Room wanted, for a while

Editorial by Jan Peter Schemmel, CEO, Oeko-Institut

I wish our apartment had a spare room. Just one. Now that the children are a bit older, it would be nice for them to have a space of their own. We would only need it for a few years, just until they leave home. After that, I would happily hand it back – my wife and I wouldn’t use it.

That’s not how it works, I hear you say. But that’s how it should work, don’t you think? We have very fixed ideas about our living arrangements, and that limits our scope. So you need a bigger apartment? Then you’ll have to move! But once the children fly the nest, it will be time to move again, or you’ll find yourself occupying a space that is far too big and costs far too much to heat. So why not make smarter use of our living space? One option is to divide off some areas of our overly large apartments and houses and create self-contained housing units that are suitable for renting out. An alternative is to design new housing that is flexible from the outset and can be adapted to different stages of life and space requirements.

The heat transition has been on hold for far too long. We need to take urgent action if we are to close the ever-widening emissions gap in the building sector. When it comes to identifying effective mechanisms, there is no shortage of suggestions: a substantial increase in the refurbishment rate, use of heat pumps, the phase-out of fossil fuels, and more efficient use of existing living space, to mention just a few.

But that’s not all: ambitious efficiency standards for new buildings are also required, because how we build today will determine whether we reach our goal of climate neutrality in 2050. We already have the technology to build houses that produce more energy than they consume. In fact, smart building is not a recent innovation: when it comes to cooling, there is a lot we can learn from traditional architecture in the world’s warmest countries. It offers plenty of helpful hints for cool living – from the choice of building material and the colour of the exterior to the careful configuration of space, installation of air vents and optimum positioning of windows.

There is no shortage of ideas, in other words. And if you do happen to have a spare room or two, maybe you’ll find someone who is the perfect match for the space.


Jan Peter Schemmel

CEO, Oeko-Institut