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PROPERTY

Italy’s ‘superbonus’ renovations delayed by builder shortages and bureaucracy

The popularity of Italy's so-called 'superbonus' and the complexity of accessing it has led to setbacks in renovation timescales, leaving some property owners worried about whether they'll actually complete their building jobs in time.

 People at a building site in Catania, Italy.
Complex bureaucracy has meant a long wait for many to start their renovation projects.  Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

For months now, people planning to renovate their property using the government’s financial incentives have faced delays.

Bureaucratic procedures and difficulties with authorising work were noted as early as March – and it’s a backlog that keeps building up, with some reporting they’ve abandoned their plans altogether by this point.

Italy introduced the ‘superbonus 110‘ to restart a sluggish economy following the impacts of the pandemic, offering homeowners a tax deduction of up to 110% on expenses related to making energy upgrades and reducing seismic risk.

READ ALSO: From renovating property to buying a new car: 28 tax ‘bonuses’ you can claim from the Italian government

Interest in the scheme has been so high that the government has confirmed it intends to extend the bonus beyond 2022, following surging demand for construction companies.

Economy Minister Daniele Franco put the plans in writing in the Italian government’s latest Economic and Financial Document (DEF) update, which sets economic targets for the future.

“The planned path for the three-year period 2022-2024 will make it possible to cover the needs for unchanged policies and the renewal of several measures of economic and social importance,” he wrote.

Economy Deputy Minister Laura Castelli of the Five Star Movement (M5S) told reporters, “The confirmation of the extension of the 110% Superbonus to 2023 is excellent news. It is a measure that works very well, as well as being one of the main pillars of the ecological transition, which is helping the economy to restart.”

Builders carry out renovations.
Italy’s ‘superbonus’ funds are available, but the scheme’s popularity is causing delays. Photo: Annie Gray on Unsplash

The ‘superbonus’ extension has still not been funded

It’s not all plain sailing for those planning on making renovations just yet.

Despite Italian media reporting that there’s no doubt the bonus will be extended, it’s yet to be included in the next Budget Law (Legge di Bilancio), meaning it can’t completely be taken for granted.

The Budget Law outlines the government’s plans for healthcare, support for businesses and families, and investments in the work sector for the following year.

The government didn’t release the law for 2021 until 31st December 2020, which means those hoping for concrete news about the extended ‘superbonus’ will likely be waiting until the last moment of this year too.

There is a chance that it could be made available more immediately, using the funds in Italy’s National Recovery Plan (Il Piano Nazionale di Ripresa e Resilienza – PNRR), but nothing has been announced so far.

An extension of the bonus is desperately needed by those who have been stuck waiting for their building projects to get off the ground, after months of standstill and as current deadlines to access the funds grow closer.

READ ALSO:

A quarterly report by market research firm Nomisma found that, one year on from the launch of the ‘superbonus’, there have been “obstacles in the path meaning that the number of [renovation] projects increased but not at the expected speed, and there is resignation and discouragement on the part of Italian families.”

As things stand, the deadlines for those hoping to claim the ‘superbonus’ vary depending on the type of building on which the work is being carried out

  1. Single-family buildings: deadline June 30th, 2022
  2. Multi-family buildings with 2 to 4 units: December 31st, 2022
  3. Condominiums: December 31st, 2022
  4. Social housing: December 31st, 2023

For single-family buildings, there is a bit of wiggle room in these timescales, as there is an extension to December 2022 if 60% of the works have been completed by the end of June deadline.

However, many building businesses are unable to start new projects until at least early 2022 as a result of the current demand for carrying out restoration works.

No construction companies available

Luca Gheduzzi, from the Bologna province in Emilia Romagna, wanted to take advantage of the bonus to update his home, but unfortunately, he said he’s put his ideas on hold.

His geometra (civil surveyor) informed him that too many companies don’t have the time to take on new clients, as they haven’t even started on the projects that should have begun months ago.

He claimed that he also “had to be careful” as he learned that many companies don’t have their paperwork in order, which further added to the delays.

Deborah Sacchetti from the same area has bought a house to move into with her husband and son, a property they bought intending to use the bonus to renovate.

