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Germany's Energy Certificate

March 04, 2011
March/April 2011
This article originally appeared in the March/April 2011 issue of Home Energy Magazine.
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As energy prices rise, energy-efficient buildings are becoming ever more attractive. And Germany, spurred by a European Union directive, has taken a major step toward ensuring that its citizens know what they are getting, energy-wise, when they buy or lease real estate. The Energy Performance Certificate (Energieausweis) objectively documents a building’s energy performance and provides specific hints for improvement.

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The law now requires that an Energy Performance Certificate be available for a property if a potential buyer or tenant requests one. Owners who fail to provide a certificate when asked are subject to a fine of up to 15,000 euros (about $20,000). Prospective buyers or tenants should like the idea, because it makes the real estate transaction more transparent. However, the German Energy Agency (known as dena) complains that the certificate “is still not well known or widely accepted.”

The agency, which functions much like RESNET, has launched a major publicity campaign to correct the situation. Heat and hot water account for more than 75% of the average household’s energy consumption, so if the property scores badly in this respect, prospects should be able to change their minds and go elsewhere. If they did so, the certificate would motivate owners to upgrade the energy efficiency of their property.

That can, of course, be expensive—which is one reason that owners and real estate agents are less happy about the certificate. The German Tenants Association complains that owners, despite the law, too often fail to provide the certificate if the prospect doesn’t request it, or doesn’t know about it.

There are two types of certificate: a Demand Certificate (Bedarfsausweis), issued after an expert examines the property, and a Usage Certificate (Verbrauchsausweis), based solely on the fuel bills. The Tenants Association charges that owners greatly prefer the cheaper Usage Certificate. All an inspector has to do with that one is examine the property’s fuel bills for the past three years. He doesn’t even have to visit the site. A recent survey conducted by the association found that the average charge for a Usage Certificate is 83 euros (about $115). The association complains that it’s difficult to calculate heating costs on the basis of the Usage Certificate. Perhaps the previous occupants liked to keep the property cool, or perhaps they went south for the winter.

With a Demand Certificate, a certified expert must examine the property, looking into such aspects of energy efficiency as the walls, roof, windows, and furnace. The dena agency maintains a list of architects, engineers, and other experts, and requires that one of them be used for the inspection. The survey found that they charged an average of 352 euros (about $480). After the inspection is complete, there is usually a blower door test. A calibrated fan measures the airflow rate, and a pressure-sensing device calculates the air pressure created by the fan flow. This determines how airtight the building is, and identifies energy-wasting leaks.

The certificate is easy to read, even for a layman. A color scale rates the energy efficiency of the building from green, on the left end, meaning very good, through yellow to orange to red, on the right end, meaning very poor. On the Usage Certificate, an arrow along this scale shows the kWh of energy needed to heat 1 square meter of the property; 50 or fewer is good, 400 or more is poor. On the Demand Certificate, there are two arrows along the scale. The upper one is the same as the one on the Usage Certificate; it rates heating energy only. The lower one rates the overall energy efficiency of the property, considering such things as heating oil, gas, electricity, and renewable energy.

The Demand Certificate also contains suggestions for improving the property. Here’s how this section of the Demand Certificate might read for a specific building:

  1. Windows. Modernize single-glazed windows on the ground floor.
  2. Ceilings. Insulate basement ceilings.
  3. Heating. Replace heating system, install new wood pellet boiler, provide space to store pellets.
  4. Hot water. Install solar heating for domestic water.
  5. Exterior walls. Insulate uninsulated north and east facades.
  6. Roof. Install insulation between and under rafters.
  7. Ventilation. Install residential ventilation system with heat recovery.

The law doesn’t require the owner to make these improvements, or to adjust the rent or sales price on the basis of them. But now that owners must present the certificate, they know that a poor score may make the property hard to sell or rent. There is another incentive, too, if owners choose to go ahead with the improvements. They can get state-supported low-interest loans and other assistance.

New buildings have required a Demand Certificate since 2002, as have buildings that have been extensively renovated. Most other older buildings have required one of the two certificates since 2008. Buildings with four or fewer apartments require a Demand Certificate. Buildings with five or more apartments can get by with a Usage Certificate if they were built after 1977, when stricter building codes were enacted. Buildings built before 1977 require a Demand Certificate.

A survey conducted in mid-2009 found that some 1.87 million energy certificates had been issued to residential buildings; this amounts to about 10% of the German residential-building stock. This low percentage is partly explained by the fact that the certificate is required only when an old building, or part of one, is being sold or newly leased. Existing tenants have no right to demand a certificate, and the owner doesn’t need one for property he occupies.

Also, certain buildings are exempted from the requirement. These include buildings that aren’t heated regularly (such as vacation homes); buildings erected only for a short time (tents and air halls); special-purpose buildings (stables and greenhouses); buildings with a floor area of less than 50 square meters; and historic buildings.

But the percentage is also low because most prospective buyers or tenants don’t know about the certificate requirement, or don’t ask for one if they do know. To address this problem, the dena agency is launching a major campaign to make the public aware of the certificate.

Among other things, the agency awards an Efficient House seal to homes that have undergone model renovations, and the public is often invited to inspect these homes and confer with experts on how they too can make improvements. One such inspection took place in September 2010 at the half-century-old home of Karl Schwarzbeck in Penzberg, near Munich. Schwarzbeck boasted that since the renovations were completed, “we save 70% of our heating costs.”

The roof of the house had been insulated in 1995, but after consultation with energy advisors, a great deal more insulation was added. The outer walls and basement ceiling were also insulated; the double-glazed windows were replaced with triple-glazed, low-e units; and the 30-year-old oil forced-draft boiler was replaced with a modern oil-condensing unit, with a two-stage burner controlled by a thermostat. A 13 m3 solar heater was installed, to provide both hot water and additional heating.

Annual fuel costs at Penzberg were 2,650 euros (about $3,630) before the renovation, and 690 euros (about $945) afterward. The project was financed primarily through a low-interest loan from a special program designed for just this purpose by the state-run Bank for Reconstruction. (The bank was established right after World War II to help rebuild the devastated country; it is still in business to finance a different kind of rebuilding.) Financing was also provided by the government-run Market Rebate Program for Renewable Energies and the industry-operated Institute for Economic Oil Heating.

Buildings account for around 40% of Germany’s energy consumption, so there is substantial potential for saving energy here. The law requiring Energy Performance Certificates stems from the European Union’s directive on energy performance, which resulted from a summit in March 2007. By 2020 participants agreed to reduce their countries’ primary energy requirements and greenhouse gas emissions, by 20% compared to 1990, by 2020. They also agreed to increase the use of renewable energy to 20% of overall energy consumption. This prompted Germany to enact its Energy Saving Ordinance (Energieeinsparverordnung) in 2007, which established the Energy Performance Certificate requirements.
 

Ted Shoemaker, an American, first went to Germany as an Army officer, married a German woman and stayed on as a writer/editor. Now retired and based in Frankfurt, he keeps his hand in by acting as a correspondent for a number of American magazines.
 

For more information:

Full details on the Energy Performance Certificate are available in English at www.dena-energieausweis.de.

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