Why no AC in Germany?

Story and photo by Engineering Flight Chief Erik J. Lagerquist, P.E.
86th Civil Engineer Squadron

With daily temperatures rapidly getting warmer and summer officially still a few days away, you may be asking yourself, “Where’s the air conditioning?” If you are new to Germany, or spent a summer (or three) here already, you likely already know that most German homes do not have central air conditioning. There are many factors to consider, primarily: air conditioning, or A/C, is highly in-efficient, it’s expensive to install and operate, it’s not cost effective and it’s only really beneficial for a few weeks of each summer. However, there are many ways to beat the heat during those few weeks of summer without A/C.
I was given a great opportunity to move to Germany and take a new job early last year and bring my family. As we all know, moving is stressful, moving overseas is more stressful, and moving overseas during a global pandemic is right near the top of anyone’s stress meter. Compound our arrival here in July with no A/C in Germany, yikes! Sounds bad, right? Well, to be honest, it wasn’t all that bad. I say this as someone who grew up in Maine without A/C, joined the Air Force and travelled the world living five times in Florida. While it did take a couple days to adjust to life without A/C, we soon learned to manage quite nicely with proper use of our rolladens and a couple of floor fans.
So what’s the secret to staying cool without A/C? Experts from the 86th Civil Engineer Squadron have some tips for newcomers.
“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 CES energy manager. “In the morning, shutting windows and rolladens helps keep the cool air inside and minimize solar heating from the sun out.”
Rolladens are shutters that block direct sunlight from entering windows and reduce heat buildup, inherently cooling the inside of the home. Most German homes have some sort of rolladen on every window, be they manually operated via hand-cranks, or more automatic with a push-button and 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” continued Saldivar. “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 what about those in on-base housing without rolladens?
Yes, here in the Engineering flight we are aware of this issue and have taken steps to program three unfunded projects worth $469K for Landstuhl with an additional 35 un-funded projects worth $6.4M for Vogelweh housing units. In the interim, there are interior window shades provided that can be supplemented with black-out curtains available on the local economy.

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

Many Americans are used to having A/C and it can be tough for some to adjust 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 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 before you know it.