She noted that they are behind schedule as they can’t find any companies available to begin works. The only one they managed to find quoted a price that was much too high for their budget – because most people can’t access the full amount of bonus stated too.

READ ALSO: How you could claim Italy’s building bonus multiple times for the same property

A property undergoing renovation works.
Some property owners are making back-up plans in case they cant access the bonuses in time. Photo; Brett Jordan on Unsplash

When asked what they’ll do if they don’t start works in time, she said, “We absolutely have to sell our current house and move by December 2022 because otherwise we would have to pay a duty called registration tax (imposta da registro), which is very high.”

If they can’t pull it off, she said they’d have to sell both their houses and buy a new one, but that is “the worst case scenario”.

Covid, material shortages and demand for builders add to delays

Enrico Fabbri, an Italian citizen, is now over one year into his building project. Along with his wife, they bought an older property last September, planning to use the ‘superbonus’ to carry out renovations.

They contacted their geometra in September and he was already so busy that he wasn’t available to consider their project until January 2021.

They were told that works would begin in April or May, but from there, Enrico said “the buck was passed” from the termotecnico (thermal technician) to the ingegnere strutturale (structural engineer).

READ ALSO:

“And that’s when the problems started,” he told us.

“Everything got delayed further and further. Many people want this economic help, which has added to the wait. Response times have become slower and slower. Perhaps a tecnico would normally take a month to respond – now it’s three to four months before you get an answer,” he added.

A wooden shutter on a yellow house in Italy.
The price of raw materials has also shot up, adding further pressure to renovation projects. Photo: Alissa De Leva on Unsplash

Covid has also played a part in the delays, with the problem of contagion creating another cause of stoppage.

“Our engineer got unlucky, as he caught Covid. So that meant further lags in the process while he was getting back on his feet and back to work,” Enrico continued.

Just like Deborah found, Enrico quickly discovered that there weren’t enough construction companies available to complete all these building projects, as they are “snowed under”.

He said that out of four firms that he called, only two got back to him, which was “unprofessional behaviour”.

The two that did respond took two months to reply with a quote, one disappeared after that and didn’t pick up the phone, leaving just one company that they had to go with.

“That’s the main objective by this point – find a company that has the time to do the building work,” he said.

Another stumbling block is the boom in material prices, another consequence of the popularity of the bonus.

“Material prices have risen, which has altered our budget because everything costs more than we were initially told,” Enrico said.

Shortages of raw materials such as wood and insulation have been reported by Italy’s manufacturing industry, noting price hikes of as much as 200%.

READ ALSO: Why we decided to build our new house in Italy out of wood

That means some original quotes might be way off when building work actually gets underway, causing some to simply not be able to afford the renovations anymore.

As for bureaucracy, Enrico said that their geometra has shielded them from most of the red tape, as the surveyor was the one who submitted plans to the comune (Town Hall) and communicated with the parties involved in getting the project off the ground.

Finally, by the end of September, works were due to begin. The construction firm arrived with the scaffolding and all was set to finally take off, with plenty of time before the bonus is presently due to run out.

When asked how the first stage of restoration is going at last, he said, “They’re nowhere to be seen. The scaffolding is up, but there are no builders and nothing has happened yet.”

See more in The Local’s Italian property section.

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ENERGY

What are the rules on using wood-burning stoves in Italy?

Sales of wood burners have increased since the start of the energy crisis, but some Italian regions have rules regulating their use.

What are the rules on using wood-burning stoves in Italy?

As the European energy crisis shows no sign of abating and Italian gas bills are once again expected to climb in the coming weeks, many families across the boot are considering switching to alternative (and more affordable) heating systems to keep their houses warm over the winter.

For some, the best option might be using a wood-burning stove, a heating system which seems to have undergone somewhat of a resurgence since the start of the energy crisis. 

READ ALSO: Electricity bills in Italy to rise by 59 percent, says energy regulator

According to energy group AIEL (Italian Association for Forestry Energy, or Associazione Italiana Energie Agroforestali), sales of wood- or pellet-burning stoves in the first five months of 2022 registered an impressive +28 percent against the same period of time last year. 

