New Zealand’s housing is notoriously cold, wet and draughty – and it’s causing significant harm. Simon Day visited Bunnings to learn about some solutions.
This content was created in paid partnership with Bunnings.
Winter sucks. But this winter feels especially tough. It’s raining endlessly. Covid and the flu have been relentless. The nights have been freezing. And everyone on Instagram appears to be on holiday.
I live in the bush in West Auckland in a cute and compact home built in the 1970s with my wife and our twin boys. We’re lucky to have a heat pump and an HRV system. But we’ve also got gaps in our windows and an icy breeze that runs through our home every winter. For all the beauty of living in a native rainforest, Titirangi can be pretty wet and cold. Each morning we wake up with condensation on our bedroom windows.
This winter felt like it was time to fix some of those issues and make sure our home was as warm and healthy as it could be. I’ve traditionally opted for an extra layer and a blanket to stay warm while I watch TV at night before disappearing beneath the duvet and waking in the morning with a cold nose.
But with two new dependents added to the family, we’ve been running the heat pump for longer and heating the boys’ bedroom to 20 degrees through the night because we know how important it is for the health of babies. But with my power bill hitting $75 per week this winter, I knew there had to be a better way to make sure my house was warm and healthy. It turns out there are heaps.
I’ve always been self-conscious about my limited DIY skills. While I’ve got a toolbox and I’m more coordinated with a hammer than Sir John Key, I don’t have natural instinct or confidence. My dad considers it one of his great failings as a father. And my parents-in-law plan regular visits where they spend long weekends picking up all the home maintenance tasks I’m not cut out for.
When I arrived to meet Bunnings Grey Lynn coordinator Del Belham, he immediately made me feel empowered to take the health of my home into my own hands. He listened carefully about my home’s issues and explained there was a number of simple DIY options to help make the home warmer and drier that I could absolutely do on my own. And if I wanted to take any greater steps, Bunnings was able to link me up with the right people.
The average home uses up around 38% of its energy consumption just for heating and cooling, according to Carl Halford, Bunnings New Zealand’s head of merchandise. And there are lots of easy and affordable things to make heating your home more efficient.
“The first place to start is your doors and windows. Up to 25% of heat loss can be attributed to the draughts from your windows and doors,” Halford says. “If you have wooden floors, cover them with rugs or carpet to stop the cold air coming up through the floorboards. Look into installing good quality block-out curtains and blinds on your windows – when they’re closed you can reduce the heat loss by 10% in your room. Ceiling insulation is another a good way to help keep your home warm in winter and cool in summer.”
I left with foam weather seals for my windows to help close the gaps and prevent the draught through the home. I got a thick heavy draught stopper for my front door. I’ve got two new wall heaters for the boys’ room and our bedroom that are more energy efficient. I also got a bunch of new knowledge on how to make sure my house was insulated properly and popped my head into the roof cavity for the first time to check how the ceiling insulation was looking.
And it may sound basic, but Del taught me the importance of ventilating while cooking and showering and provided tips on when and how to make sure my house breathes, while staying warm. While we double-glazed the boys’ bedroom windows before they were born, we can’t afford to do that for our room, so Del showed me how I can replicate the effect for a fraction of the cost with a window insulator kit.
Why does all this matter? Generations of New Zealanders have been raised in cold, damp houses. Our housing stock is famously poorly insulated, draughty and unhealthy. Living in a cold home almost feels like a rite of passage. I spent a winter as a student in Dunedin with a piece of cardboard over a smashed window in my bedroom. I asked Chris Redgwell, national manager at G-Force New Zealand – experts in creating healthy homes – about why warm, dry houses are important and why we need to aspire to do better in New Zealand. It starts with our shift in our psyche, he says.
“We believe that every New Zealander should live in a home that is comfortable and healthy – warm and dry in the winter, and cool in the summer. While many parts of the developed world have adapted their building practices to achieve this, we still have the mistaken belief in New Zealand that this is just the way things are, and that we should ‘put on another jumper’ if we are cold.”
The impact poor housing has on Aotearoa is real. Doctors are reporting illnesses related to our cold and damp housing are increasing and have long term impacts, especially on children. In a 2018 report by the New Zealand Asthma Foundation the bronchiectasis hospitalisation rate in children aged under 15 years had tripled between 2000 and 2018. Bronchiectasis is the scarring and permanent damage of the lungs’ breathing tubes caused by a severe chest infection and is usually only seen in developing countries.
A recent survey by AMI and Habitat for Humanity found that 300,000 households go to bed earlier than they usually would when it is cold, and 145,000 households stay in one room and only heat that room during cold nights. Respiratory disease affects 700,000 people and costs our country $6.7bn each year. That’s not OK, says Redgwell.
“Our houses are supposed to protect us from the elements; the inside of your home shouldn’t mirror what is happening on the outside. For many of our homes, this is clearly not the case,” he says. “We need our homes to be warm and dry for the sake of our health and wellbeing. If your home or rental is cold, damp and mouldy, it could be impacting you and your family’s respiratory health. To improve your family’s health, it’s important to ventilate, heat, draught stop and insulate your home to keep it warm and dry and your family healthy.”
For landlords, it’s not just important for their tenants’ health, it’s now a legal requirement. In 2019 the government passed the Healthy Homes standards legislation, requiring rental properties to meet a minimum standard for heating, insulation, ventilation, draught proofing, moisture prevention and drainage. From July 2021, all private rentals are required to comply with these standards within 90 days of a new or renewed tenancy.
That’s where Bunnings and G-Force can help. G-Force offers a Homefit assessment, which identifies the areas of a home that can be improved to help create a more comfortable and healthier environment for you and your family. They can help identify which of the projects you can do yourself, and which will require a qualified tradesperson. As I discovered Bunnings has a range of options, on-hand expertise and really helpful online articles and videos to help you make those projects happen.
“New Zealanders are becoming more aware of the health issues associated with an unhealthy home, but many feel the problems may seem expensive or hard to fix,” says Bunnings’ Carl Halford. “We’re here to help them find the right solutions for their homes that suit their budget.”