Why is our housing stock in such a poor state and how can we enhance existing dwellings to provide healthy homes and reduce the negative impacts on public health?
Respiratory disease accounts for 1 out of 8 hospital admissions in New Zealand, at an estimated annual cost of 5.5 billion dollars (Asthma Foundation). Environmental Health Indicators New Zealand (EHINZ) attributes this to occupants being subject to poor quality housing conditions, particularly damp, wet, cold and insufficiently insulated homes. In 2015, the Building Research Association of New Zealand (BRANZ) conducted a nationwide house condition survey and identified visible mould in 56% of rental properties and 44% of owner-occupied homes (HCS – 2015).
Many factors have contributed to where we are today: building regulations for new and existing homes, the values we place on efficient and sustainable practises, industry-accepted alternatives and the daily habits and expectations of how we use and live in our homes.
The components that help make a healthy home are relatively straightforward:
Reduce heat loss through the introduction of insulation and improved air tightness of the building envelope. Minimise any gaps, holes or cracks where heat can be lost and draughts can occur. Use effective curtains and draught stopping techniques.
Control moisture. Moisture is produced through a range of daily activities, including human activity, cooking, showers and wet laundry inside. Moisture can enter the home through the building fabric, floorboards, walls and joinery.
Heating is necessary in winter in the majority of homes to keep homes at a healthy temperature. The World Health Organisation suggests a minimum indoor temperature of 18°C, and 20°C for children and the elderly.
Ventilation needs to be adequate to control the build-up of air pollutants, moisture and unhealthy temperatures. Balanced ventilation enables efficient heating, improved air quality and a comfortable home.
Energy efficiency is critical when considering all other factors as they are interconnected. Energy efficiency improvements can mean using LED or CFL light bulbs, installing adequate insulation, balanced ventilation to reduce the relative humidity which allows for more efficient heating and installing extraction fans or effective curtains. Probably the most important of all is to understand your energy bill and what your household energy consumption is.
Applying some of the above practices provides opportunity to make our homes just that little bit warmer, drier, healthier and more affordable. By making minor adjustments to our behaviour we can improve public health and our environment.
The New Zealand Green Building Council (NZGBC) is a not for profit organisation that has developed rating tools to improve new and existing homes in New Zealand. HomeFit was developed in 2018 as an intuitive tool that allows anyone to see if an existing home is dry, warm and safe. HomeFit can be accessed in two ways. One option is online and free for anyone to check the health of their home. Alternatively, get HomeFit certified to benefit the sale, rental or to benchmark the comfort of your home through an assessment process that provides a HomeFit stamp of approval. NZGBC rolled out HomeFit in part to independently support and compliment scheduled updates to the Residential Tenancies Act (RTA) which were implemented from July 1, 2019. The RTA supports healthier living standards for tenants, residents and reduced energy costs for owners in the long term.
4Sight Consulting has qualified HomeFit Assessors with the expertise and understanding to undertake HomeFit Assessments on existing properties for tenants, homeowners, purchasers and property managers. If you wish to know more or get HomeFit certified, we’d love to hear from you.
4Sight Contact: Mark Ashforth (HomeFit Assessor)
If you would like to know how fit you think your home is, you can check out - https://www.homefit.org.nz/