Valérie Mancret-TaylorExecutive Director of ANAH
"To achieve the target of reducing these emissions by 75% by 2050, France’s building stock, particularly in the residential sector, will need to undergo a massive retrofit."
Home Retrofitting, a Social and Environmental Issue
In France, the building sector (homes, offices, etc.) accounts for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions and 44% of final energy consumption. To achieve the target of reducing these emissions by 75% by 2050, France’s building stock, particularly in the residential sector, will need to undergo a massive retrofit. In this article, Valérie Mancret-Taylor, Executive Director of French housing improvement agency ANAH1, discusses the dual challenge facing energy retrofitting – fighting climate change and alleviating social hardship.
Around 65% of all French dwellings (close to 35 million) were built before 1975, the year when thermal regulations were introduced. Prior to that, and especially between the late 50s and the mid-70s, building energy performance was very erratic. Today, roughly seven million homes are considered to be “leaky”.
The energy retrofit process concerns a wide variety of dwellings. First, it’s necessary to distinguish between individual housing (20 million units) and collective housing (15 million units). In a house, every facade is exposed, which isn’t true for a unit in an apartment building. The dwelling’s location – city center, suburbs, rural area, surrounding region – introduces other variables into the equation.
But a key determinant of the process is the homeowner’s social and economic conditions. Around one-third of the seven million “leaky dwellings” in the country are occupied by low or very low-income households which may, as a result, be living in fuel poverty. Either their home wasn’t well insulated when it was built, or it has deteriorated due to a lack of maintenance. In either case, the result is the same: the occupants often spend more than 10% of their income to heatIn the field of statistical thermodynamics today, heat refers to the transfer of the thermal agitation of the particles making up matter... their home, which is the threshold for defining fuelFuel is any solid, liquid or gaseous substance or material that can be combined with an oxidant... poverty. For these people, a retrofit could help lower their heating bill and increase their purchasing powerIn physics, power is the amount of energy supplied by a system per unit time. In simpler terms, power can be viewed as energy output..., but the decision to invest in an energy renovation project is a difficult one to make.
In collective private ownership, it can also happen that co-owners have difficulty agreeing to upgrade common areas, like the boiler room, for example. The condominiums (which are often financially distressed) may be inhabited by older people who are reluctant to vote for a refurbishment several years down the line or first-time buyers who are still struggling to pay their mortgage. In this situation, strong financial solutions and a lot of careful explaining will be necessary to convince the co-owners to approve an energy retrofit. There is also the case of private owners who lease their property at a low rent and don’t have enough money to make a capital investment.
Combating Fuel Poverty and Climate Change
ANAH offers advice, support and financial assistance to these different types of private homeowners, either directly or by subsidizing housing enhancement initiatives carried out by the local authorities. The agency is committed to other issues as well, not just fighting fuel poverty, even if it’s best known for its “Habiter Mieux” (Live Better) program. ANAH also addresses the problem of substandard housing and the need to adapt homes to make them safe and comfortable for the elderly and disabled.
But the fight against fuel poverty is all the more urgent, due to the fact that poorly insulated buildings are often equipped with inefficient heating systems that emit significant amounts of greenhouse gases. Helping a family overcome fuel poverty is as much a climate issue as it is a social one.
That’s why – for social and environmental reasons – homes built prior to 1975 need to be renovated. The “end of the month, end of the world, same struggle” slogan, which recently emerged during the street protests, rings true in the housing sector.
The number of private, low-energy efficiency homes occupied by low-income families is estimated at between 1.5 million to 2 million units. The government’s objective for ANAH is to implement 120,000 upgrade projects per year, including 75,000 energy retrofits. We’re getting close to the mark. In 2017, ANAH helped refurbish 81,000 dwellings, 52,000 of which were energy retrofits. In 2018, we carried out 94,000 upgrades, including 62,000 retrofits. When the agency launched its “Habiter Mieux” program in 2011, there were 6,600 beneficiaries; now there are ten times more. And since then, we have provided support to a total of 305,000 households. The snowball effect is definitely real, even if it’s hard to get it going. In the private housing sector, you’re not dealing with professionals like real estate developers or social housing associations, but with ordinary people. As a result, you need to spend time explaining things and helping them choose the refurbishing project that’s right for them, all within a regulatory framework that will remain stable over the long term.
Our program is part of the building energy upgrade plan launched by the government in 2017 for a period of five years. It concerns both public and private housing and offers additional incentives to homeowners to insulate their homes or replace their boiler. The plan calls for 380,000 private homes and 120,000 public housing units to be upgraded annually beginning in 2017.
Valérie Mancret-Taylor has been the Executive Director of French housing improvement agency ANAH since 2018. Created in 1971, the agency is a public institution placed under the authority of the Ministry of Territorial Cohesion and Relations with Local Authorities, the Ministry of Public Action and Accounts and the Ministry of Economy and Finance. Its mission is to fight social and territorial inequality by improving the existing stock of private homes. The agency’s “Habiter Mieux” program provides a suite of support measures organized under three labels: Serenity, Agility and Co-ownership.
(1) See the ANAH website (in French) – https://www.anah.fr/