This paper explores some of the key reasons why homeowners in Germany are thermally retrofitting their properties at a much slower rate, and by a shal- lower average depth of thermal improvement, than has been planned and expected in federal policy. It builds on peer-reviewed technical, social science and policy studies research results from a detailed and long-running investigation of German thermal retrofit policy and practice (Galvin, 2010, 2011, 2012, 2013a, 2013b; Galvin & Sunikka-Blank, 2012, 2013a, 2013b; Rosenow & Galvin, 2013; Sunikka- Blank & Galvin, 2012). This research has included technical analyses of thermal properties and perform- ance of over 100 dwellings throughout Germany and targeted observations of many more; interviews with federal, state and municipal policy-makers and civil servants; interviews with expert federal policy advi- sors, key players in the building retrofit industry and private and corporate homeowners; extensive docu- ment research; and a long-term ethnographic study of how German people talk about and practise domestic heating consumption and thermal upgrades of their homes.
The hypothesis explored in this paper is that much (though not all) of Germany’s failure to deliver its ret- rofit goals can be explained in terms of the peculiarities of federal policy rather than shortcomings on the part of homeowners. In particular, it identifies crucial points where regulations do not fit well with the phys- ical characteristics of the majority of German residen- tial buildings, and where the arithmetic used to work out the costs of retrofits fails to take account of the financial realities of homeowner investment. The paper also steps back from the details and offers an overview of some of the wider issues that seem to be driving the policy approach that has led to the less- than-expected results for thermal retrofits in Germany.
The second section outlines the technical background to thermal retrofit policy and practice in Germany. The third section explores how the economic assump- tions in the retrofit regulations tend to deter rational investors. The fourth section suggests how these factors act to inhibit the rate and depth of thermal ret- rofits. The fifth section reflects on wider issues lying behind the current policy impasse. The sixth section makes recommendations for policy. The seventh section provides conclusions.


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Why German Homeowners are Reluctant to Retrofit

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