France to bring in new environmental rules on log burners and open fires

Snuggling up in front of the fire or log burner with a glass of wine is one of the highlights of countryside living for many, but a proposed new environmental law aim to change their use in France. Here's what is happening.

France to bring in new environmental rules on log burners and open fires
Photo by Matt Seymour on Unsplash

There are already some rules in place on this, including localised bans on particular types of burner, but now Environment Minister Barbara Pompili has published a draft plan to reduce the emissions from domestic wood burning by 50 percent.

The fine particle emissions produced by open fires, log burners and wood-fired heating systems, known at PM 2.5 are harmful to humans and can be carcinogenic.

The ministry said that domestic wood burners are the largest single cause of fine particle emissions, responsible for 43 percent of PM 2.5 emissions and 50 percent of the finer particle PM 1.0 emissions.

The goal is twofold – reduce the number of domestic wood burners in use and ensure that those that are used perform more efficiently, produce fewer emissions and use cleaner fuel.

The recently-adopted climate law includes a target to reduce by half fine particles emissions in the most polluted areas and the protocol on wood burners is a key part of this.

Here’s what it says:

Grants – there are already a variety of grants available in France to make your home more energy efficient and these now include help with the costs of switching from wood burners to a cleaner method of heating. Find out how to access the grants HERE. The target is that 600,000 appliances will have been replaced by 2025.

Energy ratings – the age and energy efficiency of all wood-burning appliances will be included in the energy efficiency rating that tenants and house-buyers get.

Labelling – the energy efficiency and cleanliness rating of wood burners will be improved so that people buying are aware of the risks. This is via the existing Label flamme vert (green flame labelling) scheme. 

But for those who continue to use wood-burners, the ministry wants to ensure that the fuel they are using is as clean and energy-efficient as possible.

Wood sold for burners will soon be required to carry labelling certifying its quality and low water content (so that it will burn efficiently) and whether it came from a sustainably managed forest.

The ministry also wants to increase the ‘formal log market’ ‘ie fuel and kindling sold in shops or from fuel businesses as opposed to gathered or sold or bartered informally, from 20 percent to 40 percent of the market.

So if you already have a fire or a log burner is there a risk of being ordered to tear it out? No, says the minister. In the press release announcing her policy, she says: “The action plan we are proposing aims to work for the climate cause by promoting more efficient wood heating while improving air quality, without opposing them altogether.”

However, some local authorities have put in some stringent measures, such as this Alpine valley that has banned the use of open fireplaces altogether, so if you are doing renovation work check with the préfecture if there are local measures in place concerning wood burners.

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EXPLAINED: How to find a lawyer in France

The French legal system can be complicated, so in many circumstances it's better to have a lawyer on board. Luckily, there are a lot of qualified, English-speaking lawyers in France - here's how to find them.

EXPLAINED: How to find a lawyer in France

First steps

First, you need to know exactly what it is you are looking to address – is it an immigration issue? Property-related? Are you caught up in the criminal system?

This will help you to determine the type of expert that you need.

If your concern deals with property or a will, you probably want a notaire rather than an avocat (explained below).

All lawyers in France must have at least a CAPA (Certificat d’Aptitude à la Profession d’Avocat) master’s degree in law. After working for four years, French lawyers are able to work toward a specialisation.

Next, you need to decide whether you are confident enough in your French to seek out legal advice in French, or if you will need a fully bilingual lawyer. Don’t worry – there are plenty of lawyers in France who speak English, but unsurprisingly it will be easier to find a lawyer in French. 

Where should I look?

A good resource available to you is your Embassy and its website, as well as the websites for other English-speaking countries’ embassies. For example, the British, American, and Australian embassies all have extensive lists of recommended English-speaking lawyers in France (by region and speciality). 

Other online resources include the website “AngloInfo,” along with Facebook groups moderated by lawyers and notaires (ex. Strictly Legal France). 

If you are confident enough to go through the French system in French, then you can search directly through your local barreau (bar) via their online annuaire (directory). 

One thing to keep in mind, according to Maître Matthieu Chirez, a criminal attorney at J.P. Karsenty & Associés law firm, which is one of the British Embassy’s recommended law firms, is that foreigners ought to be vigilant when using the internet to find a lawyer.

“The lawyers who are most visible on the internet are not always the best,” said Chirez. “It is always best to go through your embassy first.” 

What criteria should I prioritise?

It is worth considering your lawyer’s level of expertise: How many cases similar to yours have they handled? How long have they been practising law? Do they come recommended? By going through your Embassy’s resources, you can have more peace of mind that the lawyer you would be working with fits these criteria. 

You should also prioritise your own rapport with the lawyer. If possible, try to schedule a preliminary meeting or consultation (before doing so, be sure to check to see whether this will be charged or not). This will help you also determine whether the lawyer has a satisfactory level of English for your needs.

What is the difference between a notaire and an avocat?

A notaire’s role is to secure and make official concerns related to a “sale, purchase, or transmission” or a property, as explained Chirez.

A notaire cannot represent you in court, but they will be necessary for making official matters related to succession, like writing your Will, for instance, and officially registering the sale of a property. A property sale in France cannot be legally completed without the involvement of a notaire.

It is important to note that a notaire is a representative of the French state, so having a personal lawyer looking out for your individual best interest during a sale or purchase might still be advisable.

And yes, avocat means both lawyer and avocado in French.

READ MORE: The reasons why you’ll need a notaire in France

What about payment?

In France, it is the lawyer who sets his or her own fees – meaning it is not regulated by the State.

Average rates will depend on the ‘complexity of your case’ and the specialisation of your lawyer, but the average hourly rate for 2022 is between €100 and €300.

Criminal lawyers often charge more for drink-driving cases.

You can pay a lawyer either based on their hourly rate or by a flat-rate (usually reserved for simple procedures). When you find a lawyer, you will have to sign an agreement that outlines their fees, as well as various additional costs that might be incurred.

If you cannot afford to pay your lawyer, you might be able to qualify for legal aid (though for this you must demonstrate a sufficiently low income/ wealth status). The rate of legal aid is calculated based off your earnings, and you can use the online calculator to see how much you would benefit HERE.

READ ALSO How do I find professional help with my French taxes?

Otherwise, you can check to see whether any “permenance juridiques” (legal clinics) will be held near you.

These tend to be free days where you can seek out legal support (though it is worth verifying it is indeed gratuite before going). For finding legal aid in France, you can use this government website, which is also available in English.