority of second-home owners, therefore, will not be able to apply.
There are no grants currently available for solar panel installations, although one incentive is the possibility to sell electricity back to the grid.
Another incentive to encourage homeowners to purchase renewable energy systems is a reduced TVA (VAT) rate of 10% or 5.5% (instead of the standard 20%) on systems and installation costs. This applies to the purchase and installation of many biomass systems, solar panels, and heat pumps.
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