PMR Renovations enthusiastically supports the use of environmentally friendly power sources, design and materials.
In order to respect tough European Union energy and climate standards, the French government is pushing ecological solutions with tax credits and (due in 2009) zero interest loans. By themselves, these incentives are doing much to make green technologies worthwhile, but when coupled with increasingly erratic fluctuations in the traditional energy markets (oil, natural gas, and electricity), environmentally friendly solutions are becoming ever more financially attractive.
Stone houses are renowned for the beauty of their traditional features, but can be notoriously damp and cold. By exploiting modern techniques to the full, we preserve the beauty while creating space, warmth, light and comfort. The simplest way to achieve this goal is to install efficient, durable heat pumps, coupled with under floor heating: with this system, heat is extracted from air, water or geothermal sources then pumped around the house. Although the use of radiators to distribute the heat is also a possibility, we have found – both in our own houses and clients’- that under floor heating generates a far more uniform and comfortable warmth. A further advantage is the possibility of reversing the flow and enjoying air conditioning during the hotter months. This and all other energy solutions discussed below are equally valid for renovations and new construction.
Lighting is another considerable issue. Historically expensive window taxes caused many residents to close up openings and resulted in dark, gloomy rooms. On the southern, western and eastern sides of houses, we recommend opening new windows and/or enlarging existing ones. The result is a lighter, airier living space (think of all those lovely sunrises and sunsets!), with considerably enhanced solar gains – we take the orientation into account and favour tall openings for their greater seasonal efficiency. Large window expanses require higher specifications of glass, but fortunately technology has progressed in leaps and bounds in recent years. Essentially, the key feature is that one can now have very high thermal insulation (keeping the heat in and thus saving on energy costs), without sacrificing sunlight and natural heating during the cooler months – or necessary shade in summer.
The most exposed part of the house is generally the attic space – useful for bedrooms and bathrooms – but which, depending on the season, is all too often unpleasantly hot or cold. PMRrenovations introduced the concept of extremely thick roof insulation (300mm, comparable to passive house standards) in a new built house in the early 2000s, and we have since systematically applied this principle to all of our house renovations. Living comfort is greatly enhanced while heating and cooling bills are slashed. Wall insulation can be a greater issue in old buildings, because of the risk of losing the traditional features –sinks, cupboards and of course the stone itself. We like to compromise by installing high quality insulation on the weather walls (north and west in our area of France), thus keeping the house warm without affecting its character. Finally, installing green insulation materials, such as hemp, lambs wool, cork or cellulose lowers the carbon footprint even further and could well avert respiratory or other health issue.
A healthy mix of these technologies results in a beautifully traditional, yet modern and efficient home. Although we were previously intrigued by the prospect of building or renovating up to the full passive housing standards, we finally decided that the possibility of totally foregoing all heating installations just couldn’t compensate for the more enclosed lifestyle (no open windows, reduced apparent ventilation) that a passive house implies. Instead, we chose to exploit the advantages of environmentally friendly features to the full, but adapt them to the more outward looking lifestyle that France offers. Heat pumps and under floor heating, for example, allow to you keep your windows wide open throughout the day and absorb all the scents and sounds from the garden area (which we integrate into the house plans from the outset), without having to worry about warming the house up again at nightfall…