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Going Green….. Is it worth it ??

 

Like many homeowners the idea of introducing green technology to meet energy and heating needs is one that we have always wanted to pursue but until two years ago were never in a position to do so. We now rely on a solar panel for boosting all our hot water and have a "pompe à chaleur " air/water system (I’ll try and explain later!) for our central heating . More importantly with a year’s worth of electricity bills we can now see our total annual consumption and begin some rough calculations showing that the initial outlay should pay off within approximately 15 years.

Of course when doing the sums there are a number of variables to take into account so let’s put our project into context before I try and wow you with the figures. Previously we lived in a typical French country house of 165 m2 with an electric ballon d’eau for hot water and oil-fired central heating, frequently supplemented with a log burning stove. Being just 2 adults we felt, like many Brits who moved over at the time, that we did not need so much space and heating rooms that were rarely used by us in winter was a waste of money and energy. We wanted to downsize but invest the profit in making our future home more environmentally friendly without having to compromise on warmth and obviously benefit from lower heating costs.

The property we found was a renovation project and in total would give us 120m2 of habitable space. We visited a homes improvement exhibition in Poiters and learnt about the grants and tax relief (credit d ‘impots) available from the French government providing your house is your main residence and the installation is done by a French registered artisan or company. After several quotes we chose the company that basically was the most efficient at getting back to us and providing us with the clearest information.

The solar panel requires a south-east, south or south-west facing roof to work at its optimum level. A declaration des travaux is required from your Mairie but the forms and scale drawings we did ourselves - which basically means you’d have to live at the Vallée des Singes (our local monkey park) not be able to give it a go yourself! The water you use is not itself circulated in the panel but another liquid which is like a coolant and heats to a maximum of 70° centigrade. This is what heats the water in your water tank. Water direct from the panel would just be too hot in summer. The tank does have an electric element that kicks in on cloudy or cool days.

The pompe à chaleur or heat pump works like a fridge in reverse. It draws in air via an outside fan and the heating element compresses it which creates heat that is then used to heat the water that circulates around a conventional radiator system except we went for under floor heating downstairs( I said we weren’t going to compromise on warmth !). Other possible systems involve geothermic heat source using the ambient temperature from the earth to aid the heating process. If you are looking for tax relief be careful to avoid systems that can also operate in summer as air conditioning systems as they will not entitle you to a rebate. The heat contraption looks like a wall mounted gas boiler and contains the pump which is slightly noisy so be mindful where you site it and not next to the downstairs bedroom like we did!

That’s the technical part - what about the costs? In our previous house we paid 480 euros per year for all electricity, 500 euros for oil and probably another 100 euros for wood giving a total of 1080 euros. Our annual electricity bill from September 2006 to September 2007 came to 472 euros, of which 105 euros is actually the abonnement or standing charge as the systems require a 9 kvA. Our electricity bill is therefore practically the same as at our old house but includes a winter’s central heating costs. In addition I do not have to worry about the cost of electricity spiralling upwards as I did with an oil fed system.

The cost of installation was by no means cheap and my partner being a plumber means that a lot of the pipe work he could do himself. The solar panel cost us 5 500 euros of which we received a grant of 800 euros and 2 200 as a credit d’impot giving an actual cost of 2 000 euros. The pompe à chaleur with under floor heating pipes cost 13 000 euros but did not include all the pipe work to radiators upstairs and other finishing off. I would estimate another 1500 euros for this. We received 4 000 euros credit d’impot for this so in real terms the installation cost us 10500 euros.

Our escapade into energy efficient systems has totalled 12 500 euros and whilst heating a smaller home we are making annual savings at present of 508 euros per year. If we had stuck to conventional energy sources for the renovation project we would have had to spend a minimum of 4000 euros for a hot water and central heating system. I therefore estimate that we invested 7 500 euros over and above a conventional system to make a saving of 508 euros which will pay for itself in just under 15 years. Seems like a long time, I know,and in truth we only contemplated this venture as part of a renovation project. There are no clear figures for the value such investment can put on a house but I would certainly be willing to pay more for a house with such technology installed.

We may all like to think that the drive for going green is about reducing the effects of burning fossil fuels and making the planet cleaner and greener. More often it is about the search for cheaper options in a world where fuel prices and producers appear to hold the rest of us to ransom. France offers good incentives compared to other European countries to go green and hopefully production costs will decrease as demand goes up. Whether you choose to go green for ethical or financial reasons neither will give you short term returns. Is it worth it? In the long term, of course. See it like planting a tree; you might not be around to see it in its full glory but someone in the future will look at and be glad you did.

Don’t hesitate to contact me at Papillon Properties if you wish more information on the above.

 


Kate Ryle,
October 2007

 
   

 

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