How the new German government can create a housing legacy that is good for society, business and the climate

By Knauf Insulation
September 16, 2021

Knauf Insulation is inviting the yet to come new German government to show real ambition when it comes to housing policy to ensure a built environment that is resource efficient, contributes meaningfully to climate action and provides more homes for those in need.

After 16 years dominated by the leadership of Angela Merkel, Germany goes to the polls on September 26 to vote for a new federal government in an election where nothing is certain, and everything is up for grabs in Europe’s largest economy.

Christopher Dürr, Head of the Knauf office in Berlin, says: “It may be impossible to predict which coalition of parties will define this new chapter in German history, but when we talk to the election candidates our position remains as clear as it was in the years of Angela Merkel — we want a win-win housing policy that is beneficial to business, society and the climate.”

Key to this policy is the urgency of more new housing, particularly affordable homes, says Christopher. In major cities rents have soared by as much as 104% in a decade, associations are reporting up to 300 applications for every vacant social home and 43,000 social housing units disappear from the market every year. According to research by the Pestel Institute, Germany needs to build at least 670,000 more apartments nationwide.

‘We need innovative housing solutions’

“Despite the commitment of the previous administration to build 1.5 million new homes, we still have a housing crisis in Germany,” says Christopher. “We need to continue to accelerate new build across the country, we need more money for social houses, incentives for rented homes and a fresh approach to making it easy for families to build their own house. We also need to see innovative housing solutions.”

For example, in recent years, Knauf and Knauf Insulation have brought together policymakers and construction industry leaders to examine the low-cost housing possibilities offered by innovative energy efficient prefabricated homes. These homes can be manufactured in production plants and assembled quickly on site.

Our German Public Affairs team has also been calling on policy makers to add an additional 1.1 million new low-cost lightweight apartments on top of the 600,000 inner city buildings that would be capable of accommodating such vertical extensions avoiding the need for expensive building plots.

Picture on the right: prefabricated elements with Knauf and Knauf Insulation solutions used for building additional floors

German roof renovation

‘Buildings need to be ready for 2045 climate neutrality’

As the built environment is responsible for 30% of the country’s carbon emissions, buildings also have a vital role to play in Germany’s commitment to be climate neutral by 2045 — one of the most ambitious national timelines in the world, says Christopher.

Germany’s buildings need to be ready for 2045 so we need to maintain the energy efficient initiatives that have been so successful over recent years.
Christopher Dürr, Head of the Knauf office in Berlin

“In 2021, for example, we saw more than €10 billion in the system to finance energy efficient renovation and in energy efficient new build. This momentum must be kept on track for 2045.”

When it comes to climate neutral renovation, Knauf Insulation has always put energy efficiency principles first. This means, that the building envelope — walls, floors and ceilings — are as energy efficient as possible to maximise the performance of any green heating systems.

“There is huge demand for building envelope improvements in Germany but an imbalance in terms of subsidies. For heat pumps for example, funding of up to 45% is available, while for insulation it is only 20%. We need to see funding for insulation to get to 40% at least.”

‘Unique opportunity to encourage low-carbon products’

As for new build, strict regulation ensures the energy efficiency of buildings. Now the emphasis is on embodied carbon — that is the carbon generated at every stage of a building product’s lifecycle from the sourcing of materials to ultimate disposal or recycling.

“The construction industry has moved a long way from the environmentally unfriendly days of only solid construction. Today there is a wide range of low-embodied carbon systems that can significantly reduce the carbon footprint of buildings,” says Christopher. “The new government has a unique opportunity to encourage the use of these low-carbon products as an important foundation for 2045.”

The building industry also needs to be increasingly driven by the circular economy. Construction is responsible for more than 35% of total waste in Europe and devours more than 50% of extracted materials.

‘The moral cost of landfill is unacceptable’

“At Knauf and Knauf Insulation we are working to close the circle in Germany. The steel and gypsum in our lightweight wall systems can be easily recycled time and time again and we have introduced a RESULATION scheme to take back scrap Rock Mineral Wool from construction sites and feed it back into our manufacturing process and allow Glass Mineral Wool scrap to be transformed into ceiling tiles,” says Christopher.

“The financial cost of landfill is rising and the moral cost has always been unacceptable. Now the new government needs to strengthen the circular economy and encourage the use of resource efficient materials that can be recycled easily. Moreover, the government also needs to establish legal certainty for the use of recycled materials.”

“In the days following the elections there will be a great deal of policy discussion as the different parties work to form the new governing coalition. At Knauf Insulation and Knauf we hope that by focusing the issues that really matter — more housing, a climate neutral building stock and resource efficiency — we build a housing legacy worthy of future generations.”


Picture in the header: sustainable residential model building in DomagkPark, Munich