Insulation shambles needs sorting so Christchurch homes can be warmer, drier and healthier

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.

14 Comments Posted

  1. Everyone should have adequate insulation in their home and it can greatly help to reduce energy bills. This is an interesting case where lack of insulation has reduced the indoor air quality. This is not always true. Houses that are tightly built trap in volatile organic compounds from the aerosols, candles, glues in building materials etc and air quality is reduced.

  2. BJ,

    As a chivalrous male surely you would be offering to do the laundry on a cold morning! No?

    Frozen pipes and valves, never north of the Bombays. We tend to do laundry in the evening and hang out first thing in the morning.

    I guess the temperate climate north of the Bombays means we dont have the cold problems experienced by “southern” folk.

    No need for double glazing, no worries about condensation, keeping warm is a doddle, we can move our laundry (and kitchen – BBQ) to outside sheltered areas, have nice outdoor-indoor flow with decks (sheltered), and bi-fold doors.

  3. Gerrit – Of course it gets a ventilator. Goes without saying.

    However, you can very easily understand that stopping the water as vapor at the wall surface means it does not get into the wall, and therefore does not condense… in a well insulated house there is NO condensation provided the vapor barriers stop moisture short of the point in the insulation where it is cold enough to condense.

    The relative humidity inside is higher and it thus takes less HEAT to stay comfortably warm. Bathrooms excepted. You have to clear the fog off the mirror to shave.

    My wife would disagree on the placement of the laundry, as she is *entirely* unhappy with attempting to operate it in winter in the morning here (and it actually doesn’t work all that well when the valves are frozen shut). OTOH, the house is small and the laundry equipment intrudes greatly and the garage is equally cold to the shed areas. I need a “more compact” laundry solution. The loads are smaller now than when the kids were producing diaper content.


  4. I live in a 100+yr old house that initially had no insulation at all, it was terrible when my wife and I had our first baby, we just couldn’t keep warm in winter.

    I have been progressively improving it and just this evening put more insulation over another bedroom, I have been upgrading the rest of the house over the past few weeks as time permits, what a dramatic difference. I have also paid particular attention to air leaks using expanding foam which has made a huge difference as well.

    2 weeks ago we had to have the fire going on high and it was always a loosing battle on a cold night, but in the horrible weather we have had this week we have only had to have it quietly ticking over.

    What I have found is that ceiling batts need to be at least R3.6 to be really effective, and they must be installed properly with no gaps. I also found that in a house like ours with lowered ceilings, it pays to block off the top of the internal walls with wall batts to stop heat radiating up the walls (they have no dwangs and are clear from top to bottom) and into the roof space. I did this by pulling off a sarking plank at the new (lowered) ceiling height and pushing the batts down the wall snug against the studs.

    Any open gaps (even small ones) in the ceiling space have an incredible hot air flow, it is really important on houses like mine to thoroughly block them to retain heat effectively. I can’t stress enough the importance of doing this work properly and plugging every leak.

    It isn’t a pleasant work, but it really does make a difference, my kids have been really sick this year with coughs and colds and my wife and I just decided we had to do it ourselves and get the house up to scratch.

  5. BJ,

    The accepted solution is the fitting of an extractor fan in any bathroom/ kitchen/laundry area.

    I fitted one (150mm dia) in the bathroom, hardwired to the light switch and through the exterior wall for less then $350. Very simple

    In the kitchen instaled a rangehood that vents to the outside, again reasonable cheap at around $500.

    Laundry I moved from the the garage (now there is a modern practise that intrudes on a blokes space and should be outlawed) to the outside deck under a lean to. No need to have the laundry (washing machine, dryer and tub) inside the house.

    This insulation lark is not going to solve condensation, only airflow can do that.

  6. I have a hard time believing that this is the currently accepted solution, though given the quality of housing here and the absurd interference of councils I don’t really know. I DO know that I was astonished to see, on the inside surfaces of the house I am in, insulation but no vapor barrier. I think there is not one on the outside either. I need to put one inside, as this is a bathroom area.

    I am NOT able to understand the logic for NZ if what you describe is indeed the “accepted solution” except that perhaps all the moisture is SUPPOSED to condense on the windows?

    Naaa….. the easiest answer is that the rumor isn’t true. The accepted solution is the barrier on the warm side… if there is one.

  7. When wall insulation is added, somebody needs to think about where the moisture barrier(s) go. At least one Green has told me that the current acceptable solution (moisture barrier only on the cold side) is broken, and guarantees condensation in the wall insulation.

  8. Perhaps one solution is to for affected home owners to get their solicitors to use sections 116, 120 and 41 of the Building Act to compel the insurance companies to act to avoid civil action to seek compensation for being compelled to live in an insanitary building.

