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Study linking insulated homes with better health

BRANZ Press Relese

Pensioner Bill Beck is looking forward to a warmer winter this year – and a healthier one. He is one of 40 Wellington pensioners taking part in a study of the health benefits of insulated homes.

The cost of insulation has received media coverage recently with the imminent passing of the new Energy Efficiency bill. The untold story behind this is the cost to the whole country of cold, uninsulated homes.

“We want to get hard evidence on how adding insulation can improve the living conditions and health of elderly people on low incomes for whom heating costs are a large part of a tight budget,” said Dr Philippa Howden-Chapman of the Wellington School of Medicine who is running the study. “Our aim is to convince the government of the health and economic benefits of supporting schemes to retro-fit insulation into existing homes.”

“We chose older people for this study because they are particularly vulnerable to health problems from being too cold,” explained Dr Howden-Chapman. “A BRANZ study has found that many houses in New Zealand are between 12-15C, which is much colder than the World Health Organisation recommendation of 18C minimum temperature to maintain good health.”

The 40 pensioners in the study all live in Wellington City Council flats. Last winter, the temperature and humidity inside and outside the flats, plus the amount of electricity used for heating, was measured by BRANZ (Building Research Association of New Zealand) who are collaborating in the study. Each day, Mr Beck and the other pensioners kept records of how warm they felt. At the same time, their health was monitored.

Since then, insulation has been installed in 16 of the flats, including Mr Beck’s. The insulation was placed under the floors and in the ceilings, the doors and windows were draft proofed, and thermal curtains were hung over the windows. Over the coming winter, the same measurements will be made by BRANZ, and the same records kept by the pensioners and the medical staff. Then results will be compared to find out the effects of the insulation on the conditions in the flats, the occupants’ comfort and their health. (These results will also be compared with the control group of 24 pensioners whose flats have not been insulated.)

But Bill Beck says he knows already. “It was warmer right away,” he remembered. “I haven’t used one of my heaters since the insulation was put in.”

Pensioner Bill Beck proudly shows his new thermal curtains Dr Philippa Howden-Chapman of the Wellington School of Medicine and Dr Malcolm Cunningham of BRANZ. The curtains are one of the insulation measures to keep his flat warmer this winter. Bill asked for extra fabric for the pelmet which he made himself!

Funding for this study has come from several sources. They include the Health Research Council, EECA (Energy Efficiency and Conservation Authority) and the Ministry of Social Policy which has provided funds as part of the 2000 ‘Year of the Older Person’. The Wellington City Council, which owns the flats, is contributing in a variety of ways. Energy management specialists Smart Power Ltd have arranged most of the funding and other support, which includes a special cut price for the curtaining fabric provided by Newtown Curtains and a good deal on the insulation and its installation by Energy Smart.

For further information, contact:

Photos and BRANZ enquiries:
Sharon Talbot, BRANZ Media Liaison (04) 235 7600

Wellington School of Medicine, Public Health Department:
Dr Philippa Howden Chapman, contact via Anna Matheson (04) 385 5999 ext. 6293

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