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28th October 2015

Millions of Germans are living alongside outdated electrical installations

Although modern electrical appliances are increasingly making their way into German households, millions of electrical installations have yet to progress from post-war conditions. "The electrical engineering in millions of German buildings must be updated if we are to prevent the risk of fires and fully prepare ourselves for the energy transition," explains Hager Group's Johannes Hauck, Head of the Steering Committee on "Electrical Modernisation" at the Central Association of the Electrical Engineering and Electronics Industry (Zentralverband Elektrotechnik und Elektronikindustrie e.V., ZVEI). "Unfortunately, however, only a very small number of people are aware of how desperately outdated the electrical installations are in many of the properties in this country."

A recent joint study by the University of Applied Sciences of South Westphalia and the Leuphana University of Lüneburg, published on 28th October during a ZVEI conference, shows just how unfit for purpose the electrical installations in millions of buildings actually are. The researchers were asked to investigate the state of the electrical installations in buildings rented out or lived in by the owners on behalf of the ZVEI – and the results they came up with were staggering. The study found that the majority of new-build properties and older buildings investigated fail to comply with the modern standards for electrical equipment. The electrical fittings in almost half of the buildings built during the 1960s have never been updated to bring them in line with modern requirements. As a result, users and occupants continue to cohabit alongside electrical installations that were fitted during the time of Ludwig Erhard's government. According to Hager Group expert Hauck, the ZVEI survey "even succeeded in surpassing our worst expectations."

Buildings from the time of Germany's "economic miracle" are the most in need of modernisation
The most important results of the study are outlined below:

  • 29 million building units in Germany are over 35 years old, while 11 million properties are more than 6 decades old.
  • Over 70 per cent of buildings are fitted with electrical cables which are over 35 years old.
  • The age of a building is not necessarily indicative of the condition of its electrical installations. In fact, a higher percentage of older buildings (i.e. those built before 1950) have been modernised than properties built during Germany's "economic miracle".
  • The worst fittings are generally found in buildings which were built between 1950 and 1979. These buildings primarily need to be fitted with new sockets and light switches, metering board systems and fuse installations.
    Private residential buildings tend to be equipped with more up-to-date electrical installations than rental properties.
  • Even if a property has been refurbished, the work carried out tends to stop at visual enhancements. In the vast majority of cases only the switches and sockets are replaced, whereas important circuit breaker devices, distribution boards, electrical cables and terminals are left untouched. Cable connections in particular can therefore turn into potential sources of danger over time.
  • Electrical installations have always been designed with the users of the time in mind and are able to cope with the corresponding electrical loads – but they are not intended for use with the multitude of high-performance electronic devices we use nowadays.
  • In over half of the households surveyed, the electrical cables have never been replaced.

Ticking time bombs lurking in walls and cellars
"The uninitiated are rarely aware of the loads their household power supply is exposed to due to the use of these new state-of-the-art electronic devices," say the researchers. "The electrical installations in buildings might, somewhat provocatively, be referred to as the 'forgotten system' in the electrical supply chain."

An analysis of the different causes of fire demonstrates just how quickly an electrical load can turn into a dangerous overload. According to statistics from the insurance industry, a third of all fires are caused by electrical faults nowadays. Electricity is responsible for 52% of fires, making it the undisputed number 1 of the preventable causes of fire. By modernising the electrical installations in a building, users can therefore significantly reduce the risk of fires occuring.

Regular checks are unavoidable
This is all the more true given the growing need for increasingly high-performance electrical installations in the future. If people who previously only used to consume energy are to become "prosumers", who not only consume energy efficiently but also produce energy using photovoltaic systems and even use it to power electric vehicles, electrical installations will need to be capable of performing far more impressively than they can today. The cables and installations in millions of buildings, however, are simply not designed to deliver this level of performance.

"The energy system of our future will not work if we continue using these outdated electrical installations." This is the criticism expressed by Johannes Hauck, who has been dealing with this subject for years now in his role as Head of the Steering Committee on "Electrical Modernisation" at the ZVEI. Traditional systems, he says, are unable to record measurements and cannot regulate or control consumption levels. "The situation we are experiencing at the moment is akin to what would happen if we wanted to run a high-speed train on an old local railway network. On foundations like these, any developments are sure to be hampered."

The incentives for modernisation must be increased if the energy transition is to find an outlet in private households. It is also important for the condition of electrical installations to be checked on a regular basis and for improvements to be made where necessary. In France, for example, these kinds of checks are obligatory for every change in the occupancy (tenant or owner) of a property. While the French live and work in safety (in buildings that are also future-proofed), the worst-case scenario for many Germans is that they are living with ticking time bombs lurking in their walls and cellars. Nevertheless: thanks to the research work carried out, we can now systematically defuse these "time bombs" and improve the safety of our buildings.

About Hager Group
Hager Group is a leading supplier of solutions and services for electrical installations in residential, commercial and industrial buildings. Our range of solutions and services extends from energy distribution to cable management and from security systems to building automation.
As an independent family-owned and family-run company based in Blieskastel, Germany, Hager Group is one of the industry’s innovation leaders. A total of 11,400 employees generate a turnover of approximately 1.9 billion euros. Components and solutions are produced at 23 sites around the globe and are trusted by customers in 120 countries worldwide.


-ZVEI graph (source: FH-Südwestfalen – FG Energieversorgung – ZVEI)
- Johannes HAUCK (Hager Group)
- ZVEI press conference "Leipziger Messe / Martin Klindtworth"


If you wish to interview Johannes Hauck, feel free to contact me!


Press Release : ZVEI study (DOC, 1,2 MB)

Pictures : ZVEI study (ZIP, 6 MB)

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