by Eugenie Sage
Our houses help determine our health. Everyone has a right to a warm, dry and healthy home. Warm homes can reduce respiratory illnesses and mean fewer days off sick from school or work, and fewer premature deaths among older persons.
Much of our housing stock is not built for our climate. Around 1.6 million New Zealand homes are cold, draughty, poorly insulated and use energy inefficiently. The Pure Advantage report on green growth noted that the New Zealand’s housing stock equates to where Scandinavian countries were in the 1960s and that the United Kingdom invests far more in retrofitting poor quality housing than we do.
It’s unhealthy and unpleasant living in a cold, damp house where you have to mop pools of condensation from the window sill every winter morning, or there is ice on the inside of the window, and not just on the grass outside. (Been there, done that).
Insulation is important for a warm, dry, healthy home. The majority of Canterbury homes were built before minimum insulation standards were part of the Building Code so it’s likely that many of Christchurch houses have no insulation.
Around half of Christchurch’s houses were damaged in the earthquakes. Some 15-17,000 houses are to be demolished and 110,000 repaired. The post ‘quake rebuild is an opportunity to make thousands of homes warmer and drier through better insulation.
If we are to build back smarter it needs to be easy for homeowners to retrofit insulation when their homes are repaired – in the ceiling, under the floor, and in walls.
And EQC, Government and insurance companies need to sort out the current shambles over retrofitting houses with wall insulation.
Since October 2011, it has been EQC policy that wall insulation not be installed when home repairs were done because of time delays in arranging building consent and doing the installation.
Research organiSation Beacon Pathway reports that there is a similar problem with insurers. Some say that it is their policy to include insulation where walls are being repaired, but this is not happening on the ground.
This needs to change. Spending a little more time now means huge savings for householders over the life of the house in energy use and energy costs, and potentially also in the health costs.
The Green Party negotiated the Warm Up New Zealand Heat Smart subsidy scheme with Labour and then National. The scheme should be extended to include wall insulation. Currently it’s not included, even though the energy savings from wall insulation in a Christchurch house are greater than from under-floor insulation in an Auckland house, which would be subsidised.
Government, EQC and insurance companies are wasting a once in a lifetime opportunity to retrofit insulation during the repair process.
We can improve our housing stock and make Christchurch houses warmer, drier, and cheaper to heat during winter if we make it easy to retrofit insulation. We can create hundreds of jobs in the process. We need to think energy and think smart.