21 Feb 2023, 13:22
Carolina Kyllmann

German building policy should focus on renovations to meet housing shortage sustainably – report

Clean Energy Wire

In its efforts to alleviate Germany's housing shortage, the government should focus on building renovations to maximise avoided emissions and prevent an unnecessarily high consumption of raw materials, the Sustainable Building Commission of the country's Federal Environment Agency (UBA) said in a report. “New housing created in existing buildings saves raw materials and protects the open landscape from further urban sprawl,” UBA president Dirk Messner said while presenting the proposals alongside buildings minister Klara Geywitz (SPD) and environment minister Steffi Lemke (Green Party). If existing buildings are renovated and repurposed, this can save energy, waste, greenhouse gases and resources, and reduce land use, Lemke agreed. “Given the huge demand for resources in construction, we need to think about housing creation, resource conservation and climate adaptation together,” she said, calling for setting “demanding standards” for new and used building materials.

The report explored how to create more affordable housing without causing unnecessary harm to the environment. The authors urged the anchoring of sustainability criteria in the model building code (Musterbauordnung) and in various state building regulations, as well as giving priority to the protection of existing buildings over new construction. Moreover, ecological building materials should also be promoted and the minimum distances for photovoltaic (PV) systems on roofs reduced. Legal foundations in state building regulations should be expanded to include mandatory standards for precautionary measures against hazards to health and the environment, the authors said.

The government is working on a municipal heat planning act and an amendment to the building code to address the demands of the report. Additionally, an ‘ambitious’ Energy Efficiency Act is expected for mid-March. “We need to move away from focusing on primary energy consumption and towards a life-cycle approach that takes into account the entire greenhouse gas balance in new and existing buildings,” Geywitz said. The German building sector has failed to meet its emission reduction targets in 2021, and also likely in 2022, as houses could be better insulated, and as gas and oil heating systems continue to dominate market. While the majority of households are in favour of energy-efficiency renovations, inflation and a shortage of workers stand in the way. “To forego climate standards when building today – whether it is a renovation, an extension or a new building – is unprofitable even in the short term and will harm future generations,” Geywitz said. Germany aims to reach climate neutrality in its building sector by 2045.

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