By Alexander Neubacher
First the cherubs and ledges are knocked off from the façade. Then the plaster and the pediments are removed. The old wall disappears under insulation panels as thick as mattresses, which are then painted, and suddenly the old house is an energy-efficient house. The old decorative elements, which are now missing, are simply painted onto the exterior. It doesn't make much of a difference visually, at least from a distance.
Strolling past the historic brick structures in the Dulsberg section of Hamburg, Albert Schett of the city's monument preservation office points out the acoustic difference between insulated and non-insulated houses. "Listen," says Schett, as he taps the facades, which now consist of an insulating layer covered with imitation brick. "It sounds completely hollow." But what wouldn't we do to save a few liters of heating oil?
There is another problem, however: the people who live in these thermally insulated houses and are complaining about their "poor ventilation behavior," as a brochure published by the Federal Office of Construction calls it. Unfortunately, it's all too often forgotten that any insulation changes the interior climate. For example, it can lead to mold spreading in places where it would never have been expected, like inside the roller shutter box, behind radiators and underneath the windowsill.
When mold has penetrated supporting beams, the house has to be abandoned, particularly as the insulating panels become increasingly moist over time. "It's like putting on a wet sweater on a cold day," explains a construction expert. "Yes, we're becoming the world's best insulators," says Boris Palmer, the Green Party mayor of Tübingen near Stuttgart, "and yes, we are deliberately spoiling our building stock."
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