Demanded and subsidised

In new construc­tion and reno­va­tion alike, building owners are placing increas­ingly strin­gent demands on energy effi­ciency. Grant programmes provide impor­tant finan­cial support. However, those who want to take advan­tage of these programmes should hurry: The German govern­ment plans to impose cuts as early as 2011.

Building owners have to attain specific energy stan­dards to take advan­tage of grant programmes. There­fore compo­nents of modern effi­ciency houses aim at saving energy. Click on the icons above and learn more. (Illus­tra­tion | ebm-papst, Gernot Walter)

For many years, energy effi­ciency was not a partic­u­larly impor­tant aspect in building construc­tion. As a result of the specific construc­tion methods and aesthetic pref­er­ences of past decades, older build­ings are real energy hogs by today’s stan­dards. Prior­i­ties have shifted, and today, increasing energy costs make house­hold budgets tighter every year. The ever more clearly notice­able effects of climate change are prompting people to treat the envi­ron­ment more care­fully. Those who are not moti­vated by these factors are constrained by the law in Germany and other coun­tries to build in an energy-effi­cient manner. Just in 2009, the German federal govern­ment amended its Energy Savings Ordi­nance (EnEv), thus reducing the permitted annual energy consump­tion of a new building by 30 per cent compared to EnEv 2007. This means that only seven litres of heating oil may be used annu­ally per square metre in a new building. The 30 per cent target also applies to reno­va­tions. By compar­ison, a typical single-family home from the 1970s requires some 20 litres of oil per square metre. Here, too, the initial impres­sion confirms the conven­tional wisdom: The more envi­ron­men­tally friendly, the more expen­sive, which means substan­tially higher costs during construc­tion. In a long-term view, however, this impres­sion becomes more nuanced. Depending on future energy prices, the construc­tion costs are amor­tised over the years and then lead to effec­tive savings. To provide addi­tional moti­va­tion for building owners to choose energy-effi­cient construc­tion, the German govern­ment offers a wide variety of grant programmes. Chief among these is the KfW Banken­gruppe (banking group), which is owned by the govern­ment.

The right grant programme for your new building

The grant programmes of the KfW serve as the general guide­line for the energy perfor­mance level of all planned housing starts. According to this guide­line, only houses that meet the criteria of a passive house or high-effi­ciency house qualify for grants. The latter type of house exists in three vari­ants: 70, 55 and 40. In this case, less really is more, as a lower number corre­sponds to a higher subsidy level (see infor­ma­tion box). The back­ground for these numbers is the fact that the high-effi­ciency house uses 55 per cent of the energy required by what is called a stan­dard house. This is made possible by modern heat insu­la­tion and heating systems with renew­able ener­gies. Depending on the type of heat pump (see graphic above), axial or centrifugal fans from ebm-papst can ensure optimal flow of air through the heat exchangers.

The passive house embodies a slightly different concept. Even more effec­tive insu­la­tion makes it largely inde­pen­dent of the outside temper­a­ture. In a venti­la­tion unit, a plate or rotating heat exchanger takes a large portion of the heat from the exhaust air flow and feeds it back into the air inflow. Green­Tech EC centrifugal fans from ebm-papst enable oper­a­tion that is not only energy-saving but also low-noise. This preheated fresh air, the body heat of the inhab­i­tants and the heat energy of the house­hold appli­ances allow the addi­tional heat require­ment to be extremely low, so that it can even be covered by natural energy sources such as solar radi­a­tion or geot­hermal heat. For both high-effi­ciency and passive houses, building owners benefit from a credit of up to 50,000 EUR with the KfW grant programmes. The interest and any loan repay­ment subsi­dies depend on the effi­ciency level attained.

High savings poten­tial for those reno­vating build­ings

Those who reno­vate an existing building can select from several subsidy stan­dards, as is the case for new construc­tion (see infor­ma­tion box). In most cases, this indeed pays off: “Builders are responding to the fact that their energy costs are hurting them,” relates Andreas Garscha of the VPB, a German devel­opers’ asso­ci­a­tion. “For example, when we reno­vate a poorly insu­lated roof, we lower the ongoing costs by a consid­er­able amount for decades. In many cases, the reno­va­tion would pay for itself over the long term even without the addi­tional subsidy.” In addi­tion to the signif­i­cantly lower energy costs, other bene­fits include decreased mould growth and improved noise control. This not only makes the building a comfort­able place to live, the increase in its value should not be over­looked as an incen­tive to reno­vate for greater energy effi­ciency. The basic prereq­ui­site for the subsi­dies is a complete reno­va­tion carried out by a profes­sional contractor.

A ques­tion of atti­tude

Espe­cially when plan­ning a housing start, the home­owner should consider how impor­tant energy effi­ciency is for him or her. “no one should decide in favour of a higher effi­ciency level based on finan­cial incen­tives alone,” recom­mends Garscha. “The savings do not increase in a linear fashion, but rather diminish compared to the greater one-time cost.” In any case, it is advis­able to work with an inde­pen­dent consul­tant; indeed, for higher subsidy levels, this is manda­tory. In any case, in Germany, the delib­er­a­tions should take into account the fact that in addi­tion to the grant programmes from the German federal govern­ment and states, some munic­i­pal­i­ties also provide support for energy effi­ciency-related construc­tion and reno­va­tion projects. Research carried out in a timely manner is always recom­mended. After all, the programmes all have one thing in common: they are constantly changing. New programmes are added, while others are discon­tinued. This is another reason why building owners and reno­va­tors should not wait too long. More­over, the German federal govern­ment has announced that it will cut its grants in half in 2011 as part of budget cuts.

Energy effi­ciency world­wide

Energy-effi­cient home­building is becoming increas­ingly impor­tant on an inter­na­tional level as well. However, different coun­tries have very different approaches to the topic.

USA: The government’s “Energy Star” initia­tive supports home­builders and reno­va­tors in their projects by providing support in plan­ning and, above all, credit incen­tives.

Great Britain: The inde­pen­dent “Energy Saving Trust” organ­i­sa­tion provides advice and infor­ma­tion free of charge. An exten­sive data­base provides infor­ma­tion about the grant programmes, which differ widely from region to region.

Japan: The Ministry of Economy, Trade and Industry rewards Japanese resi­den­tial builders for energy-effi­cient measures with “eco-points”, which they can redeem for goods and services.

China: Though govern­ment subsi­dies for energy-effi­cient housing construc­tion are not provided, govern­ment regu­la­tions to this effect are in place. The provi­sions vary greatly between regions. A good overview of some of the regu­la­tions is provided by the national energy savings asso­ci­a­tion, CnGBn.

Subsidy levels of the Kred­i­tanstalt für Wieder­aufbau (KfW)

In Germany, the KfW supports energy-conscious prop­erty owners with interest rate credits, both during new construc­tion and reno­va­tion. Those who attain the energy stan­dard of a KfW effi­ciency house obtain an addi­tional repay­ment subsidy. The number behind the high-effi­ciency house spec­i­fieshow high the annual primary energy require­ment is compared to the legal regu­la­tions. The KfW high-effi­ciency house 70 thus corre­sponds to 70 per cent.

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