Why is there so little A/C in Germany?

  • Published
  • By Erik J. Lagerquist, Engineering Flight Chief
  • 86th Civil Engineer Squadron

Daily temperatures are getting warmer, base-wide heat is turned off, and summer officially starts next month; but if you are new to Germany, or have even been here for a summer already you may be asking, “why is there so little air conditioning in Germany?” 

Most German homes do not have air conditioning and while there are many factors to consider, primarily: air conditioning is highly inefficient; it’s expensive to install and operate; it’s not cost effective, and it’s only really beneficial for a few weeks out of each summer. However, there are many easier and inexpensive ways to deal with higher temperatures during those four to six weeks with high temperatures in the summer, and beat the heat without A/C.

We moved to Germany from Florida, a couple summers back, in July. Coming from Florida (and Texas before that) we were used to A/C, as it’s a necessity most of the year. Imagine our surprise to get here and not have A/C in our Temporary Lodging Facility. While those first couple days were a bit rough, jet lag, new surroundings, new language, we quickly discovered how to properly use our rolladens coupled with a few circulating floor fans; and life was suddenly more manageable.

As an engineer, I completely understand building codes we have to follow here in Germany. Suffice it to say when it comes to “comfort cooling” or residential A/C, we simply do not have enough hot days each summer to justify expense of installing, operating, and maintaining A/C. 

In Germany we need over 650 hours with a dry-bulb temperature above 26.7 degrees Celsius, or 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Which doesn’t seem like a lot. However, according to data provided by the 14th Weather Squadron, the highest number of hours we have ever achieved above 80 degrees Fahrenheit was in 2018, with 382 hours. On average, here in southeastern Germany, going back about 50 years, we averaged 192 hours above 80 degrees. Even in the past 20 years that total is only slightly higher at 211. 

So, what does one do to keep their home cooler? 

“One of the most effective ways to keep a home cool in the summer is to crack, or open, windows during the night to allow the coldest air of the day inside the house,” said Luis Saldivar, 86th Civil Engineer Squadron energy manager. “In mid-morning, shutting windows and rollladens helps keep the cool air inside and minimize solar heating from the sun outside.”

What is a rolladen you ask? Well, it’s a full window shutter. They typically roll down and block out nearly all sunlight (heavy rains and storms too) from entering windows and greatly reduces heat buildup, inherently cooling the inside of your home. Most German homes have some sort of rolladen on every window that can be manually operated via hand-cranks or are automatic with an electrical motor. 

“It’s crucial to ventilate and replace the air in the home at least once a day for your health and to prevent mold and mildew,” Saldivar said.  “Durchlüften, or push ventilation, of your house will keep it cooler, but it can also improve mood and well-being, just by opening the windows.” 

But, my on-base housing doesn’t have Rolladens? 

Yes, your engineering flight are keenly aware of this issue and have taken steps to program three unfunded projects worth $469,000 for housing on Landsthuhl with an additional 35 unfunded projects worth $6.4 million for Vogelweh housing units, also known as the Stairwells. In the interim, there are interior window shades provided that can be supplemented with black-out curtains available on the local economy. While portable air conditioners are readily available both on and off base in various sizes and power requirements (110-voltage US standard vs 220-voltage European standard), they are not authorized for on-base use.

There are a number of other ways to keep cool, such as using ceiling fans with correct counter-clockwise rotation that allows blades to push air downward and increase the wind chill effect.  Using a floor fan, with an oscillating motion from side to side will also help move air around. Open rolladens just enough to provide sufficient natural light. Or where and when possible use energy efficient light bulbs because regular light bulbs radiate excess heat. Cook outside on a grill, instead of your kitchen (which can be rather small in Germany) this will prevent you from an additional heat source inside. Unplug appliances and electronics when not in use as items plugged into a socket can still produce heat.  If you have a multi-story home, try sleeping on the bottom floor, as heat always rises, making it uncomfortable to sleep.

If worst comes to worst, and you need a break from the heat, we do have some A/C here in Germany, as there are a number of facilities on base with centralized A/C as a requirement of their function such as computer server rooms, hospitals and clinics, bowling alleys, movie theater and most other public service facilities. If you feel your work-place needs A/C, please contact 786th Civil Engineer Squadron customer service to inquire about comfort cooling, as they have much more detailed information on how to proceed with this request.

I realize a lot of Americans are used to having A/C, and it can be tough for some to get used to not having it - especially when there is a heat wave like in the summer of 2019. However, when it comes to warmer weather here in Germany, I recall something my mom, a now retired registered nurse, used to tell my brother and I when we got cuts, scrapes, broken bones and or any other injury “it’s only temporary.” So, do what you can to stay cool, enjoy the warmer temps and remember, winter weather will be back again before you know it.