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Heating homes: What are the rules on fires and log burners in France?

As energy prices are set to rise in France, many people are considering alternatives such as wood and pellet burning stoves and fireplaces. Here is what you need to know:

Heating homes: What are the rules on fires and log burners in France?
Photo by STEPHANE DE SAKUTIN / AFP

Currently, only five percent of households in France use wood-based heating methods, but even that is a sharp increase on the previous year.

The French Federation of Fuels and Heating (FF3C) expects it will need to produce 2.4 million tonnes worth of wood this year, in contrast to the 1.8 million tonnes that were produced just two years ago during the winter of 2021-2022.

There has also been a similar increase in interest for installing wood-based heating methods – the FF3C saw sales of pellet stoves increase by 41 percent, and pellet boilers increase by 120 percent, between 2020 and 2021.

Noting a ‘rush on wood pellets before winter,’ the FF3C issued a statement warning consumers that there could be a possible “supply shortage of five to 15 percent.” This is in part due to the fact that The majority of wood pellets are produced in France, but the remaining 15 percent was primarily supplied by Russia and Belarus.

The price per bag of pellets has also increased – between spring 2022 and fall 2022, the price of a bag of pellets has risen from €6.5 to €8.

According to Propellet, an association of pellet-based heating workers, the market will “remain constrained” in the near future, even though the goal is to add new production lines and plants in order to double production capacity by 2028.  

Which type of fireplace is best for heating?

Open, or traditional fireplaces without glass exteriors, are typically less efficient. About 85 percent of the energy produced by burning a log goes out the chimney. 

Whereas in closed fireplaces and wood/pellet burning stoves, the air supply is controlled and combustion is done at a very high temperature. At least 85 percent of the energy produced from a log burning is recovered in these types of fireplaces. Some log-burners (the more expensive ones) can also be connected to the water-heating system.

Regarding pollution, open fireplaces generate more air pollution than closed, which emit less fine particles.

The French government is encouraging households to transition to closed fireplaces via grants, with the goal of reducing fine particle emissions by 50 percent by 2030. The Haut-Savoie département (in the French Alps) has prohibited the use of open fireplaces since January 1st, 2022. This is in effect for all 41 of its municipalities located in the Arve valley, which is known for having high pollution levels.

The construction of new open fireplaces was banned at the start of 2022.

What are the national rules for fireplaces or wood/pellet burning stove?

In general, across France, you can use your chimney or wood/pellet stove (poêle à bois in French) as long as it has been swept in compliance with local rules (set by our town hall or mairie) – this often means that the sweeping must be done at least once a year. Paris and the surrounding region has slightly different rules (see below).

Each département sets its own regulations regarding how often the chimney must be swept. In most cases, it is the occupant that must account for the chimney and flue sweeping, regardless of whether they are the owner or tenant. You will want to keep the certificate showing your chimney has indeed been swept – this will be important if you need to place any claims with your insurance company.

Additionally, if you live in an apartment or shared building your copropriété (the body that regulates public spaces in a building) must not have rules prohibiting chimney usage. 

City specific regulations for fireplaces can be made on a municipal level, though the Haut-Savoie département is currently the only one to have introduced an outright ban on open log-burning fireplaces. Technically, any locality that is required to institute a PPA (atmosphere protection plan) has the right to create a ban on the use of non-efficient wood heating.

Emissions

‘Closed’ chimneys (eg log-burners) must respect emission and performance standards for new or existing equipment.

For example – if the device is being used as a primary heating system, then it must not release more than 16 mg of dust per metre cubed. For new devices, they must have obtained a rating of 5 stars by the ‘Green Flame label’ to be used in a ‘sensitive zone’ (see below). You can find more information HERE.

Grants 

Some cities – such as Lyon and Grenoble – have introduced incentive programs for households to transition away from inefficient wood burners that contribute to particle pollution, particularly in urban areas. The “Prime Air Bois” offers up to €2,000 (depending on household resources) if you agree to replace your old appliance with a new one that has the “7-star green flame” label.

The French government hopes to replace 600,000 inefficient, open chimney appliances nationwide by 2025. Households across the country with open fireplaces can apply to for the MaPrimeRenov, a benefit that can be added to local aid to help pay for the purchase and installation of new, environmentally friendly devices. 

Rules on fuel types

France’s environment ministry recommends the use of high quality wood, particularly dry wood. As of September 1st, 2022, firewood sold was required to display a moisture label accompanied by the mention of whether the wood is ‘ready to use’ (dry) or must be dried before use.

Households are not permitted to burn soiled, painted, varnished wood (this might include old furniture, or wood recovered from building sites); waste, whether that be milk cartons, plastic packaging or magazines; toxic or corrosive substances; and worm-eaten wood (in reality, we’re unsure how this would be policed).

Paris and Île-de-France

Paris and the surrounding region of Île-de-France has slightly different rules. Paris did have a ban on wood-burning fireplaces up until 2015, for air quality reasons, this law was then overturned, so in most of Paris it is quite legal to light a fire or log-burner. However, it cannot be used as your primary heating system (no, we have no idea how they would check this either).

Paris and ‘sensitive zones’ in Île-de-France have some specific rules that apply to them differently than the rest of France. You can see a list of Île-de-France’s ‘sensitive zones’ under “Annexe 1” of this inter-locality plan for air quality protection.

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