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Cold beds are much too warm.

NZZ, 24 November 2019

In vacation homes, the heating runs even though no one is there. Now a study shows how owners can save energy costs. (An article from the NZZ from November 24, 2019)

A pilot project in the canton of Valais has shown that most types of heating can be controlled remotely with little investment: Zermatt. (Source: NZZ)

Even during longer absences, the heating in most second homes is only turned down slightly or not at all, because the owners would otherwise encounter a cold apartment the next time they visit. This is now set to change - with remote-controlled devices that use an app to turn the heating back up in good time when the arrival of guests is certain.

Following a pilot test in the canton of Valais, "Energy Switzerland", which is supported by the Swiss Federal Office of Energy, is launching a program with the catchy name "Make Heat Simple", initially designed to run for four years. The new "Make Heat Simple" platform is expected to make a significant contribution to reducing CO2 emissions from the building sector. The authors of the study assume a considerable CO2 savings potential.

Easy to use

This is to be achieved by installing simple control devices in as many temporarily used apartments as possible. The devices can be controlled remotely - usually via smartphone. A pilot project in the canton of Valais has shown that the conversion can be carried out without any problems for most common types of heating. Using the devices is now child's play, he says.

According to the study, the corresponding investment, which ranges from 500 to 2500 Swiss francs depending on the product, is also amortized within a very short time due to the possible savings. This could be proven by corresponding measurement data in space heaters of second homes. Despite the numerous advantages, such remote controls are currently only used in just under 2% of second homes nationwide. "A survey showed that this is mainly due to the fear of supposedly complex and expensive installations and generally insufficient awareness of such systems," says Patrick Kutschera, Managing Director of Energy Switzerland. The platform therefore not only offers a calculator that can be used to calculate the payback period, but also a search function to quickly find a local installer.

The number of second homes in Switzerland is estimated at around 700,000, and a large proportion of the homes used for tourism date back to the 1960s and 1970s. They are often poorly insulated, and many are in urgent need of energy renovation. Often, it would even make more sense to demolish them and build new ones. But this is rarely possible, especially in apartment buildings with condominiums. Owner-occupied vacation homes are empty for most of the year, but are often heated during the winter months to prevent cold damage. Even for rented second homes, average occupancy rarely exceeds 60 days per year. In contrast to permanently occupied buildings, the incentive for energy-efficient refurbishment is therefore lower for these buildings.

A large proportion of the buildings from the boom phase are still equipped with oil-fired heating systems, which account for the majority in all vacation regions. Renewable energies such as heat pumps and solar systems are only used in the newest buildings, the construction of which has declined sharply since the adoption of the second-home initiative.

Default is rarely implemented

Already today, the model regulations of the cantons in the energy sector prescribe the remote regulation of heating systems in new buildings of second homes. However, the interviews with electricians and heating engineers conducted as part of the BfE study had shown "that this legal obligation is not known by many planners, engineers, builders, property managers, but also installers, and is therefore often not implemented".

So now the administrations and apartment owners are to be persuaded to retrofit such remote controls with the prospect of lower maintenance costs. Since vacation properties generally have fewer internal sources of moisture, such as houseplants, the risk of condensation and mold problems is considered low even if the temperature is lowered to 6 °C for single-family homes or 12 °C for apartment buildings. Technically, with the exception of wood heating systems, all heating systems can be controlled remotely.

In fact, many owners already lower temperatures manually during longer absences. If more of them did this and with remote control, this would result in considerable savings potential. If room temperatures were lowered consistently, this would add up to 2100 gigawatt hours of energy. For the wallet, this would amount to more than 200 million Swiss francs in saved heating costs every year.


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