The Russian war of aggression in Ukraine also means a turning point for the energy supply in Germany and thus for the building and living of the future. Germany wants to get out of oil and gas faster in order to minimize its dependency on Russia. Above all, however, we need a rapid move away from fossil fuels to regenerative ones – especially in the building sector.

One of the central fields of action here is heating. Today, more than every second apartment is heated with gas and every fourth apartment with oil. From 2025, according to the plans of the federal government, every newly installed heating system should be operated with 65 percent renewable energies. One thing is certain: the climate change can only succeed with a construction change. This is a huge challenge, also from a financial and social point of view.

Rising energy costs are worrying Germans. According to a current Forsa survey, 42 percent fear that they could get into financial difficulties due to higher energy costs. East Germans (65 percent) and those on low incomes (66 percent) are particularly worried. Security of supply has become a central issue. When buying a new heating system, 99 percent consider it very important or important that the purchase guarantees a secure energy supply. Almost as many (98 percent) consider the energy savings of a new system to be very important or important.

Buildings are sustainable if they are climate-neutral in their overall balance. The aim of the construction transition must therefore be to get towards zero fossil fuels as quickly as possible and to generate the remaining energy requirement in the building from renewable sources. This requires more trust in the planners and freedom in regulation and processes. In the future, when planning new buildings, it will be important to consider the entire life cycle. In addition to the consumption of resources, the question of the recyclability of the building materials must be given greater attention.

There are around 42 million apartments in Germany. About two thirds of them were built before the first Thermal Insulation Ordinance in 1977. Almost half is occupied by the owners themselves. Two thirds of the rental apartments are offered by around 3.9 million small private landlords, almost 40 percent of whom are pensioners.

The pressure on property owners to renovate is already increasing as a result of the rising CO₂ price from today’s 25 euros to 55 euros per ton by 2025. For an average four-person household, this alone increases the annual heating costs by 300 to 400 euros.

The federal government’s new phased plan, which is due to come into force in 2023, aims to distribute the burden more fairly between landlords and tenants. His logic: the worse the owner has insulated the property or the more inefficient the heating system works, the less the burden on the tenant. The new procedure is intended to motivate the landlord to maintain the building in a more energy-efficient manner and the tenant to use less energy.

In contrast, a majority of citizens (51 percent) demand that owners, tenants and the state bear a proportion of the costs of renovation measures. Only a minority (24 percent) demand that the owner should bear the costs of the renovation alone.

The result of a current study commissioned by the German Energy Efficiency Initiative (DENEFF) for the Federal Association of Consumer Organizations, which also took into account the latest energy price and construction cost developments, also fits in with this. According to this, in some cases, remedial measures can make economic sense even without funding. “On a broad scale,” it says, “however, the funding is necessary in order to ensure that ambitious measures that are compatible with climate targets are economically viable.”

According to a calculation by the working group for contemporary construction (Arge), around 19.3 million residential buildings have to be renovated in terms of energy efficiency. The costs for this are estimated at 50 billion euros per year. If you wanted to make the entire old building stock climate-friendly by 2045, you would have to invest as much as 150 billion euros a year. Who should pay for this?

In any case, the country is divided on the question of an energy-related renovation obligation. Almost half of Germans reject such a duty, while 45 percent support it. In the 45 to 59 age group, which is particularly relevant here as the main potential investors, rejection is high at 60 percent. In eastern Germany, only one in four (25 percent) supports a renovation obligation.

Above all, it should be a matter of mobilizing the willingness of homeowners to carry out energy-related renovation measures. We know from other surveys that more and more homeowners are opting for green heating: above all, photovoltaic systems, electricity storage for their use, solar thermal systems and heat pumps. Around 70 percent of homeowners are already planning such measures. The current energy price development will give this a further boost. The market is the driver here.

Reorganization obligations can only be the last resort. For many, rent-free living in their own house or a rented apartment is the necessary supplement to their statutory pension or, often in the case of the self-employed, a substitute for it. Politicians must not overtax these people financially. Otherwise there is a risk of social upheaval.

Interestingly, in the Forsa survey, 84 percent of supporters of a renovation obligation called for a sufficient transition period and 81 percent for social compensation. There must also be solutions that go beyond the building, such as municipal heat planning and district renovations.

The construction turnaround will not be the same everywhere: In the future, cities will have to balance inner and secondary densification with quality of life and environmental protection. Larger cities in particular are dependent on cold air corridors due to the rising temperatures. The majority of cities will get hotter in the future. According to calculations, the number of hot days in Berlin will increase from ten today to up to 20 days, in Hanover from five to twelve, in Cologne from 20 today to up to 40 and in Stuttgart from around 30 to up to 70 days by 2050 The development in medium-sized and small towns will be similar.

In rural areas, for example, climate-friendly living means that, if possible, the next generation of young families buys and refurbishes older houses. Models such as “Young buys old”, in which young people buy old houses, combine the demand for home ownership – an important retention factor in rural areas – with the need to save space. An attractive alternative to new construction would be better usage concepts for vacant houses.

In any case, more than two thirds of citizens (68 percent) rejected the idea of ​​concentrating state funding on metropolitan areas because life is said to be more climate-friendly here. With good reason: even the Federal Environment Agency could hardly identify any differences in the climate balance between town and country. The size of the CO₂ footprint is not determined by where you live, but by how people live.

Bernd Hertweck is CEO of the Association of Private Building Societies e.V. and CEO of Wüstenrot Bausparkasse AG. Daniel Dettling is a futurologist and political scientist and heads the Institute for Future Policy.