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District heating pipes: If you are connected to the grid, others can do the heating job for you

Photo: Thomas Banneyer / dpa

It's done: The Heating Act has been passed. The great debate of the spring has come to an end. From 2024 onwards, at least 65 percent of every new heating system should be powered by renewable energies. And from 2045 onwards, fossil heating systems will finally come to an end, including gas.

But why was the debate so heated, what problem and what solution are behind this building energy law?

In short, it's about the energy-efficient renovation of your own four walls. This time, politics comes home in a very private way, so the private becomes political. And this new obligation to carry out energy-efficient refurbishment in the form proposed by the legislator came quite unexpectedly for many.

The heating system and the house – they belong together

Anyone who owns a house or apartment can, of course, report on the joys of their own four walls: being able to drill holes where the do-it-yourselfer likes, adjusting walls and, above all, not having to worry about future rental development.

In the same way, however, the challenges and disadvantages of owning real estate can also be told: Something always breaks in your own house. Here the electrics, there a few lamps, then the gutter, the awnings. The roof terrace leaks, garden furniture and roof tiles fly away during the storm. This costs nerves and sometimes money. And there is no landlord who would cover the costs.

One of the biggest cost blocks in the life of a homeowner is actually always a major repair or replacement of the heating system. And for decades now, the energy-saving measures.

Five good reasons to replace the heater

The topic has also been regulated in various laws for decades, since 2020 most notably in the so-called Building Energy Act, or GEG for short, or Heating Act for short. And there have actually been five good reasons for this replacement of the old heating system for decades.

  • Saving energy per se. Consuming less energy is good for the climate. In 1995, Chancellor Helmut Kohl and Environment Minister Angela Merkel invited the world to the first climate summit in Berlin. In 2019, millions of young people took to the streets and demanded that adults do something to ensure that future generations still benefit from this planet. In 2021, they even prevailed at the Federal Constitutional Court that governments in Germany must protect the climate much more strongly. Unfortunately, the stricter climate law then passed by the CDU/CSU and the SPD is regularly broken, also because the renovation of the buildings is not progressing fast enough.

  • Saving energy saves a lot of money. The connection is not new, but we have become even more painfully aware of it during the years of the Ukraine war. If you only need 10,000 kWh instead of 30,000 kWh of gas to heat your single-family home, you now pay 1,200 euros instead of 3,600 euros a year. Such savings are quite possible in old buildings, as Sandra Duy shows.

  • Modernizing energetically increases the value of your home. Not doing it diminishes the value. An optimally modernized house today achieves three times the value of an unrenovated 60s property in the same location.

  • If the house is nicely modernized, it is also more homely and healthier. It no longer pulls through the cracks, no mold forms in cool corners, and in winter it is cozy and warm in the house even without much heating. The same measures also ensure that it is nice and cool in summer.

  • In some situations, property owners have been obliged for years to modernize their house in terms of energy efficiency. For example, because the current heating system is an energy guzzler and is still over 30 years old. Or because you inherited the house from grandpa, who had no money for a reasonable modernization. However, the new owner is obliged by law to remedy the situation within two years.

  • How you can get to the new heating system and the energy-efficient house today – with a new law – can be found in the new guidebook "Energy-efficient renovation".

    Gas as a transitional technology, a persistent myth

    Basically, all this has been known for a long time.

    And the homeowners in this country have dealt with it. When it comes to heating expansion, the maxim of the early years of this millennium was usually: Replace the old heating system with a clean new gas heating system. Then you don't have to renew much of the heating system in the house, just the heat source itself.

    Politicians had also pushed citizens in this direction and declared cheap Russian gas to be a transitional technology from the even more climate-damaging coal and oil heating systems to the brave new ecological world. From Horst Seehofer, who even visited Putin for this purpose in 2011, to the top candidate trio of the traffic light before the last Bundestag election, the same slogan applied: gas as a bridging technology. The energy source was literally transfigured. Even in the nineties, solar thermal energy and wood pellets could have been used to heat many houses. At the time, the engineers told me that it would pay off for my old farmhouse if I moved there. More capital expenditure at the beginning, but less consumption. So nothing for my holiday home, I calculated. Too little use.

