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Living on the water: new floating and ecological habitats


If it is possible (but increasingly complicated and expensive) to move directly onto a boat, in recent years the concept of habitats on the water has been developing, real fully equipped and ecological houses. They can be fixed by being built on stilts, or floating, following the rhythm of the water and movable.

A little history of the prowess of construction on the water

If “eco-homes” on the water are a good example of the trend for sustainable development, living on the water is not strictly speaking a novelty. Since the Bronze Age in Europe (3 rd millennium BC), man has lived by or on the water, with many lake towns still visible, particularly in Switzerland, France, Italy and Austria. Several of the most beautiful cities in the world have been partly or totally built on water, starting with Venice, built on wooden stilts four meters long, and which continues to sink slowly into its lagoon.

Let us also mention the sublime Saint Petersburg, the Venice of the north built on the waters of the Neva, Hamburg in Germany, Stockholm in Sweden, or even Bangkok in Thailand. In the Netherlands, building on water is part of a vital issue, with two-thirds of the country lying below sea level and likely to be submerged. In 1998, Amsterdam thus embarked on the construction of four small artificial islands, forming a floating “eco-district” called Ijburg, and comprising around a hundred houses.

More sophisticated and safer than construction on stilts, the flotation principle allows the habitat to follow the water level, and to avoid submersion. The most spectacular example in history is the Mulberry man-made harbor , built by the Allies during WWII in early 1944. It is a pharaonic project intended to support the Normandy landings, by providing a artificial harbor capable of following the rhythm of the tides.

Assembled in the days following the landing of June 6, 1944, the Mulberry ports had a total of 212 gigantic floating concrete caissons, 15 kilometers of causeways and 23 docks. These installations made it possible to effectively support the troops landed during the first weeks of the Battle of Normandy, before being able to seize natural ports like Cherbourg.

Floating “eco-homes” or on stilts

Whether they are built on stilts or on floats, the houses on the water meet the same imperative: lightness. Suffice to say that wood is used as a raw material, being six times lighter than concrete. Aluminum is also one of the preferred materials, light and modular. And that's good, these two elements constitute “eco-materials” for sustainable development, renowned for their very low environmental impact. Houses on the water are therefore often de facto ecological. However, the use of less clean materials may sometimes be necessary. In the case of houses on piles that are too heavy or on floors that are too unstable, concrete piers may be necessary. Likewise, the floats are made of resistant and aquaphobic plastics, such as polyethylene.

Life on a barge, an increasingly expensive dream

To live on the water, another solution consists in going a priori to the simplest: fitting out a boat. For many city dwellers, the prospect of becoming a “penichard” (the proud owner of a barge) constitutes a dream that is no longer marginal, with thousands of people taking the plunge in large cities for several years. The original living environment is certainly something to rejoice, with the therapeutic calm of the water and the light lapping of rivers and streams, all in a “normal” urban setting.

Alas, the dream comes at a price, which gets worse over the years. Unless you're a millionaire and afford a barge already fully equipped, you have to start from scratch, that is to say, buy an empty hull - all the same 50,000 to 100,000 euros. Then it's like a house: you have to install everything. Rooms, kitchens, bathrooms, electricity, water, heating… The hundreds of thousands of euros can be linked very quickly.

Once the barge is finished, the hardest part remains: finding a location. Because faced with the enormous increase in demand, places are expensive, or even no longer exist. Since the 2000s, the municipalities have been free to manage the sites, often considering with a skeptical eye these large cumbersome boats. And even a place obtained, you still have to pay the rental which can reach the price of rent (600 euros), housing tax and even property taxes if the boat does not move!
To unnecessarily complicate matters, the "penichards" must return to land once every ten years and put their boat on hold to have it checked (5,000 euros). A simple maintenance worsens the bill by several hundred euros, not to mention possible serious repairs (20 to 40,000 euros). Finally, these types of habitats attract malicious curiosity, and are not the easiest to protect, without mentioning natural risks. Result: the price of insurance for a barge is two to three higher than a "classic" habitat. Freedom on the water at a price.

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