Living spaces: Saving energy by encouraging alterna-tive housing options for senior homeowners

An important share of Middle European countries’ energy consumption is used for space heating. The latter is determined by building energy efficiency, user practices, and floor space. Research and policy tend to focus on the first two factors and neglect the latter. In the German residential sector, per capita floor space has been increasing for decades, causing important rebound effects. Reducing per capita floor space by only 2 m2 could bring 6% savings in heat energy.

Senior homeowners are a relevant target group. When grown-up children move out, they typically remain in the homes constructed for a family. 13% of all households in Germany belong to this group. Their average floor space is 70.6 m2 per capita, compared to the national average of 43.8 m2. These homes are often in need of modernization, and not very energy efficient or barrier-free.

The paper presents first results of the transdisciplinary research project “LivingSpaces”, carried out in the district of Steinfurt in Western Germany. Its objective is to develop and assess policy instruments which support senior citizens in choosing housing alternatives that are both space-saving and suitable for their future needs – for example in terms of accessibility, energy efficiency, convenience, or community. Examples are moving to a smaller place, letting out parts of the home, or rebuilding the home so it can be shared with others.

The paper will present results of a representative survey that systematically explores senior citizens’ attitudes towards various housing options. Furthermore, it will explain the communication approach that is at the heart of LivingSpaces and consists of several modules such as an awareness campaign, an innovative personal advice service “new housing in old age”, workshops, and setting up a support structure that helps with practical issues such as legal, financial or organizational questions.