Is the reading on the palm of the hand correct? 1

Heating cost readingOn the back of the tenant

The heating costs ordinance has been in force in Germany since 1981. Whenever a heating system is used jointly, it stipulates that the heating costs for each individual apartment are to be distributed according to consumption. The only exception: a house with two apartments, one of which is inhabited by the owner himself.

This consumption-based billing is intended to motivate residents to save; it can also help to avoid disputes about heating and ventilation behavior as well as cost burdens. So-called evaporation tubes or digital devices with temperature sensors are attached to every heater. However, these so-called heat cost allocators do not measure energy consumption per se, but are pure recording devices that count units. They only serve to distribute the heating costs incurred in a house in as fair a ratio as possible among the residents. At least 50 percent and a maximum of 70 percent of the costs incurred are distributed according to consumption, the rest according to the inhabited area, explains Martin Brandis from the Federation of German Consumer Organizations:

"The legislator has said that it is only allowed to distribute the costs according to consumption that the user himself has an influence on, the costs that are incurred directly in the apartment, so to speak. With a central heating system - that's what it's all about - there are also heat losses , on the boiler, for example on the chimney. And the consumer has no influence on these costs, which is why they are usually evenly distributed according to the size of the apartment. "

Submetering firms' profits run into the millions

The landlord should also read the devices and determine the heating costs himself. However, because this is not that easy and because it takes some effort to obtain the necessary data for the heating system and radiators, he usually commissions an external service provider. Three large providers dominate the market and ensure juicy prices: Techem, ista and Brunata-Metrona. According to Ista, reading and billing heating costs per square meter of living space costs between five and ten cents per square meter. On the other hand, there would be savings of an average of 20 percent in heating costs due to a more conscious heating behavior of consumers. Techem charges around 60 to 90 euros per apartment per year for the service. Unfortunately, the landlord doesn't care how high the prices of the providers are, says Ulrich Ropertz from the German Tenants' Association:

"The administration that makes the contract with the heat metering company has absolutely no economic interest of its own in lowering prices or obtaining various offers, because they are in the position of passing the costs of the heat metering company on to the tenants."

Heating costs have to be read off for 18 million apartments in Germany. That washes millions in profits into the coffers of the few providers. Techem customers book a base price almost 50 percent higher for billing the heat cost allocator within 10 years. Techem admits that the prices for the evaporation tubes have increased above average, since the evaporation liquid has to be disposed of in an environmentally friendly manner and the prices for the spare parts for this outdated technology have risen sharply.

Techem's market share in Germany is almost 30 percent, closely followed by ista. Together with the companies of the Brunata-Metrona Group, these three largest providers have a market share of around 70 percent. This is what the Federal Cartel Office found out, which in 2017 determined the market structures of the so-called submetering companies, says consumer advocate Martin Brandis:

"And found out that it is an uncompetitive oligopoly. And that is a disadvantage, because without competition there are no reasonable prices, you can simply express it."

Change tenancy law - demand consumer advocates

And that's why Brandis thinks it makes sense to change the tenancy law in such a way that the reading costs can no longer simply be passed on to the tenant. Because then landlords would have an interest in paying more attention to price differences between service providers - a prerequisite for competition to even get off the ground. However, the Federal Cartel Office did not give the legislature an order.

Landlords who want to save their tenants costs by simply installing and reading off the heat cost allocators themselves also have a hard time. Because the heat cost allocator has to match the radiator and what the fill level of the evaporation tube really means for consumption is difficult to understand for anyone who wants to read it for themselves. Techem tries to explain it with a video on the Internet:

"Anyone who does not know exactly what is being measured and how is unsettled. We'll take a closer look at how it works with the devices on the heating. Well, we are mainly familiar with the classic devices, the so-called evaporators, with small tubes in them that are filled with a liquid. We'll take a look. So there are two tubes in there, one is full, it has just been inserted and the other one is missing liquid. "

Secrecy about correct reading

Depending on how much is missing, there is a number and the video does not explain what that means. In addition to the number, the decisive factor is the so-called correction factor, which is greater the larger the radiator, because a large radiator heats more than a small one. The correction factor should actually be documented in the heating cost bill, but it is in the rarest cases, although since the introduction of the heating cost ordinance there have been corresponding DIN standards that determine the value. The correction value is already incorporated into some reading scales of the heat cost allocators, but how these scales come about is often unclear, says Martin Brandis:

"The heating cost metering companies, the big ones, make it a bit of a secret. So if you call them and ask how it is with this and that radiator, what is the correction factor, you will probably not find a relevant answer."

Approx. 8,000 different radiators with approx. 200,000 different dimensions are currently in use, for which the correction factor is calculated individually. How the heat cost allocator is attached to the radiator also plays a role.

The fact that the liquid in the tubes also evaporates when the radiator is not used at all, however, is usually not a problem:

"It is usually the case that the tube is filled with a so-called cold evaporation specification, that is, it does not start counting from zero, but maybe from minus two. Then we have these minus two units, which are then exactly for this purpose, that the heating of the room from the outside also means that liquid evaporates, but this is not included in the calculation afterwards. "

No financial alternative: electronic heat cost allocators

The evaporation tubes will disappear from the market in the future because they measure imprecisely and are not suitable for modern low-temperature heating systems, according to Brandis. Electronic heat cost allocators have proven themselves for a number of years because they measure more precisely. Unlike an evaporation tube, they cannot be influenced when a room is e.g. B. is heated by the sun.

There are also electronic heat cost allocators that can be read by radio, so that a heating reader no longer has to enter the apartment. Although this solution saves time and personnel, it is not cheaper for the consumer. Reading itself causes less costs, according to Techem, but the devices are more expensive. In the vast majority of cases, these devices are no longer bought by the landlord, but rather rented from the company. In contrast to the purchase, which the landlord has to pay for themselves, they can in turn pass the rental costs of the heat cost allocator on to the tenants. The few providers then determine how high the costs for the devices are.