    However, the war in Ukraine has shattered the idea of bridging technology. Not only for industrial corporations, which now have to look for new inexpensive energy sources, but also for homeowners. The government has now ordered them to make the direct leap to ecological heating whenever possible. Preferably with a heat pump. From a climate point of view, this is completely reasonable and, in view of the concentrated heating expertise in German SMEs, understandable. Just recently, a major US corporation bought part of the German know-how with Viessmann for 9 billion euros.

    However, this jump is usually much more expensive for the owners when investing. And so many homeowners rubbed their eyes in amazement at the end of Russia's natural gas bonanza. Wasn't gas still the means of choosing heating three years ago?

    A look into the future – four cases

    What was true just a moment ago doesn't have to be right anymore. For the climate, the gas fairy tale was wrong even before the Ukraine war, and it was wrong in terms of foreign policy, as we know today. Putin, floods in the Ahr valley and on the Greek coast, as well as burning forests from Greece to Brandenburg provide the evidence.

    The Heating Act is now here. At this point at the latest, house and apartment owners should sit down quietly and weigh up their own options:

    Case 1: They have just bought the house, extensively modernized it and installed a new gas heating system at the same time. Not so bad. Hopefully, your energy requirements should be very low for the time being, and the new heating system should not break down for the time being. It does not need to be replaced. The only thing you need to pay attention to is the evolution of the price of gas. As you have noticed, it can fluctuate drastically because of a war and will rise regularly in the coming years because of the international climate treaties and the committed climate protection demanded by the Constitutional Court. At some point, even economical gas heating becomes too expensive. And by 2045 at the latest, you must be out of fossil gas with your heating, says the new law.

    Case 2: You've just installed a new gas heating system in your house, but you haven't done much else in terms of thermal insulation and energy saving, or you haven't been able to do much because you didn't have enough money. Actually, the same applies to you as in case 1: the essential table you need to look at is that of the price of gas. Because that describes your pain. However, they are much larger than in case 1. After all, they also have more options for action. From now on, you can and should promote energy saving in your home as much as possible. And that with every euro that is left – and also with money that is not yet left, because otherwise the next gas bill will overwhelm you. There is still a lot of funding from the state for energy-saving measures. Directly, from KfW – or through tax benefits. You can find out how to do it here .

    Case 3: They have an old house and haven't done anything yet. Then I can only advise you to first renovate energetically, as best you can financially, and then install a new heating system, heat pump, wood pellet or solar thermal energy. If you have insulated and saved more before, you will need less heating afterwards. Details are best discussed with an energy efficiency consultant. He advises them, and this is also supported by the state.

    If there are too few of them in your country, call a nearby city, Berlin, Leipzig, Nuremberg or Osnabrück. There is a sufficient supply of experts in the cities.

    Case 4: They are connected to the district heating network or can be connected to a district heating or local heating network in the coming years. Then others can do the heating job for you. By 2028, all municipalities that are not quite small must have adopted a heating concept and - if it works - you will know whether you can connect to the district or local heating network. However, you still have the renovation job yourself. This is because you no longer have to install a burner yourself on the district or local heating network. But, of course, you still need good radiators. And of course, even in this constellation, how much heating energy you need is billed. Leaky windows, inadequate insulation and smoking in the undershirt at the window remain expensive. Note: In the past, district heating networks were not among the cheapest heat providers. On the contrary – these monopolists have also ruthlessly pulled money out of their customers' pockets. Incidentally, this is particularly true for tenants who are connected to the district heating network without being able or allowed to do the renovation job themselves.

    Dear tenants, although you are more than half of the population, you do not have much to say about the heating issue. This can be regretted. After all, the legislator has thrown you a safety leash. If the landlord installs an inefficient heat pump, he may only pass on half of the costs to your rent as a modernization allocation. However, if your landlady decides to install another fossil heating system that will later be powered by biogas, bio-oil or hydrogen, you will probably pay more. Because these fuels are expensive, and the additional costs are borne by you in the end. The costs are not capped for tenants.

    Dear homeowner, as you can see, renovation remains your task. You can do something for the climate, you can save money. You may need to act. But it's not as complicated as it seems. Also, and especially, after the adoption of the Heating Act.