    “116B Offence to use building for use for which it is not safe or not sanitary, or if it has inadequate means of escape from fire
    (1) No person may—
    (a) use a building, or knowingly permit another person to use a building, for a use for which the building is not safe or not sanitary; or
    (b) use a building, or knowingly permit another person to use a building, that has inadequate means of escape from fire.
    (2) A person who fails to comply with subsection (1) commits an offence.
    (3) A person who commits an offence under this section is liable to a fine not exceeding $100,000 and, in the case of a continuing offence, to a further fine not exceeding $10,000 for every day or part of a day during which the offence has continued”

    “123 Meaning of insanitary building
    A building is insanitary for the purposes of this Act if the building—
    (a) is offensive or likely to be injurious to health because—
    (i) of how it is situated or constructed; or
    (ii) it is in a state of disrepair; or
    (b) has insufficient or defective provisions against moisture penetration so as to cause dampness in the building or in any adjoining building; or
    (c) does not have a supply of potable water that is adequate for its intended use; or
    (d) does not have sanitary facilities that are adequate for its intended use”

    “41 Building consent not required in certain cases
    (1) Despite section 40, a building consent is not required in relation to—
    (c) any building work in respect of which a building consent cannot practicably be obtained in advance because the building work has to be carried out urgently—
    (i) for the purpose of saving or protecting life or health or preventing serious damage to property; or”

  9. Beer can windows need to be covered from one side or the other, so that there is a layer of air trapped. This is “like” double-glazing, but not the same. Retro-fit double glazing leaves the beer can but improves on the the window. Sealing it off from the inside air is the cheapest option in general, the cost of the glass, or polycarbonate, is high.

    This is where the government needs to step in to provide assistance in getting secondary glazing applied to all the uniformly awful aluminium awning windows that afflict our country. I suggest a standard generic design, wood and glass, that can be mass produced and fitted at lowered cost. Assume that in the summer the people will remove sections that are over their opening windows manually, store them in the garage or shed, and replace them when it becomes cold again.

    This is probably the most cost-effective approach to start.

    The big sliding doors that give us that “good indoor-outdoor flow” (can you hear the sarcasm?) are a harder problem. My approach is to enclose the porch area they open out onto… but that won’t work for everyone.

    Overall, this is shaping up to be another Brownlee special. A failure so comprehensive as to be a negative example for generations to come. (Thought I was going to say something else… settled for something not so scatological)… 🙂


  10. The fundamental problem is that the building industry has never worked out best practice for thermal performance. They don’t want to either, they care about ‘best profit’ not ‘best practice’. Council workers wouldn’t know worst practice, let alone best! BRANZ are completely incompetent here, all they care about is CYA. The insurance industry are not even part of the equation whatsoever.
    Such a shame as this ChCh rebuild is THE golden opportunity to achieve spectacular results.

  11. I agree that insulation is critical point for every house. Is keeping us healthy and our houses give good chances to the environment to be safe. Thanks for your info. I wish all people are interested in the environmental good.

  12. There is no reason to fail to put in insulation.

    The excuse given however, touches on the absurdity of the system of regulations on – and council interference, in the quality control of the housing that gets constructed. The regulations are needed at the NATIONAL level. The inspections have to be done by people getting the work done. The repairs need to be warrantied by the people doing the work. What council has to do with the process, in PARTICULAR acting as the paid gatekeeper for improvements to insulation, is a mystery to anyone who has the sense god gave a rutabaga. It isn’t like Council knows how to do it better than the builders and the customer and the customer’s paid inspector. It isn’t like they can actually provide backstop insurance when they make errors. It isn’t like they have any actual interest in the outcome, unlike the person getting the work done in the first place. WTF are they sticking their oar in this for?

    Sorry folks, just had to get that off my chest.

    As for EQC policy, I would have to regard it as criminal. The point at which the house is being repaired is the IDEAL time to repair the insulation issues that the house has.


    In addition however, there needs to be a national effort to do something about beer-can windows. The rivers of condensation and the utter futility of trying to heat a house which is pumping heat out those windows (the condensate represents a vast amount of energy being leaked to the outside owing to the heat of vaporization that is released to the windows surface for every milliliter of water that condenses there).

    I had a typical sort of rental – 7 years in Wellington… and it cost me upwards of $700 each winter month just to try (and fail) to keep it warm.

    The bulk of the losses were through the vast window area built of aluminium (used for beer cans because it allows the beer to cool faster in the fridge… ideal for window joinery… yeah right), and single panes of glass. Wow, good indoor-outdoor flow! Yeah… the seals on the windows were so bad that in a southerly you couldn’t KEEP a candle lit.. the fire went 24/7 – AND the gas heater… and it was still cold enough that electric heaters were needed in the children’s rooms.

    I shudder to think what things are like in Canterbury.

  13. >> We need to think energy and think smart.
    Fully agree, how ever this will not happen in CCH, it all comes down to costs, it costs more to rebuild properly with decent insulation and double glazing, Insurance Co’s will only replace like with like, not better as this costs them more. So if your house has collapsed walls and broken single glazed windows, then they will be repaired not improved.

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