But those who are looking to turn to wood burners to keep warm over winter should be mindful of regional rules regulating the use of stoves and fireplaces. 

In fact, as many as five Italian regions – Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont, Emilia-Romagna and Tuscany – currently have laws banning residents from using low-efficiency wood burners, with fines up to €5000 for those flouting the rules. 

What’s the point of these rules?

Regional laws banning the use of low-performance wood burners were introduced well before the current energy crisis to reduce CO2 (carbon dioxide) and PM (particulate matter) emissions across the country.

Fireplace with burning fire.

Bans on low-efficiency wood burners were introduced long before the European energy crisis to reduce CO2 and PM (particulate matter) emissions across the country. Photo by Stephane DE SAKUTIN / AFP

All relevant rulings on the subject use the national ‘five-star’ energy rating as their system of reference.

Briefly, in 2017, the Italian government established five different energy classes for wood-burning heating systems and allocated a set number of ‘stars’ to each category. The lower the number of stars, the greater the ecological impact (i.e. the amount of pollutants released into the atmosphere) of the wood burner in question, with ratings going from a minimum of one star to a maximum of five stars.

For a full breakdown of the five energy classes recognised by the Italian government and to know what types of stoves and fireplaces belong in each category, please consult this extract from the 2017 Gazzetta Ufficiale (the official government gazette).

What rules are in place and where?

Laws on wood burners vary from region to region, so here’s a brief overview of the rules enforced by each of the five above-mentioned regions.

Lombardy – As of January 1st, 2020, all Lombardy residents are banned from using wood stoves or fireplaces with an energy rating lower than four stars. 

Fines for those breaking the rules range from €500 to €5000.

Furthermore, only pellets of the A1 type (i.e. with residual ash lower than 0.7 percent) can be used for pellet-burning stoves with a maximum heat output (potenza termica nominale) lower than 35 kW (kilowatt). 

Wood pellets at a plant belonging to Graanul Invest, Europe’s biggest wood pellet producer.

In Lombardy, only pellets of the A1 type can be used for pellet-burning stoves with a maximum heat output lower than 35 kW. Photo by Ivo PANASYUK / AFP

Veneto – Veneto forbids the use of wood stoves or fireplaces with an energy rating lower than three stars. 

Also, people looking to install a new wood burner must ensure that the stove or fireplace in question has an energy rating of at least four stars. 

Piedmont – As of October 1st, 2019, Piedmont residents are banned from using wood-burning heating systems with a maximum heat output (potenza termica nominale) lower than 35 kW and an energy rating lower than three stars. 

Also, residents can only install new wood burners with a maximum heat output of 35 kW or more and an energy rating of at least four stars.

For additional details on the rules currently enforced in Piedmont, refer to the following website.

Emilia-Romagna – Things get slightly more complicated in Emilia-Romagna, where residents are banned from using wood stoves or fireplaces with an energy rating lower than three stars if their homes have an alternative heating system and they live in municipalities (comuni) whose elevation is less than 300 metres above sea level.

Emilia-Romagna also currently offers financial incentives for those who reside in one of the following comuni and choose to replace their old stoves or fireplaces with latest-generation heating systems with a five-star energy rating.

A retired farmer lights his wood stove.

Emilia-Romagna currently offers financial incentives for those who choose to replace their old stoves or fireplaces with new wood burners with a five-star energy rating. Photo by Jean-Francois MONIER / AFP

For further information about the rules currently in place in Emilia-Romagna, please consult energy regulator ARPAE’s website.

Tuscany – In Tuscany, rules on the use of wood burners are tethered to the individual PM10 (particulate matter less than 10 micrometres in diameter) emissions of each comune

That means that, in municipalities that have exceeded the permitted amount of daily PM10 emissions, residents are banned from using stoves or fireplaces with an energy rating lower than three stars, unless wood burners are their only available source of heating or they live in comuni with an elevation of 200 metres above sea level or more.

At the present time, the above ban only applies to the municipalities located in the so-called ‘Piana Lucchese’.

For further details, please see the following regional decree.

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