The end of gas heating in France is close: biological materials gaining the upper hand

The French Ministry for the Ecological Transition has shaken up the housing construction and heating system sectors by announcing the phasing out of gas heating in single family dwellings in France from 2021. This significant move was published on 25 November in the 2020 environmental regulation (RE2020), which aims to progressively end gas heating in French homes.

Towards the gradual phasing out of “non-green gas”

The main notice in RE2020 is the inclusion of a maximum limit for greenhouse gas emissions over the total useful life of buildings. Accordingly, the maximum carbon emissions threshold for single family dwellings will be 4 kg CO2 / m2 / year, from the date RE2020 comes into force in the summer of 2021. In practice, the regulation means that carbon-only systems will be phased out. Shared or multi-family residences will see a slower and more gradual transition, although the target will be the same: progressive elimination of non-green gas from 2021 to 2024. In this case, the initial limit will be set at 14 kg CO2 / m2 / year, with the possibility of installing gas heating provided that the home is highly energy efficient. Subsequently, the level will be tightened to 6 kg CO2 / m2 / year, which will have the same effect as in single family dwellings: a ban on carbon-only gas heating, although hybrid systems will occasionally be permitted.

In addition to the limit on carbon emissions from energy sources, a threshold will also be set for construction, which will take into account the CO2 impact of products and materials, although the exact levels have not yet been made public. In any case, the French Ministry for the Ecological Transition states that 2021 to 2024 will be considered a learning period, in which significant CO2 reductions on current building practices will not be compulsory.

The limit will grow tighter over time, as 2024 will mark a 15% reduction in emissions compared to current levels, which will reach 25% in 2027. Finally, in 2030 the upper threshold for kg CO2 / m2 will be between 30% and 40% lower than the current baseline.


Alternative systems using renewable and non-fossil energy part the solution

The provisions of RE2020 specify the installation of new heating and building systems, first in single family dwellings and then in all other homes. In the former, chimneys and other systems using wood and biological sources, such as biomass, will be increasingly essential, becoming the standard system from 2040 onwards.

For shared residences, systems such as aerothermal heating or heat pumps may start to play a bigger role and will become indispensable in just a few years.


Promoting French-origin wood for use in construction

As using wood and biological sources will be increasingly important, the French government plans to launch a programme of specific measures aimed at promoting French-origin wood as fuel for heating systems and, due to its environmental qualities and high efficiency as thermal insulation, also as a basic material in home building.

It is forecast that the roll-out will be quicker in single family dwellings, in which building with wood is already quite common and competitive. On the other hand, implementation will be slower and more gradual in shared housing as there will be a need to create a series of regulations and new construction techniques. In conclusion, the expectation is that by 2030 wood and other natural materials will be the standard building materials for single family dwellings and will also gradually become the norm in multi-family residences. Nevertheless, non-natural materials may still retain a certain share of the market, provided that they focus on innovation to reduce the carbon footprint of their manufacturing.

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